Uncovering the History and Mysteries of Pumpkin Pie Spice

It seems like everyone can’t get enough of Pumpkin Pie Spice. Pumpkin pie is a favourite fall desert but its signature spice has permeated into all other sorts of products like lattes, cakes, muffins and scones to name a few. It may appear a modern fanaticism but it is truly rooted in a history and in mysteries that go back centuries.

Spices have always been very important. Originally from India and the Orient, they have an infamous reputation for being exotic and valuable. There have been wars and obsessions over spices for centuries. In fact it was because of the war over spices, which was a reason for the search for better routes to the East, that the Europeans originally discovered North America, without which there would be no Pumpkin Pie Spice.

Pumpkin pie spice (or just Pumpkin Spice as it seems to be more commonly called now) is a signature American spice blend. There is no set discovery of the first mixing of Pumpkin Spice. That is destined to be a mystery hidden in the sands of time. However, it is known that this spice blend has its heritage with the pilgrims. We say it is a mixture of “warming” spices. Pumpkin is a food found the New World. So the creation of is an example of the interaction of Old World meets New World.

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What makes this signature spice blend? The spices in pumpkin pie spice are cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and allspice. Cinnamon will always be featured in the greatest amount and quite a lot more than the other spices. Next, ginger and nutmeg are featured in second highest amounts with cloves and allspice being featured in the lowest amount. This is because cloves and allspice are fairly strong and pungent spices and will not be as pleasing in large amounts as cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg. The precise amounts of spices may vary but the proportions in relation to one another of the other spices will remain similar.

You can buy the spice already premixed or you can by individual spices to create and customize your own special blend.  Spices should be stored in air-tight containers in a cool, dry dark place for up to 6 months.

Here’s a quick recipe for Pumpkin Spice. Simply mix all the ingredients together.

  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • ½ tsp cloves
  • ½ tsp allspice

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Not only does this spice mix add flavour to your cooking and baking but they also provide hidden benefits to your health. Spices add flavour which reduces the need for extra sugar, salt and fat to recipes helping you to cook and eat healthier. There is some research into the antioxidant activity of spices which contributes to keeping us healthy by reducing free-radical damage to our bodies – protecting our cells and reducing the risk for many diseases.

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Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake

Still looking for the perfect holiday desert? Look no further! Cheesecake is one of the world’s most popular deserts! It’s a hallmark to any desert table. From simple beginnings the evolution of a basic cheesecake has morphed into the creation of multitudes of variations in flavour combinations. Cheesecake is thought to have originated in Ancient Greece. And almost as soon as the recipe was born so too began the quest for the perfect cheesecake – a universal endeavor the spans countries, continents and centuries. The Romans are said to have brought cheesecake to the rest of Europe. From there is spread to the Americas.

Regrettably, this delicious dessert is a lost hope for many, owing to various food allergies ad intolerances. That’s why I created this recipe. This ‘cheesecake’  can be made gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo-friendly as well as vegan so it is more inclusive than most other cheesecakes could ever be. There’s more to it than that. With the tweaks I’ve made not only does this cheesecake taste rich, delicious and creamy but it is also high in protein, contains healthier fats and is more nutrient dense than the standard cheesecake.

 

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Some ingredients to highlight that make this an empowering eat are:

Pumpkin is a vegetable very high in cholesterol-lowering fibre and rich in Vitamin A which is important for maintaining normal vision and keeping the immune system at its best. Pumpkin adds texture to this cheesecake – without extra fat and calories.

Almonds, pecans and walnuts are all nuts which give the graininess to the crust. Nuts are a source of healthy polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fatty acids which are good for your heart and may help reduce the risk of developing heart disease. They also are a vegan source of protein and source of fibre.

Flax seeds add texture and a heap of nutrients to the crust. Flax is a source of omega-3 fatty acids, important for heart health, and fibre which helps achieve healthy cholesterol levels.

Cashews are the major ingredient in the filling, providing creaminess and texture. Cashews, like other nuts, are a source of vegan protein as well as fibre. In addition, cashews are rich in Vitamin E, magnesium and zinc.

Coconut milk is a dairy-free milk which gives creaminess to the cheesecake but keeps it vegan friendly.

Maple syrup is a natural sweetener used to give flavour to the filling. It is a source of antioxidants, which are important for helping the body cope with free-radical damage and may help reduce your risk for disease such as cancer and heart disease. Maple syrup also contains important minerals like zinc and manganese which keep you healthy by boosting your immune system.

 

There are several ways you can make this cheesecake. You can use a spring form pan for a traditional cheesecake.

You can also use a square 9-inch baking dish and cut up the cheesecake into squares and make cheesecake bars.

If dairy is not an option you could use a plain Greek yogurt instead of the non-dairy alternative.

