Plant Powered Kids & A Delicious Square Recipe

I recently had the pleasure of presenting a workshop to an awesome group of parents and children. It was called Plant-Powered Kids and I transformed my living room and kitchen into 5 different food-making stations so that I could get the gang busy chopping, grating, stirring, wrapping, blending and baking.

What a fun afternoon! I gave a quick chat when everyone first arrived and appealed to their athletic lifestyles to introduce foods that would power up their activities. I encouraged the kids to become detectives when it comes to the food they eat and asked them to think about 3 things: How do particular foods make them feel when they eat them? What the heck is actually in the foods we eat? And are the glitzy food advertisements in the media telling us the truth?

I also chatted briefly about some foods to avoid like refined sugar (did you know a bottle of Gatorade has a whopping 9 tsp of sugar!), nasty trans fats and toxic MSG and touted the benefits of plant-based protein, healthy fats and fiber. After about 15 minutes I noticed the kids staring at the floor and dreamily looking around the room so I knew it was time to stop talking and get them up and cooking.

kaden kale chips

And I’ve gotta say – they really rose to the challenge! Not only did they do a bang up job of preparing the foods I had planned for them but they were brave about sampling pretty much everything they made. In addition to an All-Natural Hydrating Sports Drink and some Kale Chips that I whipped up myself – they prepared Raw Spring Rolls with Dipping Sauce, Fresh Veggie Salad with Zucchini Noodles, Homemade Hummus Dip, Granola Bar Squares and a Protein Rich Chocolate Shake. It was a feast!

I wandered around the stations with my husband and daughter to make sure everyone was on track and comfortable with the equipment. It made me smile to see the kids and parents talking and working together to make incredible healthy food. And I was able to overhear some of the funny things the kids said as they cooked- here are a few of my favourite quotes from the afternoon:

“I don’t know how to cook but I want to learn. It’s a life skill.” Liam age 10

“So is this like food? Are we going to eat it?” Lucas age 11

“Remember if you eat the beets your poop is going to be bright red tomorrow.” Izzy age 11

It was the first time I tried out this particular workshop and I think everyone had a good time. I was very impressed with the way the kids jumped right in and were willing to try new things. And I feel so fortunate that I had such an adventurous bunch for my first attempt…..I will definitely do it again!

And now for a recipe: of all of the things we whipped up together – the granola bar squares were by far the biggest hit. And I have to admit they are delicious. Super easy to make and the kids and parents alike gobbled them up. So here is the recipe in case you’d like to give them a whirl:

Granola Bar Squares

granola bar

1 cup almonds (or nut of choice), chopped
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 ½ cups crispy rice cereal
1 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/3 cup raw honey
¼ cup maple syrup
½ cup raw almond butter
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 and line a square pan with parchment paper.

Place nuts and coconut on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for 5-8 minutes, stirring once or twice to avoid burning.

Combine oats, cereal, salt and cranberries in a large bowl. Add toasted nuts and coconut.

In a saucepan, heat honey, syrup and almond butter on medium high heat and bring to a gentle boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Pour over dry mixture and stir to combine.

Press firmly into pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool. Once cooled completely, place squares in the fridge for at least 1 hour or overnight before cutting. (they are very soft and will fall apart if you try to cut them before they set in the fridge – although the kids didn’t mind at all and ate the warm crumbles straight from the pan : )

Enjoy!

P.S. Intrigued by this workshop? Wondering what other awesome classes I offer? Wanna come to my kitchen?  Drop me a line in the comments and I’ll hook you up!

 

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Eureka! Amazing Egg-less Eggnog with a Good Shot of Screech

I grew up in a very small town in Eastern Ontario and every Christmas Eve when I was a child we would trot off to church together as a family and then my parents would host a little party afterwards. They would invite our neighbours and friends and a ragtag assortment of people they decided needed a little extra holiday cheer. And on the menu? Loads of egg rolls from a special restaurant in Ottawa, trays of my mom’s homemade sweets and glasses full of eggnog spiked with Newfoundland rum.

