Enduring Winter [Charred Corn and Carrot Green Tabbouleh]

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Unlike most springs, my yearning for a shift in diet, heavy in fresh vegetables and lighter fares, seems to be lagging behind with the warmer weather that will seemingly never come. 

We tap our toes impatiently, sigh deep and heavy sighs, and wait. And then wait. And then we wait a little more. Alas, it is still barely above zero in Ottawa some days. The afternoons tease with their warm rays blanketing our faces, uttering the promise of summer, but the cold wind clinging from the winter is persistent and enduring, vowing not to leave until the last drop of winter has been rung from our city. 

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It’s been a long, long winter. I can’t imagine it being 35 degrees in this city, as it typically is in the throws of summer. Our baby tomato seedlings are ready to be drenched in sun, to fill our balcony with that familiar scent of summer and growth. We’re ready for our socks to be rolled and put away and our toes to breath and wriggle freely for the first time in months. Our dinners to be served al fresco with icy cold Riesling, our evenings to be spent loitering long past sun down as our laughs echo and fade into the dense summer air. But still, there is cold. 

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This tabbouleh helps. Granted, it’s made with frozen corn which just doesn’t compare to it’s sweet, fresh counterpart….but it’s something. Something fresh and bright and healthy. Something to help shake the cravings for slow braises and heavy pastas. It’s delicious, and the corn that pops as you bite into it releases this lovely sweetness that balances all the tangy, lemony, fresh flavours that tabbouleh is known for. The carrot greens bringing in an earthiness and a slight bitterness that played well off everything else. If you’re enduring a long winter and need some sunshine, this is for you. I guess if it’s warm where you are you can have this too… but you better will us some sunshine while you do. 

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Charred Corn and Carrot Green Tabbouleh
serves 6-8 as a large side

3 cups curly parsley, minced
1 1/2 cups carrot greens, minced
1 1/2 cups corn, fresh or frozen
1/2 English cucumber, diced
1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes (whatever is most ripe)
1 bunch scallions, sliced thin
1 cup mint leaves, minced
1 1/2 cups cooked bulgur (or quinoa if you’re gluten intolerant)

Dressing

(adapted from a cozy kitchen)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoon sumac
1 lemon, juiced + zested
Salt
Pepper

Put a large, heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) over med-high heat. Pour in the corn and let it sit, until charred slightly (5 minutes), stir and let char some more. It should take about 10-15 minutes total. Once it’s got some nice colour, scoop onto a dish to cool. 

Get a big bowl and add all the chopped vegetables and toss to combine. Add in the bulgur and cooled corn and toss again, making sure everything is well mixed. 

Pour all the dressing ingredients except for salt and pepper into a bowl and whisk to combine (adding the lemon + zest). Add about 1/4 tsp salt and pepper and then taste and add more until you’re happy with the taste. 

Pour half the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Taste and if it needs more dressing, add more. It should be nice and tangy with a bit of salad to balance. Serve with fresh or toasted pita, za’atar crackers or on it’s own. 

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The Whole Truth [Whole Wheat Double-Chocolate Avocado Muffins]

imageYou may think to yourself, while sifting through these pages, that I probably fancy my health a whole lot and go to great lengths keeping my body filled with whole grains and healthy fats and proteins and vitamins and all those wonderful things. 


That’s half true. The whole truth is that when things appear moderately healthy around here, it’s more than likely because I haven’t been to the store for butter or all purpose flour or cream or oil and need to find a way to make-do with what I have in the house. I’m a bit of a sham, I’m sorry to say. Such was the case with these muffins. They are better-for-you because I’m lazy, a sort of counterproductive situation.

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Thankfully, in my sloth-like state, I managed to pump out a really tasty muffin that’s butter free and better for you than most muffins you can buy out and about. The cane sugar could definitely be replaced with agave or maple syrup if you want to try and make these even healthier. As they are, these make for a moist and chocolatey muffin that you can feel better about cramming in your gob as you run out the door or enjoy your evening cup of tea. 


