Pass (on) the canola oil please

I’m all for knowledge.

In my home, I control what fats we use. Some of the top budget dollars go to properly sourced grass fed/pastured butter and ghee. Unrefined coconut and palm oils, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oils, avocado oils, and so on and so on. When we dine out, (which incidentally is happening less and less these days) we are at the mercy of the oils and fats the restaurant uses. One inquires and makes decisions based on the information provided. Hats off to the servers who have the knowledge or go ask the questions. Thank you for going above and beyond. It is appreciated.

One should never stop learning and one should always be open to hearing another viewpoint. I came across this clip on how canola oil is produced. This video is not a “hate on canola oil” production. It is taking us through the refinement stage from seed to bottle in a matter-of-fact narrative. The opening comment states canola oil is one of the best cooking oils available. Lowest level of saturated fat. More healthy omega 3 fatty acids and is high in mono-unsaturated fat. One would almost believe this was a healthy choice if they quit the video there. I won’t poke holes in those claims today. Maybe another day.

From here we see the many steps of refinement. I won’t repeat each step, because, well, you are capable of watching the video again if you felt so inclined. But, let’s hit the highlight reel. Washing the flattened canola cake for 70 minutes in a solvent (mmm, ok) to extract more oil. A 20 minute wash in sodium hydroxide. Let’s flash back to high school science for a moment. NaOH is lye or caustic soda by another name. This stuff can also be used to break down tissue and make bones brittle enough to be crushed into powder with your fingers. Many a criminal in history has used this chemical compound to break down a body to make evidence (almost) disappear. The canola oil is bleached to lighten the colour. Steam is used for deodorization.

The by-products during the refinement process include:

  • cattle feed (from the “foreign material” in the separation process)
  • soaps (“natural impurities” from the oil after washing in NaOH)
  • vegetable shortening (waxy substance left behind after the lye wash)
  • animal feed (from the solvent-washed canola cake)

The by-products appear to be what was left over after each of the refining stages. The way I interpret this, is those other products are laden in the various chemicals used to process the end product. Isn’t soap supposed to clean our skin? Not wash it with something that could be potentially breaking it down? I’m guessing the soap is refined further to remove those toxins introduced during the canola refinement stage. Cue safer skincare products from companies like Beautycounter.

Another plug for grass-fed/grass-finished/pastured meats when at all possible. The animals are consuming these chemical cocktails. Put your money where your mouth is. You deserve better than factory food.

 

 

Growing up on KD

Who ate this stuff? Who still eats this stuff?

C’mon, hands up. We’re all friends here. No one will judge you.

Confession time. I used to eat 2 boxes of the stuff, BY MYSELF, because I could. I’d eat right out of the pot I cooked it in, no less. I’d make the stuff, grab the salt shaker and plop myself on the couch in front of the tv and mindlessly shovel it in, stopping only to resalt the next layer. I’d eat until it was all gone, even if I felt full at about the halfway point, because, well, noodles and cheese. Oh and salt. Lots of that. As if the 80’s pantry ubiquitous blue box didn’t already have a stupid amount of sodium in it already.

The first time I made it, I recall, I read the instructions on the side of the box to the letter. I dutifully measured the amount of water I set to boil. I measured out the salt, milk, butter (it most likely was margarine that went into it way back then!) and timed how long the pasta cooked. Sometimes, the noodles were a little firmer than I preferred, but I was going by the directions and I wasn’t about to stray. I recall my brother snickering that if I had to read how to make KD, then there was NO hope of me getting married and being able to cook for my family. I always rationalized that the man I was going to marry would have to be able to cook then, wouldn’t he?

I have vague, fond memories of certain foods that, with my rose-coloured memory glasses, were divine. KD, being one of those things I thought I missed. Quitting gluten to heal my gut and save my skin forced me to say good-bye to KD among other things. When I had to eat all things gluten-y to rule out Celiac disease, I bought a box of the stuff. This time though, I winged the water to cook the pasta, used barely a drizzle of milk (because I wanted thick, cheesy sauce) and used butter, baby. One forkful later. . .  yuck. What was the big deal over this stuff? Even though they claim the ingredients on the box have changed from when I was downing it as a teen, (they have removed the Yellow #5 now) there are still a few sketchy items in my book.

The heart pines for what it is denied however.

I have learned to improvise.