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My dad especially loved to pull out a bottle of Screech and tell his guests that although he found the rum a bit too harsh for regular cocktails – it was far and away the best liquor to perfectly spike a cold glass of eggnog. And inevitably after a few sips – everyone would agree! Of course at the time my sister and I were too young for the boozy version of the drink but I still enjoyed the nog straight up with ice and a bit of nutmeg.

Flash forward to today and my family will still gather to celebrate the holidays together but the menu has changed considerably. I’ve swapped out the traditional egg rolls for this veggie version and my daughter is insisting on making these cold spring rolls to add to the feast. And thanks to some amazing bloggers, I’ve managed to make some of my favourite sweets into healthier and equally delicious versions.

I also really wanted to add an egg-free eggnog to the menu but after carefully looking at the sketchy ingredient list on the “soy” version at the grocery story I decided to try to make my own. As it turns out this is no easy feat. I went through at least 6 different versions – the first one too bitter, the next too gritty, the next too spicy and so on and so on. I was beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen when I stumbled upon Ashley’s recipe on her site Edible Perspective. And holy moly- she nailed it! Silky, smooth, sweet with just a hint of nutmeg – absolute perfection.

So if you are planning to partake in a little nog this holiday season and the idea of an “egg punch” doesn’t suit your tastes then might I recommend this delectable egg-free version. I will be making my fourth batch to serve this evening and I’m sure it will disappear just as quickly as the last three. And because my dad was bang on- I’ve got a big bottle of Screech on hand to top up the adult portions.

Happiest of holidays to you and your families! Cheers!

eggless nog

 

Homemade Vegan Eggnog (recipe by Ashley at Edible Perspective)

1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup raw almonds, soaked in water for 6-12 hours
2 – 3 1/2 cups water
8 – 10 medjool dates, pitted and soaked in warm water for 1 hour
1/2 to 3/4 whole vanilla bean (I substituted 2 tsp vanilla extract)
1/2 – 1 tsp nutmeg

Preheat your oven to 325° F. Spread coconut on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring every 3 minutes until evenly golden brown. Keep a close eye so it does not burn. Let cool.

Rinse soaked almonds. Place coconut, almonds, 2 cups of water, soaked dates, and the vanilla bean into your blender. Turn on low, working to high and let blend for 1-2 minutes until fully smooth. Add more water if desired.

Note: The mixture will seem extremely thick with only 2 cups of water, but when the pulp is strained through a nut milk bag it will be the consistency of cream. Add another cup of water for a slightly thinner strained consistency.

Place a nut milk bag over a large bowl and pour the mixture into the bag, scraping all sides of the blender. Squeeze as much liquid through the bag as possible. Whisk in desired amount of nutmeg and serve over ice with a splash of your booze of choice (optional). Or, refrigerate (sans booze) in a sealed container for up to 3 days.

If a thicker consistency is desired, whisk in a few tablespoons of pulp.

Notes: This may take 1 trial before you figure out the exact consistency and sweetness you prefer. I liked using 3 cups, 9 dates.

I recommend using a nut milk bag for perfectly smooth nog (or nut milk) with no pulp. If you don’t mind a little pulp, cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer will do the trick.

Using 2 cups of water will yield approximately 1 1/2 cups nog.

Using 3 cups of water will yield approximately 2 1/4 – 2 1/2 cups nog.

 

Check Me Out On Tuja Wellness!

The good folks at the online health publication Tuja Wellness ran a Nutrition Rockstar contest back in the summer and I was the lucky winner!  Thanks to the generosity of Meghan Telpner and the Tuja peeps- I have been happily soaking in an abundance of knowledge from the Academy of Culinary Nutrition via their Culinary Nutrition Expert Program.

Another wonderful bonus to winning the contest is that I get the opportunity to write a column for Tuja. How freakin lucky am I?! If you haven’t heard of Tuja then make a beeline for their site and sign up already! It’s an amazing online resource for anyone interested in enjoying a healthy, balanced and happy life.

And of course they only use the most brilliant writers ; ) My first contribution for Tuja went up on their site on Saturday so hop on over and check out my 6 Worry-Free Tricks To Keep Your Family Healthy Through The Holidays”.

I hope you enjoy a wonderful and healthy holiday season! And thank you Tuja Wellness for this early Christmas present.