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Whole Wheat Double-Chocolate Avocado Muffins

adapted from Call Me Cupcake
makes 12-15 muffins

The oats should be quick-cooking in these as they keep the mouthfeel more consistent with just a bit of chewiness. If you don’t have quick cooking oats, you can pulse whole oats in the blender/food processor a few times to break them down slightly. 

The chocolate square on top is optional, but it gives the muffin a sort of “icing” feel and the salt sticks really well to it. I would suggest if you want something a little more decadent. 


1 cup WW flour
1 1/2 cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1 cup cocoa powder
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup cane sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 large avocado
1 1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup plain yogurt (not Greek)
2 eggs
1 cup 70% dark chocolate (chips or chopped)
1 tbsp grapefruit zest, optional
12 small squares of chocolate, to garnish (I used Green & Blacks because the squares are tiny)
sea salt, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, oats, cocoa, baking soda + powder, salt and sugar. In the bowl of a blender, process the avocado, milk and yogurt until smooth and creamy. Pour into a small bowl and whisk in the eggs. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined (there should be no pockets of dry ingredients). Fold in the chocolate and grapefruit zest, if using. 

Fill a 12 muffin try with liners and fill each 3/4 way. Top each with a square of chocolate. Pop in the oven for 18-20 minutes, checking after 15 to make sure they aren’t burning. Sprinkle each muffin with a little salt when they are right out of the oven. Repeat with any remaining batter. 

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You Need a Snack [Chewy Seed & Nut Granola Clusters]

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I really love a snack. Mid-morning, mid-afternoon, midnight. The time matters little, I’m always fixed for a bite or two. 

Having a couple of nutritious options around the house helps me make better decisions and get the most from my pecking, since it is so frequent. I spotted the recipe for these bars in the current (January 2014) Bon Appetit Magazine and was certain they would make for a killer snack on their own, with granola or milk, an afternoon coffee or on the run any time of the day. Especially if I packed them with a few extra items (cashews! flax! chia seeds!). Unfortunately, likely due to my impatience and using a different sized pan than called for, they were less bars, more clusters. And whoaaaa-so-good no matter the shape they happen to take. 

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These clusters have everything you want. Including a healthy (or not so) amount of sticky maple syrup blended with sweet, plump Mejool dates and tart cranberries, crunchy amaranth (excellent source of protein, calcium/iron/magnesium), chia seeds (fiber, Omega3s, Phosphorus, stabilizes blood sugar), flax seeds (Lignans, fiber, Omega3s), a mixture of crunchy nuts (Vitamin A+E+B, selenium, cholesterol reduction) and a couple other tasty morsels thrown in for crunch and flavour. 

If you tend to get a bit peckish or find yourself fighting through afternoon energy lulls or hunger pangs, these are the perfect snack to get you back on track while still feeling satisfied. They are just sweet enough to feel like a treat. 

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Seed and Nut Granola Clusters
Adapted from Bon Appetit
makes approx. 6 cups of clusters

If you cook these for longer and let them cool COMPLETELY, you might have better luck than I did slicing bars. I left the recipe I used as-is because I actually like them in clusters instead of bars. Either way is delicious. 

6-8 Mejool dates, pitted and chopped
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 stick cinnamon
1/2 cup cranberries
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil/virgin coconut oil

2 tbsp chia seeds
2 tbsp amaranth
1 tbsp flax seeds (ground or otherwise)
1/2 cup raw pepitas
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 cup mixed nuts (I used pecans, almonds, cashews)
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 tsp sea salt

Preheat oven to 350.

Place the chopped dates, cranberries, cinnamon stick and syrup in a small pot over medium heat until it starts to bubble. Turn the heat down to a simmer and let the mixture bubble away for 8-10 minutes. But then, you should be able to use the back of a fork or spoon to mush it all together. It should be similar in texture to applesauce with some extra liquid from the syrup seeping out. Remove from heat and let cool. 

