Vegan Vanilla Cupcakes with My Daughter

My daughter came home from school the other day with tears in her eyes. The sting of not being included in a much anticipated play-date with a good friend was almost more than she could bear and she flopped on the sofa and covered her head with her hands. I’ll admit that I was tempted to ply her with reassurances like “you can invite someone else over to our house” or “I’m sure you’ll be invited next time” or “you’ll be fine” but instead I just gave her a moment to wallow in her sadness.

sad girl

I am following the author Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook (Eat, Pray, Love & The Signature of All Things) and she recently posted a wonderful article about accepting negative feelings. She was specifically focusing on betrayal but her thoughts are relevant to any difficult emotions. She discusses her initial desire to convince herself to simply buck up and LET GO of negativity but then she offers a different approach:

“But what I’ve been trying to do lately   — whenever I experience feelings of sadness, anger, resentment — is to just say to myself this word: “Freedom.”  I will say to myself, “Freedom to feel anger,” and just let it be anger. I will say, “Freedom to feel sorrow,” and just let the sorrow be. “I will say, “Freedom to regret,” and let the regret run its course. And ultimately, I will say, “FREEDOM TO PROCESS,” and just accept that all these difficult feelings are part of the natural human process for handling complicated emotional encounters.

When I allow myself that freedom to just feel whatever I am feeling, the walls of the cage seem to fall away. I still experience the anger, the sadness, the regret — but if I keep repeating, “Freedom to feel…Freedom to process…” it all seems to pass more quickly, and Judging Liz doesn’t escalate the whole situation into something worse, which is World War III inside my brain. 

In other words, I am learning to let things go by just letting myself be a normal human being — not by beating myself over the head anymore with the message that YOU HAVE TO LET IT GO, DAMNIT!!!!!  And somehow, curiously, that lets it go…” Elizabeth Gilbert

So what was a mom to do? After giving her a respectful amount of time to deal with her feelings I asked my daughter if she’d like to join me in the kitchen for some cupcake making. And no I don’t believe in soothing every wound with sweets but on this particular day I thought the time spent in the kitchen would remind her of how much fun she could occasionally have with her boring old mother.

And you know what? I no time at all we were giggling and stirring and commiserating about how annoying it is to bake when a 3-year-old pulls his chair up to the island and offers to “help” out. I stepped out of the way and let her do all of the work (including making a giant mess filling the cupcake tray) and I could see how proud she was of herself when I pulled the finished cakes out of the oven.

I guess my point in sharing this with you is twofold: first of all – remember to allow yourself and your children the time and space to feel and accept a whole range of emotions without always stepping in to rescue or reassure. And second – never underestimate the power of a good cupcake!

Vegan Vanilla Cupcakes

cupcakes

2 cups flour (regular or gluten-free)* if using GF flour – add 1 tsp xanthum gum
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 cup of organic sugar
1 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 cup safflower oil
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar)
Icing and sprinkles of choice (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add wet ingredients and stir to combine. Blend with a stand mixer or hand mixer on low until combined and then on medium for 1-2 minutes until lumps disappear – scraping sides often with a spatula.

Line 12 muffin tins with paper cupcake liners. Fill liners with batter until 2/3 full. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the pan and then remove and top with icing of choice. (Easy icing recipe: 1/3 cup organic butter or vegan margarine melted combined with 3  cups powdered sugar and 4-5 tbsp. water).

Enjoy!

Warming Minestrone Soup & 10 Things I Love About Winter

I pride myself in being a hearty Canadian girl and as such I usually embrace the winter and truly enjoy the snow and seasonal outdoor activities. But I’ve got to admit that this frigidly cold weather is really starting to get me down. Thankfully a good friend reminded me yesterday that the days are slowly getting a bit longer and slightly warmer temperatures are in the forecast (not to mention that American Idol is starting again next week!) so things are definitely looking up.

winter cartoon

In an effort to remind myself of the positive things about this season, I made a list of a few things that I love about cold Canadian winters:

1. Snuggling up under a blanket in front of a crackling fire (even better with a glass of red wine in hand)

2. Making excellent use of my weather station by checking it 100 times a day just hoping I’m reading the temperature incorrectly (that can’t really be -23 C???)

3. Having a legitimate excuse for staying inside all day in my pj’s watching movies (the weatherman said exposed skin would freeze in 5 minutes for heaven’s sake!)