My Friend Gemma & Her Mouthwatering Noodle Dish

I have an amazing friend named Gemma. She is originally from the Philipines but entered my life about 6 years ago when she became the nanny for a close friend of mine. I remember when my girlfriend sent around an email announcing Gemma’s arrival – she said that she had a wonderful woman who would be joining their family and that she was a “gem”.

Well I have certainly found that to be very true. We first met as we walked the kids to school together and over the years have become good buddies. As we got to know one another, Gemma would often tell me stories about her childhood. Let me tell you – her life story would make a heartbreaking and inspirational novel and I’m often moved to tears as she recounts the trials and tribulations she has faced and overcome.

Her father was murdered when she was just 2 years old leaving her teacher mom with 4 young children to raise on her own in a small Phillipino village. They had to struggle to make ends meet and Gemma learned from an early age that each member of the family had to work hard to contribute to their survival. Despite their dire financial situation, Gemma’s mom made sure that all of her children went to school and completed their education.

Gemma went on to get a degree in accounting and also married and became the mom to 4 children of her own. Unfortunately, her marriage was an unhappy one and she found herself desperate to make money to support her family. Although the thought of leaving her children was extremely difficult, she was determined to make a better life for them and took a job as a housekeeper in Saudi Arabia. Her time in Saudi was difficult and scary and she found herself becoming more and more depressed. Thankfully, her sister was able to pull some strings and eventually Gemma was transferred to Canada to become a nanny.

Despite life’s hardships, Gemma has a wicked sense of humour and maintains a very positive attitude. And I’m happy to report that today all of her children are thriving and Gemma herself has found love again. This past summer, she married her Canadian sweetheart…and I even had the honour of acting as emcee at the nuptials.

gemma 1

In addition to being a good friend who always keeps me laughing, Gemma is also an excellent cook. I love it when she whips up traditional Philipino dishes to share with my  family… and she always kindly remembers to make them vegetarian just for me. My absolute favourite dish is her Pancit. This beautiful dish is one of the staples of the Philipino diet and actually translates as “convenience food”. A mountain of noodles and veggies all simmering together in fragrant broth – honestly, I could eat it every day!

Gemma kindly offered to give me a cooking lesson recently and I learned the secret to her delicious noodle dish. It’s quick and easy and even the kids gobble it up. And it’s versatile – you could throw in tofu (or another protein of choice) and mix and match your veggies to suit your tastes.

gemma 2

Thank you Gemma for coming into my life. I truly appreciate your friendship, your off-colour sense of humour, your bravery, your perseverance…..and of course your noodles ; )

Gemma’s Pancit

gemma 4

1 pkg rice noodles (I used rice vermicelli)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup Soy Sauce (or more to taste)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 inch section of fresh ginger, grated
1 bunch green onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/2 head cabbage, shredded
2 cups green beans, halved and sliced
3 carrots, sliced into narrow strips
1 red pepper, julienned
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large wok or frying pan over med-high heat. Add ginger, garlic and onions and saute for 3-5 minutes until softened. Add in veggies, broth and soy sauce and simmer together for 5-10 minutes until veggies begin to soften and heat through, stirring frequently.

In another pot, boil water and cook noodles according to package directions. Strain and rinse and set aside.

Combine noodles and veggies/broth together and stir gently to mix. Add additional soy sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

gemma 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stress and Sacrifice in Competitive Sports

Just the other evening as I was kissing my oldest son goodnight he asked if I would sit with him for a minute. “I’m feeling really stressed out mom and I want to talk to you about it” he said.

Of course immediately my brain started racing with worst possible scenarios. I was certain something terrible had happened to him…..bullying, drugs, alcohol, girl problems…..what the heck was he going to say?? Despite my internal freak out, I managed to calmly settle down beside him. “What’s on your mind honey?” I asked a little too casually.

He took a deep breath and confided that he was mostly stressed about sports…. Sports?! Seriously?! I thought. But he went on to confide that his friends had been encouraging him to choose between 2 sports that he loves – soccer which he plays at a competitive level and hockey which he plays in house league. “They say I should choose because I’ve got to think about my future and scholarships and start really focusing on one over the other. And that I should be pushing myself to go to the next level. But I love playing both mom and I don’t really want to give up on one. And I’m not even sure I what I want to do in the future. Plus I still want to have some free time. What should I do?”

