Tuesday, April 30, 2013

all things in moderation

It is not my regular modus operandi to do this but there is a post over on Healthy Green Kitchen that so perfectly says what I have been thinking (and to be honest - talking about as well) about how and what we chose to eat. All I can say is "amen". I think it is well worth reading. 

When we were in Japan (March) it was impossible NOT to notice the absence of craziness regarding food. Nobody even knows what 'paleo' is! (Not saying paleo is crazy, just an example of a pretty restrictive eating program.) Chia seed is an unknown and just try to buy coconut oil! People simply eat - for the most part - whole food, simply prepared, when they are hungry. Most people are well within a healthy weight, walking a lot keeps them reasonably fit. Being there I reflected on our North American obsession and had to admit that I felt a lot more relaxed and happy without that pressure. Making wise food choices is incredibly important but it shouldn't be the primary focus of one's life. Loving, serving, laughing, sharing, working - these are things that fulfill and ultimately bring health and joy.

I know that many people have very real health issues. I also know that very careful food choices make a huge difference for them and don't mean to suggest otherwise. I totally support their efforts and feel for them in their pain. But for the vast majority of us making wise choices to eat a wide variety of whole foods prepared in interesting and healthful ways is the good choice. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

she ain't what she used to be...





I am completely humbled, totally in awe of the mothers of young children, and seriously surprised that I raised five children. Five!!! I had forgotten how much energy - mental, emotional, and physical - it takes to more or less successfully navigate the average day with a houseful of young children but four short days reminded me. David and I spent those four days with Eden and Daylan's young'uns. Four busy days with three terrific kids. It was super fun but as David said (and I heartily agree) "the old grey mare, she ain't what she used to be". I had planned to do all manner of things with my days but I did none of them. Instead I played hide-and-seek, walked the long (and very slow) way home from dropping the two oldest off at school each morning, cuddled and read toddler board-books, picked up lego, ran the odd load of laundry, managed to get child-approved meals on the table and kids to activities, teeth brushed, stories read, hugs distributed, and then fall into an exhausted heap at the end of the day. It doesn't sound all that hard but I am out of training.

I loved every precious minute. Even the tottering on toddler-melt-down moments.

A quantifiable, bona fide success was Thursday morning's breakfast. Eden does not feed her children boxed cereal for breakfast, a choice I heartily applaud. But that choice dictates another choice - a more involved meal with more prep than putting out the boxes, bowls, and milk. A sure winner at their table is to serve pancakes. I could have made any one of their regular favourites but made a choice of my own. Happily they loved my choice.

The phrase "going like hotcakes"?  was on a (mental) loop during breakfast Thursday morning. Deacon ate 10 - two at a time on his plate and reaching for the next couple before he had swallowed the bite in his mouth. Aubrie was not far behind and I think Ysa was no slouch. I say think because she was at the other end of the table and I was too busy flipping pancakes to do more than notice that she was eating and happy. 

Super simple, quick to prepare, healthy. Fragrant and delicious, light and fluffy. I was happy to agree to the request for these banana pancakes for breakfast again on Friday morning. I think Deacon confirmed at least 5 times that "you won't forget to blog these, right Grandy?"

This is for Deacon.

banana chia oat blender-pancakes
(gluten-free)

1 cup milk (I used coconut)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 ripe banana
2 cups large flake rolled oats
1 Tbsp chia seed
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder

Put the milk, yogurt, lemon juice, eggs, vanilla, oats, chia seed, and honey in the container of of your blender. Blend on high for a minute and a half or two. Add the salt, baking powder, and baking soda and give the batter another quick whirl.

Bake on a hot griddle. 

We ate ours topped with fresh strawberries and maple syrup. .... As fast as we could :)

Important note: it helps to have an able egg-cracking assistant at your side. I probably couldn't have done it without Aub's help.

Monday, April 22, 2013

goma dare and ponzu for shabu shabu


Shabu shabu is one of our favourite easy healthy meals. In our house it is elevated to special celebration status - so birthdays, New Year's , that kind of special meal thing. It was a no-brainer for Eden's birthday dinner last week because it is absolutely clean eating (whole foods, no gluten, no refined sugars). Social and totally delicious. Perfect for the day.

