Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Are you a tea drinker?

Then head over to Dancing Through Life for a fantastic giveaway! (And even if you're not a tea drinker, head over there anyway - both Ashley and her blog are wonderful).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vegetable and corn chowder

Hmm, two soup posts in a row - clearly it is getting colder in Ottawa! Soup goes a long way towards helping me tolerate the dropping temperature - they are warm and comforting, easy to throw together, and a great way to cram a lot of veggies into one meal. This chowder has more lovely chunks of vegetables in each spoonful than it does liquid. The small amount of cheese gives nice flavour to this soup without adding a lot of fat, but you could omit it and use soy or almond milk for a dairy-free soup.

This recipe is from the fantastic cookbook Quick and Easy Soups.

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 large potato, diced
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk (I used 2%)
1 1/4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups broccoli florets
3 cups frozen corn
1/2 cup old Cheddar cheese, grated
Pepper to taste
Cilantro for garnish (do NOT skip this - it adds great flavour to the soup. I used this fresh frozen cilantro which is really convenient)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic and potato and sauté over low heat for 3 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in the milk and broth.
Add the broccoli and corn. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese. Season individual bowls with pepper and cilantro.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dirty Dancing Official Workout: My Review!

It's safe to say I have NEVER been as excited for a workout as I was for this one!

I grew up watching Dirty Dancing (and yes, that means I'm very sad about the recent passing of Patrick Swayze) so when I read about this workout in a magazine at my sister's place I knew I had to buy it. I found it at Future Shop for only $12.99 (I had to do a little digging to find it but I eventually did, which is good because I really didn't want to ask a salesperson where it was).

The DVD starts out with a "syllabus" that teaches you the basic dance moves that will be used in the routines. It also serves as a great warm-up. From there you can choose from the 4 dance routines - "Love Man," "Yes," "Johnny's Mambo" and "Do You Love Me." No "Time of My Life," sadly (although without Johnny there to do the lift and tell your father "Nobody puts Baby in a corner," what's the point?). Each routine starts out with the chance to learn the choreography, then you can do the whole dance with instructions, or with just the music.

This morning I tried out "Love Man" and "Yes." I really like that the choreography part is pretty extensive - the instructors teach you all the steps individually and then you run through the whole routine a few times. It's nice that you have the option to practice as much as you want before moving on to the actual dance routine. I also really like that the DVD gives you the option to pick which routines you want to do rather than having to run through all 4 dances each time.

Believe it or not, the cheese factor is not as high as I thought it would be. I was pretty worried when the opening started out with the female instructor carrying a watermelon, but it got better from there. The instructors are pretty perky but they're actually quite good at teaching the steps - you just have to get past the fact that the male dance instructor really is named Johnny.

I'm not the most coordinated person in the world so it's definitely going to take me awhile to learn the steps, but I can tell I'm going to have a lot of fun while I'm learning them. I also made the mistake of wearing my clunky running shoes - not great for dancing in and certainly didn't help me to feel sexy! Next time I think I can probably get away with bare feet since the workout is pretty low impact.

This workout isn't the most intense you'll ever do, but it still had me sweating and got my heart pumping. Besides, I was looking for something to give me a break from the super intense 30 day shred, and this is exactly what I wanted - it's fun and I'm still getting exercise in!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tomatoes, tomatoes everywhere

Remember my tomato plant? Well when I returned from Alberta it was covered in ripe tomatoes, meaning I had to fast forward through the "mmm, fresh tomatoes" phase into the "what the hell am I going to do with all these tomatoes?" phase.

Hello my pretties.

I bookmarked this soup recipe from my kitchen addiction when I was still dreaming of ripe tomatoes and decided to make a modified version of it last night. Unfortunately I didn't get a decent picture of the finished soup last night, and my boyfriend just finished gobbling up the leftovers, so you'll have to use your imagination.
This soup was really good, but SPICY. I added chipolte peppers because I love their smoky flavour but I definitely went overboard. Next time I'd only add half as many, but if you like heat, go with what I added originally. If you'd like to get the same flavour but without the spiciness, try adding some smoked paprika.

5 pounds tomatoes (10-12 depending on how big your tomatoes are)
1 red bell pepper
3 jalapeno peppers (next time I think I'd switch these for another bell pepper)
1 onion, chopped
4 canned chipolte peppers, chopped (next time, only two!)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups 2% milk
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Broil the peppers on a baking sheet until the skins are charred. Set aside to cool. Cook the tomatoes in a large pot over medium heat until soft. If you like, you can strain them to remove the seeds, but I found that blending the soup made this step unnecessary.
Remove the skins from the roasted peppers and chop finely. Saute the onion and garlic in a little olive oil until softened. Add to the tomatoes along with the roasted peppers and chipolte peppers. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Add milk and heat through. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The truth comes out...

I have been thinking about writing this post for awhile and was finally inspired to do so by a recent post on Ashley's blog. This might seem ironic given the topics of our respective posts, but ultimately they are posts about the same thing - trying to do what's best for one's personal health.

Those who read this blog who know me already know that I have been vegetarian (well, semi-vegetarian - I still ate fish - let's not step on any veggie toes out there) for about 5 years. Anyone reading this blog who doesn't know me (though I'm not sure those people exist haha) might have come to this conclusion from the recipes I post and the many veggie friendly blogs I link to.

But here's the thing that not everyone knows - I haven't actually been vegetarian for about 2 months now.