If you want to be decadent, try drizzling with a spoonful of maple syrup then sprinkling with walnuts. You can also us a dollop of yogurt on top to replicate whipped cream.

Adding a sprinkling of cinnamon over-top is a really great addition too!

Sunbutter cookies

How to Eat Healthy and Still Be Happy Over the Holidays

The holidays are here! How does that make you feel? Excited? Anxious? Overwhelmed? The holidays full of stresses in one shape of another for all of us. Especially when it comes to holiday eating and festivities. The anticipated holiday weight-gain from eating too much or eating the wrong foods is probably one of the biggest stresses there is.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. With just a few shifts in attitude you can make a whole lot of difference to how you feel coming out of this holiday season. These how-to’s, habits and hacks are here to help make your holidays healthier, less stressful and a whole lot happier so you can start the New Year feeling empowered and ready for action!

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Listen to your body. Stop eating when you are no longer hungry vs. when you are full. If you have choices make switches and substitute healthier options. Try and fill your plate with as many vegetables as you can and look for preparation methods such as baking, steaming, and braising. Meats that are baked and grilled are better than fried. Avoid heavy cream based sauces which add extra fat and unwanted calories.

It’s important to have a healthy breakfast every day and eat regularly throughout the day to curb hunger and keep your blood sugar stable so you can function optimally. This will keep your energy level steady throughout the day, making you feel better and decrease the likelihood that you will overeat at any specific meal. Have snacks that have a good source of protein to promote satiety levels.

Out of sight and out of mind is what they say. And it’s a good way to control temptation and practice moderation to put extra holiday treats out of sight in a cupboard or pantry. This way you will have to go to more effort to get to them and it will give you more time to consider if you really are hungry and really want to have that treat or not.

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Remember to stay hydrated! This means drinking water throughout the day as well as when you are at social functions. If at a party try alternating alcoholic drinks with water. Alcohol is a diuretic so can lead to a dehydrated state. This is also a great strategy to keep you from drinking excess calories. Dehydration can lead to overeating because we are looking to fulfill a physiological need, but go about it the wrong way. Also, staying hydrated reduces bloating which is another effect that often comes on from holiday eating – which is a contributing factor to perceived holiday weight-gain.

Stay active! Just 30 minutes a day is all you need. Physical activity helps decrease stress and increases your metabolism so you are burning more calories throughout the day. Make physical activities a part of your celebrations and time together. There are many great winter out-door activities like going for a walk, tobogganing, skiing and snowball fights! This takes some focus off the food and gives you a chance to enjoy time with family and friends.

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You can best buffets with a few simple strategies. Choose a seat on the other side of the room from the food table and sit with your back to the food. The more food we see the more likely we are to eat. Use a smaller plate so you will have less room to fill . Be a picky eater – you don’t have to eat everything that is offered. Pick and choose those few things that you think you will really enjoy.

If you are going to a party or potluck bring your own food – this gives you some control about what options you have to eat and you can make sure you have something that you will enjoy eating.

When eating at a restaurant look for menu items that are prepared using healthy cooking methods – i.e. baking, braising, steaming – and minimal sauces. You can always take half of your entrée home as leftovers. Ask if you can get a take-out container brought to the table with your meal so that you can package up your meal as soon as you have eaten enough.

At parties it’s easy to munch away on little appetizers and hors d’ouevres, not realizing how much you have eaten. Limit mindless eating by holding a drink in your dominant hand so that you are less likely to unconsciously pick up food (it takes more concentration and effort to use your non-dominant hand). Get into a good and engaging conversation. When you are talking you can’t be eating and a good conversation will make the time go by much more quickly with less time to eat.

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Remember healthy eating is not about total denial. That is no fun and definitely not empowering! Food is an important part of our existence and something that has been intrinsic to celebration and festivities since the beginning of time. It’s part of our culture and who we are. You can still eat things you enjoy. If you have a favourite holiday meal or treat, go for it! But maybe you could have a smaller portion size or try and make the same recipe but with healthier ingredients and less fat and sugar? Or why not change up your traditions? Look for ways to make your family favourite recipes using healthier cooking methods or try incorporating some new healthy recipes.

Happy Holidays!

 

The Science of Saying Grace

Thanksgiving may have come and gone but don’t stop being grateful just yet! Saying grace or giving thanks for food is a centuries old tradition. It is one of the oldest and most universal human behaviours and is still in existence today. The word “grace” comes from the Latin word “grātia” meaning “favor” or “kindness” and in our context it is a short prayer said before or after a meal. Long ago food was more scare and harder to grow without modern technology so having food was seen as a kindness from the gods and/or the universe. Many religions have special prayers they will say before an everyday meal or for specific ceremonies that involve food but although the religion connections exist, you don’t need to follow any specific religion to recognize and be thankful for your food. In fact saying grace and showing appreciation for our food is showing to be beneficial on many levels for physiological and psychological health and well-being.

