Chaga Chai

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I knew there was going to be another load of snow overnight, I had heard about it days ago. I was reminded of it last night. I knew it was coming.  Yet for some reason, when I heard the big city trucks go by clearing the roadways – I was still surprised.  Hello, earth to Shanna. It’s winter. It snows.

It is actually stunningly beautiful, the perfect snow for snowmen. Not so perfect for trying to walk around in, seeing as it just keeps on coming and no one has a chance to shovel their walks fast enough. Beautiful none the less.

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A beautiful snowfall, means while it gets brighter and brighter… seeming to hit the cap on cloudy brightness at around noon, I do a lot of window gazing. Especially when it’s big flakes of snow, the kind that flutter down sorta slow. Dancing on the crisp air. Taking their time before they meet their friends on the ground. Gorgeous. Magical.

The perfect accompaniment to wintery window gazing, is a hot cup and some fuzzy slippers.  Perhaps a kitty cuddling, lazily watching the day go by. Sounds like a great Friday morning to me! One I was fortunate enough to enjoy for hours.  My hot cup of choice this morning was a fresh brewed chaga tea, mixed and infused with chai spices. Beautiful aromatics, creamy on the tongue, perfection. Healthy, too!

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Making chai from whole spices is the way to go, for sure. It allows total control on what flavors are most desired, makes room for personal flare, and whole spices keep their flavors and aromatics wayyy longer than ground spices.  Constructing a chai completely from scratch also allows for a deeper tea taste as well as an individual choice on which tea is used, not as much sweetener, you name it.  In my opinion, chai is the ultimate comforting warming drink of winter. Ginger heating from the core, clove warming from the tip of the tongue straight into the belly, creamy swirls of coconut and a big hug from black peppercorns. It’s great!

Chaga Chai
serves two

2 Cups Strong Hot Chaga Tea
1 Cup Almond Milk
2 Tsp Coconut Cream
1 Tsp Coconut Oil
1 Cinnamon Stick
3-4 Allspice Berries
7 Cardamom Pods
6 Black Peppercorns
1-2 Star Anise
1/4 Tsp Ground Ginger
Pinch of Nutmeg Powder
Pinch of Vanilla Powder
Pinch of Himalayan Salt
1 Tbsp Raw Honey
Crushed Dried Rosebuds (optional)

In a medium sized pan, toast the cinnamon stick, allspice berries, cardamom pods and peppercorns over medium heat until fragrant. Transfer the toasted spices to a small pot, adding the clove, ginger, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt. Cover with a splash of almond milk, set aside to infuse for ten minutes. Once infused, add the coconut oil and the hot chaga tea, turning up the heat on the burner to allow the tea to simmer gently and the oil to melt.  Once the oil has melted, strain the spices out, add the rest of the almond milk and remove from the heat.  Stir in the raw honey, then divide between two mugs. Top each mug off with a teaspoon of coconut cream and crushed rosebuds.  Serve with an cinnamon (stir) stick if desired!

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Balsamic Beads & Alien Veggies

Romanesco…

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Roma-whaa?  Romanesco.  Rad, eh?  I’m a sucker for treasures of the produce section.. Seriously.

A few years ago I saw a whole pile of these alien looking broccoli-cauliflower-whatever-the-heck’s, just tucked casually between the sprouts and the beans. No biggie, just a friggin’ UFO hybrid.  I didn’t buy one, I just tucked my basket in a little closer and scooted my butt on by never to see one again.  Until this week. There was one left, I went for it.

So what the bleep is it!? It’s a relative of cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage, a dense spirally flower.  Tastes more like cauliflower, than broccoli, and breaks apart like it too.  It works well sauteed, steamed, and of course – raw.

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I love and absolutely can’t get over these beautiful tasty spirals. So stunning to look at, shocking even. I sent a photo of my first romanesco experience to le boyfriend and he gave me the “…” type response.  Something along the lines of “What the……” – Perfect. It’s perfect! We had the exact same response, years apart. What better way to get creative with food, than to add in something that is so unusual?!

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Let’s add to the unusual.  Balsamic beads. Pearls. Balls.  Whatever you want to call them. It’s called molecular gastronomy. Science+Food. I had the absolute pleasure of assisting Chef Pierre Lamielle in a molecular gastronomy class a few weeks back, a class I had been suuuper pumped about.  I put my name into the bid for which classes I would get to volunteer for, choosing 18 total. The only one I really, really had to make sure I somehow got to – was the molecular class. Ding ding! What fun it was! He talked a bit about the different components used in molecular gastronomy, different ingredients to make foams and spheres.  He mentioned his favorite to work with is agar, which was thrilling for me – as I am familiar with agar agar and being that it is a seaweed product, am happy to use it in my own kitchen.