Shabu shabu as a dish is super simple - basically a pot of hot water with a piece of kelp (or not) sits on a tabletop burner. Diners add and swish (the shabu shabu sound) various greens, mushrooms, cubes of tofu, and very thinly sliced beef, pork or chicken. Everything 'cooks' very quickly. Healthy fare but not terribly exciting so far. The excitement is in the sauces. For years we bought our dipping sauces for shabu shabu at an Asian grocers. It never occurred to me to do anything else. It was an expensive way to go (ridiculously so) but that's what my Japanese friends did and so that's what I did. One day I realized that making goma dare was likely not only possible but the way to go. Since that day I have made the sauce a number of times and while I can humbly say that it has never been a failure I also have to admit that I have never felt that it was a total success. Eden's birthday dinner was the day the tide turned. I am posting the recipe for both the dipping sauces mostly because I know I won't lose them here :) and I really don't want to. The stars may never align quite as well again.

Because of the cost of the readymade sauces there never seemed to be quite enough sauce (especially the sesame dipping sauce - the hands-down fav). This recipe made a large batch. Large enough to liberally fill dipping bowls for eight adults and five children, refill an inevitably overturned bowl, and have a generous cup left to dress brown rice veggie bowls for a meal for seven. All that didn't begin to match the cost of a measly little bottle from the store. 

A little personal satisfaction that accompanies this meal - I get to use many (but by no means all) of my beloved Japanese dishes. I love layering the pieces, making an interesting statement. A rice bowl, two dipping bowls, a small plate and a pair of o hashi per diner is a good start on displaying the collection. Sort of justifies the passion. lol

goma dare (sesame sauce for shabu shabu)

1/2 cup white sesame seeds, toasted
1/3 cup shiro (white) miso paste
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup tahini
1/3 cup dashi (I made mine from dashi grains)
1/2 cup gluten-free shoyu
1 cup water

The method is so easy that calling it a method is really glorifying the process. After toasting the sesame seeds (either stovetop in a closely watched frying pan or on a cookie sheet in the oven) add all the ingredients to a blender container, pop the lid on good and tight, and give it a whirl on high until the sauce is smooth and creamy. The consistency is quite thin.

ponzu

1/2 cup gluten-free shoyu
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp dashi
1 Tbsp mirin

Mix. Done.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

coconut, almond, banana & quinoa breakfast cakes




Yesterday I was introduced to a beautiful, new-to-me blog The First Mess. I scrolled through post after post and recipe after recipe, mentally bookmarking every single one! There are food blogs galore and many of them filled with interesting options but this is the very first one that has appealed to me so strongly. I do believe I will have to approach it in the Julie and Julia fashion (minus the craziness) - a recipe a day until I have conquered the lot! Seriously, every single recipe begs me to make it.

Accordingly, first thing this morning I rolled out of our lazy-Saturday-morning-bed knowing exactly what breakfast would be. These breakfast cakes are a little more involved than many of their kin but oh my! with every bite your mind sings "worth every moment" - not that they take all that many moments, just a few more than ... buttermilk pancakes or what have you. More than healthy, more than delicious - these are perfect. The crunch of the quinoa, the mellowness of the almond, the fragrance of the coconut, the caramelled bananas... mmmwha!!  I made a couple of very minimal changes to the recipe as written on The First Mess - basically tweaked the method because I am lazy. Not having tried Laura's method and thus having no true basis for comparison, I may not be in a position to make this claim but I would venture that the shortcuts were not made to the detriment of the cakes. I also opted to throw in an egg because I firmly believe that eggs are good for you. If you wanted to make these gluten-free simply swap the spelt flour for your favourite all-purpose gf mix.

David's take? I quote: (After the first bite and through a full mouth) "these are yummy!" and a few minutes later "top of my list for pancakes". Take that seriously folks - he is somewhat of a connoisseur. For what it is worth, I totally agree. Definite make agains.

