August 10, 2010

A farmer’s market menu

Sorry for my long absence. I was (am) sick, and just haven’t felt like blogging. But I have some great photos to share from the other week, when Lisa, Nelly and I went to the amazing Brickworks Farmer’s Market, created delicious eats, and met up with Marlie in the evening to consume said food. We made so many kinds of raw desserts! Blueberry lavendar cheesecake, apricot macarons, mango mousse & peach-ginger icebox cake. I didn’t take great photos of the finished results, so check out Nelly’s and Lisa’s posts for more details. This post will be brief on the text, and heavy on the photos.

Vegan nanaimo bars? How could we not buy one?

Raw chocolate!

Apricots. We bought a LOT.

Gerkins!

Kale plant for sale…

I bought a stevia-sweetened lemonade. The verdict? Not bad, although definitely different. The absence of sugar, even though it still tasted sweet, definitely made me sip slower!

Apricot macarons! Recipe adapted from Matthew Kenney’s new Everyday Raw Desserts. Read all about them on Lisa’s blog.

That’s all for now! I’ll be back soon with some pics of Sweet Gratitude’s chocolate mint swirl cheesecake, which is setting in the freezer right now for a work barbecue event tomorrow. I love sharing raw desserts with non-veg, non-raw folks!!

July 29, 2010

Stuffed squash blossoms & raspberry cheesecake

First off, congratulations to the Party Parfait Challenge winners! I was beyond impressed with Angela’s first-place Lifesavers-inspired parfait – what a creative idea! Emma’s second-place Black Forest Sparkle parfait and Theresa’s Chocolate Coffee Explosion parfait also looked amazing. So did all the entries… yum.

Today’s post is going to be straight-up food porn: the kitchen fun I got up to last weekend with Nelly. We made two delicious and very gourmet raw recipes — stuffed squash blossoms and white chocolate raspberry cheesecake.

I’ve been intrigued by squash blossoms for a long time, ever since seeing recipes for raw stuffed squash blossoms in Sarma Melngialis’ Living Raw Food and Charlie Trotter & Roxanne Klein’s Raw. I’ve never tried the cooked version, but apparently they are often stuffed with cheese and pan-fried. But I had a problem: where to buy squash blossoms? I could never find them in stores. Finally, I stumbled across them at the Dufferin Park organic farmer’s market last week. If you’re in Toronto, this market is definitely worth a visit — 3-7 pm on Thursdays, and there is an incredible bounty of organic, seasonal, local produce. At any rate, I grabbed the squash blossoms and some other goodies, and we got to work on un-cooking.

The recipe we ended up using was the one from Sarma’s book, and it didn’t disappoint! The flavour profile of the recipe was decidedly Middle Eastern — they were stuffed with an incredible smoky paprika cashew chive cheese, which I found to be the highlight of the recipe. On the side was a cucumber mint raita (made from young coconut meat & pine nuts), a spicy harissa sauce, and a tomato-olive-cumin salad. So amazing!

Now, onto dessert: we made the white chocolate raspberry cheesecake from Sweet Gratitude, the dessert bible. Don’t let appearances deceive you: this beautiful dessert was really fast and easy to make! The almond-coconut-cacao nib crust literally took seconds in the food processor, and the filling took only minutes in the Vitamix. The hardest part was swirling the fillings to make them look pretty.

I think I kind of failed at this task: the surface swirling looked OK but the inside was mediocre. I think I need a lesson from Sweet Gratitude mater Bitt, whose swirled creations always turn out perfectly. There was a LOT of cheesecake left over after we each had a slice, so I took some to work on Monday. My co-workers devoured it, and couldn’t believe the cheesecake was vegan, let alone raw! Raw desserts are the way to anyone’s heart.

There were also left over components of the squash blossoms, so I enjoyed the cashew cheese on zucchini slices for a snack the next day.

