Friday, April 29, 2011

raw cake pop challenge


I am so excited to present my entry for the Raw Cake Pop Challenge, a fantastic raw vegan dessert recipe challenge hosted by Lisa from Vegan Culinary Crusade and Nicole from A Dash of Compassion. The term "cake pop" first entered my vernacular about two months ago. I'd first heard of the latest Starbucks treat in a Toronto Star article, but it was mostly brought to my attention by this particular contest. A few weeks ago, my man tried the three cake pop flavors offered in Starbucks, but found them unappealing. It was with this information (and the disdained look on his face after tasting the SB pops) in my back pocket, that I set out to create a healthy, yet sumptuous raw vegan cake pop.

I am always up for a raw vegan dessert challenge. But, how to recreate a SAD (Standard American Diet) based recipe with raw, living, plant-based ingredients? Well, considering that many raw desserts already mimic the consistencies and flavors of mainstream desserts, I thought this wouldn't be too difficult. 

However, life does throw those curve balls (or curve 'pops'?). This week, my region was struck with a violent windstorm which left us suddenly without power for 8 hours one day, leaving me to dream up my cake pop recipe ideas with no power to create them into an actual form. Once things got back on track, things were rolling ('popping'?) smoothly, until, after one batch of cake pops, my food processor decided to fade, leaving me no choice but to improvise with other kitchen equipment (the versatility of a personal blender knows no bounds in times of crisis, my friends!). 

However, without these life (and kitchen) experiences behind me, I would not have the pleasure of presenting to you three decadently delicious and sweetly satisfying raw cake pop recipes: Luverly Vanilla, Cacao Fudge, and Mulberry Maven.

For these recipes, I chose to emulate more traditional cake base flavors with slight modifications in terms of flavors and appearances, putting a delightful raw spin on these popular culinary delights. Please read on to enjoy the recipes:


Luverly Vanilla Cake Pops
Yields: approximately 20 cake pops

Cake Pop Filling
1 cup cashews
1 cup coconut ground in a coffee grinder + 1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/4 + 1 tbsp cup maple syrup
3 tsp lucuma powder
2 tbsp melted coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preparation:
To make the cake pop cake filling, process all of the above listed ingredients together in a food processor using an ‘s’ blade. Place the processed mixture in a medium-sized mixing bowl and chill for approximately 30 minutes in the fridge or freezer. Shape the mixture into small round balls and chill in the fridge or freezer for another 20-30 minutes. Pop in the cake pop sticks and chill for another few minutes.

Dark Cacao Coating
2/3 cup melted cacao butter
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup cacao powder

Preparation:
To make the Dark Cacao Coating, melt the cacao butter in a medium-sized mixing bowl over a pot filled with warm water.  Using a sifter, sift the cacao powder in a small mixing bowl and set aside. Once the cacao butter is melted, mix in the maple syrup, vanilla, cacao powder. Whisk until the overall mixture is a smooth, liquid consistency. Dip the cake pops in the chocolate and stick into foam board to dry. Dip cake pops in desired toppings (for this flavor, I used coconut sugar, walnuts, and powdered coconut).

the inside of the Luverly Vanilla Cake Pop: 
moist and decadently raw


Next up - recipe # 2:

 

Cacao Fudge Cake Pops
Yields approximately 20 cake pops

Cake Pop Filling
2 cups walnuts
½ cup dates, soaked
½ tsp maca powder
3 tsp powdered goji berries
¼ cup maple syrup
seeds of 1 vanilla bean
3 tbsp buckwheat flour *(optional: to thicken the mixture if necessary)

Dark Cacao Chocolate
(note: this recipe and quantity was used to dip both the Cacao Fudge Cake Pops and Mulberry Maven Cake Pops. In other words, this recipe will make a large enough quantity to dip both batches, or 40 cake pops).

2/3 cup melted cacao butter
1 cup cacao powder
2 tbsp dark agave syrup
1 tsp vanilla
dash of lucuma powder (for good measure)

Preparation:
To make the Cacao Fudge Cake Pop filling, grind goji berries in a coffee grinder until a powder-like consistency. Set aside. Process the walnuts until they are a fine and crumbly consistency. Add in the dates, maca, goji powder, maple syrup, seeds of one vanilla bean, and process until mixture is soft and dense. Add in the 3 tbsp of buckwheat flour if the mixture is too wet (this may change depending on the individual preparation of the recipe). You might also find yourself patting the mixture with a cloth to remove some of the excess oil from the walnuts.