4. Snow days (bet those warm tanned Floridians never get to experience these special family days. Suckers!)

5. Hot chocolate, hot coffee, hot tea and Hot Toddy’s. Mmmmmmmm……..

6. Building snowmen in the front yard, tobogganing down frosty hills, building snow forts and skating on backyard rinks

rink

7. No dog poop to scoop- each new layer of snow just covers it all up. Booyah!

8. Sculpting toned arms by scraping layers of snow and ice off of my car (not to mention the killer leg muscles from navigating the icy sidewalks)

9. Not having to worry about doing anything with my hair since it will just be stuffed underneath a toque all day (same goes for clothing- I could be wearing my jammies under my coat and no one would ever know : )

10. Relaxing with my family and enjoying hot and comforting foods like this soup:

Minestrone Soup (vegan)

minestrone

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried turmeric
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
Pinch allspice
1 tsp sea salt
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz can of chick peas
1 15 oz can of navy beans
4 cups of vegetable broth
2 cups of water
2 bay leaves
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen green beans (broken into smaller pieces)
1 cup dried pasta (I used little tubes called Ditali Rigati but any small regular or gluten-free pasta will work)

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large soup pot. Toss in onion, garlic, carrots, celery and spices and stir to combine. Cover and cook for 4-6 minutes until veggies are starting to soften.

Add in tomatoes, beans, broth, water and bay leaves. Stir and heat to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add corn, green beans and pasta and cook for an additional 10 minutes or until pasta is al dente (almost cooked). Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

I hope you are finding ways to enjoy the weather wherever you live. And perhaps if you are reading this while relaxing in a warmer climate you would send along some positive vibes to us Canadian folks who are currently freezing our freakin’ butts off!

Healthy Holiday Peppermint Hot Chocolate

Although it’s not officially winter yet, the temperatures here in south-western Ontario are mighty chilly! I am still cranking out Green Smoothies every morning but to be honest- a cold drink just doesn’t cut it when the thermometer reads -10 C.

Yes I could race to my favourite coffee joint to warm myself up but lately I’ve been using my Vitamix to whip up my own hot drink that is just as satisfying and infinitely healthier. It’s chock full of antioxidants, magnesium, protein, iron and healthy fats and is minus the refined sugar and artificial ingredients that I’d get from my regular latte. And it tastes amazing!

Take a look at some of the potent superfood ingredients:

Raw Cacao Powder– not to be mistaken with the overprocessed “cocoa” that is often used for baking – raw cacao powder is the product of milling pure cacao beans at low temperatures. The result is a powerhouse chocolate powder that is loaded with antioxidants, magnesium and iron.

cacao powder

Raw Cacao Butter – these solid white chunks of butter are produced from the fat inside the cacao beans. But don’t forget that not all fats are created equally and the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from cacao butter are healthy and full of nutrients for our bodies. Cacao butter is an antioxidant, is good for lessening arthritic pain and is a mood enhancer. (I also used this stuff to make amazing chocolate-scented body butters).

giddy-cacao-butter-lg

Hemp Seeds– I love these tiny seeds because they are packed with plant-based protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, balance hormones, alleviate headaches and regulate blood pressure and cholesterol.

hemp seeds

Raw Cashews– Raw cashews are naturally high in beautifying oleic acid, which is also found in high amounts in extra virgin olive oil. They are also rich in magnesium and manganese, and are a good source of selenium and zinc.

cashews

I also throw in a couple of drops of Living Libations pure Peppermint essential oil (anti-inflammatory and soothes the tummy), raw organic dates (fiber and antioxidants), pure maple syrup (antioxidants, zinc and manganese), 2 capsules of Ortho Adapt Vegan (improves mental and physical performance) and 2 capsules of Now brand Vitamin C (immune boosting) to round out my drink.

Try subbing your morning coffee with this creamy, healthy and delicious Peppermint Hot Chocolate at least 1 day per week and I’m willing to bet you’ll find it warming and satisfying. I’ve even got my toddler drinking it by cooling it off with some almond milk and calling it a “candy cane hot chocolate.” Oh and I might have stuck a marshmallow or 2 on top of his drink just for good measure!

Peppermint Hot Chocolate
(makes enough for 2 big mugfuls)

cashew cream latte

1/4 cup raw organic cashews
1/4 cup hemp seeds
2 pitted medjool dates
1 tbsp. pure maple syrup (more or less depending on desired sweetness)
2 drops food-grade peppermint essential oil
2 heaping tbsp. of raw cacao powder
1-2 medium-sized chunks of cacao butter (approx. the size of a loonie)
2 capsules Ortho Adapt Vegan
2 capsules Vitamin C
4 cups of boiling water

Combine all ingredients in a high-powered blender and blend for 1 minute. Pour into big mugs and enjoy!