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This is my version of KD now. The only thing non-conventional is the Bragg’s nutritional yeast. That stuff packs the cheesy flavour and the yams and red palm oil round out that beautiful colour. Yeah, my photography still requires some work and staging, but, the roughness shows that this is real, easy and tasty stuff I’m sending your way. Feel free to serve it fancily, with all the garnish, but I would rather be eating than fussing with props.

Mac n not-cheese:

  • 2 smalls yams (the orange fleshed ones)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock (homemade is best)
  • 3/4 cup Bragg’s nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/3 cup red palm oil
  • 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk (more depending on sauce thickness preferences)
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound dry gluten free elbow macaroni (I used Tinkyada)

Peel and chop the yams into approximately 1″ cubes. Add minced garlic and boil until fork tender. Using either a hand-stick blender (immersion), regular blender or food processor, blend the drained potatoes, stock, nutritional yeast and palm oil. Slowly add the coconut milk until you get the consistency you want for your pasta. You want the sauce to be smooth, no tell-tale yam lumps in case you are trying to sneak the sauce past someone who may not be on board with eating a potato-based “cheese” sauce. Add chili powder, salt and peeper to taste.

Cook the pasta to your desired level of al dente. Some folks I know like their noodles overcooked to the point they break apart and other folks like a chewier noodle. To each their own.

You can either toss the pasta and the sauce together and dig in right away or. . . throw it into a buttered casserole dish and bake it in the oven for about 30 minutes at 350. If you are going to bake it in the oven, I’d make the sauce a little runnier and to allow for absorption while baking.

MMM, potatoes

Who doesn’t love a spud?

We attended a wedding a few years ago, and late into the evening, as the dancing and obligatory drinking were well underway, a midnight Poutine Buffet was rolled out. Yeah, you read that correctly, a Poutine Bar. There were the basics of hand-cut fries, gravy and cheese curds, but it DID NOT end there. The choices included several types of potatoes, at least 3 types of gravy, mushrooms, pulled pork, bacon crumbles, jalapeño peppers, onions, brie, mozzarella, roasted broccoli and many other items that escape my memory. I think I inhaled 3 large bowls in under 15 minutes. I was scarfing my bowlful of decadence so fast, my esophagus couldn’t keep up to the speed I was shovelling the food in. Utter gluttony. That was a brilliant feature for a wedding reception. The food helped those who were perhaps in danger of over-consuming the open bar, by acting as a distraction. I shall always fondly remember that evening.

But I digress from the humble potato.

There are sweet, white, yellow, red, purple, creamer, new, fingerling, yam and the list goes on. You can prep these magic flavour sponges in so many ways. Boiled, mashed, roasted, fried and baked are the most common methods to prepare the humble tuber.

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These Greekified (is that a word?) spuds were a perfect side to some grass-fed, grass-finished lamb shoulder chops I found at a local grocery store. They are so good, you may want to make extra so you have some leftovers for another meal (or bedtime snack). This is super easy and so tasty, you may find yourself keeping them in your regular meal rotation.

Greekified spuds:

Preheat oven to 375

  • 2 pounds potatoes (I used red, peeled and quartered. Yukon Gold or any other yellow potato will be great too)
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock (homemade is best)
  • 1/4 cup melted butter or ghee
  • 3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste

Scrub, peel, quarter the potatoes and place in a 9×13 roasting pan.

Whisk all remaining ingredients together and pour over the potatoes.

Roast in 375 degree oven for approximately 75 minutes, or until fork tender. The trick to these spuds being amazing is to baste them in the stock mixture several times during the roasting time.

Breaking dishes is optional.

 

 

 

Another reason I’m not a dog person

You remember Sasha? The Lhasa Apso my grandparents owned? The one who ate my Hershey bar and all of it’s wrappings yet lived to tell another tale? Well, she gave me another reason not to think too fondly of her.

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Sasha used to go to the groomer on a regular basis for a wash, ear clean, nail clip, trim, whatever it is they do there and topped off with ridiculous ribbons and at a healthy price. The upside of her day at the doggy spa meant she wasn’t in the house. A fact the cats and I enjoyed immensely.

This one particular Saturday, I was volunteered to play chauffeur for Sasha. It was decided I was to drop her off at the groomers and then take my grandparents around to do their weekly shopping at Safeway, the green grocer, liquor store and then up to the mall. I didn’t object to the shopping rounds as we would often stop for fries and a milkshake. As a teenager, that’s a decent bribe.