Chill mixture in a large bowl in the freezer for at least thirty minutes. Roll mixture into small balls and set aside on a sheet of parchment paper. Chill mixture in the fridge/freezer for another twenty minutes or so, and then place pop sticks in each round mixture.

To make the Dark Cacao Chocolate, melt the cacao butter in a medium-sized mixing bowl over a pot filled with warm water.  Using a sifter, sift the cacao powder in a small mixing bowl and set aside. Once the cacao butter is melted, mix in the maple syrup, vanilla, cacao powder. Whisk until the overall mixture is a smooth, liquid consistency.

Dip each cake pop in the melted chocolate mixture, swirling to remove excess chocolate. Dip cake pops in desired toppings (for this batch, I used a variety of goji berries, mulberries, coconut sugar, et al).


and last, but certainly not least - recipe #3


Mulberry Maven Cake Pops
Yields: approximately 20 cake pops

Cake Pop Filling
1 ½ cups almonds, ground into a flour
½ cup dried mulberries, ground into a flour
3-4 tbsp maple syrup
¼ tsp ground lavender flowers *(optional)
1 tbsp lucuma powder
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla

1/2 batch of Dark Cacao Chocolate (see recipe above)

Preparation:
Process the almonds into a flour using a personal blender. Set aside in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Process the dried mulberries into a flour using a personal blender and add into the almond flour mixture. Combine the two 'flours' with the maple syrup, lucuma powder, coconut oil, and ground lavender flowers (optional). Mix ingredients together with a mixing spoon until well-incorporated.

Chill mixture in a large bowl in the freezer for at least thirty minutes. Roll mixture into small balls and set aside in a small muffin tin. Chill mixture in the fridge/freezer for another twenty minutes or so, and then place pop sticks in each round mixture. Dip each cake pop in the chocolate, swirling to remove excess chocolate. Dip cake pops in desired toppings (for this batch, I used mulberries, shaved coconut, coconut sugar, et al).


the inside of the Cacao Fudge and Mulberry Maven cake pops: 
moist, chewy, and delicious. 


My overall verdict: I really enjoyed devising these different cake pop recipes, and found the overall process quite enlightening. If I had to choose, I would surmise the Luverly Vanilla to be my overall favorite in terms of preparation and flavors. I really like the hints of vanilla coupled with the caramel tones of the lucuma powder. The cashew-coconut consistency also creates a light texture base.

However, I also did grow quite fond of the Cacao Fudge Cake Pops; it was so moist and chewy, almost like a brownie cake. They were also not overtly chocolatey, and the levels of sweet-dark cacao helped to temper the overall taste and flavors.

And of course, the Mulberry Maven was so lovely and sweet, thanks to the dried mulberries (my current obsession). Coupled with the lucuma, this cake pop filling had a nice caramel tone which suited the darker chocolate coating. These were the sweeter option of the three, and I would suggest cutting back on the maple syrup if you wanted to lessen the sweetness.

I hope these photos capture the brilliance of the cake pops in terms of color and preparation. Each is intricately delicate and there is much attention to detail, which truly is the beauty of raw food desserts.  The whole process is a tad labour intensive, but the finished product is definitely worth the effort.

Thank you to the lovely ladies for hosting this fun dessert challenge, and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone's amazing entries! Glad to be in such great company with such talented raw chefs. 

But, the question remains: 
what to do with all of these cake pops?

I think it's gift-giving time!

Friday, April 22, 2011

earth day is every day

Happy Earth Day everyone! When I was younger, I would look forward to Earth Day every year. My school would always take part in some sort of ecologically friendly activity; one year, we planted trees, the other, seeds. The ground was always ready for planting because of Spring, and I really enjoyed helping to improve the environment.


Fast forward some twenty odd years, and I still look forward to Earth Day. While I've since come to realize that Earth Day really is every day, it is important that we take time out of our busy days to give back and replenish the earth all year round. As a holiday, Earth Day had it's beginnings in the late 1960s; the first Earth Day was held in California as part of Earth Week, and then took off as the Earth Day celebration we know the following year. Other environmental campaigns started to flourish (or sprout) during this time, but since April 22, 1970 we celebrate this holiday every year.