10 Awesome Ideas for Healthy Holiday Giving

I love the holidays! I love the baking, the music, the traditions, the socializing and I love dreaming up special presents for my loved ones. As a little holiday inspiration, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourite things to help make your holiday giving a little bit healthier:

1. All-Natural Homemade Gifts – I took a course this year on making homemade beauty products and my daughter and I have been whipping up our own concoctions ever since. This holiday season we are preparing Flower-Shaped Lotion Bars, a special Sugar Body Scrub and our very own Bath Salt recipe to share with family and friends. We purchased some inexpensive mason jars to use as containers, a bit of ribbon for decoration and voila – beautiful chemical-free delights. My favourite online recipe resources are meghantelper.com and wellnessmama.com.

Izzy and Lori’s Bath Salt Recipe: 4 tbsp. Epsom salts, 2 tbsp. sea salt, 8 drops of lavender essential oil and 6 tbsp. baking soda. Shake in a small mason jar.

epsom salt bath

2. Fitness Classes– one of the best ways to stay happy and healthy is to get out and move your body. Why not give the gift of exercise and treat your favourite person a gift certificate to experience a new fitness class? Make sure it’s one you have already tried yourself and can wholeheartedly recommend as being fun and worthwhile. My personal local favourites are Tread Powerfully (kick butt workouts with a caring and inspiring leader), Be Yoga Studio (zen atmosphere and gentle uber-bendy teachers) and Exhale Pilates (a lovely studio, kind instructors and mat, reformer and barre classes that will tone and lengthen your body).

compass

3. Essential Oils – I am completely addicted to essential oils and I have the cupboard full of little glass jars to prove it! Just a few drops of these plant essences have remarkable healing properties and virtually unlimited uses. Since all essential oils are not created equally, be sure to do your research and pick a company that has 100% pure oils and certified food grade ingredients. I order all of my oils from Living Libations and they are truly amazing!

living libations

4. A Great Book- One of life’s great pleasures is settling back with a fantastic read. And it can be even better if the book inspires you to achieve greater health, more personal happiness or inspires some positive growth. This past year I enjoyed a number of game-changing books that I’ll definitely be sharing with the people on my Christmas list. My top picks are Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart, Marianne Williamson’s The Law of Divine Compensation and Tara Brach’s True Refuge.

daring greatly

5. Charitable Gifts– There are many amazing charitable organizations that offer special opportunities for giving during the holiday season. Plan Canada provides a catalogue of items you can donate in the name of a loved one (including quinoa plants this year!) and the World Wildlife Fund will send a cuddly stuffed animal to people who contribute to their cause. And a big thanks to my friend and fellow veggie blogger Celeste who shared a great idea for “adopting” an animal from Farm Sanctuary. In her recent post entitled “Top 10 Vegan Christmas Gifts of 2013” she shared the following: “By adopting a farm animal, you’ll help provide their food, shelter, and veterinary costs, and you’ll show your opposition to farm animal cruelty. Adoptions can be made in a gift-recipient’s name and the recipient will receive information about their adopted “pet” including a picture, his/her story, and even details about visiting their animal. $10 to $50 per month for 1 year from Farm Sanctuary.”

baby pig

6. A Restaurant Gift Certificate– when people find out that I follow a mainly plant-based diet, they often assume I consume a very boring and limited selection of foods. But nothing could be farther from the truth! There is a bounty of amazing vegan and vegetarian foods and some very cutting edge chefs preparing exciting menus of  inventive dishes. A gift certificate to your favourite veggie restaurant or bakery is a great way to introduce friends and family to plant-based foods that are healthy and delicious. We are lucky in Burlington to be able to enjoy amazing vegan fare from Lettuce Love Café, The Naked Sprout and Kelly’s Bake Shoppe.

kellys

7. A Meditation CD or Course– We live in a fast-paced society and it can be hard to find quiet moments to relax, unwind and get in touch with your mind. I started my own meditation practice this year and I can tell you that it has made a tremendous difference in my life. Yes life is still hectic and crazy but I am able to approach most situations with much more calmness, awareness and patience. You can simply sit and begin but I found it very helpful to start with a guided meditation. Check out the Chopra Center for Meditation and Oprah and Deepak Choprah’s meditation courses, CD’s and downloads.

oprah and deepak

8. Healthy Foodie Gifts– This is another opportunity to whip up a homemade gift by pulling together the ingredients for your favourite veggie dish and wrapping it up in a creative way. You could make homemade granola and share it in a large mason jar (thanks to my friend Elisa who recently did this for me!), bake up your favourite holiday goodies and pop them in a decorative box or gather all of the spices and cans of beans for the world’s best Spicy Chia Chili and package it together with the recipe. And if homemade is not your thing – there are tons of fabulous and unique healthy foods you can buy online to share. Check out Coco Polo’s stevia sweetened chocolate bars, Wild Branch’s maple syrup infused with medicinal mushrooms or a big bag of Black Elderberries from Mountain Rose Herbs to help ward off and treat the flu.