And he’s just 13-years-old. All of that pressure and expectation and stress over something that is supposed to be fun!

I’ve thought about writing a post on the pressure of competitive sports on children (and parents) about a million times but I have never figured out how to do it without pissing off the majority of the people I know. Because it seems that everyone in our social circle and beyond is passionate about (and fairly defensive) of competitive endeavours. And just to be clear – I’d include myself in that mix too since my son plays competitive soccer and my daughter does competitive dance.

Thankfully I don’t have to write that article because another author has done it brilliantly. A girlfriend recently forwarded along the compelling piece “The Race To Nowhere in Youth Sports” written by John Sullivan on the Steve Nash Youth Basketball Blog. It is thoughtfully written and well worth the read.

One thing I would add to John’s article however is that I think we as parents need to be very aware of how much our children long to make us happy and proud. Our kids are acutely aware of how invested we are in their success on the ice or on the field or on the court or on the stage. They observe how keenly we follow their successes and failures and they hear our conversations about the “best” teams and the “best” coaches and the “best” choreography. So instead of pursuing athletics for the sheer joy of it – they start to mold themselves into the athletes they think we want them to become.

Case in point- I overheard a friend of my son’s tell him this past summer “yah well our top-tier soccer team didn’t do too well this season but the important thing is that I’m being seen by the right people.” Seriously?! What 13-year-old generates that little gem? I’m 100% sure that came directly from his well-intentioned parents. But this quest for approval just adds to the overwhelming pressure our children are feeling and robs them of the chance to become their own person with their own ideas and interests and passions.

Not to mention the incredible sacrifices that have to be made by children, parents and other family members for comp sports. Family dinners, family vacations, extracurricular activities and free time hanging out with friends are all prioritized well below practices, rehearsals and extra shooting clinics. Heck, I even had to spend last Family Day weekend in an over-priced hotel with my daughter for some “mandatory” dance workshop when we should have been enjoying the time relaxing with our whole clan. And other teams require participation over Christmas holidays and spring break. It’s madness!

Listen, I certainly don’t have all the answers and I haven’t figured out the best solution. We all want what is best for our children and I know that kids are unique and experience things differently. And I am sure many of you will disagree with John’s article. But at the very least, I think we need to start an open conversation about the current climate of youth competitive sport. If we are honest with ourselves, we know it is stressing us out. And at the end of the day – it’s our children who are paying the price with their childhood.

Basketball on Vacant Basketball Court

http://stevenashyb.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/the-race-to-nowhere-in-youth-sports/

An Imperfect Rockstar

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about an amazing contest that was being run by Tuja Wellness with the prize of a scholarship to Meghan Telpner’s School of Culinary Nutrition. They were looking for a “Nutrition Rockstar” – and I am thrilled and humbled to announce that I am the very lucky winner. I am beyond excited to dive headfirst into the learning that is jam-packed into this incredible course.

Actually, “Rockstar” is quite a fitting moniker for a gal like me given that I already like to think of myself as a young, fun-loving, cool, plant-eating vegetarian hipster. Something of a “green smoothie goddess” if you will. A veritable whiz kid in the kitchen – my family gobbling up my kale and quinoa-laden dishes just like they were candy.

Ok yes – the reality might not be quite so rosy. Actually, I’m just a 40-something mom- neither as young or cool as I used to pretend to be who’s mostly just trying to keep my family healthy and well-fed. And by “healthy” I mean getting them to ingest their green smoothies without gagging or complaining bitterly. And by “fed” I mean with as much humour, taste and nutrient-rich plant foods that I can reasonably achieve and afford.

Funnily enough, our first assignment in this course is to craft our very own food philosophy. Something along the lines of the brilliant Michael Pollan who wrote:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

In Defense of Food

So I started wondering about  my own personal credo and I’m thinking that maybe something simple like my lofty goal of keeping myself and my family healthy and well-fed might be a good place to start.:

“Feeding a family of meat-free, animal-loving, plant-munching, green-drink guzzling hipsters.”