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Molecular kits can be purchased online, and sometimes in specialty kitchen stores; agar agar can be found powdered or flaked in some health food stores and in most Asian markets. So if making “caviar” out of vinegar, fruit juices or whatever liquid you fancy is the goal – simple agar powder is the way to go. Since the molecular class, I have been using Chef Pierre Lamielle’s instructions for making balsamic “caviar” but have altered the measurements a tad seeing as I do not own a molecular kit.

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Tomato & Romanesco Salad with Balsamic Beads

1 Handful of Yellow Grape Tomatoes
1 Handful of Red Grape Tomatoes
1 Small Head of Romanesco
2-3 Tbsp Chia Oil (flax oil, or good quality oil of choice)
1 Tbsp Fresh Chive – sliced thin
1/4 Cup Shredded Basil
6-7 Chunks of Chevre (omit for vegan option)
Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper
1/3 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1-1.5 Tsp Agar Powder
3 Cups Cheap Olive Oil
Syringe

Slice the tomatoes in half, and pull apart the romanesco – leaving it chunky. Toss the tomatoes, romanesco, chia oil, sliced chives and shredded basil in a large glass bowl. Sprinkle with salt and as much fresh pepper as desired. Toss the salad, then add the chunks of chevre. Allow this to sit out while making the balsamic beads. Fill a large pint glass or jar with the olive oil and pop it in the freezer to chill for about 30-45 minutes. The key is cheap oil, which is usually heat pressed and therefore won’t solidify as quickly in cold temperatures. In a small pot combine the agar and the balsamic vinegar, bring it to a simmer – stirring to dissolve the powder. Once dissolved, transfer to a bowl or cup and set aside. Take the chilled olive oil from the freezer, pull the balsamic liquid up into a syringe and drip it one drop at a time into the oil. The beads will fall to the bottom of the jar, forming as they chill. Stir gently to unstick if necessary. Drain the oil from the glass into another container and sprinkle as many of the balsamic beads as desired over the salad.

Voila!

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Left Overs… I Love Left Overs!

My dad makes the best mashed potatoes in the whole world.

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Well, actually he makes an amazing Christmas dinner in total – but ever since I was young, the mashed potatoes and dressing have been my favorite.  I can’t for the life of me make mashed potatoes like my dad does, not even a chance.  This is a pretty sad thing for me, as I have a serious love for potatoes.

On the other hand…. very lucky for me, that I got to take all of the left overs!

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While cleaning up the kitchen after our holiday dinner, it came out that I don’t have a microwave in my tiny apartment.  I used to, but when I last moved – I left it. Actually, my old landlord called me to thank me for leaving it, as I hadn’t used it for the year I spent in his building and it had been essentially brand new when I moved in.. He took it. I had intended to leave it for the new tenant, but anyway, besides the point.  I don’t have a microwave. I love left overs.  I choose not to have a microwave for a number of reasons, and find that often when one would sure be handy – creative juices begin to flow.

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Holidays… heck, just plain old days off – call for brunch. Brunch to me just isn’t brunch, without eggs. Now I had been doing the fully vegan thing for a while, with some recent reintroductions – eggs and goat cheese. I feel very strongly in listening to my body, I believe food is medicine… and if my body needs vitamins it can get from eggs – well I would much rather have an egg than pop back a couple of pills. As long as it’s organic, properly treated, and farm fresh.   Omit the egg to keep it vegan, instead topping with fresh greens.

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Potato Latkes & Crisped Sage
makes about five palm sized latkes

2 Cups Cold Mashed Potatoes
1/2 Cup Quinoa Flakes
1 Shallot
2 Cloves of Garlic
Pinch of Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper
5 Tbsp Coconut Oil (separated)
10 Fresh Sage Leaves

Preheat the oven to 350. In a fairly large bowl, hand mix all ingredients except the coconut oil (make sure to use cold potatoes!).  The mixture should be thick and stick mostly to itself, not your hands. Roll the mixture into five separate balls, flattening each into a patty. Heat up a pan (ideally cast iron, but not necessary), melt 3 tablespoons of coconut oil and gently place the latkes in. Depending on the size of the pan, mine fit four at a time. Keep in mind, the latkes will need to be flipped, so over crowding is not a good idea. Allow the latkes to develop a crust, then flip. Once both sides have a seared crust put the pan in the oven (if not using a cast iron, transfer gently to an oven safe dish or cookie sheet) and continue cooking for an additional 10 minutes.  When the latkes come out of the oven, they will be very soft. Allow them to cool slightly, and firm up before plating. In another pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, to test that the oil is hot enough to crisp the sage – dip the tip of one leaf in. If it begins to bubble, it’s ready – add in all 10 leaves. It’s not to deep fry them, just to crisp them so they need only be cooking for about two minutes, maybe three. Remove them with a fork.

