I’ll Have What She’s Having…Dressing on the Side: High Maintenance Foodies

My sister asked me yesterday if I considered myself high maintenance. I thought about her question for a minute and then replied, “Well…not in relationships. But definitely when it comes to food.”

Allow me explain.

Am I a “picky” eater?
Not at all. I love to experiment with crazy foods and new flavours, which is a real bonus in a city like Toronto because fusion cuisine is everywhere right now (korean tacos anyone?)

Am I a health food junkie?
Not even! In fact I find that even with my healthy foodie/flexitarian preferences I can almost always find something I enjoy at restaurants, family functions and friend dinners. Plus I never stress about it because my fridge is always loaded and I am more than happy to supplement my meals with extra protein and veggies when I get home. Easy peasy.

Here’s the thing…
I’m cheap.
And not in an “I refuse to ever eat at a restaurant or only eat fast food” kind of way. I’m happy to pay for quality restaurant fare. Its just that I hate overpaying for food and beverages that are either subpar or not at all what I expected. When this happens a bubbling rage begins to burn inside me and trust…its not a pretty sight.

So here’s the high maintenance part…I tend to be very…particular…about my choices when I order. I ask for things on the side, siracha on top, my eggs poached rather than fried, an additional sweet potato here, a few crispy shallots there…whatever it is…if I’m really craving it and I see it on the menu I am never afraid to ask. Of course it is the perogative of the cooks and service staff whether they wish to accomodate, and I definitely don’t push my luck during a breakfast or lunch rush, but I figure why not ask? The worst they can say is no and I’m always perfectly accepting of that response also. As long as I ask for what I want, no matter what they say, I avoid the dreaded menu remorse and remain happily rage-free.

All of this to say, its the holidays. I have houseguests. And I’ve been eating out a lot. However, I seem to be mastering the art of the perfect order because I’ve been more than satisfied with all my choices. Here are two highlights from the past week:

1) Monster Salad Bowl from Urban Herbivore.

The Specs: 
Spinach and arugula base
Roasted potatoes and root veggies
Shredded raw carrots & beets
Sauteed Mushrooms
Marinated tofu cubes
Pumpkin seeds
Tahini/Lemon Dressing 

Why it was the best: 
A good balance of protein, starchy carbs, healthy fat and fibre-licious veggies kept me full. No messing around.

2) Korean BBQ Bibimbap at Bi Bim Bap Stonebowl Riceteria.

The Specs
Brown rice base (crisp and caramelized on the bottom due to the heat from the hot stone bowl)
Korean Radish
Spinach
Bean Sprouts
Shredded Carrots & Zucchini
Cucumber
Burdock
Sweet Potato Stems
Dried Seaweed & Sesame Seeds
Marinated Korean BBQ Chicken
Fried Egg
Hot Sauce & Soy Ginger Sauce

Why it was the best
See above.
Seriously though these toppings alone made the meal well worth it since I would never have so many specialty ingredients at home. Not to mention Korean food is so darn tasty what with all of its sauces and marinades not to mention the mother of all condiments (kimchi!!) Oh yeah and remember that part where I said it was made with brown freakin rice. I remember. This place was the best. 

So…are you a high maintenance patron or do you just roll with restaurant punches?

 

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North Country Christmas


Its no secret that I love my city, and urban living in general. I revel in the opportunity to participate in that same “hustle bustle” some folks can’t stop complaining about and move to get away from. However, during the holidays season, I must admit that even I get rural fever. So when my mum and her backwoods ranger offered up their home for our family Christmas celebration this year, I jumped at the the opportunity to pull on my toque, don a full set of long johns & lace up my hiking boots for some time in the North.

I’ll try to keep the exposition brief and instead allow you to take a voyeuristic glimpse into our woodsy winter holiday…

My sister and her beau.
My mum and hers.

Post-hike sustenance.

They still had pumpkin spice tea…Christmas miracle!