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On one level, saying grace is your chance to recognize and honour who got you your food, how you got your food and how fortunate you are to have the food you are about to eat. If it were not for many people and circumstances the food you are about to eat would still be out there – on a tree or in the ground.

Moreover, only a few words before eating will slow you down while giving you a moment to appreciate your food which makes the meal more enjoyable and promotes a more harmonious relationship with food. Eating more slowly is better than shoveling down your food and cleaning off your plate in 10 minutes flat because a measured pace assists the digestive processes of your body while improving satiety and helping you eat less. Being distracted and hurried eating can lead to over eating. Eating more slowly gives your body and brain the time it needs to recognize that you have eaten all your body needs.

Thousands of years ago one meal could make the difference between life and death. There was a lot more uncertainty about food safety and availability. Our circumstances have drastically evolved since then but there is always and time and place for saying grace and being thankful for our food.

If you’re looking for something to say check out these 11 Beautiful Ways To Say Grace for some inspiration.

 

It’s Squash Season!

I love winter squash! It’s probably one of my favourite vegetables! Winter squashes come in all different shapes, sizes and colours. They are diverse in appearance but all are solid in nutritional quality. Due to its orange colour, squash is a superb source of the carotenoids beta-carotene and lutein. Carotenoids which ac as antioxidants, reducing free radical damage, and may prevent heart disease. Lutein may also help preserve eye health by decreasing the risk for macular degeneration. Squash is also a source of potassium which is an electrolyte involved in fluid and electrolyte balance for the body as well as heart health and blood pressure regulation. Like most fruits and vegetables squash also offers Vitamin C. Folacin, also found in squash, functions in the prevention of birth defects and reduces the risk of certain cancers and heart disease. Of course, if you’ve ever tasted the creamy, smooth and satisfying texture of a squash you will realize that it is also an excellent source of fibre, which helps regulate cholesterol levels and keep digestion regular. 1 cup of cooked acorn squash has 11 grams of fibre which is almost 50% of what you need in a day! Fibre is important for keeping your regular as well as Winter squash is also a low-fat source of Vitamin E.

Squash seeds are also very nutritious. They are a good source of iron, another important mineral involved with oxygen transportation in the book. Save the seeds from your squash, wash them and let them dry and then bake them in the oven at 275F for about 15 min until they are crispy and crunchy.

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Squash starts to become available towards the end of August. They are a harvest vegetable and once harvested and stored properly you can find local squash available until about March. It’s an great ingredient for many fall and winter dishes because of it’s heartiness and time of availability.

When buying a squash pick one that has a hard surface free of soft spots and bruises. You can buy a squash and keep it stored in a cool dry place with good air circulation for a couple of weeks.  Be sure to turn it over every once in a while to make sure that there are no mushy spots hiding underneath!

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There are so many things you can do with squash. It’s amazing! But due to its hard flesh winter squash will have to be cooked before it is eaten. Most often you will hear of roasting squash. This is an easy way to cook it. Cubes of squash can also be added to soups, stews and chilies. Squash soup gives a creamy consistency when it is pureed which is one of the beauties of squash soups. It’s also used in sauces to give that same creaminess – without the cream and extra fat and calories.

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Roasted Beet Hummus

This hummus is striking! Both for its flavour and vibrant colour. Hummus is a popular dip found commonly found in Middle Eastern cuisines. Traditionally made from chickpeas, tahini, olive oil lemon juice and garlic, there are many variations made by introducing additional flavouring and ingredients.

Beets are the key feature ingredient that give this hummus it’s rick colour and earthy flavour. Beets are a source of many antioxidants, rich in folacin and other nutrients. You can read more about the benefits of beets in this previous post.

Chickpeas are an important ingredient in hummus. They are a great source of protein and fibre which promotes satiety.

Olive oil is a source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are healthy dietary fats that may have a role in reducing the risk of heart disease.

Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds. Tahini provides protein and is a source of many minerals like calcium and magnesium, which are important for bone heath, as well as iron.

Garlic not only adds to the flavour of this hummus but also adds antioxidants that provide protection against free radical damage and have antibacterial properties. It may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer as well as lower cholesterol.

The spices in this recipe are cumin, coriander and allspice which intensify the earthy flavour of the hummus.

Roasted Beet Hummus with Veggies

 

Hummus is a great portable snack to have with chopped up vegetables or crackers. It would make a very appealing appetizer (especially for holiday entertaining!).  You can also use hummus as a spread for sandwiches or in wraps.

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