Sunbutter Crunch Cookies

It always seems that summer comes to a close far too soon! More and more there are signs that remind us daily that fall is on the way but then the sun comes back and it’s like summer never left! I love sunflowers (and sunflower seeds – but we’ll get to that later!). They are a joyous reminder of the long slow golden sunsets of late August and truly are one of the most radiant and resplendent of flowers.

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Sunflowers are a plant native to North America. Their cultivation and consumption have traveled an interesting and rather circuitous route from North America to touch Europe and Russia and back to the Americas again! You can read more about that here.

Now for the interesting part – why sunflower seeds are so spectacular!

One of the most important nutrients you will find in high amounts in sunflower seeds is Vitamin E – a tremendously powerful antioxidant. Vitamin E may help reduce the inflammatory processes which can lead to certain chronic diseases. In it’s role as an antioxidant, it has also been found to protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation, decreasing the buildup of up plaque in artery walls, which can lower the risk for coronary artery disease.

You will also get folate, a B-vitamin involved in functions with preventative effects for disorders, birth defects and heart disease, and Vitamin B6, needed for a lot of essential reactions in the body, many of which relate to energy production and metabolism.

Sunflower seeds are a nutrient dense source of some important minerals such as iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc.

  • Iron is an integral part of hemoglobin – the protein that carries oxygen in the blood. The iron in sunflower seeds is called “non-heme” (from non-animal sources) iron which is not as well absorbed and utilized as “heme” (from animal sources) but remember every little bit counts!
  • Magnesium works with calcium to help maintain healthy strong bones. It’s also important in several other functions such as the conversion of carbohydrates, fats and protein to energy and functioning of nerves and muscles.
  • Selenium is a trace mineral which may work as antioxidant with Vitamin E to protect the body from oxidative damage. Selenium is also needed for the functioning of the thyroid gland.
  • Zinc is involved in enzymatic reactions throughout the body, supporting the immune system by preventing colds as well as preventing the macular degeneration.

Sunflower seeds also provide good amounts of protein and fibre which help with satiety and weight management among many other important functions!

Linoleic acid, found in sunflower seeds, is an essential poly-unsaturated fatty acid. “Essential” means the body cannot create the compound on its own and therefore it must be consumed in the foods we eat. Linoleic acid is also important because as a precursor it is involved with blood clotting and blood pressure.

Clearly sunflower seeds are a force to be reckoned with!

I’ve had this idea for this recipe playing around in my head almost all summer. Now that craziness of July and August have subsided, with the international travel and world fitness expo convention over,  I’ve finally found time to bring this creation to life!

There’s a warmth and depth to these cookies – just like the sun. With these cookies you get a double dose of the goodness of sunflower seeds because the recipe has both sunflower seed butter and real sunflower seeds!

They are a great grab and go snack or perfect to stick into anyone’s packed lunch for nourishment any time of day. They would also go well with a hot cup of tea or a tea latte – perfect for a crisp autumn day!

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Peas Pack a Powerful Nutritional Punch!

Small and delicate but not to be underestimated, peas are a signature food for springtime. Don’t be deceived by their small size. Peas offer a powerful nutrition punch!

In Ancient Egypt peas were stored in the tombs of pharaohs and mummies because the Egyptians thought them valuable for sustain them on their journey through the afterlife.

There are a few different varieties of fresh peas. These include green peas, snow peas and sugar snap peas

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Peas are low in fat and high in fibre. They offer a good amount of protein and some valuable nutrients including Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, and Vitamin K. Vitamin K is particularly important although often found in green leafy vegetables it is involved in wound healing and maintaining blood vessels as well as contributing to bone health by assisting with bone formation thus strengthening bones which may help prevent fractures and the risks associated with osteoporosis. Different varieties have slightly different nutritional compositions. Green peas provide more riboflavin, niacin and zinc than snow peas but snow peas offer more Vitamin C, Vitamin E, folate, lutein and zinc.

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Fresh peas are available from June to July. Always refrigerate your fresh peas to preserve their freshness. Wash peas well. You may have to shell your peas before using if eating green peas. Snow peas and Sugar snap peas do not need to be shelled but you should remove their tips at both ends before you eat them.

Meal Ideas for Fresh Peas

There are so many ways you can use peas to power-up your diet and make your meals more interesting! They are easy to add into many different recipes like soups, salads, pasta sauces or served on their own as a side dish. You don’t need much – one serving of peas is only 1/2 cup (125 mL).