In a large bowl, mix together all the other ingredients and stir to combine. Pour the slightly cooled syrup mixture over the dry ingredients and stir everything together with a spatula until all the oats/seeds/nuts are covered in the syrup. Turn 1/2 the into a large, high-sided cake pan (I used a 15” x 10” x 2” rectangular baking dish) and pack the mixture down as hard and evenly as you can. Add the rest of the oat mixture and press into the pan. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove and cool for 20 minutes. 

Break up the mixture into large clusters and place back in the pan. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes for crispy-edged clusters. 

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15 Minutes to Dinner [Smokey Sausage, Kale & Sweet Potato Soup - *SPONSORED*]

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"You always have the best dinners! I wish I had the time."

I hear this so many times. So, so many times. People tend to think I eat like a king most nights of the week. Big, extravagant meals that I’ve been pouring over for hours and planned for days. Get real, guys! I don’t have the time for that, either. 

The truth is, if I’m not blogging it or making it for a group of friends or family, I’m eating whatever is fast and satisfying. Many times that means eggs and toast or tabbouleh with hummus and pita. If I can find the time to make a big pot of soup over the weekend, that’s what I’m feeding on every day until it’s gone. 

When Hillshire Farm approached me about creating a 15-minute meal with their sausage, I was jazzed at the task. This is, afterall, about as much time as I have on most weeknights to make myself and Allan a meal - and I jam as much flavour, colour and texture into these meals as possible so they stay interesting, nutritious and satisfying. The soup I chose to make with Hillshire’s Smoked Sausage is hearty and perfect for the season change we’re going through right now. Having a few of their sausages in the fridge has been such a treat the last few weeks - meals just come together when you’re starting with something that’s flavourful and spiced to perfection already. I’m used to adding chicken to most soups but this is way faster and convenient when you’re stretched for time. 

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Smokey Sausage, Kale & Sweet Potato Soup

makes 4 servings with lunch leftovers

This soup is so flexible that it works with whatever you have on hand. If you don’t love chickpeas, use cannellini, black or kidney beans. Or, take them out altogether. If you don’t like kale add swiss chard or spinach. Feel free to switch up the spices if you prefer something a bit tamer. 


olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic
1 large sweet potato, diced small (skin on or off)
3 cups Hillshire Farm Smoked Sausage, sliced into 1” rounds or cubes
1 (19oz) can chickpeas (optional)
1 tsp paprika (sweet or smoked)
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chipotle powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt (more if needed)
6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
4 cups kale or spinach
feta or goat cheese, to garnish (optional)
fresh ground pepper, to garnish

Drizzle a large pot with a few glugs of olive oil and turn the heat on to medium. Add the diced onion and sweat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, sweet potato, sausage, chickpeas, spices & salt and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring once or twice. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Let cook for 10-15 minutes or until sweet potato has softened. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if needed. Add the greens and stir for 1 minute. Ladle into bowls and top with cheese, if using, and fresh ground pepper. 

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This is a sponsored post. Hillshire Farm sponsored it and compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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Oh, the Dramatics [Spicy Chickpea Salad Melts]

I’ve been struggling through the last few weeks.  Struggling to find sense and purpose in some days, feeling angry that I’m not where I thought I would be at this point in my life, crushing under the [self-induced] pressure of my late 20s (which, I know, is still very young and leaves plenty of time for change). It seems everyone is on a path these days, travelling towards their light at the end of the tunnel. Some days it feels like I’m a hamster running in a wheel. Constantly spinning, exhausted, but not going anywhere.  It’s hard to remember that despite this feeling, I am on a path even if it’s not the one I intended to be on. I struggle constantly with the decision to start over. To take a giant leap into the unknown not knowing where my feet will land and what will be there to cushion my fall, if anything. Life can be so scary sometimes. But through all the nerves and anxiety, I can still hear that meager voice challenging “…but isn’t it better to be happy?” and I’m starting to feel like, yes, it probably is. To be happy and terrified, or comfortable and miserable. It’s a question that’s not so uncommon with my age group, it seems. And though the answer appears so simple, it just isn’t that easy. 