Christmas Day Breakfast.

Hot bowls of oats filled with banana, cinnamon & nutmeg. Toppings included homemade praline syrup & (dairy free) whipped cream!

While I’m glad to be back in weather that is only moderately chilly, with a jam packed social calendar and a debaucherous downtown New Years on the horizon…it was a truly special Christmas this year. I’m so grateful for the time I got to spend in the ridiculously beautiful outdoors with my even more ridiculously beautiful family. 🙂

Christmas PLAY!

I hope you’re all having a such a happy healthy day today!

Whether you’re spending time with family, family of choice or even your own special self…my biggest tip for maintaining balanced is to avoid fretting about interpersonal dramas, gift giving fails and holiday food guilt. Instead just get your butt outside to use that energy to have some fun…time to play!

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Dark Chocolate, Fig & Raisin Cookies

I swear I am doing things other than baking right now. Ahem…I’m also wrapping presents. This cookie recipe is a little less wholesome than my last but still delicious and made of whole food ingredients. Initially I intended them to be vegan but I found the batter just wasn’t holding together like I liked so I added an egg. I’m sure more experienced vegan bakers than I could have worked some magic with a little extra flax but I took the easy way out. Ultimately though I was very satisfied with this hearty and decadent oatmeal cookie. Perfect for serving alongside a pot of tea or maybe even leaving out with a tall glass of almond milk for the big man himself on Christmas Eve…Enjoy!
Dark Chocolate, Fig & Raisin Oatmeal Cookies
Ingredients
  • 1/3 cup non-dairy milk
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax
  • 2/3 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1/3 cup oil (coconut, sunflower, etc.)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (or sub for GF flour if you wish)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
  • 1/4 cup coursely ground nuts (I used almonds since I have an abundance, but walnuts would be yummy too)
  • 1/3 cup raisins**
  • 1/3 cup chopped figs**
  • 1/3 cup dark chocolate chunks (I coursely chopped about 1/3 of a large chocolate bar)
**Before using soak the dried fruit in a little boiling water for a few minutes to soften. Rinse in cold water before blending into the cookie mixture otherwise they will cause your chocolate to melt.
Directions
  1. In a large bowl use a fork to mix together the non-dairy milk and flax seeds. Add in the sugar, egg and oil and mix for about 2 minutes. Mix in vanilla extract.
  2. Sift in flour, spices, baking soda and salt. Fold in nuts, oatmeal, raisins, figs & chocolate chunks.
  3. Drop dough in generous tbs onto a paper-lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Flatten the tops with the back of a plastic wrap lined glass (or a fork if you want a more rustic looking cookie).
  4. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown in a preheated oven at 350°F.
  5. Let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Happy Hipsters: December Street Style.

A few weeks ago me and my terribly stylish pal Rob were spotted for a December Street Style feature in the Toronto-based art/fashion/design/culture rag CONTRA.

They caption the image “Happy Hipsters” which is a total contradiction if you ask me. I mean…we hipsters don’t display enthusiasm, right? That goofy grin on my face is probably just a reaction to the blaring winter sun. Or maybe – halfway through a discussion of the new Lars von Trier film – we both simultaneously scoffed at the idea that his new work could ever live up to the Danish Europa Trilogy. Come to think of it, I can be certain we weren’t smiling because since Bored to Death got cancelled on HBO & Louis CK isn’t funny-ha-ha there is literally nothing in the world we’re allowed to laugh at.

Okay, okay so maybe I’m being a tad facicous. 😉

In all seriousness…Happy HipsterPretty darn close!

Holiday Lace Cookies (Gluten-Free, Refined Sugar-Free & Vegan)

I am blissfully happy with this recipe so I’m not going to muss around with a lot of explanation. These cookies are sweet and crisp with the signature toasted caramel flavour of a lace cookie, but with a flaxseed base and no refined sugar they are also incredibly wholesome. Since they cook up quickly and easily you can make loads of them for any holiday party, and their unique golden brown, speckled appearance makes them welcome addition to your run-of-the-mill cookie platter.

