Coffee woes

My favourite beverage is the source of my morning discomfort after a CBC article is blaming convenient packaging, including single use coffee pods, for the increase of curbside garbage in Canada.

Canadians produced 9.6 million tonnes of garbage in 2012. That’s up seven per cent since 2004.

That’s a lot of garbage, Canada!

There’s a way to slow down this rapidly growing issue and it involves reverting to less lazy ways. There, I said it. We’re lazy and wasteful. And it has to stop.

If we started doing things for ourselves again, we’d produce a lot less garbage and waste fewer resources.

Take coffee, for example.

A French press is a brilliant little kitchen tool. It’s the size of your outstretched hand and costs around 10$. For that price, you can have one at home and one at work.

Add two teaspoons of ground coffee and boiling water. Wait a few moments and push the grounds to the bottom of the glass carafe using the handle of the plunger and voila! A delightful cup of coffee totally adjustable to your coffee drinking preferences. Compost the grains and you’re hitting it out of the ballpark.

I know the office world is mildly obsessed with k-cups. Sure they’re convenient but it’s time we redefine convenient. Saving a minute or two a day doesn’t quantify as a significant source of time savings.

Do I really think a French press is our sole solution to excessive garbage production? No.

I think replacing a package of convenience with a sustainable product is a great place to start the long road to shedding our serious dependency on throw away goods.

Start with coffee and the next thing you know, you just might find yourself living a little more mindfully everyday.

Hate Beets?

I am a reformed beet hater so I know what it’s like to be in the anti-beet camp.

But let’s face it: they’re highly nutritious and really good for us. They’re also very easy to grow.

They contain antioxidants and provide anti-inflammatory and detoxifying properties. They’re high in vitamin C, potassium, manganese, vitamin B and fiber.

Not yet convinced to devour the red root vegetable?

Then here’s an idea from a beet-hating friend who wants the benefits but not the taste:

Cut, simmer, mash, strain through a cheese cloth and freeze in ice cube trays. Add the beet ice cubes to smoothies for an extra nutritional punch.

“I bury the taste so I don’t have to suffer,” she said.

So drink your beets!

Pickling Magic

Pickling is pure magic.

Not only does it extend the life of fresh food way longer than nature intended, it brings back my childhood memories of standing in my Memère’s kitchen while she made cucumber pickles.

It reminds me of a simpler time, when people preserved their harvest in anticipation of colder days and when ingredients were more natural.

Sure we live in modern times and buying pre-made items is easy.

But it seems that just about everything in a conventional grocery store is laden with questionable ingredients and made by just a handful of corporations.

The pickles that line the shelves seem so innocent yet they’re made with Polysorbate 80 and Tartrazine.

Polysorbate is also present in influenza vaccines and used as an ingredient to make ice cream melt slower. Makes ice cream melt slower? Yup, there’s a chemical that does that and it’s in your pickles (and ice cream!).

Tartrazine, the artificial yellow food dye also known as Yellow  5, is commonly associated with asthma and hyperactivity in children.

Those are not things needed in pickles!

Since I like real ingredients that are pronounceable and in my pantry, I just make my own pickles now.

I’m mostly always short on time lately so I don’t have a day to dedicate to making pickles for the winter. I can however dedicate ten minutes every couple of months to make refrigerator pickles.

This recipe takes no skill, time or special ingredients. Two large jars can be filled in five minutes — if you’re quick with the cooking knife.

If you’re more patient that I am, you’ll wait four days until the pickles have sat long enough to reach their optimal flavour. I, however, eat half a jar as soon as the pickles are cool enough to pop into my mouth. Of course they’re better after waiting a few days but what’s the fun in that?

I find these pickles are especially satisfying when the garlic, cucumber and onion come from the garden.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups sliced cucumbers
  • 2 cups thinly sliced onions
  • 4 cloves thinly sliced garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

Method:

  • Sterilize two large jars and lids
  • Mix cucumbers and onions in a large heat proof bowl
  • Combine vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, celery seeds, turmeric, ground red pepper, ground pepper    and garlic in a small saucepan
  • Stir well, bring to a boil and cook for one minute
  • Pour over cucumber and onion mixture
  • Allow to cool
  • Pour in sterilized jars
  • Let sit in the refrigerator for four days, or not.

Leave the Polysorbate 80 and Tartrazine at the grocery store.

Happy pickling!

Jill

Crunchy Granola

Granola is one of those foods with a highly debatable health factor.

