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Making something gross taste good

VegaMRPFinalLg

 

 

I’m having my biennial get in shape session. It seems every couple of years I get motivated to start exercising again, and make fitness a lasting part of life once and for all. Typically these efforts last from a few weeks to a few months, whereupon I get content to do hardly anything for a very comfortable year or so, until the guilt or the scale prompts the whole effort to start up again.

 

I know this is no way to approach fitness. I know all the arguments for having it be a lasting permanent part of my life. I know I should have good healthy activities built into my daily routine, like walking my imaginary dogs for two miles every day, or getting off the bus a few stops early. I know that I should treasure the temple that is my body and treat it with good whole foods in abundant quantities.  I know that I’m no better than a yo-yo dieter losing the same fifteen pounds over and over again and watching them creep right back one hearty meal at a time. But I find leading an overly healthy lifestyle a big bore. And I’m lazy, and my body is not the biggest fan of exercise. The endorphin rush? Never heard of it.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t gorge on high fat foods and chocolate bars every day,  I ski and shovel snow in the winter, and I park at the far end of the parking lot and ride my bike (at least twice) in the summer, but when I’m going on a fitness spree there’s so much more involved. First off, I make a point of exercising at least five times per week, not one or two as is typical, I make a point of eating five or six small meals a day, not two and a half large ones. I increase my consumption of veggies, greens and supplements dramatically, which brings me to the point of this post.

 

Since eating actual five or six meals per day is beyond the cooking and time abilities of most people, athletes who need to eat that often typically rely on meal replacement shakes and bars. Some of these are hardly more than the human equivalent of crappy cat food – full of fillers, mystery chemicals, artificial sweeteners, and token vitamins. Some are pretty good for you mixes of quality nutrient sources, and there’s a newcomer on the scene, from Canada no less, that is a veritable powerhouse of nutrition.

 

Developed by a BC vegan Ironman triathlete to provide a vegan source of high quality nutrients and proteins it contains some of the most helpful and unusual ingredients I’ve ever seen in a meal replacement: hemp, lentil and brown rice protein (with all the amino acids), all your EFA’s, fiber, fructo-oligosaccharides, mixed berry complex blend (antioxidants), full serving of maca (for stamina, alkaloids, minerals and hormone balancing), probiotics, digestive enzymes, and a full complement of vitamins and minerals. Sounds super healthy doesn’t it? I mean do you get a full serving of ANY of the above items in your diet every day? I sure don’t. The only caveat? It tastes awful.  How awful? Awful enough that it prompted my gag reflex, which I think is sensitive to stevia, a natural sweetener that has a medicinal aftertaste.

 

Why would I go through the trouble of drinking something awful? Because I noticed the benefits immediately. Like day 2. Being a veteran of hard workouts I’ve noticed a familiar pattern: after the first few days of exercise my muscles ache, I get tired, shivery and weak and for about two to three weeks I feel depleted (unlike the uranium in Iran apparently), and drained. I know my body is telling me that either the effort needs to be decreased or the nutrient uptake has to go up, and since my efforts aren’t that impressive to begin with, I try to work with the nutrients.  My body is simply unable to cope with the increased demands of exercise and is not shy about telling me to fix it. Multivitamins seem to have little effect, neither do power bars, shakes, or a brief experiment with super-greens. But this stuff went to work immediately and deeply. After day 1 of a brutal workout (I’ve started P90X for those of ya who know what that’s all about), I woke up properly stiff, but not sore, and I had ENERGY. Lots of it. Enough to complete workout number two, and three and four. In fact it wasn’t until day five that I needed a break due to sore leg muscles, which is a personal record.

 

So the stuff works no doubt about it. Now what to do about the taste? Well, after a week of experimenting I’m here to tell you the magic formula:

Add ONE scoop of Vanilla whey protein powder, a half up of almond milk and a half cup of water. Shake. It will taste something like thick chocolate milk. Maybe a vegan chocolate milk, but so much better than just the powder alone. And it will be worth it. Especially with the flu season upon us, the immune system can use a little boost, and with me exercising like a mad woman (as long as it lasts), the nutrient support is well worth it. In fact I will probably continue drinking this year round while writing letters to the manufacturer imploring them to improve the taste.

 

How are your exercise habits? Do you get enough? If so, how?

 

**Disclaimer** I have NO relationship with this company, other than sending them imploring e-mails to fix this great product.

 

 

The Importance of Fall

Fall - header

 

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a summer person through and through. I love long days that don’t seem to end, I love seeking shade from the hot sun in the sky, I love how easy it is to get dressed in the mornings what with the not looking for stray mittens, hats, scarves and debating whether a face mask is going too far or not. I love slipping into sandals and not worrying about socks, boots, and cracking your head open on residential roads that never see a plow. I love summer food – the bounty, the abundance, the freshness, the perfect ripeness of a sun warmed strawberry or a tomato.