Finally, check out Nelly’s blog for a recap of our experience with durian. All I can say, is that it was disgusting. It stank up the house before we even opened it with the putrid aroma of onions and sulfur. And the taste was just as bad as the smell! I totally now understand why many countries have banned durian in public places like buses and hotels. I’ll be staying away from these stink bombs in the future. Nelly’s pup Jackson, on the other hand, seemed to love it. Have you tried durian? Love it, hate it? I’m curious.

I hope you all enjoy the long weekend (if you have one). The weather is supposed to be beautiful in Toronto, and I have more food plans with some of my favourite raw ladies, and you’ll definitely see a recap.

July 25, 2010

Orange blossom apricot parfait

There are few things I love more than raw desserts (hence this blog). But I think I love raw dessert competitions even more than plain old raw desserts. So obviously, I was excited when Heather came up with her latest dessert challenge: the Raw Party Parfait Challenge! Bloggers are invited to make their own twists on Heather’s parfait recipes, and our creations will be judged, with the winner reaping a bounty of raw prize treats.

Although I’m entering close to the deadline, I’ve actually had my parfait concept more or less formed in my mind for weeks. I decided to create an Orange Blossom Apricot parfait! The inspiration comes from a specific Moroccan dessert my mom used to make that contained orange blossom water. I’ve always loved orange blossom water, but I haven’t had any for years. So I thought it would be fun to feature it in my perfect party parfait. If you’ve never tried it before, it doesn’t taste orangey at all — it’s extremely floral, fragrant, and exotic!

I went on a hunt for high-quality orange blossom water, and found a bottle in Kensington Market (Cedar brand, which is apparently the best). I added about a tablespoon of the orange blossom water to Heather’s coconut cream recipe, and it tasted divine.

In keeping with the Moroccan concept, I chose a spice that I don’t use nearly enough — star anise — to compliment the floral cream. I sprinkled the star anise and a touch of my mom’s organic honey on some pistachios, and dehydrated until crispy.

Finally, my fruit layer was sweet and simple – fresh, organic apricots, finely diced.

I threw the layers together, and then headed upstairs to my rooftop patio for a little photo shoot!

Thanks to Heather for hosting such a fun challenge! I look forward to the next one. Check out Heather’s site, Sweetly Raw, for some of the other amazing entries. I’m so blown away by the creativity!

I hope you each had a lovely weekend. I sure did — I got together with Nelly and we un-cooked a storm. Watch for some photos later this week!

July 24, 2010

Tart with local sour cherries

I love eating seasonally. There’s nothing more exciting than the oodles of amazingly fresh produce that becomes available during the summer months. A friend of mine went cherry picking outside the city the other weekend, and ended up with many pounds of delicious sour cherries, so we made these tarts. It’s a recipe from Sarma Melngailis’ Raw Food Real World (one of my favourite uncook books) – almond crust, young coconut/cashew cream, and delicious sour cherries :)

Here’s some weekend food porn for you!

July 21, 2010

Fitness test

I’ve written a lot about food on this blog, and only a little about fitness and my workouts. But working out and getting exercise is another hugely important part of my life. I had my quarterly fitness assessment today, and I’m thrilled with how far I’ve come! So in this post I want to share a little about my fitness progress and goals.

For years, my fitness routine hasn’t changed much: 30-60 minutes of cardio, coupled with some strength exercises — usually lower weight, higher rep. I was in decent shape, but it seemed that no matter how much cardio I did, I didn’t see any drastic changes in my body. When I moved to Toronto about a year ago to start law school, I started making a concerted effort to work out more frequently. I went through periods of meticulously tracking my food/calorie/nutrient intake since, as they say, 80% of getting in shape is what you eat. I was eating only 1200-1400 calories per day. I felt that I was making okay progress throughout the year, but not outstanding.

In April, my campus gym membership expired, and I joined a new gym that’s closer to home and actually a lot more convenient to get to while school is out for the summer. As part of my membership, I get a fitness assessment done every three months by a trainer at the gym. I did my first assessment at the beginning of April, and at the time I was pretty proud of the results. Since I’ve been working 9-5 over the summer, I had more time to hit the weights, and I made good use of that time. I started lifting heavy, and I started eating more.