I’m trying to take each day as it comes. To enjoy and embrace all the little things, as fleeting as they can sometimes feel. I’m lucky, selfish as it sounds, to have friends who are dealing with the same fears and struggles. It’s comforting to talk to someone that understands what it’s all about, how irrational and weighing those feelings can be.  

Oh, the dramatics of it all.  I hope I’m not the only one moaning and groaning over this – surely you’ve been (or are currently) there, too. I choose to believe you have and it brings us closer together as a result. See! That’s a nice way to look at it. You’ve always been so understanding.  And to thank you for listening, I’ve prepared some Chickpea Melts. That’s right. Chickpea. Melts. A creamy, dill-pickley, slightly spicy chickpea salad schmeared over a piece of grainy bread and topped with greens, tomatoes and lots of gooey mozzarella. If that doesn’t solve all the world’s problems, or at least whatever you’re struggling with today, I don’t know what will. So go ahead, feed your problems away and smile. It could always be worse.   

Spicy Chickpea Salad Melts
inspired by Madison at Mad Faux Cheese
makes 4 open-faced sandwiches

1 1/2 cups (approx. a small can) canned chickpeas
1 celery stalk, diced
1/4 red onions, diced very fine
2 tbsp Greek yogurt OR mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 large dill pickle, diced
1/2 clove garlic, minced or pressed
2 tbsp fresh minced basil
juice form 1/2 lemon (or a whole lemon if you like it tangy!)
1 tbsp sriracha (+/- depending on heat tolerance) OR 1/2 tsp (+/-) cayenne pepper
salt
6 slices crusty multigrain bread
greens of your choice (I like torn kale)
sliced tomatoes
1-2 cups shredded mozzarella (or fresh, torn mozzarella)

fresh ground pepper

Pour rinsed chickpeas into a flat, high sided dish, drizzle with a few glugs of olive oil and mash with a fork or potato masher until mixture starts to stick together. No need to be fussy, it’s even tastier when you get a whole chickpea in a bite. 

Add in the celery, red onion, mayo, Dijon, pickle, garlic, basil, lemon juice, sriracha or cayenne and a good pinch of salt. Mix and taste for seasoning. Add more lemon, salt or cayenne if needed. 

Preheat oven to 400.

Slice your bread, lay on a baking sheet and top each with 1/4 of the mixture. It may seem like a lot but trust me. Just trust me. Top the chickpea salad layer with some greens, a layer of tomatoes and mozzarella. Sprinkle with pepper and pop in the oven for 10 minutes until golden. If necessary, turn the oven on to broil to brown the cheese in the last minute or two. 

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Taking Time [Baba Ghanoush Bowls with Pomegranate, Mint and Mozzarella]


My brains are taking a brief sabbatical today, taking time to decompress and enjoy the long weekend, but I wanted to share this recipe with you before I start melting into a sunny chair on the deck with a cold glass of riesling in hand and my best friend to my side. 


I hope Sunday is treating you kindly and feeding you well. 

Baba Ghanoush Bowls with Pomegranate, Mint and Mozzarella
serves 4 as a snack, 2 as a main

I make this dish every so often when I want something decadent, rich but still healthy enough. The flavours are big and bold, but mellowed with the creamy, mild mozzarella, which may seem like an odd combination, but trust me. Just trust me. 