And if you are not yet a fan of The First Mess I can promise you a lovely visit if you go. From the pics to the food. Perfect.

coconut, almond, banana & quinoa breakfast cakes
(from The First Mess)

2 1/2 tbsp coconut oil, divided + extra for pan
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup black quinoa
1 cup milk of your choice (I used almond)
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup whole spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp coconut palm sugar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 1/2 cup almond flour
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 bananas, sliced

cacao nibs, maple syrup, strawberries, and greek yogurt for serving

First cook the quinoa: in a small saucepan melt 1/2 Tbsp of the coconut oil. When it is liquid and fragrant add the cinnamon, give that a quick stir and then stir in the quinoa with a pinch of sea salt. Let that toast up a bit and then add a scant cup of water to the pan. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer for about 15 minutes. If there is any water left in the pan drain it off and let the quinoa cool.

Add the lemon juice to the milk and set aside for 5 minutes or so to curdle. Then add the egg and vanilla and whisk to combine.

In a medium bowl combine the spelt flour, baking powder, baking soda, coconut sugar, sea salt, and almond flour.

Add the remaining 2 Tbsp coconut oil to the cooling quinoa. Since the coconut oil melts at such a low temperature it will easily melt into the quinoa. Stir it all together and scrape the lot into the flour mixture. Add the milk, egg, vanilla mixture to that and gently fold everything together until it is evenly mixed.

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and brush with coconut oil. Drop the batter by 1/4 cup-fuls onto the hot pan. (If the batter is thick you may need to spread it a bit with the bottom of the scoop) Press 3 or 4 banana slices into the top of the batter. Flip when bubbles form on the top and the bottom is browned.

Serve with a dollop of yogurt, a handful of sliced strawberries, a sprinkle of cacao nibs, and a dribble (or a pour) of maple syrup. Really, truly perfect.

The changes I made were: 
-add the cacao nibs after baking the cakes because adding heat to raw cacao seems a bit ridiculous to me.
-melt the coconut oil into the quinoa and use almond flour instead of using almond meal that is blended together with the coconut oil. One less dirty appliance and one less step.
-add the egg and vanilla to the curdled milk
-strawberries. Because I love berries and pancakes. And because they are just one more layer of good for you.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

another birthday



At the end of my children's birthday days I engage in a private ritual -  a quiet time when I  focus on that one child of my heart. When I  know again and always how I love them, what I treasure. 

Sunday was another birthday for Eden and I remember again the day she was born, that she was who she is clearly and firmly, sweetly and quietly, from her first breath. A recognition that was unique to her birth. As I reflect on the time between then and now I can see her - consistent and distinct, feminine, strong, able. I wish she could see in herself the incredible beauty I see so easily. The big heart. The crazy talent. I wish she could see the woman I see, know the friend I know. Uniquely, wonderfully Eden.

In the tradition of birthdays in the Litchfield 'famille' we had a special gathering to celebrate - complete with cake and candles and everyone present. (Aside from Jonathon -excused on account of the distance between Calgary and Vancouver but only just.) Eden was almost as pleased with her cake this year as I was. It was a particular triumph being gluten-free and refined sugar-free (two definers that a friend pointed out did not sound very exciting!) AND very delicious. Delicious as defined by everyone not just those who must forgo (or choose not to eat) gluten and refined sugars. As I said - a triumph! Eden figured it tasted like homemade Oreo cookies. I was just happy there was a piece or two left when the dust settled :)

This cake is dense and a bit brownie-esque, with a lovely fine crumb. 



Eden's chocolate birthday cake

2 cups gluten-free flour
1 cup excellent cocoa (not Dutch process)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1/2 cup agave syrup
2/3 cup maple syrup
1 egg + milk to equal 1 cup
1 Tbsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8" round cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.

Whisk together the flour (I used Bob's Red Mill Gluten-free this time), cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Melt the coconut oil and add the coconut palm sugar, agave and maple syrups. Crack the egg into a measuring cup and add enough milk to equal 1 cup. Whisk in the vanilla. Add the egg, milk, and vanilla mixture to the oil and sugars mixing well. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry and mix gently until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a tester comes out with just the tiniest bit of chocolate on the tip.

Frost with:

1 250gm pkg of cream cheese
2/3 cup tapioca flour
1/3 cup agave nectar
1 tsp vanilla

Beat together until smooth. It firms up a bit as it sits so don't fret about the consistency. Fill and frost the two layers. 