*If completing this brunch with an egg, use the same sage-y coconut oil to cook it *

Romance in a Bowl!

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Years ago in a dark little kitchen shop, I picked up an old book filled with Persian recipes.  I remember exactly where I was standing in the shop, I remember being surrounded with various ingredients – spices, pulses, pots and pans. I remember this captivating photo of a jewelled rice, steaming and vibrant, it basically jumped off the page at me. I can’t say what the book was called, who wrote it, or even what the cover looked like; only that in some far away land there was a dish so beautiful and with the most perfect name. Jewel rice.

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The picture had nuts, seeds, fruits and rinds; truly I could almost taste it just by absorbing every inch of the photo. The dish, I have recreated in my own kitchen and with my own photos, building it more from what my mind thought it would taste like as opposed to what the recipe actually called for. To be honest, other than what I could pick out from the picture I am not even sure what that particular recipe included.

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My version uses Israeli couscous, which was introduced to me quite a few years ago and has been really the only wheat based pasta in my cupboard for years. I love how quick it cooks, how easy it is to use, and that like rice – it will take on whatever you use it with.  Ever since looking through that old book, I certainly romance Persian food in my mind. Mixing in a common love of aromatics and color. Cutting open a pomegranate to reveal the beautiful shining rubies that lay within it’s hard exterior, the soft buttery taste of a raw pistachio, the familiar sweetness of dried fruit and a subtle whiff of orange blossom and roses.  Doesn’t that sound amazing? Uh, yes! Romance in a bowl. Especially for this time of year! I know for me personally, winter requires as much color as possible – wherever it may come from!

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Jewelled Israeli Couscous

1 Cup Israeli Couscous
2 Cups of Water
1 Tbsp Coconut Oil
2 Tsp Orange Blossom Water
Pinch of Saffron Threads
5-6 Green Cardamom Pods – cracked
1/2-1 Tsp True Cinnamon
1/2-1 Tsp Ground Cumin
1/2 Cup Dried Black Currants
1/3 Cup Raisins
1 Cup Raw Pistachios – shelled
1 Pomegranate
Zest from One Orange
1/3 Cup Raw Slivered Almonds
2 Tbsp Raw Hemp Hearts
Dried Rose
Himalayan Salt to Taste

In a medium pot bring the water to a boil, adding the couscous, coconut oil, true cinnamon, cumin and cardamom pods. Crush the saffron threads between your fingers before adding to the pot, season with a touch of salt. Turn the heat down, letting the couscous roll and expand with the water. Just before all the water has been absorbed, about 8-10 minutes, add the orange blossom water. Once the couscous has soaked up all of the water, remove the cardamom pods then add in the currants, raisins, and pistachios – cover and remove from the heat. To seed the pomegranate, cut it in quarters, by hand break each quarter in half. The seeds will pop out easily although it does take some love. Add the seeds from the pomegranate, the slivered almonds, orange zest and season again with salt, mix everything together. Top with the delicate little hemp hearts and dried rose just before serving!

Loving Tomato Jam & Lentil-no-meat Balls

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Sometimes, I seem to have a serious craving for spaghetti and meatballs.  Not that I necessarily have eaten loads of meatballs in my life, but the craving sometimes can be pretty darn strong.  Something about an Italian meal gets me…  I think it’s the sensory aspect.  The basil, garlic, oregano, slowly cooking tomatoes..  The way it makes the whole house smell so warm and lived in.

I tend to not really buy many things pre-made, I like to know what goes into my food and I find that often the simplest of ingredients can give such amazing flavor. It’s an enormous reward to know that it was created from scratch! That is entirely true for tomato sauce, whether it is slow roasted, simmered and loved or tossed together in a pinch – homemade is always the way to go.  I have a secret love for what I call “tomato jam”, I pile it on everything that resembles noodles. It’s quick, has this… super crazy punchy flavor, and makes the house smell divine. I originally drummed it up as a condiment for a savoury tart, having oodles of left overs I scooped it into half of a spaghetti squash and have never looked back.

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Now, this weekend… there couldn’t just be spaghetti without meatballs. There just couldn’t.  Cooking for folks who are a tad on the green side of this whole “veggie” thing (no pun intended, ha!), means that sometimes there needs to be real alternatives that.. well, don’t really seem like an alternative. Now I’m not claiming that these lentil-no-meat balls could fool a carnivore, but they sure would satisfy one!  Lentils are great! Super easy to cook (or sprout), great source of plant based protein, and they work well with so many different dishes.  Growing up, my mom used to make this lentil… bake.  I can honestly say that’s what we named it, I don’t remember it having any other title. Lentil bake.  It had tomatoes, cheese…. herbs, I don’t know. It was delightful. I have tried to recreate it a number of times with no success, these little balls paired with my tomato jam – well they measure up well. Le Boyfriend even enjoyed them!