Baba Ghanoush 
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large eggplants
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
pinch ground cumin (1/8 tsp)
fresh ground pepper

To Garnish
1/2 cup pomegranate perils
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup mozzarella, pulled into bite size pieces
1/2 tsp sumac, optional (gives a lovely tartness)
Olive oil

Toasted Pita, to serve

Preheat the oven to 450.
Prick each eggplant about 10 times all over with a fork (this helps prevent them from exploding in the oven… a mistake I’m sad to say I made a mere day ago). Rub eggplants with olive oil and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, turning every 10-15 minutes, until flesh is very tender, 45mins-1 hour. 

Let sit until cool enough to handle. Scoop the flesh from the skins and place in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Scoop into a bowl and add the garlic, salt, lemon juice, paprika, cumin and a few grinds of pepper and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Spoon into 1 large serving dish or 4 personal sized ones. Can be made 1 day in advance. Keep in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. 

When ready to serve, distribute the pomegranate perils, almonds, mint, mozzarella and sumac among the bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Scoop up with toasted pita or naan bread. 

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2013 Season - Farmers Feast 01 [Ramp, Green Garlic & Asparagus Frittata with Mennonite Sausage]

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At the start of the 2012 season at the Ottawa Farmers Market, I embarked on a fun project with them that we titled the “Farmers Feast”, in which I would receive a mystery basket of ingredients, chosen by Tara Simpson - their events coordinator, each month to create a recipe with and share with you all. It started as a bit of an experiment to see if we all enjoyed the outcome of the project and as you can imagine, we did! It was such a treat receiving a different bundle of ingredients, some I had to take a second look at as I wasn’t sure what they were, and develop a recipe using as many of them as I could. We did a full season  and were thrilled to start again this year. Needless to say, we couldn’t share the farmers feast if it weren’t for all the hard working farms, artisans and producers who dedicate themselves to growing, feeding and sharing with our city. Maybe you can give them a quiet, two-finger round of applause! 

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A few weeks back, I went and grabbed my basket from the market. It was literally errupting with great stalks of rhubarb, leafy, emerald green garlic and ramps, thick, meaty asparagus, curly, tangled pea shoots, eggs and a big hunk of mennonite sausage (which could be my new favourite addition to a cheese plate). All of these wonderful things were tucked into a stunning hand-carved bucket with a rope handle from Les Seaux Gadi. I highly recommend checking Claude’s wares out, their uses are endless and they would look so lovely in any home. 

imageThe kind, hard-working farmers who donated goods for this first-of-the-season Farmers Feast are: 

Avonmore Berry Farm - Ramps
Acorn Creek Garden Farm - Green Garlic
Bearbrook Game Meats - Mennonite Sausage
Just Farms - Asparagus
O’Grady Farms - Pea Sprouts
Needhams Garden Market - Rhubarb
Reinink Farms - Eggs
Glengarry Cheese - Big Brother cheese
Les Seaux Gadi - Bucket

The wonderful thing about spring/summer produce is that you don’t need to mess with it a lot. I decided to throw together a very rustic frittata filled with just about everything from the basket (the rhubarb I saved for something else coming soon!) and it turned out wonderfully. The pungent green garlic and ramps with the earthy asparagus and savoury sausage - everything married so well and came together with the addition of the creamy cheese. I highly suggest using these products, but understand that you’re not all located in Ottawa. So if you’re not in these neck of the woods, I hope you’ll at least take a trip to your local farmers market and seek out something similar. 

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This season, we’ve decided to give away some market bucks to one lucky guy or gal. Details on how to enter are below, and if your name is chosen, you’ll get to pick out one ingredient/product from one of the vendors who donated goods to this month’s basket (excluding Les Seaux Gadi). 

To enter: 
1. Leave a comment below telling me what you would do with one (or all) of the ingredients above. 

For extra entries (leave a new comment for each)
1. “Like” Ottawa Farmers Market on Facebook (1 extra entry)
2. Follow @OttawaFarmMkt on Twitter (1 extra entry)

We will pick a winner at random this coming Saturday, May 25th. And now, for the recipe. 