I wanted to share with you some of my own earthy endeavours from the last little while. Remember the seeds I purchased at Seedy Saturday a few months ago? Well, I planted some of the basil and lemon balm seeds, and just this week they started to grow. Although, I should have labeled each planter, because I can't tell which is which. Ahh well, the surprises of nature!


In addition, here is a recipe that is inspired by all things seeds and uses buckwheat and chia seeds. This recipe is adapted from Angela's delicious Giant Upside Down Apple Pancake recipe featured on OhSheGlows. While not a completely raw recipe, it still uses plant-based, whole food ingredients, and is both delicious and nourishing. I made this for my man who has been experiencing some troubling stomach ailments, and he is currently on a high raw, all nourishing diet which seems to be improving and healing his issues.

Apple Cinnamon Cake
gluten, dairy, soy free + vegan


Yield: 4 large slices

Ingredients:
1 large golden delicious apple, peeled, cored and cut in thin slices
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp Sucanat
1 medium banana, mashed
1/2 cup  unsweetened applesauce (raw and homemade)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp finely ground chia seeds
3/4 cup raw almond mylk (homemade)
3/4 cup + 1 tbsp raw buckwheat flour (processed raw buckwheat groats into flour)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350F.  Line a 10 inch pie plate with a circle of parchment paper; then grease both the pan and the paper to prevent sticking. In a small bowl, combine the apple, cinnamon and Sucanat.  Toss with a spoon until all the slices are coated. Place the slices in a single layer over the bottom of the pan.

In a medium bowl, mash the banana. Now whisk together the mashed banana, applesauce, vanilla, maple syrup, milk, and ground flax/chia until combined. In a large bowl, sift together the remaining ingredients. Add the wet mixture and stir until well combined.  Pour batter over the apples and smooth.

Bake the pancake at 350F for about 40-45 minutes until the top is golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.  Once cool, run a knife along the outside edge of the pancake to loosen it. Remove spring form. Place a plate on top of the cake and gently flip over. Remove parchment from the apples. Serve with your desired toppings.


 

It has been a long time since I've actually baked anything since going high raw a few years ago, so I was quite pleased when this recipe turned out. Although there are a few steps to this recipe, and more preparation than I am used to since making raw desserts, it is a definite winner if you are looking for a gluten-free, light tasting cake option. My man has been enjoying this every morning with a warm mug of lemongrass mate tea (my newest obsession).

So, besides making this yummy recipe, what are some other things we can do to lessen our impact on Mother Earth and help to provide a sustainable future? How about these simple steps for starters:

1. Go raw: eating raw lessens the proliferation of consumer wast. Buying fresh fruit and vegetables (especially from local farms, or CSA's) is a great way to purchase produce without any of the extra bags you would find at the grocery store. Raw food also breaks down far quicker than consumer waste, and is easily composted.

2. Plant a seed: plant a little garden in your windowsill (herbs, flowers, etc). Any extra source of green is one step in a better direction for Mama Earth.

3. Sprout: Sprouting seeds is an excellent way to amp up your nutrition; they provide key amino acids (protein) and nutrients. Your basic requirements to sprout at home are some seeds (I prefer alfalfa), a glass jar, some cheesecloth, and a rubber band. Soak your seeds in water in the glass jar overnight, fix a piece of cheesecloth to the open top with a rubber band, drain water, and rinse seeds twice a day. Seeds should begin to sprout in 1-2 days, and are ready in about five days. Sprinkle on your salad or a raw wrap/sandwich.

4. Collect Rainwater: I know, I know, this sounds like an old adage from the 1970s. But, collecting rainwater is an excellent way to water your houseplants, or outdoor plants. Once you begin to collect rainwater, you'll start to realize how silly it seems to use tapwater for this household chore, when there is an abundance of fresh, free water during every rainfall.

5. Eco-Friendly activities: Hiking, running, jogging, biking, yoga, taking a picnic, appreciating nature; all of these involve the outdoors and can take us away from technology and creating more environmental havoc.


Happy Earth Day, Every Day!
What are you doing to celebrate this special day?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"why raw?" living foods lecture and demonstration

As I mentioned in a previous post, my good friend Lee, from Truly Organic Foods, and myself were asked to give a talk and demonstration on raw, living foods at Circle of Health Wellness Centre in Niagara Falls this past Tuesday evening. We were delighted at the great turnout, and that so many people were interested in learning about and discussing all things raw, some of whom had learned about the event on my blog!