Wholesome Lace Cookies
(Gluten-Free & Vegan)
Adapted from this recipe

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup gluten-free oat flour (I just ground rolled oats in my coffee grinder)
  • 1/4 cup almond flour (Again I used whole unroasted almonds, ground in my coffee grinder)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup whole flaxseed
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp turbinado sugar
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup earth balance (or butter)
  • 1 flax egg (1 tbsp ground flax mixed with 1/4 cup water)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, coconut, flax, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. Prepare flax egg by mixing 1 tbsp ground flax with 1/4 cup water, set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream together the sugar, maple syrup and earth balance. Beat in the flax egg and vanilla.
  5. Add the wet and dry mixes together and stir well to combine. (Note: it will seem like there is way too much flour but don’t worry, it will all blend together nicely!)
  6. Shape the dough into balls and using a rounded teaspoon dough for each.
  7. Place on an parchment paper lined cookie sheet, leaving 2 inches between cookies.
  8. Flatten each cookie with the bottom of a glass that has been lined with plastic wrap to prevent sticking.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.
  10. Remove from oven and cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheet. Remove from the sheet and cool on a rack. **Make sure you allow to cool COMPLETELY as these cookies are most delicious after they crisp up.

Yields about 60 adorable little cookies.

While I don’t think a cookie needs to be “healthy” or “wholesome” to enjoy it, I assume that holiday parties will be loaded with the typical shortbreads and gingerbread, so I am happy to offer up a cookie that contains whole grains, a limited amount of nutrient-dense/unrefined sugar as well as some good heart-healthy fat from the flax, almond and coconut. This balanced combination will keep your blood sugar from spiking (even if when you snack on a whole handful!)

Are you knee-deep in holiday baking?

Do you bother making wholesome baked goods or is it traditional all-the-way?

Get Healthy. Get Inspired.

While its kind of standard practice in food and fitness blogland to discuss one’s…and I kind of cringe even writing this….”journey to health”…I don’t talk a lot about that here. No criticism to the folks who choose to share their stories, but personally I make an effort not to dichotomize my life in before & after terms. To me this means placing a negative value judgement on my past that I’m just not comfortable with.

Whether I was eating whole jars of Nutella with my high school BFFs, learning how to shotgun cheap beer in Sackville, Nova Scotia, chasing plates of chorizo with churros & chocolate in Madrid or having my way with pain au chocolat in Paris or fresh stroopwaffel in Holland, I was always a healthy happy person. I am grateful for the experiences I’ve accumulated and have no interest in labeling any part of my charmed life as “bad” or “unhealthy,” because it wasn’t. It has been amazing thus far and has made me who I am.

By the same token I also know that what works for me now looks different than it did in the past. And that’s okay too. I pursue what makes me feel the best at this point in my life with the same excitement, enthusiasm and openness I have always sought to embody. I still strive to be flexible, to find balance and avoid taking myself too seriously and it all seems to work out in the end.

Of course I didn’t come to feel this way overnight. I seek inspiration on a daily basis from those around me. After seeing this article on the “100 Most Influential People” in Health and Fitness and a thoughtful post about the subject over at Eat Spin Run Repeat, I thought I’d add my own little roundup of the folks who have inspired me over the years…

Who Inspires Me:
From Kitchen to Kettleballs

James Barber (aka. The Urban Peasant):

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While James Barber doesn’t look much like a “fitness icon” I think that my entire food philosophy can be traced back to his CBC television program “The Urban Peasant.” I was obsessed with it even as a young child and have in my possession not 1 but 2 signed copies of his cookbooks. He prepared meals using whole foods influenced by Meditteranean cuisine but he never shied away from a good Mole sauce or other international flavours. He prepared food quickly and without any “fuss” in a simple home kitchen using minimal tools or inexpensive ingredients. Then at the end of every episode he sat down in his tastefully decorated downtown apartment to share the food he’d prepared with a grateful family of friends. He helped show me that it was possible to live in an urban setting without sacrificing the community you can create with fresh food and home cooking. I still admire him greatly.

