Category Archives: Fitness & Food

4 Ingredients — episode 2

It’s okay, you’re forgiven for thinking that I’d given up (again!) on the idea of teaching myself how to not suck at cooking.

My first post on this topic sparked comments from readers that reassured me that I am not the only female lacking in such talent. Instead of mocking me, these lovely folks were sympathetic and encouraging.

This propped me back up because despite it being an age of so-called gender equality, people do tend to go on and on about just how lucky I am that my husband cooks for the family. I wonder if my husband’s male friends go on and on about how lucky he is to have a woman that does the dishes every night? 

While my husband has been working his way through the complicated recipes in the latest Food & Drink magazine (and people wonder why I can’t keep weight off), I have worked my way through the 4 Ingredients cookbook.

Okay, so not really. But I did do one more recipe. Sure, it was another chicken recipe, but it was a recipe. And no, it didn’t work out like it was supposed to, but it was edible.

Here’s the recipe I picked:

Chicken with Lemon & Honey
1.  1 chicken, cut into pieces
2.  2 lemons, quartered
3.  2 tbs. honey
4.  2 springs of rosemary

And here’s how it went:

First of all, I didn’t have a whole chicken. This is just too much for a squeamish, former vegetarian. Instead, I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts that magically grow in plastic packages at the supermarket. (I was nervous about this switch but checked with hubby and he assured me the recipe would still work.)

Then the next hiccup was a lack of rosemary springs. So I just pretended that they were not a part of the recipe and went about my business.

The result was a fresh tasting chicken that the whole family deemed enjoyable. My husband did remark on the lack of rosemary, saying he’d been thinking about the delicious combination of it with lemon. I explained I didn’t that we didn’t have any. He explained we had some growing on our deck. Who knew.

The ratings: Hubby gave it an 9/10, Stella gave it an 8/10, and I gave it an 8/10. It’s easy and the mild taste goes down well with the younger set.

The cookbook I’m using for these posts was written by two Australian women. It’s readily available in Australian and in the U.K. since it’s been a huge hit. And here’s why: (1) All recipes have 4 or fewer ingredients, (2) All can be measured in terms of cup, tablespoon and teaspoon, (3) The methodology is explained on average using 4 sentences, and (4) All recipes use ingredients mostly found in your pantry or fridge already. If you’re one of my Canadian or American readers, fear not, you too can get a copy! Here is a link it on Amazon.ca and here is one for Amazon.com

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SIGG: not so super, afterall?

Sending back my Siggs

Sending back my Siggs

We’ve been using Sigg bottles for ages. And that really says something, since we don’t spend our money lightly on fads. We’re talking $30 for a water bottle to put in a child’s lunch box. When there’s a plastic alternative that’s less than $5, we’ve clearly drawn a line in the sand.

Why? It’s enviro-friendly not to be constantly purchasing plastic water bottles all the time. Sigg bottles are also extremely tough and survive even the worst treatment — from my husband’s camping trips to the disaster that is the back of my car. And last but not least, we didn’t want any chemicals to be leaching into the water we drink.

Naturally, then, I was surprised to find that the inner liner of my Sigg bottles contained BPA. Thinking back now, I can’t actually recall ever reading that Sigg didn’t contain BPA, but I had somehow linked the Sigg brand with safety.

Sigg is now fighting the PR battle of its life. And it all started with a proud announcement that it had developed a new liner — the EcoCare liner — which is apparently 100% BPA-free. This caused many existing customers who’d been using the older models to step back in alarm: “Huh? That means my old liner was not 100% BPA-free?” (Here is the letter from Sigg’s CEO explaining the whole mess.)

Yep, that’s right. Sigg may not be so super, afterall. I’ve recommended these bottles to countless friends. And frankly, the levels of BPA potentially present from the old liners is hardly anything to worry about. (Here is an independent study on BPA levels, published by Z Recommends.) But still … I feel like I was duped and I feel silly for pushing these pricey bottles on my friends.

Sigg is now voluntarily replacing (note: this is not a recall) customers’ old bottles for ones with the new liners. If you’d like to send yours back, go online to www.mysigg.com/liner and click on the menu item “Exchange Program.” Be sure to download the shipping label for Canadian customers.