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New Spaghetti & Meatballs
(makes for about 4 people)

2 Large Zucchini

Punchy Tomato Jam

5-6 Medium Red Tomatoes
1 Cup Sundried Tomatoes
3+ Cloves of Garlic
1/2 Cup Water
1/3-1/2 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
Salt & Pepper

Lentil-no-meat Balls

1 Cup Cooked French Lentils
1/2 Cup Cooked Quinoa
2 Shallots
2 Cloves of Garlic
1-2 Tsp Olive Tapenade
3+ Tbsp Water
1/2 Tsp Smoked Paprika
2-3 Tsp Shichimi Togarashi
1-2 Tsp Nutritional Yeast
Salt & Pepper
1/3 Cup Quinoa Flakes

Tomato Jam: Wash & chop the tomatoes leaving the skin on, and a decent chunky size. Slice the sun dried tomatoes, roughly chop the garlic.  In a medium pot, heat up the water to a simmer then add in both the dried and fresh tomatoes and the garlic. Cook uncovered for about 10 minutes keeping the heat at a medium temperature. Season with salt and pepper once the tomatoes have begun to soften and release their juice, about another 5 minutes. Add the apple cider vinegar, and continue to cook until the tomatoes have deepened in color, the house smells amazing, and the mixture has thickened up a bit.

No-meat Balls: Preheat the oven to 375 and lightly coconut oil or prepare with parchment – a cookie sheet. In a food processor, pulse the lentils, quinoa, tapenade, shallots, garlic and water (add if necessary, table spoon at a time) until it begins to pull from the sides and stick together. For a more uniform texture, continue processing a touch longer with a tad more water. Add in the spices,nutritional yeast, salt and pepper, and give it another quick pulse to incorporate. Remove the blade, and mix the quinoa flakes in by hand. Form the mixture into balls and set on prepared cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes, turning them, and baking for another 5-10 or until browned and firm.

Assembly: Wash and spiralize or julienne the zucchini into noodles, divide between bowls. Spoon on the hot tomato jam and then top with the lentil balls. Voila!

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Affogato, anyone?

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I fell in love with a beautiful, creamy, bitter, amazing affogato at my favorite vegetarian restaurant this summer, while having a breakfast date with a dear friend.  I typically stay away from coffee, it gives me serious headaches (unless of course I have a headache, then it’s a miracle pain reliever – funny how that happens) that last and last.  Seriously, if I was to have two cups in a day I would soon not be able to see out of my right eye. It’s crazy!  So I have them here and there.. and by here and there, I mean once every three months or so.

A traditional affogato is a scoop of vanilla ice cream or gelato and a shot of super strong espresso, very Italian and wonderful. My experience up until today has always been with those two ingredients. Gelato, and espresso. So, given that I don’t drink coffee, I do not have a coffee machine, waking up with a major affo-hankering this morning proved a bit of an issue.

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My favorite coffee substitutes by far are maca (with a number of other superfoodie ingredients), and roasted chicory.  Both boast crazy great health benefits, give super amounts of energy and stimulation without a giant caffeine crash, and they aren’t acidic like coffee is! Instead of multiplying our acidity just to have a cuppa (perhaps even adding in a doughnut or something else ultra acidifying),  it’s so super easy to brew up one of these babies and glide straight on past that morning crash, wave goodbye to jittery vibrating organs, and say hello to something new! Why not, even just to try and see? My boyfriend drank a (seriously crazy in my opinion) amount of coffee up until a few months ago. He cut it out completely while we did a cleanse, and has since reintroduced it in more of a moderate way. I think that’s perfect, you like it? Drink it! Just don’t have seven cups a day and wonder why you don’t feel quite right. We are constantly bombarded with “do this” – “NO wait! Do this!!”  When really we need only do what feels right for ourselves as individuals. Piece meal what you like, toss what you don’t.

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The amazing boost in stamina, hormone balancing and adrenal support from maca is marvelous.  I always mix cacao with my maca, I love the super groovy awesome vibes that come from these beauty beans.I  just love them! Packing in the minerals, tossing in some fats to help absorption, and finishing with some really great additives like lucuma or mesquite (or both!). Not mesquite like the bark used with bar-b-ques! Nope! I’m talking the bean pod, where a plant naturally concentrates the most love and energy. Mesquite trees are incredible, super deeply rooted, so just imagine all the nutrition that is elevated into those beans! Loads! Lucuma is a fruit, I buy it dried and in powder form. Lucuma acts as a fantastic binder so it’s pure perfection when you’re taking a bunch of powdered herbs and trying to fully emulsify them in water or tea. Some serious delight comes from mixing these ingredients, I kid you not. I also added some freshly grated ginger, cinnamon, and vanilla to smooth everything out with the vegan coconut ice cream but those are optional, depending on how espresso-y the mixture needs to taste.