I rounded the dog up and headed to the car with her in my arms. We didn’t have a travel crate for her so she just sat on the seat. As we drove to the groomer she kept stealing glances at me from the corner of her eye. This should’ve tipped me off that something was up. She only ever looked at me to growl when no one was around.

Luck was on our side as there was a parking space right in front of the door to the groomers. I parked the car, shut off the engine and got out. As I walked around to the passenger side to get Sasha, she started jumping up and down excitedly. I thought that meant she was happy to be going to her doggy spa. When I opened the passenger side door, Sasha jumped away from me. No, she didn’t jump out of the car and into the parking lot. She jumped to the driver’s seat.

I tried coaxing her back over so I could pick her up and get her inside. Her appointment time was about to begin. I’m a punctuality nut. I’d rather sit for 20 minutes than be 5 minutes late.

Sasha stayed where she was despite my efforts. Her eyes locked on me and I swear she said f*#k you. She squatted and pissed in my seat. Not just a little tinkle either. She flooded my car seat. Yes, she had been pee before we left. I made sure of that. She found a second bladder and emptied it in my car. Needless to say I wanted to scream. But I was in public and right in front if the groomers so I remained quiet.

I was so mad! It took every ounce of restraint I had not to wring her neck. I shut the passenger door and walked back to the driver’s side. This back and forth nonsense went on for several minutes. She was playing a game of pig-in-the-middle with me and I was losing.She jumped back to the dry seat. I’m pretty sure it was entertaining to anyone watching. Thankfully this was pre-Internet, cell phone and YouTube, otherwise, I’m sure this would’ve gone viral.I reached in and picked her up.  I was clenching my teeth together so tightly I think I cracked a filling. We went into the groomers and I gently sat Sasha down on the counter. “What are we doing for little Sasha today?” the groomer asked ever so sweetly. This was a sweet woman who obviously loved her job. You could see how much she adored dogs by the way she cared for them.

“Drown her for all I care,” I replied (I was mad, remember?). The woman looked as if I throat-punched her. She clutched Sasha close to her bosom and gasped. I explained about the pee and asked for some paper towels or something to absorb the mess. She said no, thst she wouldnt help me and said someone else could pick Sasha up at 4:00. She said ‘someone’, not ‘you’. She picked Sasha up and whisked her away from the evil person who wished the dog to be drowned.

Now I had to contort myself in my seat for the drive home. I moved the seat as far back as it would go and perched on the edge. I could barely reach the pedals. I think I screamed the whole drive home.

I walked in the house and grabbed paper towels, a bucket with hot soapy water, a cloth and the blow dryer on an extension cord. It took a couple of hours to get it clean and get rid of the dog pee smell. There was no shopping done that day. The grandparents were going to have to make do with the provisions they had in the house for another day.

I found a large apple box in the garage, lined it with plastic and paper towels and took that with me to pick Sasha up at 4:00. I figured if she was going to use my car as a toilet again, she’d be the one sitting in it this time. The groomer was rather hesitant to release Sasha to me after my drowning comment earlier in the day.

We drove home without incident. Sasha did not care for the confines of the apple box. It was a deep box and Sasha was a short dog and therefore couldn’t see over the edge. The lid was not on and it had plenty of breathing holes on the sides so don’t get all worried thinking I was depriving her of oxygen. I’m not a monster. The drive home was 6 minutes if we hit a red light. Ten minutes after we were home, the groomer called the house to see if Sasha made it home safely. Really?! She told my grandmother about my comment and disposition when I dropped the dog off. She then went so far as to say that perhaps I wasn’t an animal lover and shouldn’t be left unsupervised with Sasha.

No one ever asked me to take the dog anywhere again.

 

Days of indecision and shepard’s chili-stew

You ever at a loss for focus?

There are those days of complete and utter indecisiveness. You have a day off and you don’t know what you feel like doing or eating or reading or watching? Yeah, me too. You pace about in your housecoat with coffee in hand and look at all the things you should/could be doing (laundry, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, dusting) instead? Yup, me too. Now throw the looming dilemma of what’s for  dinner into the fray. At this point, I’d rather just go get another coffee. Ostrich with the head in the sand choice. If I ignore all the drudge work, maybe it’ll go away.

Winter has been colder here on the west coast than I like. We’ve even had snow. Several times that nasty stuff has hit us. Yeah, I know the midwest and east coast gets it more often and waaay more of it, but I’m a west coast gal who truly believes the word snow is akin to profanity. If we could get Mother Nature to keep it on the mountains and off the roads, that’d maybe change my outlook on it. Until then, I shall grit my teeth and curse under my breath about it.