Lori Wilson

That sounds pretty darn  good! I’ll start with my own clan and then branch out and hopefully my honest approach to cooking and eating will inspire a few others along the way. My goal is that in addition to my own growth and learning, I will also share the ups and downs of this educational journey with all of you.

Yep – I’m going to pick up that “Rockstar” title and run with it goddamit! Thank you to Tuja Wellness and Meghan Telpner for taking a chance on me – a decidedly imperfect rockstar. I am dancing around my kitchen, belting out a tune and strumming my wooden spoon air guitar as I get set to cook up some culinary magic. Let the fun and learning begin!

 

 

Mexican Quinoa Salad (with Bonus Wrap)

It’s not easy when a member of your family announces that they are radically changing the way they eat. I was in my mid-30’s when I embarked on a plant-based diet and this threw a real curveball at my meat-and-potato loving parents. Although I had long since moved away from home and started my own family – it still meant that every holiday and visit became a head-scratcher when trying to prepare a menu that would appeal to everyone. Thanksgiving and Christmas with no turkey?! Easter with no ham?! A BBQ with no burgers?! Holy crap!

veggie cartoon 2

I must admit that we’ve had more than a few heated “discussions” over the years about being flexible and open to trying new things. And there was also the inevitable questioning of the health benefits of a diet with no animal products. “You mean you aren’t giving your kids milk? How will they get strong bones?” “How will your family get enough protein?” “What the hell is quinoa?” and “Why do you have to be such a pain in the ass Lori?” All valid questions.

In the beginning I stood up on my soapbox and was overly eager to share all of the wonderful information I was learning about my new diet. I told them about the fact that there is actually more digestible protein in leafy greens and legumes than in meat (not to mention the animal cruelty associated with the meat industry). And that chickpeas and sesame seeds are much richer sources of protein than dairy. And that milk has been definitively linked to cancer. AND I made my entire family watch Forks Over Knives over one Christmas holiday (yes I was insufferable).

Nowadays, I’ve learned to shut my mouth more often and to be appreciative of how far we’ve come in incorporating more plant-based foods into all of our diets. But I’ve gotta give credit especially to my mom for really giving vegetarian cooking a college try. My family recently spent a few days at my parent’s home and I was totally delighted when she announced that she would be making Zesty Quinoa and Black Bean Wraps for dinner. She’s come a very long way from the woman who once told me she would never eat a vegetarian diet because there just wasn’t enough variety.

This recipe evolved from that wrap – which was delicious by the way (my son even turned down cheese pizza to gobble up a second helping). It’s simple to prepare and packed with protein, fresh veggies, herbs and spices. It just might be the best salad I’ve ever made! And as a special bonus, I turned the leftovers into a grilled wrap the next day that rivals the gourmet quinoa wrap sold by a very well-known coffee chain.

So if someone in your life announces that they are suddenly going to eat a different way – be it gluten-free or paleo or vegan or flexitarian…..be patient with them. When they come down off of their high horse – they just might make you something yummy to eat.

Mexican Quinoa Salad (with Bonus Wrap)

mexican quinoa 1

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pepper (any colour) diced
2 ears of corn- cooked, cooled and cut off of the cob
1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1 avocado, diced
Juice of 1 lime
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook quinoa according to package directions. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, corn, garlic, pepper, tomatoes, cilantro and avocado. Squeeze the lime juice over top. Pour on the olive oil and toss to coat. Add red pepper flakes, cumin, chili powder and salt and pepper and toss again. Enjoy!

*Bonus Wrap*

mexican quinoa 2

2 whole wheat or gluten-free wraps of choice
1/2 cup grated regular or vegan cheddar cheese
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups Mexican Quinoa Salad (above)

Heat a frying pan with olive oil over medium heat. Lay wraps on a flat surface and put a line of quinoa salad down the middle of each. Top with cheese. Fold in both ends of the wraps and roll together. Place the wrap in the frying pan and grill on both sides. Remove from heat after both sides are gold brown (approx. 3 minutes per side) and let cool for a few minutes. Slice and serve. (You could also use a Panini maker in place of the frying pan to make life easier).