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Affogato

1 Tsp Black Maca Powder
2-3 Tbsp Raw Cacao Powder
1 Tsp Mesquite Powder
1 Tsp Lucuma Powder
1 Tbsp Raw Honey
3-4 Cups Water
Freshly Grated Ginger – to taste
Coconut Ice Cream
Vanilla Bean Powder & Cinnamon

Boil the water in a small pot on the stove, once it is boiling remove from the heat. Add the maca, cacao, mesquite, lucuma, and honey, gently whisking to incorporate everything. Fill a mug or teacup 2/3 full and top with a scoop or so of coconut ice cream. Finally, sprinkle with vanilla and cinnamon and enjoy!

Ultra simple, ultra satisfying.

(Medicinal Mushroom) Savoury Breakfast Bowl

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My dad sent me a text this morning to inform me of the snowfall warning scheduled for Calgary tonight, this immediately put me into need-comfort mode. It’s not that I don’t like snow…. I think it’s beautiful! It does however instill the serious need for hibernation.  I tend to run a bit on the cool side, so winter really bites me in the butt sometimes.

Comfort food is something that has dramatically changed for me in the last 10 months or so. Since going primarily vegan the typical oozy, gooey, piping hot cheesy pasta bowls, quiche, and ultra creamy brie pizzas have sorta flown out the window. I have a much stronger grasp on what works for me and my body, and am so happy to say that I am still learning! Every day!
Each day in yoga I am reminded that today is different from yesterday, that tomorrow will be different from… next Tuesday. We are in a constant state of revolution, the beauty of becoming more in tune with our own body is that come tomorrow (shoot, even come three hours from now!) we will require something that is just a bit different from the current moment.  Being your own intuitive chef is one of the best things you can do for yourself!

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Comfort food for me, now looks something like this! Quinoa, avocado, shiitakes, and kimchi.  Deeply nourishing, flavorful, and packed with both prebiotics as well as probiotics. Most everyone has heard about probiotics and how important they are (think yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut) but not as many people now how vital it is to also have the prebiotics! Prebiotics are essentially food for the probiotics, they provide sugars for the happy bacteria to eat and grow thus helping us to be happy and to grow!  Enjoying a breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) like this fabulously comforting bowl is only one way to get a good dose of bioavailable nutrition; for those of us who enjoy a sweeter breakfast, or perhaps to be used as a dessert option it’s simple to convert from savoury. Bananas are a great source of prebiotics, oats and other porridge grains work as well. Scooping some cultured yogurt and raw honey on top of a blended banana oat pudding/porridge and topped with some extra beneficial bee pollen is sweet perfection in a bowl. Wholesome, real food.

I cooked the quinoa in a decoction of chaga tea, chaga is a tonic medicinal mushroom that is a-maaaaa-zing! Chaga is a rough and tough mushroom growth that essentially scabs over the broken portion of a piece of living wood. Key words there – living wood. It grows to protect the tree, not to help it decompose. Chaga is an immuno-modulating herb that has been used in Canada and Russia for years and years. In fact, I recently heard about a Siberian shaman who was found in the ice from ages ago – who had chaga in his herb belt. Ancestral people knew that it was anti viral, antiseptic, and very tonic; a herb that could be used on a very regular basis and to treat a number of different conditions. Now we also know that chaga has the most amount of antioxidants of anything known! Awesome! Tonic herbs, immno-modulating herbs, this means that instead of boosting the immune system (like echinacea) they balance the body so that it can zen out. They help to put the pieces together, so the body itself can be the boost it needs. Chaga is not an aromatic, so it can be concentrated and decocted multiple times – and by multiple, I basically mean you can brew chaga on the stove sort of witches cauldron style for hours and hours and it will just be more bioavailable and amazing. Unlike something like a peppermint tea, you cook that baby down and eventually you’re just drinking leaves. The minty aromatics fly away. Once you bottle the chaga you’ve made, keep the mushroom, keep on refilling that pot until the brew deposits no more color into the water. I usually get four or five brews out of the same batch, fill mason jars with the beautiful black tea and refrigerate it to be used as a base in soups, smoothies, or to cook grains in.  Cooking grains with chaga tea provides an even more powerful prebiotic base! Perfection!