Dark_Almonds_DSC_0944

9. Non-toxic Beauty Products– I am always on the hunt for a great new beauty product that works well, smells great and makes me look at least 10 years younger ; ) If you aren’t into making your own stuff – check out a couple of my favourite new all-natural products: LaVanilla All-Natural Deodorant Stick, John Masters Organics lavender and Avocado Intensive Conditioner, Good Gums Natural Tooth Paste Powder and Aubrey Organics Facial Moisturizing Rose Hip Seed Oil.

john masters

10. Bling– I am a girlie girl at heart and nothing makes me happier than a beautiful new piece of jewellery. I can highly recommend the lovely Tiny Devotion Mala Beads that my husband got me for Mother’s day and I have been coveting a ring from the vintage collection at Brilliant Earth for the past few years (hint, hint Mark). This Canadian company  is committed to using ethically sourced materials, conflict-free diamonds, and recycled gold. Also -check out this funky Swatch watch that I saw featured in Today’s Parent magazine that reads “Be Happy For This Moment, This Moment is For Life“. What a great reminder to slow down and fully appreciate the holidays!

swatch

I hope this list inspires you to put your health and the health of your loved ones at the very top of your list this Christmas. I wish you and your family the happiest and healthiest of holiday seasons!

Spaghetti Squash Noodles and Why I Keep Trying

I follow a number of awesome food bloggers and they constantly inspire me to try out new foods and dishes. Recently, I noticed that spaghetti squash was popping up a lot on different sites as a gluten-free and high-fiber replacement for noodles so I decided to give it a whirl.

spag squash 1

As I was preparing to cook my lovely squash, I began to have some serious doubts. You see, sometimes when I am making something new for my family a little voice pops up in my head that says “the kids probably aren’t going to like this….in fact they’ll probably hate it….maybe I should make them something else to be sure they are getting enough to eat.” Do you ever do this? I seriously contemplated preparing a pot of regular noodles (that I know the kids love) just to hedge my bets.

But after staring at the yellow squash for a few minutes I decided to go for it. Ultimately, I want my family (myself included) to broaden our experience of food and to continue to be open to trying new things. If I relent and make a separate and often nutritionally lacking alternative, I’m essentially sending the message that healthy food is an option instead of the best and only choice.

According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study; “Children are our future and it just makes common sense that the food they become accustomed to will likely be the food that they prefer for the rest of their lives. In today’s society most children consume foods that will produce serious adult onset diseases down the road, and they do not eat the foods that may offer dramatic protection.”

And in his book “Disease Proof Your Child Dr. Joel Fuhrman states: “As parents, we want what is best for our children. We would never intentionally harm them- in fact, we make sure to get them the best possible care, read to them, play with them, and ensure their safety at home, at school and at play. But when it comes to feeding them, somehow we don’t know what’s best……Most children in developed countries eat less than 2% of their diet from natural plant foods and move into adulthood eating 90% of their caloric intake from dairy products, white flour, sugar and oil.”

So I cooked the squash in the oven, whipped up my favourite tomato sauce on the stove top and lovingly served up heaping bowls of spaghetti squash noodles. And what was the outcome? Well, the older 2 took a few good bites (with slightly pained expressions) and declared that it wasn’t their favourite dish as they scraped the remainder into the wet garbage. And the toddler put a bite in his mouth, made a disgusted face and spit it all back out into his bowl. He even dramatically scraped the yellow bits off of his tongue with his fingers. Not good!

But that isn’t going to stop me. Oh sure we’ll still have regular noodles from time to time but I will keep offering up unique plant-based foods for my family to experience. My hope is that they will learn to love vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains as much as the less healthy alternatives and continue to enjoy nutritionally rich diets throughout their lives.

Oh and I should mention that the kids were mysteriously hungry shortly after dinner so we had a huge bowl of popcorn about an hour later…..you might want to keep that in mind when you prepare this dish the first time ; )

Spaghetti Squash Noodles

spag squash 2

Preheat oven to 375. Cut the stem off of the squash and then slice it in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and guts. Brush the insides with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper and place the halves cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 40-50 minutes depending on the size of your squash. You will know that it’s ready if the “noodles” separate easily with a fork. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then scrape the inside of the squash with a fork to produce the noodles.

Place the noodles in a bowl and top with your favourite sauce.