Back to food.

Part of me felt like shepard’s pie, part of me wanted stew and part of me felt like chili. So I opted to mix all 3 ideas into one. The heat element of chili with the chunky, stick to your ribs factor of stew and top the whole thing off with mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes with bacon, that is. The lightning bolt that prompted me to do that made me clap my hands together like an evil genius. One of my better ideas for sure.

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What shall recall this? Chili-stew pie? Shepard’s chili-stew? Sure. Let’s go with that for now. If you can think of another name, I’m open to suggestions.

Shepard’s chili-stew:

  • 2 pounds stewing beef, cut into approx 1″ cubes or slightly smaller
  • 5-8 pieces of thick bacon cut into 1/2″ slices
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups diced carrots
  • 1 cup green beans cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 4 medium white potatoes (you could swap sweet potatoes or yams for another flavour)
  • 2-3 tablespoons full fat coconut milk
  • 2-3 tablespoons ghee or butter
  • 1/2 cup broth (home-made beef broth is best, but chicken or veg will do well too)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (yes, you read that, sneaking extra veg in under the wire, you won’t taste it)
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon pepper

Preheat oven to 375 and grease a large casserole dish

Peel and chop your potatoes and get them boiling. When they are fork-tender, drain and mash them with the ghee and coconut milk. I use my hand mixer as it whips them up in a flash. Less arm wear and tear. Just leave these in the pot until you are ready to top the chili-stew. You are going to add some bacon in this later.

Crisp the bacon pieces in a large pot. When they are done, remove them and put half into the mashed potatoes and stir it in.

Keep the other half aside to top the chili-stew.

Add the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pot and get all those lovely brown bacon bits from the pan. Add the onion and sauté until just translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two. Add the stewing beef and cook until nicely browned. Add the stock and pumpkin puree along with the carrots and cook until slightly tender. Stir in the chili powder, cinnamon, salt, pepper and paprika. Stir the green breams in last.

Place the meat mixture into the greased casserole dish, spreading it out evenly. Layer the reserved half of the bacon over the top of the meat mixture. (bacon layer for the win!) Top with the bacon infused mashed potatoes. You could add a wee spot of butter on top if you wanted, but that’s up to you. Cover and bake for 45 minutes at 375.

Now, don’t kid yourself, this has some heat to it. feel free to dial back the spices if you aren’t a spicy food lover.

 

I’ll take skin for the win, Alex

Hey, your epidermis is showing.

Let’s look at our organs for a moment. We care for our lungs by not smoking and trying to minimize our exposure to pollution. We care for our liver by trying to limit our alcohol consumption. That glass of red wine last night was for medicinal purposes, I swear. We care for our kidneys by staying well hydrated. (Don’t worry, I won’t itemize each one.) By eating good, nutrient rich foods and drinking clean water, we take care of and nourish all of our inner squishy bits. Now what about the organ everyone sees? Your skin. What are you doing for that?

It’s not just wrapping paper to all the muscles, blood vessels, bones and other sinewy stuff that makes up a body. Think of your skin as a revolving door. Let that visual sink in. What we put on our bodies is carried inside (to be handled by the inner organs and systems) and what we put in our bodies is excreted through our skin. We often slather all strong scented soaps, lotions and chemical laden products on it without a second thought.

You apply that beautiful lipstick  isolated-red-lipstick_wprw9p(complete with red dye number 666 – I know that isn’t a real ingredient, but you get the message) onto your lips. Not only are you absorbing all those chemicals through your skin, you are also now consuming said chemical cocktail. Mmmm, not as beautiful as it seemed.

Skin is amazing. It breathes. It grows with us. It stretches around developing babies and the occasional keg of beer. It sometimes snaps back. It heals when we scrape it. Skin forgives. Over time, it tells a tale of laughter and smiles (or pain and misery). Skin tells the tale of your health and your life.

You need a good canvas to write a good story. (yes, I know, you paint on canvas, you don’t write on it)

There are many clean ingredient skin care products out there today. Beautycounter is the one I absolutely fell in love with. They are transparent in the list of ingredients they use and those things they will NEVER use. This aligns with my views on food. Just as I want to know what I’m eating, and (ideally) what my food eats, I want to know what I’m absorbing into my body through my skin. The whole reason I started this food and wellness journey  was an attempt to heal some fantastic eczema.