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Savoury Breakfast Bowl

1/2 Cup Quinoa
1 Cup Chaga Tea
1 Tbsp Coconut Oil
1 Cup Whole (fresh) Shiitake Mushrooms
1/2 Cup Water
Himalayan Salt & Fresh Pepper
Kimchi
Avocado – sliced

Add the quinoa, chaga and coconut oil to a small pot, allow it to boil then cover, turn the heat down and simmer for ten minutes or so before removing from the heat. Get a frying pan out and onto the hot element, adding in the shiitakes, salt and pepper, and then the water. No oil necessary. Pan-steam (I may have made that term up…) the mushrooms, until they are ultra soft and have soaked up most of the water. Assemble in a bowl, starting with the quinoa, the mushrooms, sliced avocado and kimchi last. We want those probiotics to live, covering them in hot quinoa isn’t ideal!

Optional Toppings

Hemp Hearts
Sesame Seeds
Dried Dulse, Wakame, and Sea Lettuce

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Autumn… In Pudding Form

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While looking for the perfect, single sized pumpkin…..  I came across a beautiful, single sized Hubbard squash.  The only thing I knew about Hubbard squash, was that they are starchy something like a potato and require a majorly sharp knife.  Typically the Hubbard squash I have seen are massive, seriously huge – when you see them at the farmers market, sometimes they can be 20lbs.  This little gem was the perfect size, it supplied me with enough of it’s starchy meat for three palm sized tarts and about a cup and a half of extra puree.

I am all for pumpkin pie, all for it.  I love the warm spices, the creamy filling, the whipped (vegan) cream on top – give me the works and I will be a happy girl. I had the privilege of eating a freshly baked sugar-pumpkin pie earlier in October, there was, I think six of us…  sitting on the couch waiting for it to cook.  We couldn’t even wait for it to cool down enough to slice, all six pieces were inhaled.   Essentially ever since, I have been dreaming of it – hence my search for the perfect single sized pumpkin.

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I’m not ashamed to say, the Hubbard did not do it for me in tart form. It was good – but it wasn’t pumpkin. It wasn’t creamy and smooth, the starchiness of the Hubbard flesh was just that. Starchy. The left over puree, however, became the perfect autumn topping to the chia pudding I made for breakfast! Mmmm-mm.  Warm spices, creamy chia, let me tell you – the squash was an excellent addition. It cut the creaminess of the pudding, added some sweetness (I never sweeten my chia pudding, I rely on fruit to do that for me!).   Rich in vitamins A & C, beta-carotene and fiber, adding a gorgeous winter squash to the diet is a great way to eat seasonally, locally, and if it’s something unusual – why not? I didn’t know much about this gem of a squash but am so happy that I took the opportunity to buy one.

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I ate the first one out of a martini glass, tricking myself into thinking I was sneakily eating a rich and indulgent dessert parfait. The second one (yes, I had two) was layered into a hand-sized mason jar and taken on the road!  It could certainly be enjoyed as a dessert parfait, or a breakfast to-go.  I love whole, real foods for their versatility; eating things that are pure any time of day. Chocolate avocado mousse, banana ice cream, or a seriously amazing parfait – these are not limited to special occasions or after dinner treats anymore!

Spiced Maple Hubbard & Chia Parfait
Serves Two

1 Cup Rice Milk (or other non dairy milk)
1/3 Cup Chia Seeds
1-1.5 Cups of Cooked Hubbard Squash
Juice From One Orange
1/2 Tsp Cinnamon
Fresh Ground Nutmeg, Ginger, Clove, Allspice – to taste
1/3 Cup Coconut Cream
3-4 Tbsp Dark Maple Syrup

Optional Toppings

Bee Pollen
Nuts
Seeds
More Spices
Drizzled Maple Syrup

One night ahead, preheat the oven to 350. Add about one inch of water to an oven proof dish, slice the Hubbard squash in half and roast cut down for about thirty minutes (or until the skin is easily pierced with a fork). Once the squash is soft, allow it to cool, then chop and skin it. In a food processor or blender, add the squash, orange juice, spices, coconut cream and maple syrup. Blitz until it is smooth. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate. Next, in a jar or some container with a lid mix the rice milk and chia seeds. Give it either a shake or a stir, then let it form in the fridge for an hour or so. Just before bed, give it another shake/stir, and let it set in the fridge over night.
Scoop out half of the chia pudding into a bowl/jar/martini glass. Spoon the prepared squash puree, and top with slivered almonds, bee pollen & a quick swirl of maple syrup!

Birthday Cake Adventures

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The cake pictured above is something I am pretty proud of.

I knew that I wanted to make a birthday cake for myself this year, and I knew that I wanted it to involve beets.  That was it, really. I had been flip flopping back and forth about when I wanted to make it, how I wanted to make it, essentially every variable was considered.  I had pegged from the beginning that it likely wouldn’t work. Baking is just not my thing.  I arranged all ingredients, everything was prepared – and then I gave up, left my house even.  Fearing that it would be a failure, I decided to save it for the next day. Determined to make it work I brushed up on baking 101, refreshing myself on essentials like when to use baking soda versus when to use baking powder. Compared dense flours, grain flours, coconut flour, nut flour, you name it. To sum it up – it took me a grand total of two tries, four days, and two very pink stained hands before I could finally say I had done it. Happy birthday, to me!

