Monthly Archives: September 2010

Food Matters

Hello friends!! Hope everyone had a great start to the week! Mine has been pretty darn good. A full day of great training clients, then seeing one of my favourite chefs/authors in person!!

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Mark Bittman, first and foremost, is the author of several of my favourite Runner’s World columns. He’s also the man behind The Minimalist. Always my favourite food column in the New York Times.

Ohyeah, and he’s got a bunch of those things… books?? :P

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Tonight, he spoke mostly about the content in his Food Matters book to promote the new Food Matters Cookbook. It’s all about eating consciously. I’m actually more familiar with How To Cook Everything, which is one of his awesomely simple and easy to follow cookbooks.

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I went in armed with not only my camera and foodie excitement, but also my trusty notebook. I’m an old journalist after all, I can’t help but take notes! Here are some of my favourite points from the Q&A:

  • Americans spend only 7% of their income on food. A very low percentage representing how many are living off cheap processed food.
  • “Pay the farmer, not the hospital.”
  • Ideally, our diets would consist of 90% plants with 10% coming from everything else (meat, processed food, and “junk”). An alarming number of people take in the reverse percentages. Bittman says we don’t have to be perfect – we just need to “seesaw” to get those numbers closer together. i.e. More plants, less of everything else.
  • Bittman thinks veganism is the highest form of conscious eating, but admitted  he personally will never get there. Instead he does a vegan diet until 6pm every day, then might have animal products with dinner. He said it doesn’t matter if you are a vegan, so long as you take steps in that direction.
  • Drew several comparisons between cigarettes and processed foods. Mentioned that only a few people quit smoking when the surgeon general’s warning against it came out in 1964. It took mass coercion and enforcement to see a big change in the number of people smoking. He used this to demonstrate that warning about the health risks of processed foods may not be enough. Also pointed out that much like cigarettes are linked to cancer, some foods are linked to diabetes.
  • “Cooking is not a spectator sport.” Bittman is not a huge fan of the Food Network, saying, “People are too busy watching other people cook on television.” Touché.

Overall it was a fun Q&A! I raised my hand to ask him about how running changed his perception of food, but my hand was never picked. I will say he’s exactly how I pictured him. Brutally honest, funny, self-deprecating and personable all in one.

 

Now how about I start showing you some food!

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I’ve had a few stellar food combinations recently. Beginning with this bowl of spicy oats.

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1/2 cup rolled oats cooked with water, a pinch of salt, bacon, and a scoop of cream cheese. Topped with two soft-fried eggs and Frank’s hot sauce.

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The cream cheese made the oats just that – creamy and cheesy! Runny yolks on hot oats is something you must try if you’re in to that sort of thing. It’s dreamy!

I’ve also been mixing cream cheese into salsa.

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Makes it something a little reminiscent of that neon-orange Tostitos con queso dip and awesome with carrots!

I paired this combo with a ham + swiss sandwich. Except I added a little kick with fresh herbs.

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In this case, a oregano under the melted cheese. I remember Leah posting about keeping fresh herbs on hand so I’ve been giving it a go. Wow! They make everything taste a million times better!

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Just like that, with a little cream cheese and oregano, my dinner turned from blah to extraordinary :)

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Dessert lately hasn’t been too classy.

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Some days I crave the fancy dark 80-whatever chocolate. Other days I just want some old-school Jersey Milk.

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Hits the spot. Reminds me of childhood when I only ate milk chocolate.

 

Another childhood favourite is sloppy joes paired with corn. I don’t know why my mother always made this particular combo, but now every time I eat sloppy joes, corn needs to be had. I polished off the lentil-based Snobby Joes the way they were meant to be eaten… on a bun. 

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Much better warm on a bun as opposed to cold on a pita like I’d been eating it.

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With the corn and green beans! Perfection.

There happens to be a fruit and vegetable stand a block away from the running store I work at. Their baskets are brimming with local Ontario apples and I can’t help but snatch some up every time I pass!

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Including this GINORMOUS honeycrisp. I put it in front of this crappy DVD for size comparison, but I realize you’re not getting the width of it here, which was very respectable indeed.

I ate it all.

Last, but not least, I’ve been snacking on Scottish treats!

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And by “snack” I mean I came home tonight and completely demolished the rest of the traditional Scottish oatcakes. Left side topped with PB + fluff, right side with almond butter + chocolate chips. Too bad I don’t have any jam in the house – it would be perfect! Guess I’ll just have to make more ;)

 

**If you’ve got a few seconds**
 pleasepleaseplease click here to vote for my Taste of Scotland post for the Project Food Blog contest!

And thank you if you already have! I just worked out a really fun concept for the third dinner party challenge and I really want to share it!

 

Question of the Day: What famous chef would you like to meet? Obviously my pick here is Alton Brown. I <3 that man!