Top with 1 cup of blueberries mixed with 1 tbsp of honey and 1 tsp water. I purposely mashed a few of the berries to colour the 'glaze'.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

turmeric tea




Move over hot chocolate!!! There's a new cup in town and it is serious competition for even the very best hot chocolate. (David and I may not agree here - he is a seriously committed hot chocoholic - but even he was willing to concede that it was a contender. I say winner.)

A problem with all the superlatives that are flung around on blogs is those very superlatives lose their power - get all diluted by becoming common - and then nobody pays them any mind. A sad state of affairs. Being aware of that I hesitate to express myself with all the enthusiasm I feel but really, truly, I think this 'tea' is...... words fail me. Can't think of any to impress you with the wonderfulness of turmeric tea. Or motivate you to give it a go. 

When I saw the idea I was intrigued - mostly because turmeric is one of those spices considered to be "good" for you. I wasn't sure why or how but I was pretty sure that. I knew that before it is baked and powdered a piece of turmeric looks like a slender bit of ginger but that is about the sum of my experience. Not impressive. Turns out turmeric is immuno-restorative and an anti-inflammatory agent - that is impressive. And that is just for a start. I don't know if that information alone would motivate many to drink it up but it wasn't enough for me; there are a lot of yucky but potentially healthy offerings out there. The hook for me was the fresh ginger and sprinkle of cayenne mixed with a touch of cinnamon all smoothed out with a spoonful of honey. Done, done, and done!

When I think about how close I came to walking right by my new bliss I shudder. I do.

turmeric tea
(adapted from  Mark's Daily Apple and the Dr Oz Show)

1 cup almond milk
1/2 tsp turmeric
dash of cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp raw local honey
2 very thin slices of fresh ginger

Combine the turmeric, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, honey, and ginger slices in a mug. Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat just to the point of boiling. Remove from heat and add a couple of tablespoons of the hot milk into the spices and honey in the mug. Stir until smooth, then add the remaining hot milk, mixing well.

Find yourself a quiet spot and a enjoy a little bit of bliss.

Monday, April 8, 2013

smoked paprika soup with chickpeas & chorizo



April may bring the famous flower-heralding showers in some parts of the world but more often than not what we get here in Calgary is more snow. My mom reminded me last night that someone we love often remarked that the weather was immaterial. That it should be - although rarely is - really ought to be a self-evident obviousity. At least I haven't noticed that complaining about it has ever been effective. In that vein I have chosen to view the newly fallen snow as a perfect opportunity to make this wonderfully warming soup. I love a bowl of soup most any time but when there is a blizzard - or even a gentle shower - outside your April door, it is practically mandatory.

This soup is ever so much better than I expected and I was expecting good! Fast, easy, healthy, and warming. I  love the exactly perfect heat of the smoked paprika combined with the almost sweet chorizo sausage. It smells good and tastes better. Make it!

If you are feeding young children you might want to start slowly with the smoked paprika - the 3/4 tsp produces a nicely hot spiciness that could be more than they would like. Taste and add more according to their (or your) tolerance. That said, this isn't crazy hot but I know kids :)

smoked paprika soup with chickpeas & chorizo 
(adapted from 20 minute supper club)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/3 cup diced celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp herbes de provence
1 540ml can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 cups chicken broth
1 796ml can diced tomatoes
1 tsp coconut palm sugar
1 cup diced semi-dry cured chorizo sausage
baby spinach and/or baby kale leaves
3 Tbsp chopped celery leaves
1 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and garlic. Saute until the onions begin to soften. Add the chickpeas and paprika - stir until the paprika is warmed and evenly mixed in. Add chicken broth, tomatoes, herbes de provence, 1/4 cup of the diced sausage and coconut palm sugar. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove roughly 1/3 of the soup mixture from the pot and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. (Alternately process in a blender after allowing the soup to cool for about 10 minutes. Really, let it cool. The alternative to the short wait is a mess you don't want to deal with.) Return the pureed mixture to the pot and stir to combine. Stir in the chopped celery leaves and remaining diced sausage. Taste for seasoning; add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper if you wish.

