Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Vegetarian Dining Goes Upscale in Vancity

Image from www.dinehere.ca 

I have been vegetarian a long time, more than 15 years. Yikes...I'm old. But that's not what this post is about... As I was saying, there are a lot of us vegetarians on the Wet Coast and yet, it is not until this year that restauranteurs have cottoned on to the idea that we might like to eat really good food. Raised on farmer's markets filled with quince, chioggia beets and fennel, at most dining establishments vegetarians are faced with nothing but pasta primavera.

In Vancouver, a vegetarian can get by a lot easier than in other cities but seriously, if I have to see one more uninspired pizza or veggie burger I am gonna lose it. I like The Naam as much as any other Vancouverite but I am not looking for gooey, homestyle food all the time. So imagine my excitement when I notice that the old Italian red sauce joint on Main St has been replaced with a stylish acorn.

The Acorn is unusual in that it treats us crazy vegetarian folk like actual foodies. When I visited a while back with my two foodie pals, we dined on unbelievable house made gnocchi, luscious haloumi and the most delicious kale caesar. The space is lovely and while not cheap, it won't break the bank either. Chef Brian Skinner comes by his new Nordic-looking plates honesty, he did a stint at Best-Restaurant-in-the-World, Noma. I loved it and will be sure to go back. 

However, one restaurant does not a movement make. How about three? Enter Heirloom on South Granville and The Parker in Gastown. Chef Georgia Morley at Heirloom was a personal chef to Mr Lululemon himself and at The Parker, Corner Suite Bistro alums Chef Jason Leizert and cocktail maestro Steve de la Cruz are getting together to make some hip, veggie music to my ears. I am heading to The Parker this weekend and will update this post with my thoughts.

What a concept, making unbelievable food that just so happens to be vegetarian? Here is one trend I hope becomes permanent.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A visit with Mairlyn Smith

I am a huge fan of Mairlyn Smith. Why, you ask?

1. She's funny. 
2. She's a home economist, which means her profession paved the way for mine. 

(Thank you!)

3. Her recipes are healthful, whole food focused and accessible enough for real people (aka, me!) to actually be able to cook her food for their families on a regular basis. 

Mairlyn was in town last week to promote her new book, The Vegetarian's Complete Quinoa Cookbook, and I had the pleasure of sitting down with her for a little chat. The book was a compilation of recipes from the Ontario Home Economists Association and represents a huge range of cooking styles and flavours. I will review the book and hopefully share a recipe with you next week but in the mean time, I thought it would be fun to share a little rapid fire Q + A. 

What is your favourite, little known fact about quinoa?

If you don't rinse it, it tastes like hell! Don't trust those packages that say pre-rinsed, rinse anyways.

Name one food you can't live without.


One recipe from the new book that everyone should try.

The Brownie Bite. I was jealous of that one; I tried to recreate the "two-bite brownie" in the past and it never worked.

Name one food that reminds you of childhood.

Anything creamy...my mother made the best rice pudding I have ever had.

What makes someone a good cook? 

Love. You have to love what you're doing. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

October #Unprocessed...why real food matters. #takebackourfood

This month, I am celebrating October #Unprocessed with almost 6000 other people. For this month, I have committed to eating food in its unadulterated form. No unpronounceable ingredients. No weird preservatives....no funny stuff. I am dutifully reading labels with even more intensity than I normally would. And boy...does it open my eyes. I have a mostly unprocessed diet but it is amazing how a little mindfulness reminds me how difficult it truly is for the average person to go unprocessed. Of course, I have made a few hiccups so far, usually whenever I forget about my mission for one second. "Sure, I will have that piece of chocolate"....darn!! 

You know, I am a simple gal. A good, old-fashioned vegetarian. Not a raw foodie or a Paleo enthusiast. I live by the 80/20 rule. For me, this means an 80% whole plant foods approach. That leaves 20% for some other picks...and I like me some cheese. The staple in our house is organic, raw milk cheddar but in a pinch, I picked up some pizza mozzarella from Saputo at the grocery store across the way. Then, I just happened to glance at the label. Milk...yes...modified milk ingredients...WTF???

This is cheese. I double checked! Not cheese "spread" or cheese "product". And it is not the only one. A bunch of pre-shredded cheeses from Kraft and other companies now have modified milk ingredients in their labels. 

Confused? Me too. Here is the legal definition of 'modified milk ingredient' from Health Canada: 

Modified milk ingredients are defined in item 7.1, subsection B.01.010 (3) of the FDR, as "any of the following in liquid, concentrated, dry, frozen or reconstituted form, namely, calcium reduced skim milk (obtained by the ion-exchange process), casein, caseinates, cultured milk products, milk serum proteins, ultrafiltered milk, whey, whey butter, whey cream and any other component of milk the chemical state of which has been altered from that in which it is found in milk".

The 'milk serum proteins' really freaks me out because I have no idea what it means. You want the common sense definition of a modified milk ingredient? Industrial by-products of milk. Milk too expensive for your factory food? Here, take the waste of my factory's milk usage. 

Say what you might about the role of dairy in our diet but let's defend what is good and real and simple - milk from a cow still has nutrition to offer as long as it agrees with you. Foods in their whole form are kinder to our digestive systems and have been designed by nature to nourish our bodies. What really (language alert!) pisses me off is that the average Jane, which includes me, buys food with a gentlewoman's expectation that a food that looks like real food is real. I don't expect that the weird pink "strawberry" milk is natural. Plain white cheese? Now you've gone too far...

This is happening all across our grocery stores: ice creams morphed into 'dairy desserts'; juices transformed into 'beverages' and meat bloated with water, antibiotics and salmonella. The industrial food supply...it's what's for dinner!