Angela Liddon (of OhSheGlows)

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When I started reading Angela’s blog I was neither vegan nor a runner…and I still wouldn’t call myself either of those things (flexitarian/run-on-occasion-er). But when I found her blog, through a random google search for Oatmeal recipes if I recall correctly, I was incredibly moved by her thoughtful reflections on past struggles with body image and disordered eating as well as her life current life affirming and fun loving approach to food and cooking. She was one of the first people to help me to see that fitness and healthy eating are not the same as deprivation and dieting, in fact they are diametrically opposed.

Jackie Warner

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It took a lot for me to feel confident enough to lace up my sneakers in public or to walk into a gym of my own volition. Judging yourself against the bodies/abilities of others is hard to avoid and when you’re just getting started that feeling can be debilitating. Enter: At-Home Workout Videos. Back when I was just finding my fitness legs if you will, these were literally ALL I DID. In fact, I just started “going to the gym” in August and still attribute the majority of my fitness ability to the basics I learned doing at-home yoga, pilates and strength workouts.

Anyways for any body positive feminist who struggles with the calorie burning weight-loss focus of most excersize videos, Jackie Warner is a breath of fresh air. A tough-ass blonde openly queer woman who knows how to give simple positive feedback that is actually empowering? Sign me right up. This video is still my fave.

Joy McCarthy and Meghan Telpner

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I love love love that these two nutritionally-savvy ladies promote whole foods and locavore lifestyles through their personal blogs and wellness services right here in my city. I think Canadians often forget how much local and organic produce we have available to us all year round not only at farmer’s markets but in locally owned restaurants and shops as well. Their positive attitudes never cease to amaze me (plus they are both cute and friendly as heck with brains to boot!)

And last but not least…

My Roster of Roommates

Moving out of my family home to live with all kinds of different folks from drastically different backgrounds than mine taught me so many lessons about tolerance, openness and consideration. These same three principles applied to food preparation as well. I think I of all the meals I’ve enjoyed over the years the ones I shared with my roommates were the ones I appreciated most of all. So…

To Shawna who taught me how to season with abandon…
To Cait who taught me how to enjoy the To Dunc who taught me that everything tastes when it is slow cooked or grilled…
To Meg who taught me how to be precise, capable and ambitious with my recipes…
To Elizabeth who taught me how to eat on hobo budget without sacrificing important things like beer and stroopwaffel…
To Yxing who taught me that such a thing as sweet soy sauce exists in this world…
To Elena and Sara (the Italians) who taught me never to fear rich food when its prepared from scratch with love and a delicate touch…
To Nancy who taught me the pure pleasure of a deep frying in palm oil. She may never have succeeded in converting me to Christian fundmaentalism but I swear I saw God the day I ate her fried plantains…

Thanks for being my greatest inspiration of all 🙂

Do you find it hard to escape “black & white” thinking when it comes to food/health/fitness?
Where do you find the inspiration to stay balanced?


Eat Yer Brussels

My house smells amazing right now and its all thanks to these bad boys…

TWICE-BAKED APPLE CIDER BRUSSEL SPROUTS

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of brussel sprouts (about 4 cups), trimmed and halved
  • 2 tbsp apple butter (agave, maple syrup or honey would also work)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • sprinkle of sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt coconut oil, cider vinegar and apple butter together in a large mixing bowl or pot. Add brussel sprouts and stir until well coated.
  3. Using a slotted spoon transfer brussel sprouts to a tin foil lined baking sheet, reserving the leftover oil/cider coating. Sprinkle with paprika, salt and pepper.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes or so, until just browning. Remove the brussels from pan and toss one more time in the leftover cider mixture.
  5. Return brussel sprouts to the pan and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes.