 

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I don’t want to cause problems with my skin from the outside in, now that I’ve healed it from the inside out. You can read about that first step here if you haven’t read it already. I chose to act as a Beautycounter consultant to help spread the importance of safer skincare.

 

The FDA recently suggested a reduction in the acceptable level of lead in cosmetics. A suggestion, not a rule. The article states nothing about reducing it from hair dye or other cosmetic products. Beauty does indeed have a price. I get and understand cross-contamination and how it is almost impossible to keep anything completely “clean” in terms of ingredients. I’m not expecting perfection in this, but accountability and responsibility would be a good place to start. So much is up to the consumer to do their due diligence. There is apparently an acceptable level of rodent hair and other unsavoury items in chocolate and that certainly doesn’t stop anyone from shoving that down the pipe (it never stopped me anyway; I used to eat four chocolate bars a day, no exaggeration).

As I move into the second half of my potential century here on this green and blue planet, I’m re-doubling my efforts to care for the meat-covered skeleton I’ve been given the privilege to operate, the best ways I can. Clean, safer food and clean, safer skin products. Years ago, I think it was L’Oreal that had a buzz-phrase “Because I’m worth it”. Now, more that ever, the phrase is appropriate but perhaps should be reassigned to humans in general and their own outlook on quality and ethical choices we make regarding our food and skin care.

 

Floss ~ the other F-word

Do you swear to tell the tooth? The whole tooth? And nothing but the tooth?

We are going to chat a little bit about oral health. That in itself almost sounds dirty, but it isn’t. Or it shouldn’t be.

Just a few basic dental facts so we are all on the same page. We’ll keep this simple.

Typically there are 20 baby (or milk) teeth with up to 32 permanent (or adult) teeth. I say up to because that includes wisdom teeth. Not everyone develops these. Now, having stated these numbers, there are always those folks who grow extra teeth and those who never form some. We can chat about this another time.

Teeth are composed of layers:

  • Enamel: hardest substance in your body, mineralized outer layer covering the top or crown of the tooth
  • Dentin: is almost like a bone and makes up the majority of the tooth bulk  and is protected by the enamel for the crown (and cementum on the root, not labelled in this diagram)
  • Pulp or pulp chamber: the middle of the tooth and has the “live” or “vital” connection via blood vessels to your jaws (yes, teeth can die)

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Plaque (you’ve heard of that before) is the film (microbial biofilm) that builds on your teeth during the day and at night. It is usually colourless but it is responsible for bad breath (halitosis), red, irritated gums (gingivitis) and if left undisturbed, can harden into tartar. It commonly forms at the gum line and can work it’s way under the gums, down the root of the tooth. Plaque feeds on sugar (from foods we eat, such as carbohydrates) and produces acid in the mouth. This eventually leads to. . . (dramatic pause) cavities. This is why removing plaque daily, is critical.

Removing plaque is a two-step process. Flossing and brushing. Flossers, in my over 20 years experience in the dental/orthodontic world, fall into several categories.

  1. Those who do it daily
  2. Those who do it when they get something stuck between their teeth
  3. Those who do it a day or two before seeing the dentist/hygienist to try to fool them into thinking that they actually floss every day (doesn’t work, we can tell)
  4. Those who do it for a few days after seeing the dentist/hygienist as they feel motivated by a good pep talk/lecture

Those of you who do it daily, congrats! Pat yourself on the back. You are ahead of the game.

Those who don’t floss daily, well, that’s kinda like not cleaning the underside of the toilet seat. It’s gross.

I get why you don’t do it. When you finally break out that tortuous string, it hurts. Even if your technique is good. Your gums bleed. They get really red. They swell up twice or even three times their normal size. They throb (kinda like when you work a muscle you haven’t used in a while). And at that point, you throw that hateful minty thread into the garbage and vow never again! I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. Join the flossers. Drink the proverbial Kool-aid.

The fact your gums bleed when you clean them should cause all the alarm bells to go off in your head. If you washed your hands and they bled, you’d be pretty concerned right? Gum tissue isn’t any different.