  • Fresh sugar snap peas or snow peas make great healthy portable snack foods. Serve with hummus for extra flavour.
  • Make snow peas part of the vegetable mix for a stir-fry.
  • Steam fresh peas for 1-2 minutes. They make a simple but satisfying side to meats and fish. Be careful not to overcook your peas or else you will have mushy peas.

 

Note: Fresh is best where peas are concerned. Frozen peas are better than canned peas though because the retain more of their flavour and nutrients than canned peas. You can substitute frozen peas for fresh.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

Strawberries and rhubarb are one of my favourite combinations! The sweetness of the berries and the tartness of the rhubarb are the perfect match.

Strawberry rhubarb crisp is a timeless recipe. I look forward to making it every Spring when these two foods come into season. It’s a versatile recipe. You can serve it on its own – hot or cold. You can have it as a snack or serve as desert. It also makes a great snack any time of day – easy and quick to eat.

I took my own twist on recreating this classic recipe to empower-it-up, so to speak. Not only does this version taste amazing, it also has some extra nutritional nuggets to make you feel amazing for having some.

You can read up on all the cool things about strawberries and rhubarb in two previous posts.

Oats are a good source of dietary fibre which may improve blood cholesterol and help control blood sugar levels. Oats are also a whole grain and source of B Vitamins and Vitamin E.

Almonds provide extra protein and fibre as well as Vitamin E and heart healthy monounsaturated fatty acids fatty acids.

Hemps seeds are my super special addition. These tiny little seeds are nutrition powerhouses, offering extra protein boost as well as a good dose of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Not to mention a delightful sweet nutty flavour.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp (1)

Note: you can certainly use another type of flour for this. I chose coconut because I like that it adds a little extra sweetness and nuttiness. You could also substitute butter for the coconut oil in the recipe or a different sweetener for coconut sugar.

Why are Strawberries Red?

Petite, plump and juicy … that’s the making of a perfect strawberry. Strawberries are one of the most popular fruits in North America, with over 70 varieties being grown. There is nothing quite like local fresh strawberries in season. Strawberries are available from June to July, on the edge between spring and summer. Looking for a fun activity and an excuse to enjoy some beautiful weather? Go strawberry picking!

Rich in nutritional benefits, strawberries offer a good amount of dietary fibre and potassium. What’s more, they actually offer more Vitamin C than any other berry! They are low in calories and make one of the best snack foods not only because of their nutritional value but also because how easy they are to transport and consume.

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Generally, the first thing that draws us to pick one strawberry over another is its deep red ruby colour. Strawberries should also be firm, plump and well-shaped with fresh—looking green leafy caps. Give the strawberries a “sniff-test” to see if they have a nice sweet smell to them, that’s another factor to determine which strawberries to buy. Size is not a key determining factor when choosing strawberries. Always check your strawberries carefully before buying them. Examine the package from all angles, not just picking one up and taking it because the berries on top look good; you want to see if you can that none of the fruit hiding below the surface or at the bottom has gone bad. If you get home and find there are some mashed or bad berries discard them immediately.

Store your strawberries intact (with caps on), unwashed, in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat them. Rinse gently, drain, and remove the stems before you use them.

You can make use of your strawberries in so many simple and different ways: enjoy them as they are, cook with them, bake with them, make jam with them, add them to muffins, make yogurt parfaits and smoothies. They make a great addition to a spring-themed salad, to say nothing of all the strawberry deserts that are out there! One of my favourite uses has to be chocolate covered strawberries. The possibilities are endless!

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So what does make a strawberry red? Strawberries contain a molecule called anthocyanidin which is the anthocyanin precursor. Anthocyanins are an important kind of antioxidant, and they are also responsible for giving red fruits their colour. Anthocyanidin however is colourless. When the anthocyadin reacts with a sugar molecule to become anthocyanin, the antioxidant, it becomes red. This explains why unripe strawberries are unsweet and colourless and the riper the strawberries the redder in colour it will be. The ripening process is key to the colour change. We infer that to find the best berries look for the deepest, darkest red berry to get optimum taste and nutrition.

Enjoy strawberry season!

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Almond Cranberry Coconut Bars Recipe

This recipe came into being less than a week ago but what a success it has been already!

At only 100 calories and being gluten-free, dairy-free and all natural there’s so many good things about these little bars. What I’m still amazed by is how incredibly easy and fast they are to make. Literally, they are almost effortless to prepare and there’s no baking or cooking required.

Want to know more? Check out what makes these facts about the ingredients in these bars and why they are a real “empowering eat”.

Almonds are a key feature ingredients. Almonds are a super food, they are a source of many nutrients such as protein, heart healthy mono-unsaturated acids and Vitamin E, one of the most potent antioxidants.