 

But I live in a northern land, three thousand feet above sea level, at the foothills of majestic mountains and surrounded by wide prairies. Winter is a fact of life here, and it’s often harsh. Temperatures plunge deeply and without warning, snowfalls bury the city making roads impassable, and winter often lasts beyond all rhyme and reason. This is not a winter from an LL Bean catalogue where families frolic in the sunny meadow building a snowman and sipping hot chocolate. You just know the weather in those photos is hovering just below zero, while you contemplate the arctic parka from Canada Goose while there’s a blizzard outside.  And while always welcome in the winter, Chinooks unleash their own mayhem raising temperatures by thirty degrees in hours turning roads into deep slush piles and melting everything in sight.  In fact, I’ve recently cultivated an appreciation for skiing, to my own surprise, just so that there’s something else to do besides hibernate by the fireplace.

 

So around here we need the fall, bittersweet that it is, to ease the transition between the summer fun and the bitter short days of winter. We need to feel the shock of that first night below zero and to begin acclimatizing so that in January we can wear a t-shirt on a sunny + 10 day with impunity.  We need to watch the leaves change colors, and bunnies replace their brown summer coats with snow white down. We need to start making stews, chilies and roasts because the oven is just another convenient way to warm the house. It’s like a fireplace only tastier.

 

Because all too soon we’ll be surprised to see this on our doorstep (only twenty days after our summer high of 32 C), which is nature’s way to dispense with slow acclimatization and just employ some shock therapy on our hides. Just to keep us from getting complacent and all.

 

 Fall - 1

 

Fall - 3

 

Fall - 4

 

 

 Photos  by my talented friend Warren Sable who actually knows how to use his camera.

An ugly pie

 

And the only reason it was ugly is because *I* baked it.

The original pie baked by baker extraordinaire Deb of Smitten Kitchen is very attractive with peach slices arranged artfully in a tender crust rolled out in a smooth circle.   Like this.

But I was not blessed with the ability to craft precise food. All of my cooking and baking looks a bit sloppy, very homemade and well, let’s just call it rustic. Yeah, rustic. Some people have geometric precision built into their ways in the kitchen. They can turn out picture perfect cakes:

 

 

 

How gorgeous is this?

How gorgeous is this?

 

Photo by Stacey Snacks

 

While my baking more resembles:

 

Ugly pie - done

 

Now this is not to say that what I turn out doesn’t taste good, it does. I have a pretty good palate and know my way around the kitchen, but I lack the precision and patience required to turn out works of art.

There is a cultural component too. I was raised on Russian food, and while hearty and filling, it cannot be called delicate, refined or pretty, even if you tried.  Some Russian staples include buckwheat groats, a loaded potato salad, homemade dumplings, a soup made with barley and pickles, pigs feet in aspic (no joke), and many recipes borrowed from surrounding areas like borscht, cabbage rolls and kebabs. S ay what you will but those foods do not lend themselves to a delicate presentation or precision in their making.  If anything a part of their charm is their adaptability to local conditions, tastes and availability of ingredients. But there is a reason you don’t see many Russian recipes in cookbooks.

So needless to say when faced with recipes that look like they came out of a magazine, I sigh and think to myself ‘wait till you see what it looks like in my kitchen.’ (In fact that should be a rite of passage – have your recipe tested by me, because then you’ll know what it really looks like in a  home kichen).  I’m sure they’d see it and cry. But if they turn out delicious, then I feel the need to shake off any hesitation of posting such contrasting works of art and share them with the world. And if your recipes never come out looking as perfect as they do in magazines, stand proud – you’re in good company.

Up until the weekend I had the remnants of the last fresh peaches from BC which tasted heavenly but which were not going to last much longer. They were developing the telltale little brown spots that clearly said ‘eat me now’, and we were stuffed full of ‘em. My friend Google suggested a lovely sounding pie which I promptly proceeded to make.

Other than the time to chill the dough, it came together very quickly.

 

Ugly pie - dough

 

Pre-bake the crust for a few minutes, smear some crème fraiche, throw in peaches tossed with sugar, add a bit more crème fraiche and a streusel topping which took two minutes to make, seriously.

 

 

 

MMMMM

MMMMM

Ugly pie - topping
Ugly pie - ready to bake

 

And the result? While not fit for a photo shoot, this was a seriously delicious pie. Somewhere I went a bit wrong with the dough and it was a bit too buttery, with butter oozing out of the pre-baked crust, and there was likely too much streusel – next time I’d add less and see what happens. And I didn’t have a proper pie plate to bake it in, my last one falling victim to a moving accident. But the flavors were stellar. Juicy tender peaches with just enough sugar to flavor the crème fraiche and bursts of flavor from the streusel made for a very grown up delight. I’d make this again in a heartbeat, tweaking the recipe for any stone fruit around and perhaps trying this dough thing one more time.
 

 

In a small bit of gardening news, I planted some beautiful fragrant daffodils in my beds for next year, replacing a very ugly evergreen bush that was simply not thriving. Since the sun sets abysmally early these days I had to plant in the dark. Wielding the shovel I felt kind of criminal, like I was burying a body or something, but that’s gardening in the north for ya.