In North America, we are facing an unprecedented epidemic of obesity, chronic disease, digestive disturbances and allergies like never before. Our bodies are quite literally under attack from our food, our lifestyle and our environment. Why are we not more angry about this? Because we have no idea it is happening. We have been buying the same brand of cheese for 10 years and so why would we bother looking at the ingredients? Cheese is cheese, right? RIGHT?  Wrong. Ice cream isn't ice cream, either. 

Where milk, butter, flour and sugar once existed we have modified milk ingredients, esterified fatty acids of soy, franken-gluten and high fructose corn syrup. Researchers are working overtime trying to figure out how modern foods have been modified and what that is doing to our bodies. In the meantime, no one can dispute that our food has changed. And we are sick from it. 

Right about now, there might be some trickling thought that "real food" might not be affordable food. That taking a stand might be reserved for those of us lucky enough to buy 'fancy food'. However, as a dietitian, I think it is completely unethical that companies making lower cost foods are trying to soak extra profits from them by reducing ingredient quality. In fact, some companies are starting to come back around. McCain, for example, is one that actually has pronounceable ingredients on their labels. It may be a frozen pizza but at least it has real basil and tomatoes. And Hellman's Mayo has committed to using 100% cage free eggs by 2020. These are steps in the right direction for companies with the power to make real change in our food supply. Yes, some of us can afford to buy organic kale smoothies. However, I know that many of us can't - so don't think that you deserve cheap food just because you can't afford to buy expensive food. 

I feel its time to take a stand. Want to join me? Here is how:

1. Food manufacturers listen to the almighty dollar. Read labels voraciously and don't buy food with ingredients you don't understand. During October #Unprocessed, this is called the "kitchen test". Click here for more info.

2. Whenever you can, visit companies' Facebook and Twitter pages and respectfully tell them why you don't buy their products. Companies are very connected to the conversations on social media. They listen! Use the hash tag #takebackourfood

3. Share this post on your Facebook pages, Twitter profiles and Google +. Use the hash tag #takebackourfood

4. Even better, share your own thoughts and experiences and use the hash tag #takebackourfood.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

October #Unprocessed...DIY Raw Chocolate!

You know what I love? Chocolate! Oh, and people who advocate for real food and a good, common sense approach to eating well. One of those admirable people is Andrew Wilder, creator of the awesome blog, Eating Rules. As he says, "...healthy eating doesn't have to suck." Hear, hear! 

So I was very excited to be asked by the lovely Stacy Spensley to take part in Andrew's October #Unprocessed challenge. I eat a substantially unprocessed diet but I am ALWAYS up for challenging myself to a new level of awareness. Two weeks in, I love how participating in the challenge is constantly reminding me to stay present with food. And how it alerts me to when I am not...like the time I dug my hand into a flavoured bag of chips. Darn! Well, I never said I was perfect...at least they were baked and organic!

Today I have contributed a little post to Andrew's blog on making raw chocolate. Raw chocolate is a simple option for getting your chocolate fix in a way that is more nutrient dense and oh yes, unprocessed! Want to learn how to make very simple, raw chocolate whenever the healthy craving strikes? See my post on Eating Rules!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Happy World Vegetarian Day!

October is a busy month, food wise!

It is October Unprocessed (join me and take the pledge!)...Fair Trade Month...Non-GMO Month...and Vegetarian Awareness MonthAnd you thought you were busy...we are supposed to find time to actually eat this month, too!

Today is World Vegetarian Day, the kick-off to Vegetarian Awareness Month. I have been a vegetarian (with occasional "I am going to be protein-starved unless I eat this fish" lapses) since 1996. Over the years, my approach to eating has continuously evolved. As a teenager, I loved telling people all the horrible things about the meat they were eating...as I downed veggie dogs and candy. I got over the militant phase pretty quickly; it doesn't make you the life of the party. I also realized that taking a militant approach to vegetarianism was another form of violence - which I was trying to reduce in my life. Soon after I became a vegetarian, I started doing a lot of reading on yoga and Buddhism which solidified my thoughts on this path. Next stop in my vege-morphosis was the I-can-eat-it-as-long-as-it-has-one-veg phase. My early years in university were a steady stream of Annie's Macaroni and Cheese with a big pile of broccoli on top.

I would like to say that I had some grand conviction that led me to vegetarianism. In reality, my mother and I didn't eat a lot of meat to begin with (is it a girl thing?) and I really wanted to impress the saxophone player in my high school band. There. I said it. Oh, the days when you actually did things to impress a boy. 

I digress...

Vegetarianism still holds conviction for me: I believe in minimizing harm to living things, including our impact on the earth. I also believe that a plant-based approach is a healthier one. However, now I realize that it is not all-or-nothing. Each positive choice is a helpful one. And vegetarian-at-all-costs is not a winning formula to me. I strive for a whole plant-based approach. A life of white bread and veggie dogs is not kind to your body or the planet. Of course, into every life a little cheesecake must fall...

So today, on World Vegetarian Day, I wanted to send out a little love to all the plant-based peeps out there...the vegetarians, vegans and even the flexitarians. Here is wishing you peace, love and veggies for the month ahead. And for those of you that don't feel that a vegetarian diet is right for you...just through a little extra broccoli on your plate. It will do a body good.

PS...my newest book for Choices Markets, Beyond Broccoli: Plant-based Nutrition, will be out in the stores on Wednesday. I brought in some amazing collaborators such as Brendan Brazier, Dreena Burton and Brenda Davis RD. I hope you like it!