Get your floss, waxed, unwaxed, plain or flavoured and get to it. If you opt to use a floss pick, please wipe the little piece of floss before moving on to the next spot, otherwise you are just moving your plaque from place to place. Don’t get me wrong, a floss pick is better than not flossing at all. There are no rules stating you have to floss in the bathroom. If you aren’t offending anyone, do it while watching tv. Do it in the shower (don’t let the floss go down the drain though). Like Nike says: Just Do It. That first time? Yes, it will hurt. Yes it will bleed, maybe even a lot. Yes your gums will puff up and throb. Get over it. It falls under the heading of “suck it up buttercup” and you do it again the next day. And the next. And the next. Keep showing up to your floss date. In a few days, the bleeding settles down and maybe even stops. The puffiness and redness settles down and you may notice your gums are a lighter shade and are hugging your bone more. Hooray! That throbbing or pulsing sensation is likely gone now too. Guess, what? Your breath smells a whole lot better too. Next time you see the dentist or hygienist, you won’t get a lecture either.

 

It’s about loss

It’s been two years since Ernie left us but it still hurts just the same.

Meet Ernie. He had many variations on his name. Ernesto. Ernesto Valenzeulia. Ernst Q. Pussycat. Erniebernie.

Ernie in his backyard
Ernie in his backyard

Pets are really just hairy family members who speak a different language. They have their own agenda, especially cats. Maybe dogs do too, don’t know, never really owned one, except for co-habitting with Sasha the Lhasa Apso my grandparents owned, and well, as the posts about her explain, she and I did not see eye to eye.

Ernie arrived on the scene when he was a tiny wee kitten. He was smaller than the palm of a hand. He was too young to be away from his momma. Somehow, he arrived at the front door at the stand alone warehouse building that was located in a very non-developed part of town. He was brought home and taken to the vet for a check. We were sent home with formula and directions to clean his “little boy parts” . Ernie hadn’t been going to the bathroom and he was getting sick. If he didn’t go the the bathroom, we were going to lose him. We used a warm wet facecloth and cleaned him like a mother cat would. After an entire afternoon and the better part of an evening, he dribbled. Then, the flood gates opened, and Ernie went to the bathroom. We jumped for joy! He lapped at the formula from a dropper and learned to use a litter box. 

Ernie liked to inspect everything. A small renovation was being done in the apartment and Ernie was sitting in the sink inspecting the new tap. A new door was put in and Ernie sat atop the header in the doorway. Ernie also liked to garden. Chives were grown on the enclosed balcony and Ernie liked to nibble them. His onion breath was legendary.

Then came the move. While searching for a home to buy, Ernie was left in the apartment with regular daily visits for food, snuggles and litter box attendance. The time away from Ernie was 1 week. He developed Separation Anxiety and stopped eating and going to the bathroom. 

The move was completed with Ernie right in the middle of all the action. He made it clear he was not to excluded ever again. 

At 7 years of age, it was noticed that he was drinking a lot of water. A lot. So a trip to the vet in the new town. The diagnosis came. Diabetes. The vet told us some folks put their animals down with this diagnosis. This was not to be Ernie’s fate. Blood sugar testing was learned. Injections were learned. Food was changed. An emergency syrup syringe was kept ready. 

At 18 years of age Ernie developed arthritis in his shoulder. He was taken back to the same vet and his meds were adjusted to be in harmony with his insulin. He started to slow down a bit more each day. His meows began to change. He called to be carried down to his litter box. He announced he was ready to be carried upstairs to be with the family. Graduated steps were built to give him independence to get up on beds and chairs. 

At his routine check up, his blood work showed kidney problems and pancreatitis. He was now 19 1/2 years old. The vet said when the time came, he could come to the house so Ernie would not have an awful car ride as his final memory. With heavy hearts, the decision was made. After the New Year, Ernie’s expression said he was ready. The vet and an assistant came to the house, gave Ernie a sedative to relax him and he was helped to sleep. The vet carried Ernie, wrapped in his favourite blanket, away to be cremated. He sat with Ernie in his lap the ride to the clinic. 

They say losing a pet makes it easier to learn to deal with death. No. No, it doesn’t. it’s harder when you have to make the toughest decision. 

It’s about labels

Almost everything (and everyone) has a label these days.

The hard part is deciphering the label we are reading. Especially if you aren’t a scientist (which I’m not). Armed with the research wonder capabilities of the internet, instead of logging hours in a library hunched over encyclopedias or micro-fiche (age drop), let’s look at a typical granola bar shall we?