Our presentation was divided into sections that included an introduction to "Why Raw?', the differences between acid and alkaline states of the body and food, breaking some of the myths about a plant-based diet, a fantastic discussion around superfoods, some tips for raw food cuisine and preparation, and an uncooking demonstration for a simple green smoothie (made with the almighty Vitamix blender).

Here we are, having a ball with our Powerpoint presentation

Joanne and Barbara provided some of Lee's delicious superfoods as snacks for the event. 

Joanne also sells these at Circle of Health; the Cashew Cacao Clusters 
and Sundried Mulberries are my favorite!


For our green smoothie demo, we prepared a delicious blend made from:

organic strawberries
mango
spinach
hemp seeds
maca
lucuma
vitamineral greens
spring water (Lee and her husband Kent get their water from a spring, which is the purest water I have ever tasted; I would love to make the 'spring trek' with them at some point).  

Check out some moments from our (un)cooking demo below (as you can tell by our expressions, green smoothie preparation is serious business!)

prepping the mangoes

 dissecting the many ingredients in the Vitamineral green blend ("wow!")


We also provided a "3 Day Raw Challenge" sample menu for anyone interested in trying out new raw recipes, as well as incorporating more raw foods into their diet. What I wanted to do with this menu was demonstrate how raw foods can be both easy to prepare, delicious to eat, and affordable (most of the recipes were broken down in terms of cost per serving).

However, I emphasized that this shouldn't be taken as a strict guideline to follow, as everyone should eat according to their individual food preferences and needs. The menu included the following recipes for Breakfast, Snack, Lunch, Dinner, and Dessert options, and were intended to compliment people's already thriving diets:

Day 1
"Strawberry Fields Forever" smoothie
Avocado, Tomato and Kale Salad
Quinoa with Vegetables (high raw)
Beet Ravioli

Day 2
Simple Green Smoothie
Stuffed Dates
Tahini Curried Carrot Salad
Courgette Pasta with Basil Pesto
Tomato Basil Soup
Nori Rolls

Day 3
Niagara Peach Cobbler
Lemon Coconut Bars
Rawmazing Pad Thai
Cucumber and Almondaise Appetizers
Arugula Salad with Golden Beets and Walnuts
Mellow Yellow Banana Soft Serve

A shot of the crowd



A big thank you to everyone who made the evening such a success and fun experience. It was great to meet like-minded "foodie folk." We are hoping to give more of these living foods lectures in the near future. If you are in the area and interested in hosting one of these "Why Raw?' evening, let us know!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

xgfx - a new vegan and gluten free web resource

"no seitan, no whey, we are xgfx!"


Back in early March, I received a delightful email from some very enthusiastic ladies who were in the process of developing a fun and new online web resource for vegan, gluten free recipes, and looking for gluten-free bloggers to take part. Kitty, Allyson, and Jessy have been hard-at-work compiling information, recipes, and  launched the website xgfx on April 17th. Let's go to the ladies for more information about the site:

"We decided to put together this site as a resource for our vegan friends that need (or just want) to remove gluten from their diet, and to welcome gluten-free folks who want to try out some vegan eats. While there are plenty of great resources out there for vegans, and many for the gluten-free crowd, there seem to be very few for folks like us who dwell in both camps. xgfx is the way we designate food and other items that are both vegan and gluten free.

We like using xgfx because typing out “vegan and gluten-free” over and over can be tiresome. This website is intended be a comprehensive resource for everyone and anyone who is interested in xgfx living or eatin’. What you won’t find here are recipes, links or information that recommend or advocate using animal products or gluten. Since we’re vegan, we’ve found ways of making xgfx cookies and cakes without the need for five million egg whites, even xgfx ones!"

If you are interested in vegan AND gluten-free recipes, check out the website. There are some fantastic resources here;online recipe tutorials, articles, links. You can also contribute recipes (there is a section for raw recipes too) to the community driven recipe resource. Overall, you will definitely find the do-it-yourself/riotgrrrl approach and aesthetic of the site inspiring!