Project Food Blog Round 2: Finding My Roots – A Taste of Scotland

I suppose you could say I am a true Canadian through and through. My ancestry is a bit of a mixed bag. My last name German, my grandmothers are French and British. I hear there is a Norwegian in there, and according to family gossip, the possibility of an affair with an aboriginal.

However, there is one background that I familiarize myself with more than any other – Scottish.

My now deceased Papa was 100% Scottish despite his upbringing in Montreal. He was fluent in French until the day he died. But get enough rye in him and he could eerily mimic the Scottish tongue spoken by his own father.

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My Papa carried his Scottish traditions into his own family. I’ll never forget when my mother explained to me as a child that instead of French toast on Sundays, she ate blood pudding. I was horrified.

Of course, some of my mother’s traditions have trickled down into our family. Holiday meals are always paired with party crackers and paper crowns. We all drink Earl Grey and my mother insists we watch the Queen’s Message every Christmas. Speaking of Christmas, not one goes by without a mincemeat pie. My sisters and I even did highland dancing as children, complete with kilts, vests, and leather shoes.

I mean, just look at us. Our frizzy hair and pale complexions just scream “Scottish.”

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When reading over the criteria for the second challenge of Project Food Blog I knew it was time to channel that inner Scot of mine. I can whip up a Lebanese meal no prob, but the food of “my people” has never quite tickled my culinary fancy.

Challenge Prompt: Ready to tackle a classic dish from another culture? Pick an ethnic classic that is outside your comfort zone or are not as familiar with… Try to keep the dish as authentic as the real deal…

Of course, what are Scots known for best? Haggis! I’ve never tried haggis before and was only further intrigued when my mother told me of my great-great-Nana Susan MacLeod (who I am named after) making haggis on the Isle of Skye.

Creates a lovely scene, no?

I thought so until I actually looked up the ingredients to haggis:

1 sheep’s lung (illegal in the U.S.; may be omitted if not available)

1 sheep’s stomach

1 sheep heart

1 sheep liver

1/2 lb fresh suet (kidney leaf fat is preferred)

I tried in vain to find a “healthier” version. I found a few using turkey hearts and necks. An off-base vegan version using lentils. But the more I looked the more grossed out I got by the whole thing. I mean, Scottish cooking isn’t necessarily known for being healthy or delicious. But I was convinced that I could make something without grossing myself, and my readers, out!

I skimmed through traditional Scottish recipes, determined to find something better than haggis, but could still challenge my vegetarian roots. I am still something of a “newbie” to all this meat-y cooking after all.

I ended up finding not one, but two dishes that got me licking my lips and excited to get in the kitchen!

First up: Scotch Eggs.

Boiled eggs wrapped in sausage. Protein + fat doesn’t get much better than this my friends.

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Both of these recipes come from the same website, featuring dozens of traditional Scottish recipes. The way they were made hundreds of years ago. The recipe for scotch eggs can be found here.

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I began by boiling five eggs, peeling, and dusting them in flour.

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The flour is so the sausage sticks. I learned this immediately because I almost accidentally skipped this step!

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I cheated a little bit on the sausage. You see, I live close to an amazing local butcher that carries a wide variety of organic sausage meats. In the name of finding a healthy balance,  I asked for a pound of chicken sausage meat that he ground up for me on the spot.

The recipe calls for light seasoning, but the sausage meat was already seasoned. So I just started wrappin’!

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Once wrapped, it’s time to bread them to hold them together. Just dip in an egg wash and coat in breadcrumbs.

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My breadcrumbs were bought at a supermarket. Something I guess my great-great-Nana didn’t have.

Scotch eggs are typically deep-fried but that did not sound appealing to me. Instead, I just poured a whack of canola oil in a pan and turned them a few times.

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They still got sufficiently greasy and crispy.

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I patted them dry upon removal from the pan.

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Then… the moment of truth. Time to slice one of these babies open!

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A perfectly boiled egg wrapped in perfectly cooked and seasoned sausage. A Scottish culinary success!!

But wait. There is something Scots love even more than ground animal parts.

Oatmeal.

And what better way to make that than in a…

Traditional Scottish Oatcake.

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This recipe can be found here and also goes by the name “bannocks.” I was drawn to the small ingredient list and simple method of preparation, however I learned there are several methods of making a “traditional oatcake.”

I started with some rolled oats, a pinch of salt and two pinches of baking soda. Yes, “pinch” is the proper measurement here.

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The recipe calls for bacon fat, however I don’t casually keep that stuff on hand. Instead I subbed in 2 tsp melted butter. Mixed with several tablespoons of boiling water to get a sticky mix. Rolled into more dry oats and divided into four sections.

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I picture Susan MacLeod making these in a cast-iron skillet over a hot wood stove.

I have a non-stick pan on an electric oven.

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Cooked until just browned. These were incredibly easy to make.

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Suddenly, I’m left with the perfect Sunday Scottish breakfast.

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Sure, it’s no blood pudding or haggis. That may be something best left to the experts in the Isle of Skye. Now if only I could count all those rye + waters as “finding my roots” as well.