At a quick glance, one would think this to be a terrific lunch box snack or on the go pick-me-up. Only 80 calories. For those counting calories, that must be an acceptable snack calorie quantity. Granola? We’ve been brought up to believe granola is good for us, a healthy, ‘stick-to-your-ribs’ choice. Naturally flavoured? If it’s “natural”, that means it’s good for us right? Let’s put on the brakes for just a second and read the ingredients label, not the box marked Nutrition Facts.

First ingredient: Whole grain oats. Sounds like we are off to a good start.

Second ingredient: Sugar. Hmmmm, a sweetener as a second ingredient doesn’t sound right.

Third item: Vegetable Oil. A blend of canola, palm kernel and palm oil. Hmmmm again.

Next item: Rice Flour. 

Followed fifth by: High Maltose Corn Syrup. We all know this is another type of sweetener.

Sixth ingredient: Cocoa, a real ingredient.

Seventh item: Honey, real too, but another sweetener nonetheless.

Eighth item: Rice Maltodextrin is a fancy name for a type of, you guessed it, sweetener.

Ninth ingredient: Soy Lecithin, everyone’s favourite emulsifier. If you are trying to avoid soy, good luck.

Tenth ingredient: Salt. I like to think of it as flavour’s magnifying glass.

Eleventh ingredient: Milk, whoo-hoo, another real item here, but let’s think about what the cows are eating, because we eat that too.

Twelfth item: Baking soda, another real ingredient.

Thirteenth ingredient: Barley Malt Extract, would be our fifth sweetener. With that many types of sweeteners, how healthy are these things?

Natural Flavour rounds out our list. That alone just sounds suspicious. They can’t even tell me what I’m about to ingest? Natural flavour exists in everything. It could be tomato flavour, beef liver flavour, apricot flavour, earthworm flavour or any other thing under the sun. I’d prefer some clarification before I nibble on this.

Out of 14 potential ingredients, leaving a huge berth of leniency for “natural flavour”, 5 are sweeteners. (The oats and rice flour will convert into sugars eventually too, but we aren’t counting them this way.) A minimum of 36% of the ingredients making up these snack bars are a form of sugar.That doesn’t sound overly healthy to me, but, hey, I’m no expert.

When did our food stray so far away from being real?

Food in it’s real form needs no label. You hold an organic, non-GMO zucchini in your hand, it contains: zucchini. That’s it. No, “may contain corn, wheat, soy, eggs, peanuts” disclaimer. Same goes for any other organic non-GMO fruit or vegetable. You know what you are about to consume. Isn’t that how it should be? I really don’t want to have to research all the unpronounceable ingredients of what I am intending to eat or do some napkin math to add up all the hidden sugars. If I’m hungry, I want to have confidence I am eating something real, something created by Mother Nature and not the Dow Chemical company.

Our chickens and cows and other livestock are ingesting hormones and a slew of chemicals to make them grow bigger and faster. Would it not stand to reason there has to be a trickle down effect with all those chemicals? Our children drink the milk, eat the cheese created from this milk, and consume the meat from these cows. Those same kids are having eggs from these chickens and goodness only knows how many McDonald’s “Chicken McNuggets” (is there even any real chicken in those? I honestly don’t know). Are these chemicals and hormones compounding in our bodies? Then, down the road, when these chemical laden kids have kids, what will their future look like?

Children are reaching puberty at younger and younger ages. Girls are developing breasts and starting menstruation well before the age of 13, which used to be the early end of the puberty norm. Boys are getting their cookie-duster moustaches before leaving elementary school. These young, physically mature, children often have all their adult teeth, with the exception of wisdom teeth, by 10 years of age. 

What has this done to our brains? The brains of our children? We all see the rise in Autism, Asperger’s, Tourrette’s, ADD, ADHD, Early Onset Dementia, Diabetes, numerous Auto-Immune Disorders, Cancer, personality disorders, cognitive impairment and the lists go on and on. Have our food-like products harmed us and these generations? And what about the generations yet to come? Did we do our due diligence and read the labels? Or were we romanced by all the sexy buzz-words the advertising world threw at us? Wooing us into believing 1 calorie soft-drinks were ok? Eating without consequence. Yikes!

We need to turn this around. Now. We need to collectively, as a people, spend our money on food that has ingredients we can pronounce. Food should be the ingredients. Food that we recognize in it’s original nature-given packaging. Invest the time to cook with your family instead of stuffing drive-thru dinners (not to mention all that packaging) down their throats. 