Congratulations ladies, we're looking forward to sharing and viewing all things xgfx on the new site xgfx

Saturday, April 16, 2011

smoothie saturday - I live in the springtime smoothie

Spring is definitely upon us in Niagara. While the weather tends to fluctuate a few degrees here and there, we are certainly getting closer and closer to spring; there are emerging buds on the trees, flowers are blooming in gardens, and the daylight is extending far into each evening. There is a fair share of rain too (April showers!), which helps to those beautiful flowers and green grass to grow, grow, grow. 


Apart from that, I've been whipping up many a green smoothie every morning. My man has also been enjoying them for breakfast here and there (he also doesn't seem to mind that when sneak a dash of spirulina in his smoothies for good health- don't tell him, haha!).

For this week's Smoothie Saturday, I wanted to share a somewhat basic recipe that I have followed since my first green smoothie endeavor back in January of 2009. While this may seem similar to some other green smoothie recipes I've posted, it's most likely because this recipe is so delicious, and with slight modifications, can be made more satisfying to suit your preference and whatever smoothie ingredients you have on hand.

Here, I've added some chia seeds, which are soaked beforehand in double the water to make a chia pudding. You could also soak the chia seeds in some homemade nut mylk for an extra creamier version. 


"I Live in the Springtime" Smoothie
Serves 1

1 banana
1 mango
1/2 cup or 1 handful of blueberries
1-2 handfuls of spinach
1 tbsp chia pudding (soaked chia seeds in double water for at least 15 minutes)
1 tbsp hemp protein powder
1 tsp spirulina
1 tsp maca *optional
1/2 cup water or 3 ice cubes

Blend ingredients together in a personal blender until smooth and creamy. Top with obligatory smoothie toppings (goji berries add a nice splash of color) or even some blueberries. 


And of course, the name of the smoothie is influenced by a song (seems like all of my recipes have been these days!). This title comes from a somewhat obscure 1960s garage rock song by a Chicago band called The Lemon Drops (such a cute name for a band, by the way). The band members were between 14-17 years old, and they almost made it 'big,' but mostly had a local following. They recorded some interesting songs that I really enjoy, including "I Live in the Springtime," "It Happens Everyday," and "Sometime Ago."


The lyrics of this song talk about the changing seasons and youthful energy from a pseudo-psychedelic perspective: "every day I lay out in the sun, every night I stay out having fun, in the Spring, I love everyone." The photograph of the band reminds me of the  post I did a few weeks ago about Radiohead's new album "The King of Limbs" and also nature, outdoors, spring flowers, and sunshine!


Also, my dear friend Lee and I from Truly Organic Foods are hosting a free "Why Raw?" evening this upcoming Tuesday, April19th at Circle of Health Niagara located in Niagara Falls, Ontario. We will discuss the health benefits of raw foods, attempt to dispel some of the popular raw vegan 'myths' or concerns, provide a three day raw food shopping list with recipes, and also offer a green smoothie demo! If you are in the area and interested in attending, let me know - only a few spots left!

Monday, April 11, 2011

bananas for banana soft serve

Does anyone remember the song "Mellow Yellow" by folk singer Donovan? I always found it so interesting as a child, partly because I couldn't figure out what the song was about and would try to decipher the lyrics: 'just what is this "electrical banana is going to be the sudden craze.." business, I used to wonder?

Little did I know at the time that the song directly references 'the great banana hoax', a curious little myth associated with the hippie counterculture of the 1960s, and one that claimed bananas, specifically (dried) banana peels, have not only medicinal, but altering, hallucinogenic properties.

This was reflected in many different examples of popular culture, art and music from the time (the Donovan single cover certainly seems to allude to this), but the banana as a symbol was more overtly represented in Andy Warhol's album artwork for The Velvet Underground's first album. Early pressings of the album allowed for the banana to be peeled off, revealing the banana fruit inside. "peel slowly and see..." There were even articles written about the myth, debunking the accounts that tended to circulate within the culture.


While bananas don't necessarily hold these 'magical' properties, (although this does make for a great cultural myth, as well as accounts of many a hippie consuming large quantities of bananas), bananas are chocked full of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates (excellent as a pre or post workout snack due to their quick digestion rate; approximately one hour) and are so versatile as an ingredient in raw food cuisine.

Take banana soft serve ice cream. This delectable raw dessert will satisfy anyone's sweet tooth. The procedure is simple enough; frozen bananas processed to a smooth, creamy consistency. What results is a far healthier option than dairy or soy based ice creams, and in my opinion, more delicious!