Flax seeds are a functional food (offer bonus nutritional benefits beyond food energy) and are a good source fibre, Omega-3 fatty acids, which may lower the risk of heart disease, and phytonutrients which may lower the risk of developing some forms of cancer. Find out more about flax seed here.

Coconut has become very popular recently. While there’s not a ton of research on all the benefits of coconut, it is still a versatile ingredient and adds very nicely to the flavour and texture of these bars.

Cranberries are another superfood source of antioxidants as well as vitamin C and fibre.

Cinnamon is one of the most popular spices and for good reason. With high antioxidant properties. It also has effects on stabilizing blood sugar levels which is good if you want something that gives you long-lasting stable energy levels.

Honey is a natural sweetener and one of the oldest sweeteners ever used. You could substitute agave for honey if you wanted to in the recipe to make these bars vegan.

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For serving, you can make and take these bars with you on busy days to keep you fueled. They also make a big hit for desert at parties and events.

You can also cut up the bars and freeze them individually. They will keep for longer and stay fresher this way.

Enjoy!

Cranberry Almond Bars

Feature Food of the Week – Asparagus

There’s always a sigh of relief when the first crop of Asparagus comes in because that means spring really is here!

Asparagus is certainly a unique looking vegetable with it’s long thin stalks and fgreen-asparagus-1331460_1920unny spiky leaves. it’s been called the “aristocrat of the vegetable” for it’s regal appearance as well as its popularity with the nobility, from Roman emperors to King Louis XIV to name a few.

Asparagus is available in three colours: green, purple and white. The season for asparagus is brilliant and brief – it’s only available May and June – so make sure you try some while it’s here!

Nutritionally, asparagus is low in calories and offers high amount of fibre, iron, vitamin C, vitamin A and B vitamins. Folate in particular is a very important B vitamin found in asparagus.

When buying asparagus, look for stalks that are straight and crisp with tips that are tight and green/purple.

You should eat your asparagus as soon as you can but you can store for up to three days in the refrigerator if you have to. To preserve freshness, wrap the ends of the asparagus in a wet paper towel and cover with plastic warp or place stalks in a glass of water.

Quick Tip: Make sure you snap off the woody end of your asparagus before you cook it! Just hold it at the end and bend until it breaks off.

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Roasting and steaming are two great ways to cook asparagus. Steam asparagus for about 5 to 10 minutes. The time will depend on how thick the asparagus is. Roast asparagus for 12 – 15 minutes in at 425 F . I love how with roasted asparagus the tips become just a little bit crispy. Blanching is another method where you cook asparagus for 3-4 min in boiling water, then drain and run the asparagus under cold water to stop the cooking process.

Roasted asparagus goes really well as a simple side to meats such as chicken, turkey and steak. Asparagus pairs well with other vegetables in medleys. You can make it an addition to pasta dishes or in a stir-fry.

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Rhubarb Compote Recipe

As a follow-up to Monday’s post I’ve been cooking with Rhubarb this week.

This recipe for rhubarb compote that I came up with is incredibly easy to make recipe to make and so good. This compote is super versatile. It goes great as an accompaniment to so many things: over oatmeal, with yogurt you can use it to make a parfait, or even on top of pancakes or French toast.

In this recipe, I love the interplay of sweet and sour on the taste buds and the hint of spice gives just a little extra something that makes the flavour pop.

You can look back at Monday’s post to see all the good things about rhubarb. Honey is an all natural sweetener which has been used for thousands of years. It was very highly prized in Ancient Rome. In addition to being a natural sweetener it may provide some antioxidants and antibacterial activity.  You might think it interesting that ginger is included in this recipe. Ginger is often featured with rhubarb, and as you’ll see they make a great pairing. I put cinnamon with everything I can because it’s a great spice, I love it’s flavour, and it has great antioxidant properties as well as effects on controlling blood sugar.

There are suggestions for two different amounts of honey. Personally, I like things less sweet and thought ½ cup was too much but others told me that they preferred the recipe with this amount over the other. You’ll just have to give it a try and decide for yourself!

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The Story Behind the Slice – Do You Know Where Your Loaf of Bread Came From?

There is nothing quite like the smell of freshly baking bread. The moment I say this you know what I mean. It casts a spell, stimulates the senses, lifts the spirit and has an overall incomparable effect on the human psyche.

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Bread is one of the principal and most important sources of nutrition ever known to human beings. It has been with us since the beginning and, in many ways, it was a spark for the growth of all civilization. There is much more that lies behind the bread you contemplate at the bakery; that you slice and toast for breakfast; that you pack or pick-up for lunch; or even the ordinary dinner roll. Where did it come from? How did it all come to this? Questions that lead to a fascinating story.