Naturally, there are many who will refuse to use Sigg products again. They’ve simply lost trust in this brand. If you fall in this boat, here is a comprehensive review of alternative BPA-free bottles for you to choose from.

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Food for Thought

the-peachMy husband never fails to be disappointed with the produce from our local grocery store. Well, to be fair, it’s not just our local store — it’s any grocery store.

After dinner, he’ll look longingly at some peaches he picked up that day at the store. He’ll pick one up, roll it around in his hand, maybe even give it a sniff. Then he’ll sink his teeth into it.

“Ugh,” he’ll pronounce, then put it down and push it aside in disgust. “It looked so good,” he’ll say, “but it’s just pulpy inside. No flavour, terrible texture.” The thing with him is that he’s a perpetual optimist and he’ll be just as hopeful for a juicy peach next time he buys one from the store. And so it goes.

I have always attributed this disappointment of his to the difference between eating a fruit right off of a tree to eating one that’s had to travel goodness knows how many kilometres in a truck. You see, he grew up on a fruit farm in Australia.

The September/October issue of Mother Jones magazine gave me some further food for thought on this issue. Science and environmental journalist Heather Smith explains that today’s hybrid crops “are often bred for size and color, not nutrients.” Her article “Looks Great, Less Filling,” then goes on to compare the nutrient value of fruits and vegetables from the 1950s to today’s counterparts. It’s pretty alarming, really. Or at least interesting.

For instance, according to Mother Jones and USDA data, today’s broccoli offers 52% less vitamin A, 60% less calcium, and 27% less iron. And a honey dew mellow provides 68% less calcium and an astounding 84% less iron. 84% less. Wow, that’s some serious change.

With this kind of radical change in nutrients, can one deduce that there would also be a change in taste? Perhaps that’s why today’s peach doesn’t taste as peachy as it did when my husband was a boy.

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4 Ingredients

The only thing that Julie from the movie Julie and Julia and I share is a name. I have never lived in New York City (although I certainly would if opportunity afforded it), I am not a newly wed (we’re clocking 13 years over in this corner), and perhaps most critically, I do not enjoy cooking.

I just don’t understand how people love to cook. It’s sort of how I just can’t understand how people love to go running. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to be able to cook and run, it’s just that I find myself facing a lot of failure when I do so. I have tried to acquire both skills and countless occasions.

And I will continue to try. Unlike the ‘movie Julie’, I don’t find cooking to be a way of releasing stress after work. Instead, I find it to be a stress-inducer. This stress is beyond the fact that, for a parent, cooking dinner is often just another chore on a very long list.

For me, cooking = failure, even public ridicule. I’m not even kidding — my parents love to tell a tale of how when my mom asked me to put spaghetti sauce in the pot, I took the sauce and dumped in the wrong pot. Yep, I dumped it in the boiling water. Hardy, har, har.

But, like I said, I’m going to keep trying at this cooking thing. I know I’ll never be a Julia Child, but at least I could pitch-in on this often tedious family chore.

My first step? It’s a cookbook called 4 Ingredients. Hey! Don’t laugh — it’s the number one cookbook in Australia. I picked it up while I was living in Sydney last year and hadn’t really even touched it except for a salad recipe that I used on a girlfriends’ getaway to hide my utter incompetence in the kitchen.

The whole premise of the book is that all its recipes involve only four ingredients, and they’re not weird ingredients that you’d have to hunt down at a specialty food store.

Tonight, I looked in the fridge and we had chicken breasts. Alrighty then … I looked into the “chicken” section of 4 Ingredients and found some possibilities. “Hon,” I said,  “if you want to take Stella to Jiu Jitsu, I’ll do dinner tonight.”

There was a long pause. Then he said, “uh, okay, sure.”

I picked a recipe called “Curry Mayonnaise Chicken.” (By “curry,” they’re referring to British curry, as opposed to Indian curry. It’s not spicy; it’s perfect family fare.) I thought hubby would like this, being Australian and having tastes that veer towards the other side of the pond.

This is it:
1.  6 chicken legs
2.  1/3 cup mayonnaise
3.  3 tsp. curry powder
4.  2 slices wholemeal bread, grated into breadcrumbs
Combine mayonnaise and curry, coat legs with the mixture. Roll in breadcrumbs and bake in a 180 C for 45 minutes or until tender.