I had a craving for banana soft serve during an impromptu snow storm we had here a few weeks back (maybe as a way to say a final farewell to the cold weather and temperatures?) and wanted to share with you my little bowl of banana goodness. You can add in your own favorite superfoods, dried fruits, nuts, cacao sauce, etc. The creative possibilities are endless with this simple raw food dessert.


'Mellow Yellow' Banana Soft Serve 
with Cacao Nibs and Toasted Coconut 

2-3 frozen bananas
1 tbsp toasted coconut
1 tbsp cacao nibs
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

Cut frozen bananas into chunks and process in a food processor using an 's' blade until well-mixed and a smooth consistency (you may need to intermittently stir the chunks towards the bottom of the food processor). Top with superfood toppings of choice or add in some delicious flavorings, such as 1 tbsp cacao, lucuma, or even carob powder.

Enjoy your bowl of deliciousness while watching the last snow fall, or the fresh flower buds pushing up through the earth to mark the spring season. Keep in mind that banana soft serve is best if eaten immediately, as it won't keep in the freezer as well as mainstream ice creams.



(PS... a big thank you to everyone who offered comments to my last post about living foods and conscious choices. There are so many different facets to the debate about affordable living foods, be it social, cultural, economic, locale, vocation etc., so it is definitely important that we see the issue from all sides. I look forward to discussing these issues more on 'barefoot and frolicking' in the near future).

Enjoy!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

living foods and conscious choices

I had another post lined up for today, but after a morning trip to my favorite, local grocery store, I felt compelled to write about my experience and the topic of healthy eating, specifically, the cost of healthy eating. Personally, I've always felt that eating healthy foods is not, and should not, be an overtly expensive endeavor. By making smart consumer choices, one can definitely thrive on a budget-friendly diet that is predominantly comprised of vegan, living foods.


However, there are are much larger issues involved with the food industry, economy, and other social issues that can hinder ones ability and accessibility to these types of foods. Also, I realize that there can be expensive aspects to a predominantly raw, or living foods approach to diet and cuisine, but these types of products, for me, help to supplement already conscientious food choices, and have a place within my budget. For the moment though, I want to share my experience with you because it certainly highlights for me, many larger issues and concerns associated with individual food choices when it comes to integrating healthy foods into our diet.

Checking out at my favorite grocery store this morning, I couldn't help but notice the stark dichotomy I was situated in. Here I was, purchasing an array of fresh produce and raw foods (save for a frozen bag of peas for a soup recipe I wanted to try). Here is my shopping list:

3 cucumbers
1 broccoli
4 sweet potatoes
1 head red lettuce
1 bunch kale
1 bunch chives
1 bunch celery
3 bunches of bananas
2 bags of walnuts
1 bag almonds
1 box spring mix
5 avocadoes
6 limes
8 lemons
5 vine tomatoes
4 zucchinis
2 cartons of blackberries
9 atafulo mangoes (sale!)
5 bosc pears (reduced, but in perfect condition)
1 bag frozen peas

My total came to: $64.83 and the highest priced item on my bill was the spring mix at $4.99. These items will feed two people in my little household, and provide ingredients for multiple recipes and dishes.

Following me in the line-up was a person purchasing an abundance of processed, packaged foods, including the following:

4 jars of Nescafe instant coffee ("enhanced with 'antioxidants'")
3 1L bottles of Sprite
1 box Joe Louis cakes
4-5 large bags of frozen hash browns
2-3 large frozen pizzas
and many other frozen, packaged items (none of which included any fruits or vegetables)

I was completely taken aback and so surprised that there was not one item from the produce section in their cart (not even the staple SAD fruits like bananas or apples). Also, their bill came to around $80 for a much lower quantity and volume of food. Granted, the processed foods may surpass the one week bench in some respects as many of them can be frozen and remain 'on the shelf,' but their inherent preservatives do not follow the natural progression of breakdown as organically readily as living foods. 

My aim with this post is not to criticize this particular person, or to come across as elitist, but simply to raise awareness about other issues that are related to my experience today with the food dichotomy divide; this includes breaking down the myth and assumption that packaged foods are fundamentally 'cheaper' to purchase than whole, plant-based foods.