Put a small handful of fresh spinach or baby kale leaves in the bottom of each serving bowl. Ladle hot soup over and serve.



Friday, April 5, 2013

proudly...





In September (2012) Jonathon started as president of Martha Sturdy Inc. He has worked long and hard on some exciting initiatives, one of which is the incredible new website that launched yesterday. One of his objectives is to refresh the brand and the new website is a perfect reflection of the STURDY brand - clean, grounded, elegant. I am so proud of my son. Really.

STURDY  - check it out!


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

if I was a shopkeeper...











It may be a less-worthy pursuit but to tell the truth I love to shop (as opposed to buy) and Tokyo is my shopper's paradise. With gazillions of perfect little shops in every direction at every stop on every subway and train line, I think the most perfect of the perfect shops has to be Blue & White in Azabu Juban. From the traditional blue and white Japanese porcelain embedded in the concrete of the step entering the shop to the handmade strip of blue and white fabric tape that closes the shopping bag, every detail is precise and considered without feeling contrived. I could have happily spent an hour or two exploring the shelves and baskets loaded with treasures that filled the narrow space instead of the quick 15 minutes I had. 

Check out the cool wooden bench in the center of the shop - the proprietor (a woman of obvious taste and well-past her youth) found it on the curb for the garbage collectors one morning on her way to work. She picked it up and carried it to the shop - quite a feat as she is tiny and the bench very solid and heavy. Just exactly the kind of story (and fixture) you expect to find in a shop like this. A little bit magical...

A salon - rather than a store  - filled with unique, beautiful, and inspiring items. If I was a shopkeeper I would want to keep shop like this.

When considering what to put in my bags for our last trip to Tokyo I decided against taking my 'good' camera, knowing that I would not want to lug the weight of it around the city. I knew there would be more than a few times I would wish I had it with me and this was one of them. My trusty iPhone did the best it could - I have to take the blame for the quality of these pics... I was more excited about the shop than careful about the process.

Monday, April 1, 2013








Not long ago I listened to a child read a short essay he had written. He was commenting on Easter and reported that many people don't believe in the Easter Bunny, adding that he did. I would like to go on record that I am one of the many people who do not believe in the Easter Bunny. I do believe in Jesus Christ - his life, teachings, and literal resurrection. Overarching and underpinning I believe in the atonement that he performed that allows me to be reconciled with my Father in Heaven. My gratitude for the hope and joy I feel as I contemplate this is something I cannot express. These beautiful truths are the reason we celebrate Easter.

Yesterday we had a simple Easter celebration - and yes, there were bunnies and eggs. No egg hunts, we did 'crafts'. Deacon and Aubrie created adorable bunny cups with nothing but their imaginations for reference (who needs pinterest?!) while Ysa was absorbed with water-color painting. Sadly our origami bunnies were abandoned when dinner was ready before the bunnies were complete - they were a bit ambitious for this crowd anyway :) I had a lot of fun folding napkin bunnies and dying eggs - all by myself.

Dinner started with a fantastic salad courtesy of Eden,  followed by a main that was a riff on a great Jamie Oliver recipe, and finished with a pretty rhubarb custard tart. Because I know I don't want to forget about this salad dressing ....

salad with carrot and ginger dressing
(dressing adapted from goop - salad is Eden's own spin)

dressing:
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
1 Tbsp roughly chopped shallot
2 Tbsp roughly chopped fresh ginger
1 Tbsp white miso
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp roasted sesame seed oil
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
2 Tbsp water

Pulse the carrots, shallot and ginger in a blender until finely chopped. Scrape down the sides and add miso, vinegar, and sesame oil. Blend to combine. Finally, while the blender is running slowly add the grapeseed oil and water.

Eden assembled a fiesta of colors to make a beautiful salad: 
chopped purple cabbage
grated carrot
baby greens
diced avocado

Top with the pretty dressing. Doesn't get better!

printable placemats  see jane blog 
bunny-fold napkins  bonkers about buttons
origami bunny oh so very pretty
finger puppet bunnies purl bee
easter egg printable fifth & hazel