Everything was going smoothly until I realized that the timer for the chicken was just about to beep and I hadn’t even starting boiling the potatoes (potatoes and salad were my side dishes). I opened the oven to see how well-done the chicken was. It looked kind of pink.

“Hmmm,” I thought, ” poisoning the family will sure go down in the family ridicule books.” Not good. So I checked the recipe again. It was 180 Celsius notFahrenheit! I was cooking on Fahrenheit, so Mr. Chicken needed a lot more time.

Long story short — no one got poisoned, family was suitably impressed, and hubby has now declared a “Mommy cooks one night a week” event.

So, did they actually like the meal?

Hubby gave it an 8/10. Stella gave it a 9/10. I gave it a 6/10 (I’m not a huge curry fan).

Edited to add: This post is now cross-posted on Blissfully Domestic, in the Blissful Delish section. You can see it here.

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Dear Convenience Food Marketers

MacDear Junkfood Convenience Food Marketers,

In this economy, I feel it is my duty to provide you with some valuable feedback that can help you cut your costs. You see, I’ve noticed some changes to your packaging. Lately it includes copy intended to market to someone looking for a healthy meal.

Consider the following two standard favourites: Kraft Dinner Original and Chef Boyardee Ravioli.

The Kraft Dinner package is now sporting a substational bright green call-out box on the front which reads:

Sensible Solution:
Source of Calcium and Iron
Good Source of Protein

The Chef Boyardee packaging, for its part, has allocated an entire panel on its paper wrap to share the following information:

Thank Goodness for Chef Boyardee!
When you serve Chef Boyardee to your family, you give them more than great taste — you give them a wholesome, nutricious meal as well. Because Chef Boyardee is made with fresh beef and enriched pasta, it is a delicious combination of protein and carbs. And Chef Boyardee has no preservatives. Serve Chef Boyardee. The good, hot and hearty meal that your entire family loves.

But let’s be real my marketing friends — I’m not buying these foods for their health benefits. It’s because I’m being lazy. Or indulgent. Or both.

I am very aware that whenever I veer away from the perimeter of the grocery store and down the centre isles that I am entering into different territory. Territory in which a pasta can be magically created from florescent orange powder. Or where there is no need for an expiry date, even though the food inside contains meat.

However, this little “health” promo on your packaging caused me to take a closer look at the ingredients. Here’s what I found:

  • Kraft Dinner contains tartrazine. This additive is a synthetic dye used as a food colouring. Norway and Austria banned the use of tartrazine and other countries issued warnings after it was found to cause hyperactivity in some children. In addition to hyperactivity, research has also linked tartrazine to asthma, skin rashes, and migraines. While the United States and Canada have not banned this additive, it is now mandatory for it to be clearly labelled on a product’s ingredient list.
  • Chef Boyardee’s ingredient list includes the infamous “MSG,” or Monosodium Glutamate. Although you’ll find virtually every Chinese food take-out place defensively advertising “No MSG” in their foods, there is no real answer as to whether this ingredient is harmful or not. Countless research studies have shown only that it can cause a reaction in some people that is similar to an allergic reaction. But one thing is for sure: MSG is used to enhance the flavour of food. Why? So you’ll eat more of course! Just what us chubby first-world folks need. In addition, Chef Boyardee contains glucose-fructose, more than one type of salt and caramel. (I don’t know if caramel is actually bad for you but I thought it was so wierd that it was worth mentioning).

This brings me back to my starting point, which was how you could save yourself some money.

And here’s how: don’t bother hiring any more copywriters to develop “healthy messaging” on your packages! It is completely unnecessary. Perhaps even counter-intuitive.

If you must keep adapting your copy on your packages, here are my suggestions:

  • Feed this at dinner tonight and you won’t have to endure any whining or make idle threats related to dessert!
  • If you make this for dinner, you can get the kids into bed before “So You Think You Can Dance” starts!
  • This requires only one pot — that’s right, only one pot to clean!

I know, I know. You’ve likely spent thousands and thousands of dollars on market research that told you to include that health-conscious messaging. But trust me — don’t bother. It just makes you look silly.