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With all the rave about pumpkin cakes, and carrot cakes – I wanted one of my favorite root vegetables to take the spotlight. Beets.  I love them. Must be the Ukrainian in me!  They are so vibrant and beautiful, for myself – a huge fan of eating a range of natural colors – it was a no brainer.  Beets, it had to be beets. I considered blending them, allowing them to lend a bit more color to my cake batter; in the end however, I simply grated them.

Another ingredient I used for this cake has had a bit of buzz around it in the last while, Irish moss. Irish moss is a sea vegetable that has been used in a number of different cultures for many many years. I myself have been looking for it in Calgary for quite some time, stumbling across it accidentally after taking part in a honey lecture. I took the time to speak to some people in the holistic community here in the city – it seems that Irish moss is getting a bad name in the same way that other foods in our world are, it’s all about refining and processing. Carrageenan is a refined and broken down part of Irish moss which can be used as a thickener or stabilizer. Most people who are familiar with this refined additive have opted to omit it from their diets as it is known to cause inflammation. That is why I wanted to get some face to face information about it, from people who were familiar with the actual plant. It was broken down for me like this:  Irish moss in it’s natural form is incredibly good for the skin, it contains trace minerals and since it is mucilaginous it is very soothing for the digestive system as well as grabbing onto toxins and heavy metals as it passes through our system (think chia). Carrageenan is a highly processed version of Irish moss, heated to extreme temperatures and essentially void of anything earth related, being more comparable to a chemical byproduct. So to compare it something more widely understood, sucking on raw sugar cane versus gulping back half a cup of white sugar …  well really there is no comparison, and I suppose that’s my point.  From the information I have gathered, in moderation using something natural like whole Irish moss is not going to have a negative impact on our health. If the use of Irish moss is still something that is unappealing, something like arrowroot powder or agar agar could be substituted.

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Chocolate Beet Birthday Cake

2 Cups of Fine Milled Flour (Spelt is my choice here)
1 Cup Oat Flour
1 Cup Cacao Powder
2 Tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp Black Lava Salt
1.5 Cups Hemp Milk (or other non dairy milk)
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Apple Sauce
1 Cup of Honey
1 Tsp Chocolate Extract
1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract
2.5 Cups Shredded Beet
1/3 Cup Cacao Butter – Melted & cooled
1.5 Tsp Apple Cider Vinegar

Filling

1 Cup Macadamia Nuts – Soaked for 2 hours
2 Tbsp Lucuma Powder
1/2 Cup Water
Pinch of True Cinnamon
Vanilla Bean – Scraped
2 Tbsp Honey
1/3 Cup Irish Moss Gel

Frosting

2 Cans of Coconut Cream – Chilled
Powdered Sugar (organic cane or coconut)

Two days ahead, soak the Irish moss in water, it can be left out over night on the counter. One day ahead prepare the coconut frosting, this will give it a chance to firm up. In a medium sized bowl or using a stand mixer, empty the coconut cream (note – coconut cream. Not coconut milk. If using coconut milk, only use the fat solids that are on the top – save the water for smoothies. You may need a few more cans) and the powdered sugar together, whip until it’s fluffy and sweetened to your liking, store in the fridge.
To make the Irish moss into a gel, rinse it once it has soaked, make sure there are no loose fibers or sands remaining in it. Mix it with some fresh water in a blender, and whirl away until it heats up with the motor and turns into a thick gel.
To make the filling, blend the soaked macadamia nuts, lucluma, water, cinnamon, vanilla and honey in a high powered blender. Once it is creamy, add the Irish moss and pop it in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 350, prepare two same sized cake pans by lining the bottom with wax paper and rubbing coconut oil up the sides. Mix the flours, cacao powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl – set aside.  Melt the cacao butter over low heat, keep it in the pot but away from heat once it has fully melted. In another good sized bowl, add hemp milk, apple sauce, honey, vanilla and chocolate extracts, beets, and apple cider vinegar. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry, begin mixing the two together right away as the baking soda will start to work quickly. Add the cacao butter in right before the mixture is fully blended. Pour evenly into the prepared cake pans, turning the oven down to 300 and putting those babies in! Bake them for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Allow the cakes to cool completely.  Once they have cooled, place one cake on a cake stand and slather the top with the macadamia filling. It should have firmed enough over night that you can place the second cake on top without it oozing out. Once the second cake is in place, remove the coconut whip from the fridge and frost starting with the top, working down the base.  Keep in the fridge, taking it out one hour before serving.  *I garnished mine with raw, dried coconut strips and fresh flowers, but that’s optional!*

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Gratitude With a Side of Apple Pie

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This weekend was filled with food, family, and thoughts of gratitude. This weekend, was Canadian Thanksgiving. A celebration of harvest, of foods, and of the fall. Joining and breaking bread with family members, neighbors, and the like; truly appreciating the bounty of the summer.