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Ramp, Green Garlic & Asparagus Frittata with Mennonite Sausage
serves 4-6, depending on appetite

2 good glugs olive or canola oil
1 cup chopped ramps (green and white parts)
2 tbsp chopped green garlic

1 1/2 cups chopped asparagus spears
1/2 cup mennonite sausage, diced 
1/2 tbsp lemon zest, optional
8 large eggs
1 cup Glengarry Big Brother cheese, 1/2” cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Lemony Pea Shoots
2 cups pea shoots
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Turn the oven on to broil. 

Drizzle a good 2-second pour of canola or olive oil in a pan. Turn the heat on to medium and add the chopped ramps, leeks, asparagus and sausage. Sauté until starting to soften, 5-6 minutes. While that cooks, crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk gently until combined. Add the cheese to the egg mixture. Pour the eggs into the vegetable mixture and fold gently to combine. Let cook until almost set (the top and center will be runny still), about 4-5 minutes. Place in the oven and let broil until golden brown and puffed up, 3-4 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes, slice and serve topped with the Lemony Pea Shoots (recipe below). 

For the Lemony Pea Shoots
Toss the shoots with the olive oil and lemon and top the frittata with them for some added crunch and a way to cut the richness. 

[photo provided by Les Seaux Gadi]image

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Disclaimer:
 Farmers Feast is a partnership with the Ottawa Farmers Market. I am not compensated beyond the ingredients given from the market. Opinions expressed are mine.
 

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Knock Out That Cold [Spicy Kale Ginger Lemonade]

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There is something ominous lurking around. 

A dirty, nasty cold/flu that seems to be knocking my friends and family out one by one. I woke yesterday with a sandpaper throat and what felt like two corks in my sinus’. Immediately I started trying to knock it out before it did me in. 

Water (a lot of water), raw garlic (mashed into yogurt), oil of oregano and two full glasses of Green Juice later, and I seem to have come out victorious. I had plans to share a galette today, but in the spirit of health, I thought I’d share the recipe for the green juice that I’m adamant saved my ass from this TKO cold. 

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Spicy Kale Ginger Lemonade
based on Café My House's version

The ingredients are pretty rough here. Taste and adjust based on what you like best. This method is for those not lucky enough (like myself!) to have a juicer. It takes a little more time but it’s well worth it. 

1 bunch kale (curly or lacinato), rough chopped
1 large apple (2 small), skin on, cored and rough chopped
Juice from 2 lemons
1/2 english cucumber, rough chopped
large handful flat-leaf parsley
2” ginger, peeled and rough chopped
1/2 - 1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 - 1 cup water

Place all ingredients in a blender with the 1/2 cup of water. Blend until everything is combined in a sludgy mess. Place a mesh strainer over a bowl and pour the contents of the blender into the strainer. Using a spoon or a potato masher (I have the best success with the masher, but it’s whatever works for you) and work the juice out of the pulp until it’s fairly dry. Taste and add more lemon if needed. Chill the juice or pour over ice and serve.

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Finding My Past in Food [Healthier Egg Salad with Tarragon and Pickled Celery]

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My past with food isn’t as glamorous as I sometimes wish it was. I didn’t learn to mix, knead and roll pasta with my grandmother on Sundays and I wasn’t teetering on my tip toes, nose barely reaching the counter, while my Dad taught me how to break down a chicken, sear it to a golden brown and simmer it in tomatoes and capers, olives and hot peppers. It wasn’t my reality. There are times I feel nostalgic for the stories of those whose family and food lives were wrapped around each other like a sturdy vine, but I forget that I, too, have a past in food, glamorous or not. 