First, I started working extra hard to increase the weight I was lifting, and I found myself becoming a lot stronger. I select heavier weights, and do lower reps and more sets (5 sets with 8-10 reps). I do a three day split: legs/abs, chest/back, and arms/shoulders. Second, I started eating far more calories (closer to 1800-1900). And most recently, I ditched the cardio portion of my routine altogether, and focus more on lifting heavy things. I’ve cut down my cardio to only 10 minutes on the stairmaster for warm-up, and it feels great. I’ve always hated doing cardio (boring!), and to be seeing such great results with very little cardio makes me happy. For years, I felt that cardio was the most important part of my fitness routine, and that I would put on weight if I stopped doing it. Now I know that excessive cardio prevents me from gaining muscle and getting stronger, and I’ll never return to my days as a cardio queen. Plus, it’s so much easier to motivate myself to get to the gym when I know I don’t have to do repetitive and boring cardio exercise.

I knew I would show good progress at yesterday’s fitness assessment, but I surprised even myself. I gained 8 lb of muscle in only a few months! My trainer was majorly impressed, and agreed that my strategy of lifting heavy with lower reps was the key to packing on muscle. He also liked with my decision to cut way back on cardio, and suggested 20 minutes once per week would suffice. Otherwise, he agreed that I’m just burning away calories that my body could be using to build muscle mass. This is also why I eat a lot more now — my body needs the calories to build muscle!

Here are my results, by the numbers:

Weight – 100 lb in April, 108.4 lb in July

Bodyfat – Same

Measurements – I forget the numbers, but I gained some inches around my hips, my legs and my arms.

Push-ups (to failure) – 17 in April, 31 in July

Sit-ups (in 1 minute) – 25 (all assisted) in April,  27 (10 unassisted) in July

Plank – I forget the numbers, but I held the plank a lot longer this time

Squatting against the wall – I maxed out the three minute timer in April and again in July

Cardio capacity – Down slightly since April — my heart rate is higher now when working at various intensities than it was in April.

So, what’s the moral of this story?

1. Lift heavy weights. I can’t tell you how many women I know stick to the tiny dumbbells, because they’re afraid that lifting the heavier ones will make them bulky. Let me assure you, this is a myth. It takes years of very hard work to build up enough muscle mass to appear “bulky” (whatever that means). Lifting weight will do the opposite of add “bulk” — it will help you burn fat, and it will help you get a strong, shapely body. Although I weigh more now than I did in April, I look way better.

2. Cut back on cardio, do more strength training. If you have a long way to go before you get to where you want to be, fitness-wise, you’ll probably be looking to burn a lot of calories to shed some pounds. So cardio will be important, initially. But so is weight training — it burns the same amount of calories, and leaves you wish muscle, which also helps your body burn through calories. Now, if you’re not trying to lose fat, but are more focused on gaining muscle, excessive cardio will impeded your progress. So ditch it, and lift heavy.

3. Eat lots of healthy food. It’s important to eat enough calories so that your body can covert the energy into muscle mass. My metabolism has shot way up since I started lifting heavy and eating more — I was simply maintaining my weight on 1200-1400 calories, and now I’m packing on shapely muscle with 1800-1900 calories, without gaining fat. So don’t be afraid of eating more, as long as you’re eating well.

And how does my diet help me build muscle? It definitely does, but seeing as how this post is already super long, I’ll save for another day how eating mostly raw plants fuels me for maximum results at the gym. Thanks for bearing with me today while I rambled about something that’s a little off topic for my blog, but very important to who I am. I’d love to hear stories about how you stay healthy and in shape, and what kind of workouts give you the best results!