** Voting for this challenge opens Monday, September 27. You’ll be able to vote for this post by clicking here and don’t forget to check out the other entries here!**

Fitness Friday – The Perfect Lunge

Hellohello! First and foremost THANK YOU to those of you who voted for my first Project Food Blog submission.

I advanced to the next round!

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I honestly cannot believe this, so thankyouthankyouthankyou from the depths of my heart for taking the time out of your day to pick my lil’ bloggie! The second challenge will happen this weekend. It’s all about “The Classics” and will have me experimenting with a unique ethnic dish in my kitchen. I’ve got the dish picked out and it’s going to be fun! Or… at least interesting ;)

Now, enough of the food stuff for now – we’ve got fitness to talk about!

Today’s Fitness Friday post is a continuation on my “perfect series.” So far I’ve covered:

The Perfect Push Up 

The Perfect Plank

The Perfect Squat

 

After covering the squat, I feel like we are ready to tackle one of the most abused exercises:

The Lunge.

I say abused, because 90% of the people I see doing lunges are doing them incorrectly. Mostly due to the fact that it is an advanced exercise. It’s still hard for most people to do! The lunge is one of the best lower body exercises there is, but it requires a lot of stability + strength to perform correctly.

Because it can be such an effective exercise, many trainers and instructors use lunges in their programs despite having “beginner” clients and students. I work with one trainer who tests his clients abilities before even graduating them to a lunge.

Why all the fuss about doing it properly? Because an incorrect lunge can do a number on your knees. Especially if you’re prone to knee problems already. 

Fret not though, I am here to get you doing it correctly! Start with just your bodyweight. There’s no point in adding load if you feel like you’re going to topple over to begin with. Then, remember these points:

  • Take a biiiig step out. This is to ensure that your knee is above your ankle when you come down. If your knee comes past your toes, it puts unneeded stress on your knee joint.
  • Keep your feet at hip distance apart. Too many people put their feet one foot in front of the other when lunging, and that’s why they fall sideways!
  • Your torso moves up and down. Never lean forward when lunging – that will also lead to the front knee coming forward which we don’t want. Remember to keep that chest up and proud!
  • Your back knee should ideally be inches from the floor when you’re at the base of your lunge. However, I’m not too strict on this point. Come down to wherever is comfortable, just make sure you’re still working hard!
  • Remember to push up through your heels and not your toes. This ensures you’re hitting those bigger leg muscles.
  • Try picking a stationary spot to stare at while lunging, it will help with your balance.

The lunge is great for:

  • Quads (front thigh), glutes (butt) and hips. Secondary muscles are the hamstrings (back of thigh) and calves.
  • Balance
  • Keeping your heart rate up (burning calories!) during a strength routine

 

Variations:

There are of course a million variations of the lunge. Here are the main ones:

Forward lunge: Take a big step forward, come down, then push back up ending with your feet together.

Reverse lunge: Take a big step behind you, bring that leg down, then push forward ending with your feet together.

Stationary lunge: (pictured above). Stand with your feet hip distance apart but a wide space from front to back. Keep your back toe up and front foot planted in the ground. Bring that back knee down, push up, stay where you are, and come back down again. This also goes by a “split squat.”

Walking lunge: A forward lunge, except instead of pushing back, you bring the back leg forward into a wide step and come down again.

Now onto to some of my favourite fancier versions!

 

Twisting Walking Lunge

A regular walking lunge performed holding a weight (can be a plate, dumbbell, medicine ball, etc). As you come down, with straight arms, twist using your ab muscles to the side of the front leg. Come up straight again, then twist to the other side as you lunge forward with the other leg. Great way to get ab and shoulder work in with your lunges!

 

Curtsy Lunge

This is essentially a reverse lunge. But instead of bringing your leg straight back, bring it back diagonally so it looks like a curtsy. I personally find this a lot easier for balance over a regular reverse lunge.

 

Lunge Kick

A fun way to get that heart rate up and take out some of your frustration ;) Perform a reverse lunge, then swing that back leg forward on the way up and kick it in front of you. I don’t recommend trying this with weights like in the photo on the first try. This one requires a lot of balance!

 

Lunge on a Bosu Ball

Think a regular stationary lunge is hard to balance on? Try putting that front foot on the top of a bosu ball. The extra instability causes those working muscles to really fire up.

 

The Lunge Jump

Aka “my most hated exercise ever.” Start with a regular forward lunge. From that down position, push up into a jump, switch legs, and land by lunging down on the other side. Repeat until your legs feel like they are going to burn off :P

 

And that my friends is my spiel on The Perfect Lunge. A lot of people moan and groan about how awful they are. But I promise that once you get the form down on the basic bodyweight variations, it will start to feel better and more fun. As a disclaimer though, I absolutely do not recommend a lunge of any kind for anyone with nagging knee issues! They can be tricky for those with ankle problems as well. With that said – happy lunging!

Question of the Day: What is your most hated exercise? Do you still make it part of your routine?

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