The older I get the more I remember the things I did learn about food from my family. They may not be the stories I longed for or the romantic ones some of my friends and peers can tell, but they were the ones that shaped me. My Dad passed along his fearlessness towards all food. Mold? Just cut it off and carry on. Leftovers there for a while? Details, details - just eat it. Expiry dates? A mere suggestion. He joked endlessly about liver and onions, terrifying my sister and I at the thought of having to join him at the table. He ate any cut, any way. If there was something on a menu that he hadn’t heard of before, there was an 80% chance it would arrive in front of him minutes later. At the time I may not have appreciated his ways with food, but theses days I embrace them. He made me a fearless eater, never one to turn anything down, never afraid to try anything at least once. Especially creamy, mayonnaise-filled items like chicken salad, egg salad, any kind of canned meat… I was my fathers daughter and it made me proud to say that I liked what he liked. 

Years later, when it was just my mom and I living in her place, I learned how to cook the first meals I made for my friends and first real boyfriend. Meaty spaghetti sauces studded with big hunks of tomato (something that made my sister squirm in disgust), tomato soup jazzed up with a hit of Worcestershire sauce, tabasco and melted cheese slice that I still crave today when I’m under the weather, dreamy whipped mashed potatoes that I can still claim as the best I’ve ever had and still make today, much to Al and my friend’s delight. She taught me that cooking for people made them feel special and showed them how much you cared for them. It was a high I still haven’t come down from despite not getting into cooking until I was about 24. Sunday dinners at her place brought us all together so we could slow down, laugh hysterically and tell our stories from the week. I still relish her cooking and it always makes me feel important and loved when she cooks for us. 

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My best friend, Amanda, is Lebanese. She comes from the kind of food background that I’ve always longed for. Her mother cooks everything from scratch. When I used to go there, back when I was only just learning to love cooking, I remember seeing hot peppers from her garden drying on the window sill. Amanda explained that she would grind them and use that as seasoning in her dishes. That nearly blew my mind. Do people do that? Don’t spices come from a clear jar with a sage-green lid in the spice aisle? She would feed us labneh, a soft cheese made with strained yogurt (also homemade) and I would sit, bewildered at her dedication to feeding her family ingredients that she pulled from the garden or created from a few humble items in her fridge. Her cooking is a nudge to her past, rich with tradition and memories of Lebanon. I remember Amanda always felt a bit weird about her entirely ethnic lunches (at least to suburban kids who ate french fries or peanut butter sandwiches for lunch), and I would be lying if I said we weren’t all a bit put off by them in the high school cafeteria, but those are the meals I now hope I can feed my kids someday. Meals rich in culture and tradition, meals that have a past and a story to them. Meals and ingredients that made with my two hands. Ones that I might even be able to say Mary Melhem, your Aunt Amanda’s mom, taught me about when I was just a bratty 10th grader. 

All of these stories shaped the way I cook, the way I eat and my relationship with food. Though I longed for more then, I realize now that I couldn’t want for any more. Fearlessness and an open mind, the knowledge that cooking equates to loving and that making a meal for someone is the best way to show them you care, and a dedication to create meals from scratch for my family and share the tradition and stories behind them. 

Egg salad always reminds me of my Dad. He liked his creamy and mayonnaise-filled (expired or not) and studded with green olives. I haven’t eaten egg salad in a long time but when I do, I prefer mine a touch healthier and with plenty of flavour from tarragon, pickled celery and hot sauce. I still thought of him as I spread it thick on bread and took a monstrous bite as the salad pushed out the sides like toothpaste. 

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Healthier Egg Salad with Pickled Celery and Tarragon
makes 4 sandwiches

Though this recipe is mostly mine, I did use Smitten Kitchen's idea of picking the celery. This adds such a welcome kick of sour bite to the salad without having to bite down on a pickle. Unless you're into that sort of thing, in which case - add a few pickles diced really tiny. 

Hard boiled egg method courtesy of 101Cookbooks. Follow it to the tee and you’ll have perfect eggs every time. 