Folks, in many respects, this is simply not true, provided that we are smart consumers when it comes to purchasing our food.  Food is an industry, and a costly (plus complicated) one at that; making unwise choices with our food can have many consequences with our health. Again, I realize there are larger issues related to the cost of food production, accessibility, economical and social issues, but if anything, raising awareness about 'one piece of the pie' is the first step to making a difference. We need to get 'hip' to  making conscious choices - whether we like it or not, have to be aware as consumers.

On an individual level, there are a few things we can keep in mind when making conscious and healthy consumer choices related to food:

1. Find your favorite local food nook: visit different grocery stores (or is it supermarkets?), produce stands, or farmer's markets in your area and compare prices on certain products. Find out which distributor has the best deals, and lower prices on items that you purchase regularly. Once you start to compare prices, you will find different places have different costs, sometimes substantially higher and lower, than others.

2. "Give me spots on my apples...": Sing it Joni! (see "Big Yellow Taxi"). Most grocery stores have a reduced produce section. Buying reduced produce can have a significant impact on your grocery bill, although you need to carefully select your produce. Refrain from buying items that have indications of mold (sweet potatoes), or are past a 'fresh' state (overtly decomposing). The items I usually like to purchase from reduced sections include bananas (perfect for tucking away in the freezer for smoothies). No more qualms about stalking the reduced produce section; it might turn out to be your favorite section of the supermarket.

3. Seek out the sales: many of the items purchased above were on sale, including the lemons, limes, and mangoes (3 for $2). Buying items on sale can not only save you money on your final bill, but also spice up your daily diet with variety and trying new foods. Although, we need to keep in mind the issues with out-of-season items being on sale (thinking of the inundation of strawberries in grocery stores during the late winter months, imported and impeding on our carbon footprint). it's a tricky issue sometimes; to buy products that are cheap, or to consider the mechanics of their production. At any rate, caveat emptor.

4. Buy in bulk: This includes buying items in bulk from bulk food distributors, as well as stocking up on items that are on sale. Buying in bulk can also take shape in the summer months in the form of buying large quantities of fresh fruit from local fruit stands, which can be frozen for months to come.

5. Tender care and time: Yes, it can take some time to prepare ones own food, but there is nothing more satisfying and rewarding than preparing a home-cooked or uncooked meal from fresh ingredients. Food preparation for ourselves and others should not be viewed as a chore, but a necessity in life. Again, time is not as accessible for some as others; particular jobs, situations, lifestyles et al. might not leave much 'wiggle room' to cook and prepare our own food. By making this an essential part of your day, food preparation will become another moment in your daily routine.


I really want to make clear that this post is not meant to judge someone's particular eating habits (although, by discussing one person in particular, it may come across as such). I feel that each individual is free to make their own decisions and choices when it comes to their health and nutrition. But these decisions and choices should ideally be informed ones, especially with the abundance of information we have about health, nutrition, and food production.

We need to be properly educated about not only where our food comes from, but also the importance of optimal nutrition for our health and well-being. The body simply cannot function up to par living primarily on processed, packaged foods; this is a given. 


In closing, the more that we make conscious and informed choices about our food, I think we can attempt to debunk these myths and start to make changes to a larger issue. Our bodies are delicate ecosystems, and they need to be treated with proper care and attention through wise and affordable nutritious choices.  (Fresh) food should not be a privilege to some, but an absolute (and affordable) right to all.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

conscious eating niagara - first potluck

Sometimes groups come together so organically, you wonder if it is too good to be true. Such is the case with Conscious Eating Niagara, a new meetup group that I co-organize along with Lee and Kent Ozust from Truly Organic Foods. Together, we have been organizing the meetup group as way to connect like-minded foodie folk together in the area. On Sunday, we had our first living foods potluck at Pan Cafe in St. Catharines, and what a successful  evening it was!


We had a great turnout, and the perfect number of guests for the number of seats and tables that we had (30 spots). The group was a combination of experienced raw and high raw foodists and newbies who are interested in learning more about living foods cuisine and and ecologically and organic lifestyle.

Paul, Toni and Jane came all the way from Buffalo, and they have been practicing a high raw diet for over 15 years! It was very awe-inspiring to have met them. Here are Toni and Paul with Vic, who owns Pan with his partner Alexandra (by the way, Vic grows the most amazing organic spring mix I have ever tried, and it sells out quickly at the local Farmer's Market every weekend):


After introducing the group, Lee read an inspiring quote by Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." I thought it was a very fitting and appropriate quote for how we can make small changes through our daily actions and interactions with food and conscious eating.