The domestication and cultivation of grains like wheat caused our nomadic ancestors to become stationary. This was a revolutionary lifestyle change. The discovery of bread making closely followed. Non-leavened flat breads (think of Indian naan or chapattis, Middle Eastern pitas, Mexican tortillas) were the first types of bread, produced by mixing flours with water to make a paste and then heating this to bake bread. This method made food more compact, easier to store and transport, and last longer. But bread making did not stop there.

The first recorded leavened bread (what you see now when you visualize bread) is traced back to ancient Egypt around 3000 BC. It was the discovery of yeast, also used for making beer, changed the course and preparation of bread forever. Apparently, the discovery of leavened bread was accidental, occurring when an air-born yeast randomly landed on some unbaked bread, thereupon reacting and catalyzing a transformation in the process of bread making. Yeast produces carbon dioxide gas which is what gives bread it’s puffiness. From there leavened bread became the new norm and popular throughout the globe.

Bread has maintained a singularly important role in history, culture and religion. Bread symbolizes prosperity. The bread riots of the French Revolution are infamous. For Christianity the reference to bread is common throughout the bible. In Judaism, the gorgeous braided Challah featured as part of the Sabbath and important holidays. Even in popular culture “bread” or “dough” is synonymous with “money” – again symbolizing abundance and prosperity.

Over the years, the simple loaf of bread has seen many developments and transformations but it has remained integral to survival. The processes of refining flour have been an ongoing mission since the beginning. White flour naturally requires more effort in processing and refining and it was considered a status symbol: whiter, finer breads for the higher classes and darker, denser and more coarse breads for the lower classes. Nowadays, it’s interesting to note how the mindset has shifted to the reverse with current nutrition knowledge promoting the importance of whole grains for their higher vitamin and mineral content.

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Considering where it has come from and where it is at today, it will be interesting to see what lies ahead in the story of bread. Unfortunately, the question always arises – have we gone too far? The addition of preservatives, high amounts of sugar and over-processing is stripping bread of the simplicity with which it started and the nutritional advantages with which it served our ancestors. In Canada from 2006 – 2011 there was limited or stagnant grown and some decline in certain sections and specific bread products. Nevertheless, innovation has always been an important hallmark in the history of bread. Already we have seen the diversification of special products and flours made from grains other than wheat, owing to the massive dietary shift to go gluten-free. Artisan breads are seeing a comeback, and they are more similar to what our ancestors would recognize as bread.

One thing is certain, awareness is of first and foremost importance. Realizing how the decisions we make affect our health and the power we have to make decisions for our own health and well being and champion change for ourselves, our families and our food systems.

What’s Your Food Story?

Food (i.e. a source of nutrition) is the common denominator for all forms of life on the earth. Since time immortal, there has been a fascination with food. It has the incredible power to bring people together. And it has been the fall of civilizations – ripping cultures and people apart. It’s undeniable that we all have a relationship with food in some way or another. As individual as we are from one another so are our likes, dislikes and beliefs about food. Time, history, geographical location and life experience all contribute to these conceptions about what we should and should not eat.

Many traditional medicinal practices believe in the power of certain foods to heal or to harm the body. For instance, Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of healing; the Four Humours of the Hippocratic Medicine system; even the Traditional Chinese Medicine system all shared a common belief in how eating certain foods and not others affected the balance and thereby the overall health and vitality of the body. It is certain that there has been a higher reverence placed on food than is currently seen in much of society’s relationship to food today. Could this be due to the limited supplies and lack of those times, compared to the overproduction and overconsumption of today?

Food and culture are intertwined. Think of how certain foods are integrated into a culture’s heritage and traditions, or in other cases where foods are excluded. What dishes are considered special and why? Consider the turkey at Thanksgiving; chocolate on Valentine’s Day; even the Birthday Cake … all are relevant examples. These beliefs and associations come via a process of socialization and the society in which we are raised.

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What about your family meals and traditions? Where do they come from? Do your beliefs serve and support? How do certain foods make you feel and why? After identifying what your beliefs are about foods you can then reflect on how they impact your overall relationship with food.

We all have our own ideas about food and nutrition. Some of those may have been learned and passed down, others we develop y experiences we have in our individual life situation. However your story is not over. Remember as you can always re-write pages to improve the story’s content and direction, so too can you make changes to improve the quality of your diet and nutrition.

So what’s your food story and how do you want it to read?