Stopping to think about what Thanksgiving is, about what the day means now as opposed to what it meant traditionally is a thought I find very interesting.  I can appreciate that we still gather with loved ones, but I wonder if people really stop to give thanks. I wonder if half of the population even knows exactly what they would give thanks for, if asked to name a few.  I have a white board beside my bathroom mirror that reads “Today I am grateful for…”, I try to use my time in the shower to list all of the things I can think of. The typical things come to mind, my family and friends – all of those I love and hold dear. The opportunities that I have, for a great job and workplace, for a home.   One thing that I tend to forget, funnily enough, is food. I can’t say I remember lending thought into being thankful for having a fridge full of food. High quality, organic, healthy food at that.  I’m ashamed to say that it has not been something I think about. Isn’t that ironic? I regularly honor the planet, Mother Earth, thanking her for the gifts that she bestows upon me and my loved ones – however once those treasures have been plucked from her, my thoughts are focused primarily on what to do with them.  I think that that is the most important thing for us to do, to find where the disconnect is. Figuring out where I/we have lost sight of food as a life-sustaining gift, not just viewing it as a creative one. Reconnecting with local growers and producers, shortening the distance therefore nipping that disconnect.  I am so grateful to have the creative ability to use food as an art, as a medicine, but on a more primal level – I am so grateful to simply have enough. To be able to feed myself, and my visitors.  I will certainly remember to recite this gratitude more often. I don’t want to let these things depart from my mind, I am fortunate to have a table full of food when people all over the planet do not.  I don’t mean to be offensive to anyone, I just want it to be known that I am thankful.  Known to myself, and to those who care to listen. Maybe if all of those who are fortunate enough to have a table full of food tonight stop and think about that meal – about where it came from, what went into it.. both effort and ingredients….   I always loop myself back to mindfulness.  It’s all just so important.

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My dad enjoys spending time outside, he takes very good care of his green space and has a great assortment of trees and plants. One of his trees, an apple tree, produced a whole shwack-load of very handsome looking apples. A variety of green and red, tart and delicious. Given a good sized bag of them a few weeks ago, I have been eating them in the form of spicy apple jam.  Today however, after spending so much time thinking about being thankful, about closing the disconnect between plant and plate, and after hearing about a pie craving from my darling boyfriend – I really had no other choice but to put the remainder of my dad’s apples to good use. Unfortunately for le boyfriend, he is away in another city for work.. and a hardy, healthy apple pie makes a wonderful breakfast pour moi =)

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Rustic Chai Spiced Apple Pie

Crust

2 Cups Gluten Free Flour (spelt or whole wheat would work as well)
2 Tsp Cinnamon
1/2 Cup Coconut Oil – room temperature
5-7 Tbsp Ice Cold Water

Heat oven to 325. In medium sized bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon and coconut oil with a pastry blender. Add one tablespoon of water at a time while cutting the mixture, until the dough is crumbly. Empty the bowl into a glass pie plate, pressing the crust along the edges and evenly spreading it over the base. No rolling necessary. Prick with a fork across the base, bake for 15 minutes then set aside.

Filling

3 Tart Apples
3 Whole Cloves
2 Allspice Berries
5-6 Green Cardamom Pods
1 Tsp Grains of Paradise
1 Vanilla Bean
2 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 Tsp Ground Ginger
1 Tsp Orange Blossom Water
2 Tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice
3 Tbsp of Water
1/2 Cup Coconut Sugar

Topping

2 Cups Slivered Almonds
3 Tbsp Honey

Peel, core and slice the apples, popping them in a medium sized bowl. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the clove, allspice, cardamom seeds, and grains of paradise. Scrape out the vanilla bean, and add it with the freshly ground spices to the apples. Stir to coat. Next add in the cinnamon and ginger, followed by the orange blossom water. Once again, stir to coat. Add in the lemon juice, water and coconut sugar, lifting with a spatula the spiced liquid in the bottom of the bowl over top of each apple slice.
Arrange spiced apple slices in prepared pie crust, overlapping as necessary. Spoon the liquid from the bottom of the apple bowl over apples, giving a final coat to the top layer. Bake, still at 325, for about 25-30 minutes. While the pie is cooking, in a small bowl combine the slivered almonds with the honey, ensure each almond is covered. Once the apples are soft, sprinkle the top evenly with almond mixture and return to the oven for another 15 minutes.  Allow to cool before slicing – and enjoy!

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