Commercial granola completely misses the point. Laden with ingredients such as shortening, vegetable oil and corn syrup solids, it seeks to try to pull a fast one on unsuspecting consumers who are trying to eat better. Thanks, giant corporations, but I’ll get my junk food elsewhere.

Such as at the pub. By ordering french fries at the pub, you willfully enter into an unhealthy exchange with the crispy little buggars.

Sure you’re eating potatoes but they can’t count as part of your daily serving of vegetables. The oil that’s been in the deep fryer for ten years isn’t included in the list of healthy oils you’re supposed to ingest daily.

The same unhealthy ingredients shouldn’t be hidden in your morning bowl of granola.

Granola and french fries are not the same.

Now, Artisanal granola can be tasty and often has healthy ingredients. But it’s expensive and seems to always come in teeny tiny little bags.

So what’s a granola loving girl to do?

Well….make it.

So that’s what I do.

I’ve been making this recipe for a couple of years. It’s simple, quick, cheap and enormously satisfying. And it’s so delicious that I even caught my toddler pretending to eat it the other day.

This is the standard version of the recipe. It’s incredibly versatile. I happily substitute or omit unessential ingredients if they’re not in my pantry. (Wheat germ is something that I always forget to buy so it’s not often found in my granola. Oops)

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups (organic) rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups wheat germ
  • 1 1/2 cups oat bran
  • 1 cup (unsalted) sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

Optional:

  • 2 cups raisins or cranberries

Method:

  • Pre heat oven to 325°C (190°F), line two baking sheets with parchment paper
  • Chop nuts
  • Combine oats, nuts, wheat germ, bran in a large mixing bowl
  • Combine salt, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, oil, cinnamon and vanilla in small saucepan.
  • Bring to a boil over medium heat
  • Pour over dry ingredients and stir to coat.
  • Spread mixture evenly on baking sheets
  • Cook for 20 minutes, stirring half way through
  • Allow to cool but not harden
  • Stir in optional raisins or cranberries.

Variations to consider:

  • Adding uncooked quinoa
  • Substituting or omitting any of the nuts
  • Using different oils (peanut, avocado, etc.) and making different combinations to change the flavour
  • Reducing the amount of brown sugar, honey and maple syrup for a less sweet flavour.

*Savings tips: health food stores seem to sell organic rolled oats much cheaper than grocery stores

This granola is lovely with a cup of almond beverage, warmed applesauce or french fries. Just kidding; save those for an over-indulgent meal the pub.

Happy breakfast,

Jill

Eating Out of Styrofoam

Well it looks like styrofoam is still a go to container in take-out restaurants and food festivals.

And I’m ashamed to say that I ate out of the dirty containers twice this weekend.

In fact, my whole weekend was pretty glutenous and I’m stuck somewhere between a bad hang over and shame.

Friday was a family reunion of sorts. Between my two busy kids, a handful of adults, a messy house and a few sore throats, pho, the Vietnamese soup of champions, seemed an easy solution. We got take-out and then got stuck with four giant styrofoam containers — which are not recyclable.

According to Clevland State Univeristy, it takes more than one million years for styrofoam to break down. One million years.

Is one million years worth the 15 minutes of convenience to have a lukewarm bowl pho in your kitchen? Not for a nanosecond.

With the styrofoam safely tucked away in a garbage bag in the garage and the guilt of the pho behind me, I went downtown for family reunion of sorts part II.

We met at the Ottawa Poutinefest on Sparks Street. For those not in the know, poutine is a highly celebrated Canadian concoction of french fries, cheese curds and gravy. Poutinefest vendors add a variety of new and innovative ingredients and mixes the beloved deep fried dish.

So we pick a food truck and order. Suddenly, I’m holding a styrofoam container and a plastic water bottle. Oops. And the guilt comes pouring down.

Now this guilt was two fold: first for the styrofoam and secondly for the incredible amount of grease, fat and over-the-top indulgence I’ve just ingested.

Had I just paid closer attention to each vendor stand, I would have noticed the type of containers the poutine was served in and could have gone to a vendor who gave out cardboard instead. I could have diverted at least one piece of styrofoam from the landfill.

Oh, but wait. Where are the recycling bins? They must be here somewhere. Nope, none in sight. I didn’t see even one recycling bin and I was looking for one. I even asked someone from my group if she noticed any.

She shook her head.

In the end, all the containers went into the garbage bin that day. Only the people who brought their cardboard, cans or bottles home recycled.