I've hesitated to bring this up as talking about being a vegetarian has never been my favourite thing (which I'm aware sounds odd coming from someone who writes a blog about healthy living). I never wanted to push my beliefs on other people, and now that I've gone back to eating meat, this still applies - I don't want it to come off as a negative stance on vegetarianism or the eating habits of others. But I'm sure people are curious as to why I've begun eating meat again, so I'll do my best to explain.

Ultimately this is and always has been a matter of health. When I went vegetarian it was a quest to make healthier eating choices, and I want to state right away that I do not regret that choice. While vegetarian I moved away from eating lots of processed, junky food and discovered whole foods, lots of new veggies and a love for cooking. Vegetarianism taught me that a meal does not have be a piece of meat, a starch, and a spoonful of veggies. It encouraged me for the first time in my life to really look at my eating habits and to work towards being a healthier person.

One of the first things that made me think about eating meat again was when I became slightly obsessed with a new meatless chicken breast put out by President Choice. I loved having a replacement for chicken in so many recipes - until I started looking at the long list of ingredients. I really try to avoid products that have a list of ingredients as long as my arm, half of which I can't pronounce, yet I was contradicting this with pretty much every meat substitute that I ate. I couldn't help thinking, "wouldn't an actual chicken breast probably be healthier for me?"

There were other factors too. For the first time in years, I began having really strong cravings for meat. It made me think that my body must be lacking something for these cravings to appear out of nowhere. My doctor would agree this was true - blood tests over the past few years have shown my iron levels to be consistently low, though I tried to eat as much iron rich food as possible and even took iron supplements.

Maybe to some people these seem like poor excuses to go back to eating meat. You can certainly be vegetarian without relying on meat substitutes. Cravings for meat probably come and go for most vegetarians, and young women often have low iron levels, whether they eat meat or not. But all I can say is that at this point in my life, this feels like the right thing to do. I'm not saying it's been an easy decision. One issue in particular I've struggled with is the treatment of animals raised for meat. While it's true I became vegetarian for health reasons, and not because of animal rights, as a vegetarian you are inevitably exposed to information about the treatment of farm animals that makes you ill. My goal as I introduce meat back into my diet is to try and eat locally raised, organic meat as much as possible. This is somewhat of a challenge living in a big city - it's not as if there's a farm around the corner raising chickens - but it can be done and I really want to try.

I'm not ashamed about going back to eating meat. Ultimately it's just another step in the process of trying to do what's right for me healthwise. It is important to me, however, that people realize I am not looking at being vegetarian as a silly phase. It wasn't - vegetarianism changed my life, made me a healthier person, and will still continue to affect the way I eat and live.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I'm back!

Wow, I've been away from my blog for a long time! Hopefully my few readers will still be around to read this new post.

My trip to Alberta was amazing - a great chance to see some of the most beautiful parts of this country, to spend time with my family, and to get away from it all. It was the first trip I've taken (that wasn't work related) in about two years so I really appreciated it. Healthwise the vacation wasn't too bad. I didn't take my exercise chart with me, but we did do a lot of walking - and stair climbing! There were some not so healthy food choices (yes Olive Garden and Red Lobster, you do have healthy choices, but let's face it...that's not what I came for) but a lot of my meals were homemade, healthy, and delicious.

Now that I'm home I'm trying to get out of vacation mode and back to the healthy (and frugal - no dinners out for awhile!) lifestyle. Here's how I'm doing so far:

- I went grocery shopping and stocked up on lots of healthy foods. I avoided wheat, dairy and refined sugar. I'm not planning on giving these things up entirely, but I'm trying to reduce my consumption of them for a few reasons. For one, it's thought that these foods trigger breakouts, and as I have a constant struggle with bad skin, I'm willing to try just about anything that might improve it. Also, dairy and sweets are huge trigger foods for me (as in, I eat one piece of cheese or one chocolate and I never want to stop) so best to avoid buying them for home and save them for special occasions. As for wheat, I wanted the opportunity to focus on other whole grains. I've got lots of brown rice and bulgur to use up, and I bought quinoa and brown rice pasta to try for the first time (for super cheap - I love you Bulk Barn!)

- I haven't gotten back into an exercise routine yet, but I plan to change that this weekend. I was considering joining the gym again but my brain keeps saying, "why spend all that money each month when you can exercise at home for free?" I just need to motivate myself to do so. I'm looking into some new workout dvd's in order to shake things up (one that I'm really excited about and if I can find it to buy you will hear about on the blog soon!).

- Made my first dinner for myself in two weeks!

Mmm....kale. I only tried kale for the first time about a year ago but now it's one of my favourite vegetables. If you haven't tried it yet, please do! Try not to be turned off by the monster bunches in grocery stores. Yes, they are huge, and cashiers might laugh at you when you buy one, but you can use a large bunch up fairly quickly - like spinach, kale wilts when it's cooked, so you can use lots of it. Kale is amazing when paired with a peanut type sauce as I have used here. Bear with me as I try to remember what I threw into this dish...

Kale (about 10 large leaves torn into bite sized pieces)
1 large tomato, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp grated ginger
1/2 cup vegetable broth
Peanut butter - about 2 tbsp? I just added spoonfuls until it was as peanutty as I liked
Curry powder and cayenne to taste
Green onions

Saute the garlic and ginger in a small amount of olive oil for 1 minute. Add the kale and cook for about another 2 minutes, until it's starting to shrink down. Add the tomato, broth and spices and cook until the kale is wilted. Turn off the heat and stir in the peanut butter until smooth. Serve over brown rice and top with green onions.

If you're planning to serve this right away you may want to play around with the spices. I found it a little bland when I first made it, but my leftovers for lunch the next day were amazing! If you make it let me know how it goes!