Sincerely,
A sometimes lazy and indulgent mother.

Note to Husband: Er, you’re actually reading my blog?? Okay, this post has absolutely no connection to the fact that you’ve been away. I’ve been cooking up all those frozen homemade casseroles you left me. Honest.

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Sweet Spot

raw sugar button

Looking for a sweet spot to just hang out and have a coffee? Or perhaps you’d like a coffee but your partner for the afternoon would rather a cold beer?  Well, hello Raw Sugar cafe!

In the way that Ottawa is always such a funny, small-world-sort-of-place, I told my neighbour Kim that I’d be reading at BOLO (Blog Out Loud Ottawa), being hosted at the new(ish) Raw Sugar. She then pointed me to an article written by her sister, Shannon Beahen, on this very same Chinatown-cafe.

Shannon’s article is published in Dharma Arts, an online magazine devoted to showcasing Ottawa’s artistic talents. I hadn’t come across Dharma Arts before and after making its discovery, I quickly consumed all of its online archives in addition to the current edition. If you have any interest in the arts scene, I think you’ll be as smitten as I am.

The article itself really evokes a feel for this cafe — the prose and images overlapping — and has heightened my anticipation for this Thursday’s event.  The owner of Raw Sugar really seems to have successfully created something much more than a cafe … a destination, a lively gathering spot where one feels connected to a community. And it is undeniably a place where the artistic act is supported and embraced — art in all its broadest, most vivid and exciting forms.

raw sugar cafe

These two photos were sourced from: Watawa life

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The 40-year-old virgin (gets laid)

baseballHe can surf, play cricket and kick a footie. But, softball? That’s just not part of an Australian boy’s childhood.

And yet, this year, at the friendly urging of a mate, my husband joined a softball team. To them, this group of Canadian men, my husband, the Australian, must seem like an innocuous mascot that they’ve good-naturedly adopted onto the team.

My husband, for his part, can’t think of a better way to spend a summer evening than with a good group of guys who never fails to share a beer at the end of the game. Despite this, the sport still holds its curiosities for him.

The first, and most undeniable, being baseball pants. Polyester and tight-fitting along the legs, then meeting at the inseam to form an enormous spout-shape, these pants seem styled specifically for Fred Flintstone himself. “I guess it’s to fit in the beer belly,” shrugs my lanky husband.

As a newbie to the sport, he’s made his share of embarrassing firsts. Like sliding into first plate, and running on a fly ball. He’s also had his first sports injury – a twisted ankle, which he immediately feared might keep him away from his true love — mountain climbing. But fortunately, has not.

He’s quickly returned to the team and the weekly games. This week, he admitted a bit bashfully before heading out to the game that he’s still hoping to finally catch his first ball as an outfielder. “I feel like a 40-year-old virgin,” he laughed, “I’ve built up the experience so much now that I think I’ve created a psychological barrier.”

Having been relegated to the right outfield countless times as a kid, I could immediately relate to that heart-thumping feeling when the hard thwack of a bat sent the ball sailing in the air right towards – gulp! — me. It’s like the world is in slow-motion, with all eyes trained on you as you grapple from left to right, and back again, desperately aiming your glove to be directly underneath the ball as it loses its air.

During that same night’s game, their informal coach nodded him out to the left field. The hits had been landing mostly right field, so it was a safer spot to place the Australian. I can just picture my husband at this moment, good naturedly chuckling at this suggestion as he jogged out to take his place.

When he got home though, he looked jubilant. “You got one?” I asked. “Not just one, but TWO,” he replied. Really, the man looked so pleased with himself that he should have been smoking a cigarette.

I asked for the play-by-play and we howled as he described the whole team rising up from the bench, desperately shouting out instructions to their Aussie left- fielder, and then breaking out in a loud, joyful cheer when he caught the ball — his very first one. “You could tell the other team couldn’t understand what all the big fuss was about,” he spluttered between our bouts of laughter.

After regaining my breath, I say, “I have the perfect title for my next blog post. I’ll call it ‘the 40-year-old virgin.’”

“No,” he corrects me, “it should be ‘the 40-year-old-virgin gets laid.’”

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