Each guest was instructed to bring a raw vegan dish to the potluck, so we could share plant-based recipes and this type of eating as a group. What a response; everyone bought the most sumptuous raw food dishes - I don't think I have ever been surrounded by so many delicious raw food dishes in one room at the same time! 


You could tell that each dish and recipe was made with tender care and kindess (or, as Paul, one of the visitor's from Buffalo would say, the unlisted ingredient "love"). Before we sampled the amazing raw fare, Kent made sure to introduce and connect each dish with it's raw 'chef.' Here are just some of the creative and awe-inspiring dishes:

 
Toni and Paul's creations above: Dandelion Salad (without the dandelions) and Thai Curry Cauliflower dish

 Audrey's amazing salad with sprouted legumes and homemade sunflower sprouts, 
along with Kristen's Spicy Kale Chips

 Robin's Salad and Toni's Banana Cream Pie in the bottom left corner

 Lauren's amazing Beet Ravioli with fermented cashew cheeze
(bet you can't eat just one!)

 David's Marinated Broccoli Salad and 
Margaret's Walnut and Celery Salad


Here is my plate - what you can't see here is the amazing Raw Onion Bread that Lee made, although you can catch a glimpse of me sampling it below (look at the mischievous expression haha). Also not pictured is Susan's amazing rendition of Kristen Suzanne's famous Harvest Soup Recipe. It was delicious, and gave me a newfound respect for the potentials of raw soups!


Lee had asked if I would do a raw dessert uncooking demonstration for the potluck, and I decided to share a simple, raw food dessert that can be adapted to use fresh, local berries depending on the season. The inspiration for this recipe comes from my Delectable Cherry Vanilla Tarts, but I tweaked the recipe ever so slightly. Check it out:


Rawmazing Raspberry Cream & Caramel Tarts
Makes 24 small tarts

Tart Shell
2 cups almonds
1 cup dates

Raspberry Cream
1 cup cashews (soaked in water overnight – yields approx. 1 ½ cups cashews)
1 tbsp lucuma powder
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen
1 tbsp melted coconut oil
¼ cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract (or the seeds of ½ vanilla bean)

Caramel
1 cup dates (soaked)
½ cup  water
1 tsp vanilla extract
(for the caramel, process ingredients in a blender until smooth).

Topping
Fresh raspberries

Instructions:
Line either a small muffin tin or tartlet tins with plastic wrap and set aside. Grind the nuts and dates together in a food processor, adding water to thicken (do the ‘press test’ to see if the mixture sticks together). Press 1-2 tablespoons worth of the mixture in each of the tart forms to make a crust. Put the tart forms in the fridge or freezer for at least thirty minutes to set.

Drain soaked cashews and place in a blender with the water, sweetener, raspberries, lucuma, coconut oil, and vanilla extract and blend to a creamy, smooth consistency. Put raspberry cream aside in a bowl. Remove the tart forms from the freezer, removing from the plastic wrap.

Fill each of the tarts with some of the caramel and raspberry cream. Set the tarts in the refrigerator to chill and harden for thirty minutes. Arrange the raspberries on top of each of the tarts. Serve immediately and enjoy. Will also keep for two days in the fridge (unassembled ingredients will keep for a few weeks in the freezer).

Check out my makeshift raw food kitchen for the demonstration, as well as some pre-made tarts


I even had a chance to meet someone who has been following my blog for over a year ("Hi Audrey!") - it was so nice to meet you; thank you for the kind comments about my blog. I'm glad you and your husband came to the potluck.

Lee and I in action (above) and Kent and Lee (below)


A great big thank you is in order to everyone who came out to the potluck, as well as Truly Organic Foods for supplying the lucuma powder, dates, cashews, and coconut oil for the dessert demonstrations. There should also be a video of my presentation available shortly - I will let you know. Another big thank you to Pan Cafe for supplying their beautiful cafe for our meetup group.

If you are in the area, and would like to attend the next potluck in May, check out our Meetup page. Also, for more photos of the event, check out Truly Organic Foods Facebook Page.

'Til next time, folks - eat well and slowly.