1/4 cup (2 stalks) celery, diced
1/2 cup pickle brine (from dill pickles, sweet gherkins, pickled jalapenos)
6 hard boiled eggs, method follows
2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp fresh tarragon, minced
1 tbsp Tabasco sauce (or favourite hot sauce)
1 tsp dijon
1 tbsp caper berries (2 tbsp if you really like them)
1/2 tsp salt
plenty of fresh ground pepper to taste
sliced whole wheat bread
romaine, kale or greens of your choice

Place the diced celery in a pickle brine of your choice. I used jalapeno because I wanted that spicy kick. Let it sit in the brine for at least 45 minutes up to overnight. 

Have a bowl of ice water ready. Place your eggs in a pot and cover by 1-2” with cold water. Bring to a gentle boil, turn off the heat, cover and let them sit for exactly 7 minutes. Plunge into the ice water and let cool for at least 3 minutes to stop the cooking process. 

Peel the eggs, place in a big bowl with the celery, greek yogurt, tarragon, Tabasco, dijon, capers lots of pepper and salt. Mash everything together, paying most attention to the eggs, until you’re left with a well combined, coarse textured salad. Taste and adjust to your liking. Spread a nice, thick layer onto bread and top with greens of your choice. Place the second slice of bread on top and take a big, messy bite. 

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Was your childhood ripe with tradition and history in food or did you have a past similar to mine? 

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A Lack of Thought [Almond Mint Arugula Falafel with Lemony Avocado Buttermilk Dressing]

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I keep coming here with the intention to write a big long spiel about stuff and things and life… and then I get here and just stare at the page, pick at my cuticles, sigh heavily, and walk away. 

I’m not sure if it’s a result of a busy few weeks or if I’m actually just getting really boring. I’m hoping it’s the former, because my cuticles are pretty ravaged. The thing about writers block is that it doesn’t just go away… at least not in my case. I tend to just write through it despite not having all that much to say. This isn’t always beneficial when you have readers who expect a certain caliber of writing… so I apologize in advance for the lack of intelligent thoughts, but I promise that block or no block, I’ll always share recipes that make up my shortcomings. 

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So, like, you know… here are some falafel. They are really good. So good that I ate about 6 of them in one sitting, popping them into my mouth like they were grapes. The creamy, citrus-spiked buttermilk and avocado dressing, which has all the texture of a decadent dressing but is relatively healthy if you’re not afraid of good fat, was perfect with the earthy, herbed falafel. I dunked them into the dressing and enjoyed them as simply as that. But you can absolutely stuff them into a pita or a lettuce wrapped filled with your favourite produce, herbs and sauces. 

So make a batch this weekend. And have an intelligent conversation on my behalf, because I will probably be fumbling over my words for a few more days. 

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Almond Mint & Arugula Falafel with Lemony Avocado Buttermilk
recipe adapted from Green Kitchen Stories
makes 1 dozen falafel


1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
2 cups loosely packed arugula leaves
1 cup toasted almonds
2 cups canned chickpeas
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ small red onion, diced
pinch red pepper flakes, optional
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp flour (whole wheat works!)
1 tsp baking powder
Creamy Buttermilk-Avocado Dressing, recipe follows
Lemon wedges, to serve

Place the herbs and almonds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until herbs and chopped and almonds are almost ground, a little texture is good. 

Add the chickpeas, garlic, red onion, red pepper flakes, olive oil, cumin, flour and baking powder to the bowl and blend until well combined. It’s ok to have some texture and chunks of herbs/chickpeas/onion etc. No need to be TOO picky. 

Preheat oven to 350. 
Roll about 1 1/2 tbsp scoops into an oval shaped ball and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cook for 15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes so they brown evenly on all sides. 

Serve on their own with the dressing, or stuff into pita or lettuce wraps with tomatoes, extra herbs, dressing and extra avocado. Serve with extra lemon wedges on the side. 

Creamy Buttermilk-Avocado Dressing
1/2 avocado
1-2 tbsp lemon juice, depending on taste
1/4-1/3 cup buttermilk
 salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to food processor and blend until smooth. Add a bit of water (or more buttermilk) to thin, if needed. Taste and add more salt or lemon, if needed. 

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