July 19, 2010

Date night at Live Organic Food Bar

I was reminded this weekend that I am an incredibly lucky person. Yes, I have great friends and family, I have a wonderful partner, and I’m in good health. Those things are all important, but there’s another reason that I felt so lucky over the weekend — because I live just a very short walk from one of Toronto’s best raw food restaurants, Live Organic Food Bar!

I haven’t blogged much yet about Live, but it’s definitely one of my favourite restaurants. I go there fairly regularly since it’s so close by, and I’m never disappointed. Founded in 2002, Live started off as a small juice bar, but soon expanded into a full-menu restaurant, with a beautiful, fresh interior, and sublime backyard patio when the weather is nice. The menu is 100% vegan, focuses on wholesome, organic food, and includes a variety of both raw and cooked dishes. This is something I love about Live, because it means there is always something for everyone to eat — friends who are less familiar with eating raw can find something to tickle their tastebuds. They mix up the menu seasonally (something else I love, because who doesn’t get excited over new dishes?), and they serve a spectacular brunch on the weekends. Live also sells a line of raw snacks and pre-made, fresh raw meals-to-go at local health food stores – a great way to eat raw on the go!

Saturday was date night. Before heading to the movie theatre to watch Inception (awesome film!), we stopped in at Live for dinner on the patio. It was the first time I had been there since they brought in the summer menu, so I was eager to try some of the new dishes. I had a hard time choosing! I always yearn for my old standard, the Rainbow Kale Salad (you know of my obsession with kale), but we decided to split two new entrees — the Unstirfry, and the Pepper Poppers. Am I ever glad we did!

The Unstirfry was mind-blowing, featuring jicama and parsnip rice, topped with teriyaki-tossed veggies, mixed seeds, and spicy almonds. Wow! Such a tasty way to get in some extra veggies. The Asian flavours melded together perfectly — this dish rivals any cooked stir fry I’ve ever eaten.

And the Pepper Poppers — yum! I used to love the deep-fried, cream cheese-stuffed red pepper poppers served at so many pubs and mainstream restaurants. But those things just can’t compare to Live’s Pepper Poppers, which were stuffed with sunflower seed pepper Jack ‘cheese’ and corn pepper salsa, served with sesame mayo and an almond cacao mole. So fresh and tasty! If you like Mexican food, you’ll adore these.

We skipped dessert on this particular evening, mostly because we had a movie to get to, but dessert at Live is always a pleasurable experience. I know I’ll be back soon to make up for no dessert on Saturday. And to try the remaining entrees on the new menu :)

July 17, 2010

Watermelon Slushy

I don’t know about you, but I used to L-O-V-E slushies when I was a kid. Yes, the unnaturally-coloured and artificially-flavoured concoctions sold at corner stores in the summertime. In fact, my love of slushies continued well-beyond my childhood, as I have more recent memories of slurping down those sugary drinks in flavours like cola, orange, mountain dew, and more. My favourite flavour was all of the above – all added into one big plastic cup.

Those days are done. I don’t consume chemically-concocted “food” anymore, I haven’t had sugary drinks like pop for many years, and the thought of a slushy no longer holds the appeal it once did. However, it’s still hotter than hell in Toronto, and I’m still trying to find ways to cool down. So I created a healthy, raw, unprocessed version of this treat instead! This watermelon slushy is reminiscent of hot summer days and visits to the convenience store, but without all the refined sugar and processed junk. It’s also dead easy to make.

Watermelon Slushy

Ingredients

1.5 cups frozen watermelon, cubed

1.5 cups fresh watermelon

Instructions

Blend fresh and frozen watermelon in blender until smooth. Sip it down, and cool off.

I made another variation on this frosty drink — a post-work out watermelon slushy, with added protein. For some reason, I find the creaminess of the other ingredients highlights the flavour of the watermelon. I think I like this one best!

Work-out Watermelon Slushy

Ingredients

2 cups frozen watermelon, cubed

1/2 cup almond milk

1 scoop vanilla Sun Warrior protein

Instructions

Blend all ingredients until smooth.

