Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Attitude and Simple Eating. One Woman's Recipe for Life

Every now and then, I have the good fortune to share time and space with someone truly remarkable. Meet Joanne.

She kicks butt at Mixed Martial Arts. She runs half marathons. She plays chauffeur to her two teens.  She works full time in a demanding career.

Every night, she makes a family dinner. No salt. No processed food. A simple meal of lean protein -- either fish or poultry -- with heaps of fresh, raw vegetables seasoned with garlic and her favourite herbs. Basil, rosemary, parsley.

A diet that's free of chemicals, Joanne says, is critical to her health.

Our paths crossed when I was mortgage shopping. Joanne helped me get my finances in order. As she talked me through the figures, my eye caught a glimpse of a bandage on her chest.

"Oh, that's just my portacath," she said casually. "For my chemotherapy every third Friday."

Joanne has Stage IV breast cancer. It's infiltrated her bones and cost her 13 lymph nodes in her left armpit. She's on a strict no-salt diet to prevent lymphedema. Her uterus has been removed to give the cancer one less place to invade.

She's been kicking cancer for four years now. "The best four years of my life," she tells me.

She is grateful for her cancer. Yes, grateful.

She says the disease has brought her closer to her husband and their children. They now take regular family vacations -- for the first time in seven years. She's said farewell to 15-hour work days. She works half that. "And I'm 30 per cent more productive," she proudly adds.

If I hadn't seen that bandage, I would never ever suspect that Joanne has a serious illness. She looks lively and robust, with energy to spare.

After her Friday chemo sessions, she heads straight to the gym. The day after her hysterectomy, she was back at her regular routine. No time to be idle.

Joanne has amazed her doctors. They credit her excellent response to treatments and surgeries to her rigorous exercise regimen. Joanne says that exercise and nutrition keep her healthy. But her most powerful tool is her attitiude.

"I can't be bothered with cancer. I have to keeping moving. I have to live for now."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Kimchi and Sauerkraut: Bacteria for the brain

I've got bacteria on the brain, and I wish had more of the beneficial variety.

I came across a report in, suggesting that eating probiotics helps enhance brain chemistry and the production of neurochemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. When I wrote about the importance of probitics in a previous post, little did I know that what's good for the gut is also great for the brain. Maybe that's why I get so giddy after a bowl of miso and kimchi.
Miso soup
On a recent lunch date with hubby at a Korean restaurant, I was excited to nourish my noggin. Our traditional barbeque came with fermented side dishes: miso (a soup of fermented soybeans) and kimchi (pickled vegetables).

In many cultures, meals are often accompanied by at least one fermented food. Asian cuisine has
miso, soya sauce and pickled preparations of cabbage, turnip, eggplant, cucumber, onion, squash and carrot. Indian meals feature dishes of soured milk and chutneys. Indonesians use tempeh, similar to tofu.

My Nigerian friend has a daily porridge of fermented millet, cassava and sorghum. Western cooking has sauerkraut, sourdough bread, cheeses, wines and beers, all produced through fermentation.

The process has been around for centuries to preserve perishable food. Fermentation also makes food more digestible and produces an ideal environment for vitamins, enzymes, antioxidants, beta glucans, phytonutrients and probiotics.

In AK's Kitchen, yogurt is our main fermented food. We go through three litres a week. I'm sure our busy brains can benefit from more varied sources.

I'm off to the market, on a mission to find brain food. First, a glass of wine just for the brain boost.  

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rev Up Your Morning with a Quickie for Breakfast

I don't have time for anything long and lingering during the week. But I do need to clear the cobwebs from my brain and rev up my metabolism first thing in the morning.

Since this blog is intended for family consumption, let's focus on the food.

My typical breakfast looks like this: a triple espresso on the right, a bowl of yogurt with honey and Energy Crunch on the left. In the cyclone in the middle, I check homework and lunches, hunt for lost mittens, referee an argument, and yell out the countdown to the bus. Not much time for a slow sit-down.