Ironically, and sadly, it is often the wealthy who can afford to eat the food grown in the dirt (read organic, non-GMO, grass-fed, grass-finished, pasture raised) and the lower income demographic who can only afford the food-like products made in the hi-tech factories.

Let’s reflect on choices (and banana muffins)

If we are lucky, in our lifetime, we meet folks who leave a good mark on us.

I’m going to take you back a few years, ok, a lot of years, to acquaint you with a teacher from Grade 8. Part of our high school curriculum included Home Economics, which was two units each of cooking and sewing and Industrial Education with one unit of electronics, drafting, woodwork and metalwork. Boys and girls had to complete each class. My Home Ec skills were such that I would offer to complete another students IE assignment if they would make a sewing project for me. (I have been known to hem with a stapler.) The cooking portion, well, I’m here to say I passed, but certainly not with any sort of flying colours. Good thing my homework assignments made up for some of my cooking lab outcomes. My blancmange was just scrambled eggs in a custardy-watery soup like base. Seriously though, why make a kid make that for a cooking assignment? I have never since, nor will I ever, make it in my lifetime.

Back to this particular teacher and day 1 of Industrial Education 8. In walks a large man in a plaid flannel shirt. A big human. He stood probably 6’6″. His plaid flannel shirt was tucked in his belted dark denim pants. His slightly oily hair was parted on the side and was starting to show signs of receding at said part. His hair continued downward in an uninterrupted line merging into his beard. Rather a mountain man looking fellow.

He stood at the front of a room of close to 30 13 year old students on this first day of the semester. He introduced himself and asked us to name one thing we had to do. We looked at each other. Hands began to go up.

“Homework?” No, he shook his head. Cheers erupted in the room. We didn’t have to do any homework? Hooray! This plaid guy rocked!

“Feed and walk my dog?” No, he shook his head again. Wait a second.

“Get a job?” No, once more the bearded man shook his head. Hold on here. What did he mean, we didn’t have to get a job? Everyone has to get a job, don’t they?

He replied no to every offering we had. This went on for several minutes. After we exhausted all our thoughts, we watched him turn and write three letters on the chalk board.

D I E

That,” he said, “is the only thing you have to do.” The room fell silent. “Everything else, you do by choice because you don’t like the alternative. You feed and walk your dog because you don’t want him to get sick, starve or die. You do your homework because you don’t want to fall behind in class. You get a job because you don’t want to live on the streets or in your parent’s basement when you are 50. Get it?” Heavy thoughts to lay on a pack of pre-pubescent teens.

That has stuck with me ever since. I do what I do by choice, because I don’t like the alternative.

Ooooh, back to those banana muffins.

img_2344

Doesn’t that look good? I mean, look at the texture of that thing.

Paleo banana muffins:

Preheat oven to 375, makes 12 muffins

  • 4 really ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 2 eggs (room temperature, otherwise the coconut oil will harden)
  • 3/4 cup full fat coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup banana flour
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup packed almond flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • handful of chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (optional)

In a large bowl, or stand mixer, beat the bananas with the coconut sugar until well mashed. Add eggs, coconut milk and vanilla, mix well. Add the liquid coconut oil while the mixer is running.

Sift coconut flour and baking powder and baking soda over the wet ingredients. (I like to save a bowl doing it this way. My Home Ec teacher would be cringing at this lack of second bowl and not following the ‘muffin method’ of stirring until just moist. Oh well.) Add the almond flour and banana flour, salt and mix until well incorporated. Stir the chocolate in last.

img_2305My favourite kitchen hack is to use a 1/4 cup scoop to load the muffin batter? dough? which is it? into my silicone muffin pans. Nothing sticks to these things. The pans I have are slightly smaller in size compared to a standard 12-well muffin pan. I sit the two 6-well silicone pans on a pizza pan to give them stability in the oven. Trying to handle flexible silicone muffin pans filled with uncooked stuff is a nightmare, trust me on that one. You have better things to do than clean your oven of some slopped glop.

 

Bake these bad boys for approximately 20 minutes. Test with a toothpick for doneness. Let them cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before unmolding them. Let them cool a little more before you start scarfing ’em back. Not sure how well these freeze, as they usually only last a couple of days around here.

Don’t be afraid of the banana flour making these too banana-y. As far as the chocolate chips go, use whatever makes you happy. Dairy free, cacao nibs, you get the idea. You could skip the chocolate altogether if you want, but why would you?