July 13, 2010

Blogger get together at Rawlicious

I’m back from my trip to PEI, with news of Monday’s awesome raw blogger meet up!

But first, a quick update on my friend’s wedding over the weekend: it was fabulous. I was going to post a photo of my bridesmaid dress from the big day, but I’m usually the one behind the camera, so I don’t have many pics of myself. I’ll share one if my friends have any decent shots. At any rate, the day went off without a hitch, my friend looked breathtakingly beautiful, and a good time was had by all.

Now, on to other exciting news. I had the great pleasure of hanging out with some of the loveliest ladies in the world yesterday afternoon at Toronto raw restaurant Rawlicious! Heathy was in town for a visit, Kelli made the trip in from New Jersey, Marlie drove up from the Niagara region, and then we had Nelly, Lisa, Kristin and myself from the Toronto area. What a wonderful time we had! It’s so somewhat surreal to meet blogger friends in person, given that we already know so much about each other from what we share on our blogs.

We sat in the back room at Rawlicious, at a long table surrounded by comfy cushions for seating. It was beyond fabulous to spend the afternoon chatting about raw food and life in this beautiful setting. Obviously, we photographed everything we ordered, and I think we all agreed that it was nice to be around others who understand the desire to get snapshots of great food. (I’m pretty sure a lot of my non-foodie friends find it odd!)

We started the meal with some nachos and spring rolls. I always enjoy their nachos, which are served with yummy raw sour cream, garlicky guacamole, salsa, olives, green onions, and hot peppers. Yum! The spring rolls were delicious and gingery.

Nelly and I both went for the caesar wrap – something I’ve had before and knew I would love! I adore the raw vegan dressing, and the onion bread croutons. I also enjoy the collard leaf wrap (I jump at the chance to get in more greens).

Heathy and Kristin had something similar – the caesar salad (minus the wrap).

Lisa went for the garden salad.

Kelli and Marlie split the pad thai and an olive currant salad.

And obviously, we had dessert! Others went for a raw macaroon or raw brownie bite, but I still had enough room for the blueberry cheesecake :) It was good! It was lighter than many cheesecakes I have tried, and came topped with a delicious blueberry sauce.

And finally, as if the pleasure of their company wasn’t enough, some ladies brought goodies to share! Marlie gave each of us an adorable cupcake container. So cool! I’ve never seen these before. I’ve never made a raw cupcake before, either, but have a feeling I might have to start taking them to work with me in my handy dandy new cupcake container. Heather brought some of her famous treats – pictured below is chocolate topped with maple sugar – yum! – and a foil-covered raw turtle. Mmmm pecan, caramel, and chocolate. And Nelly brought delicious moon pies! I swear, every time I see Nelly she sends me away with a new container of moon pies. She really knows how to be a good friend :) I would have loved to bring some treats for these great girls but time was short since I only got back to town the night before.

It was a perfect afternoon, and I’m so glad to have shared it with all of you ladies. I can’t wait for the next time we hang out, and I feel lucky to have such wonderful friends in my life.

July 9, 2010

Raw on the road: PEI

Traveling raw can sometimes be a challenge. It’s easy to pack fruit, nuts and raw energy bars for a trip, but I often find that getting in as many servings of veggies as I like per day (usually 8-10) is more difficult. I especially miss my Vitamix while on the road — it just doesn’t feel right to go too many days without a green smoothie!

Eating high raw becomes a lot easier when I’m visiting my mom in PEI, where I grew up. For starters, she has a gigantic garden, which I raid with reckless abandon. Her garden is bigger than my entire community garden in Toronto! And because my mom’s also a vegan (we went vegetarian together when I was 12), the cupboards are usually well-stocked with vegan and raw staples. My mom’s also into fermented foods, and makes her own water kefir. She’s giving me some water kefir grains to take back to Toronto!