I’ve been to enough festivals, concerts and special events all over the world to know that some places are more mindful of the waste created during these gatherings than others. Cities like Amsterdam, Berlin and Tokyo do it right. There are recycling bins everywhere and everyone seems to do their part to keep their cities clean.

Unfortunately my own city, Ottawa, just keeps missing the mark.

And I missed the mark too. I don’t usually get faced with styrofoam. I don’t usually need to buy bottled water. I don’t usually go to food festivals downtown. I don’t usually eat so much awful food.

But I did this weekend. And it won’t happen like that again.

Oh, lovely Vanilla!

Vanilla-cropfbDid you know that vanilla isn’t a synthetic liquid that lives in a plastic bottle in the baking aisle at the grocery store?

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t pay much attention to vanilla until fairly recently. I’m ashamed because I love baking and I love making things from scratch. I don’t use mixes because of over processed and questionable ingredients, so why did I use commercial vanilla for so long? Hrmph.

There are two types of commercial vanilla: pure and synthetic. Neither of them contain just vanilla pods and alcohol – the only two ingredients needed to make vanilla extract. Corn syrup, vanillin, lignin and/or sugar are among the listed ingredients. I also came across a rumour that beaver anal glands are used in the production of imitation vanilla but it seems to be disproven. Phew.

Meanwhile, vanilla pods, or beans, come from the vanilla orchid plant. Once the orchid’s flower is hand pollinated, it produces a pod. After a few months, the pod is harvested and cured.

The onerous processes of hand pollinating and curing make it the second most expensive spice after saffron. It only grows in Madagascar, Reunion Island, Mexico and Tahiti; each location producing its particular flavour of vanilla.

The recipe for authentic vanilla extract is so simple it hurts:

  1. two vanilla pods, sliced horizontally
  2. one cup (eight ounces) of vodka, rum or bourbon

Combine pods and alcohol of your choice in a glass bottle and place in a cool, dark place for eight weeks. Shake weekly.

Seriously, that’s it.

The end result is so aromatic and flavourful that you’re going to want to get your bake on. It’s well worth the eight week waiting period.

I did a quick cost analysis and it was cheaper for me to make my own than to buy it. I bought two pods for $5 at Bulk Barn and I had the vodka on hand. I left the pods in the bottle after it was (finally!) ready and I topped it up with more vodka after I’d used a few tablespoons. Eventually the pods will lose their potency but until then I’m going to keep adding vodka.

It also get more complex with age, unlike its commercial counterpart which has a shelf life of about two years.

And the next time my husband comes home with a bottle of bourbon, I’ll snatch a cup and experiment with different flavours.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself, it’s March, but I will give out bottles of vanilla extract next Christmas in pretty little bottles. I’m all about removing chemicals and plastic bottles from the cupboards of my loved ones and helping to make their desserts better…one tablespoon of lovely vanilla at a time.

Happy health,

Jill

French Onion Soup au Gratin

I’ve loved French Onion soup my whole life. I even used to like powdered soup mix with garlic croutons and a thick piece of mozzarella.

The soup that I love today takes more preparation than boiling water and opening an envelop. It takes good stock (homemade or not), delicious Gruyère cheese and just enough cognac to make the caramelizing onions take on a life of their own.

You’ll need:

  • 2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon cognac, a little bit more for sipping
  • 2 quarts (8 cups) hot beef or veal stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 French baguette, thinly sliced
  • Gruyère cheese, thinly sliced

Over medium heat, slowly caramelize the onions in butter for about 30 minutes. Add flour to the onions and stir thoroughly. Add the wine and cognac, cooking long enough to evaporate the alcohol. Add the hot stock, thyme and bay leaf. Simmer uncovered for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350C. Before serving, lightly toast the baguette slices. Add Gruyère to the toasted slices and lightly broil. Remove bay leaf. Put soup bowls on a cookie sheet or roasting pan and ladle the soup in the bowls. Put broiled Gruyère toast cheese side down in the soup bowls. Top with a layer of cheese.

Bake for 15 minutes and broil on low for a couple minutes until cheese bubbles and browns.

Perfection!

It’s going to be hot so let it stand a few minutes. You don’t want to burn your tongue on the first spoonful – trust me, you won’t get to enjoy it!

I scored four of those gorgeous ceramic French Onion soup bowls at a Value Village a number of years ago for a buck each, lid included. They get very hot in the oven (duh) so take care and wrap the handles.