I am not even the biggest brussel sprout fan but these are HEAVEN. Enough to make you rethink the whole “side dish” paradigm in the dinnertime hierarchy. NOM.

Do you have any tricks to jazz up some of the less palatable veggies?
Dunk em in mashed potatoes was always my trick when I was a kid but I try to be a little more creative these days… 😉 

Overnight French Toast: A Sweet Start to Friday Morning


Think French toast is just for weekends? This recipe whips up super quickly, even on the busiest weekday morning. Just make sure you learn from my mistake and brush your teeth after you flip the toast…unless you want to end up with extra crispy  version like mine 😉 Still tasted great though!

Overnight French Toast

  • 2 pieces of whole grain bread (I like Food For Life Ezekiel & GF Brown Rice breads)
  • 1 whole egg + 2 egg whites **See note for a vegan option
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 tbsp maple syrup or agave (sometimes I make a sugar-free version with a few drops of stevia)
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp  nutmeg
**For a vegan version omit eggs entirely and replace with an extra tbsp of chia seeds, 1/2 mashed banana and an additional 1/4 cup of almond milk 
  1. Whisk all ingredients together and pour into a shallow baking dish.
  2. Add toast and allow to sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Flip once and then soak overnight.
  3. In the morning simply transfer to a griddle or pan coated with a thin layer of coconut oil (a teaspoon or so) and fry on medium heat for about 3-4 mins/side or until egg is cooked through in the centre.

I topped one half of mine with mashed banana and peanut butter and the other half with fresh raspberries and a sample pack of Justin’s Chocolate Almond Butter I had been saving for just such an occasion.

Now that’s the way to start a Friday.

GET FESTIVE. CRAFT//CONCERT//PARTY.

Is it just me or has the first stretch of December flown by! Between working three jobs (ya you heard that right) and holiday preparations, it feels like I haven’t had a moment to spare. My meals and gym trips have been pretty dull so let’s move straight to the good stuff…HOLIDAY FUN!

First snowfall! Caught one on my nose and couldn’t stop giggling…

I kicked off the Holiday Season in a big way this past weekend with a whole buncha seriously festive activities. Here’s a little rundown…

CRAFT.
City of Craft, to be precise.

This is my absolute favourite craft show of the season in Toronto and I look forward to it every year. This year it was spread out over two buildings and while I didn’t come home with my usual armloads of stuff, I was terribly inspired by everyone’s hard work.

Pendants and knitwear and leathergoods OH MY!

Isn’t there a DJ at every Craft show? That’s a thing outside of West Queen West right? Ahem…

Ultimately I left with some beautifully printed paper items that made the whole visit worthwhile.

Photos courtesy of Celine Kim.

CONCERT.

A little festive music with some old friends, the boys from Toronto’s own Tokyo Police Club. I went to the last of three shows they sold out at the Phoenix, which is an all-ages venue in Toronto that I used to go to all the time in high school. The whole night was nostalgic and adorable, basically a heartwarming holiday blast. It was almost too wholesome due to the median age at the show being about 16. I felt a bit too old to be there I must admit….

The highlight of the night was when they brought out the fellas from Born Ruffians, The Arkells, Said the Whale & The Fabulous Yawn to sing a rousing rendition of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”


I warned you it was wholesome.

Don’t worry. We more than made up for it at the after party later in the evening. Healthy Hipster Holiday Kryptonite = Tequila & Soda. And no, you don’t get to see those pictures 😉

PARTY.

Every year my Jewish father throws a Christmas party at his loft (Yup. Modern Family has nothing on me).

A Kir Royale (Champagne & Cassis Blackcurrent Liqueur). My holiday drink of choice.

I promise I’ll be bombarding you with loads of recipes & holiday food + fitness tips in the coming weeks but for the moment….

How are you kicking off your Holiday Season?