This week, my coffee has a new mate. It's a perfectly portable fast fix. An ideal breakfast for me and my gang during the morning mad scramble.

A mouthful packs a wallop of energy and nutrients. Chia seeds help sweep out the gastrointestinal tract. Sesame seeds add manganese, copper, calcium, iron and fibre. Raw cacao is high in magnesium and iron. Flax seeds add Omega3 fatty acids. All glued together with almond meal, shredded coconut, egg and honey.

The kids and I made a double batch this weekend to stock up for breakfast and snacks for the week ahead.

Mighty Macaroons
1/2 cup almond meal
2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
1 teaspoon crushed raw cacao 
1 teaspoon chia seeds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon ground flax seeds
2 eggs
1/4 cup honey

Combine everything in a small bowl.
Using two teaspoons, form small mounds and place on lightly greased baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes and 350 degrees.
Yields 12 small,  Mighty Macaroons. Great for breakfast or for dunking in melted chocolate.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Transatlantic Ties over Chocolate Mocha Sorbet

I try not to get too attached to things. Things get lost, broken. They lose their lustre. I like to enjoy my life without worrying over what happens to my stuff.

I must admit, there are a couple of shiny things in AK's Kitchen that hold special value for me.

This broken antique lay sleeping in a cupboard. The Italian beauty was revived thanks to another Italian beauty, my friend and coffee afficionado Isa. (Her timeless face reminds me of actress Isabella Rossellini. But I digress.) Isa came to the rescue with a new gasket. Presto. My old coffee pot was back in business.

A few days later, Isa spotted a new coffee maker to add to my collection of oldies. She shipped it from her hometown of Bologna to my kitchen in Ottawa.

I have grown slightly attached to these metal coffee pots. Not so much for their appealing design, but for what they represent. Whenever I put them to work on my morning espresso, they remind me that an ocean away, a kindred soul is close at heart.

I had a shot of leftover espresso this morning. I put it to use in a simple chocolate mocha sorbet. My version is an adaptation of Ina Gartner's original recipe.

1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch salt
2 cups water
1/4 cup espresso
1 1/2 tablespoon coffee liqueur (optional)

In a heavy sauce pan over low heat, mix all ingredients except liqueur.
Stir until solid ingredients are dissolved.
Turn off heat and add liqueur.

If you don't have an ice cream maker, pour the liquid into a large, shallow container.
Freeze for four hours. 
Score the sorbet with a fork to make a slush and return to the freezer for another hour.

Serves 3-4.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Remedy for Sadness

Since the passing of a long-time friend, I had to digest more sad news from several fronts. It all made for an emotionally exhausting week.

I shed tears and ate lots of sugar. I tried to convince myself that the sugar would release endorphins, the happy hormones. Dark chocolate almonds and Iranian dates were my sugar of choice. I devoured handfuls and handfuls. My mindless consumption left me feeling fat rather than euphoric.

There are other remedies for sadness. My friend, Brenda offered hers over a double espresso and churros. Her words helped me shift my thinking. She explained that each of us has our own journey. It is OUR journey, no one else's. Once we are free of our physical bodies, we are free to be what we are meant to be -- pure love and happiness.

I lingered on Brenda's words. And for the first time in days, I felt happy.

I've stashed the chocolates. Now it's time to make my insides happier. Brenda's baked kale chips are a step in a more healthful direction.

I made a batch last night. The gang gobbled them up. Maybe I'll ad them to my Superbowl menu.

Baked Kale Chips
1 bunch of Kale
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil  
Salt to taste

Cut kale into large pieces and place on a baking sheet.
Brush kale lightly with oil, then sprinkle with salt.
Bake at 350 degree for 15- 20 minutes, or until kale is crisp. 

Note: Make sure you remove the thick stems running through the middle of the leaves. Otherwise, the chips will be limp, not crisp.  I made this mistake the last time I tried to make kale chips. Watch the kale carefully because they burn easily.