Enjoy! (and keep trying)

Spicy Chia Chili

Ch-ch-ch-Chia! Honestly, I think that jingle has got to go down in history as one of the most successful marketing campaigns of all times. I can’t even open a bag of chia seeds without humming the tune in my head.

chia pet 1Little did I know back in the 80’s while I was coveting my own sprouting pet that the little seeds were actually nutritional powerhouses. Chia is an amazing source of fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, manganese and phosphorus. Not bad for tiny beads that we used to slather on ceramic animals for decoration!

chia

I was inspired to make this chili after watching Dr. Ali Zentner on the Steven and Chris Show (I love those guys btw). Dr. Ali has a recipe in her book for a Chia Chili but I decided to freestyle and make up my own creation based on the ingredients that I enjoy. And that is the beauty of this recipe – you can add your favourite things (cubed potato, squash, celery, yams….whatever) and dial-up or ease off on the spices to make it just to your liking. I prepared mine in a large stock pot on the stove but I’m thinking you could also fire up your crock pot, toss in the ingredients and let them simmer all day long. Then you grab a baguette on your way home from work, breeze in the door with dinner all prepared and look like a total rock star!

Spicy Chia Chili (inspired by Dr. Ali Zentner)

chia chili

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons of chili powder
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cups of sliced mushrooms
1 red pepper, diced
2 vegetable or mushroom bouillon cubes dissolved in 3 cups of hot water
1 can organic kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can organic black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can organic chick peas, rinsed and drained
1 28 oz can organic crushed tomatoes
1 28 oz can organic diced tomatoes (with juices)
1 cup frozen organic shelled edamame beans
1 cup frozen organic sweet corn kernels
3/4 cup chia seeds
1 small jalapeno pepper, finely diced
1 tablespoon of hot sauce (I used green tabasco)
I zucchini, cubed
1 cup fresh spinach or kale leaves, finely chopped

Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms and red pepper and cook for 3-5 minutes longer.

Add in water/bouillon mixture, both cans of tomatoes, all cans of beans, edamame, corn, chili powder, hot sauce, jalapeno and chia seeds. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about an hour. Stir the mixture a few times and add more water if it seems to be getting too thick.

Toss in the zucchini and spinach (or kale) leaves and stir to combine. Cook for 15 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Enjoy!

A Challenge – Thanksgiving Without The Turkey

“What is added by having a turkey on the Thanksgiving table? And what would happen if there were no turkey? Would the tradition be broken, or injured, if instead of a bird we simply had the sweet potato casserole, homemade rolls, green beans with almonds, cranberry concoctions, yams, buttery mashed potatoes, pumpkin and pecan pies? It’s not so hard to imagine it. See your loved ones around the table. Hear the sounds. Smell the smells. There is no turkey. Is the holiday undermined? Is Thanksgiving no longer Thanksgiving?

Or would Thanksgiving be enhanced? Would the choice not to eat turkey be a more active way of celebrating how thankful we feel? Try to imagine the conversation that would take place. This is why our family celebrates this way. Would such a conversation feel disappointing or inspiring?” (Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals)

This coming weekend is Thanksgiving here in Canada I’m issuing a big challenge to my readers, family and friends: I would like you to consider serving this holiday dinner without any meat. Do you think it’s possible? Could you add a new element to your meal by sharing with your family the reasons behind your decision to forgo the usual turkey centerpiece? (If you are interested more information about the truth of the turkey industry, you can check out this link.)

Trust me I get it- this is no easy challenge. Suggesting a Thanksgiving dinner without a turkey can elicit reactions ranging from curiosity to downright anger. But as I am midway through Brene Brown’s amazing book “Daring Greatly“, I am encouraged to test out my own bravery and vulnerability by tackling this tradition and putting my own neck on the line (I guess you could say in place of the turkey).

What do you think? Could you give it a whirl? I’m picturing you seated around a festive table with your loved ones and raising your glass of wine to say  “I am thankful for this 100% cruelty-free dinner that I can share with my family.”

If you are open and willing, here is what I will be preparing with my family this Thanksgiving as inspiration:

Tofu Stuffed Mushrooms (recipe courtesy of Vegetarian Times)

tofu stuffed mushrooms

Vegan Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons

caesar done

Kym Salad

kym salad in bowl

Fresh Baguettes from Pane Fresco

baguettes

Vegan Shepard’s Pie with Mushroom Gravy

shepard's pie on plate

Vegan Caramel Apple Pie (courtesy of Healthy. Happy. Life)

apple-pie58

Whatever you decide to serve, I wish you and your family a happy and healthy Thanksgiving weekend! Cheers!