Mom's garden

Yesterday morning I was feeling low on leafy greens, so we went across the road to the neighbours’ place to grab some kale – they have a huge market garden. I loaded up on kale, spinach and beet greens. According to them, kale is finally taking off on PEI. They tried to sell it last year at farmer’s markets but no one was interested/knew what it was. But this year, kale is the new hottest thing – it’s popularity has exploded! I’m pleased that so many more people are catching on to its health benefits.

Sadly, my mom doesn’t have a Vitamix. She has an Osterizer from the 80s (seriously). I used spinach instead of kale in my blueberry-nectarine green smoothie since it makes for a less chunky smoothie if you’re Vitamix-deprived.

We went to the beach in the afternoon. If you’ve never been to PEI, the beautiful beaches, red cliffs and stunning sand dunes alone make the trip worthwhile.

For breakfast this morning, I concocted a chia pudding, with Sun Warrior (yes, I brought some with me), hemp protein, cinnamon and dates.

Today, I think more beach time is on the agenda before the wedding rehearsal tonight, and then tomorrow I’m a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding. So excited! I’ll be back next week with an update from a raw blogger fun day in Toronto on Monday, with Heather, Kelli, Marlie, Nelly, Lisa, and Kristin! I can’t wait to hang out with these ladies.

Before I go, I want you all to take a minute to vote for everyone’s favourite raw dessert chef Heather — she’s running in the Hot Raw Chef contest sponsored by the Living Light Institute. If you cast a vote, you’ll get a free raw recipe e-book with all the recipes demonstrated by the contestants in their entry videos. To cast your vote, go to http://www.hotrawchef.com/, fill out the entry form, and cast your ballot for Heather. You can also watch her entry video to see her recipe for a raw vegan summer berry tart, which I know I’ll be making some day soon. Help Heather stay in first place!

Hope you all have a fabulous weekend! xo

July 8, 2010

I scream for (raw vegan) ice cream

With the temperature resting upwards of 40 degrees Celsius in Toronto this week (with the humidex), ice cream has been on my mind. I would hazard a guess that anyone else suffering through the heat wave has also had their brain filled with thoughts of everyone’s favourite frosty summer treat! But when you’re raw vegan, it’s not quite as easy to indulge in an ice cream cone as it is for omnis. Getting one’s raw ice cream fix becomes somewhat more of a task than simply walking to the corner store or the supermarket. Of course, it’s easy and fun to make your own raw ice cream, but what about those times when you just want instant gratification?

Thankfully, raw foodies in Toronto can buy Blue Mountain Organics Cashew Creamery raw vegan ice cream at The Big Carrot on Danforth Avenue! I first saw raw ice cream sold commercially while hanging out in California last summer. In fact, the Whole Foods in Venice sold multiple brands! It was heavenly. I figured it was only a matter of time before raw vegan ice cream was available in my city, so I was excited to hear rumors that The Big Carrot had it in stock. I finally made it to the Carrot last weekend for a little grocery run, so I picked up a pint to try for myself. They had chocolate, strawberry, mango, vanilla & mint cacao chip, but I purchased the cappuccino kind. (I would have chosen mint if left to my own devices, but my boyfriend bizarrely hates chocolate mint, and I figured I should share.)

It was delicious! So cool, sweet and creamy. It’s organic, sweetened with agave nectar and many of their flavours contain yummy superfoods, like maca and lucuma. It does come at a somewhat hefty price – $9.99 – but I feel that this kind of raw deliciousness is well worth the occasional cost. It will be a great once-in-awhile treat for me. I think I’ll go for mango next.

Have a great rest of the week, friends. I’m at home in Prince Edward Island for the weekend — I’m going to be a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding on Saturday. it is fabulous to get out of the city heat! The temperature is much more bearable here. But the best part so far has been raiding my mom’s ginormous garden. I’ve been eating peas, kale, spinach, strawberries… yum! She also makes her own water kefir. I promise a blog post with some of the awesome raw eats that are found at my mom’s place.

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