30 Apr

30×30 Nature Challenge

I signed up for the David Suzuki Foundation’s 30×30 Nature Challenge.

For my American readers, David Suzuki is an environmental superstar here in Canada and his foundation does some pretty extensive research and policy work to further environmental conservation.

The 30×30 challenge commits the participants to:

Spend 30 minutes per day in nature for 30 consecutive days

The challenge starts tomorrow and I’m signed up and ready to go.

30x30Nature Challenge

The event’s website has a pretty sweet infographic with a bunch of information about the detriments of nature deficit and the benefits of access to nature.

Here’s just a clip of the info:

Health Benefits of Nature

I’m sure that everyone can attest to feeling better after spending time outdoors in a natural setting like a park or even your backyard.

Lucky for me I don’t live in a densely urban environment and I have some pretty easy access to nature. I’m really looking forward to taking part!

I’ll be posting pictures on Twitter and Facebook about the ways I spend my 30 minutes a day so make sure to follow me!

Will you be doing the 30×30 nature challenge?

28 Apr

Four Things

Hemp, hemp, and more hemp

Last weekend for 4/20 The Body Shop had a cheeky sale on hemp products: 4 for $20. I discovered the Hemp Hand Protector when I went to Norway and think it is the most amazing thing ever and worth $20 on its own (especially during the winter, when my hands are chapped like crazy and I feel like I endlessly field questions about what the hell happened to my knuckles).

So I totally stoked up on 3 hand protectors and a body butter (just to switch things up a bit). I bought the stuff online and it just came in this week. Now, I should be good for at least 3 years.

Painted Nails

And speaking of hands, my girlfriends came over on Friday and we painted our nails. For the record I never paint my nails because they last all of half a day before they’re chipped and looking like crap. My friend Andrea insisted that this is because I don’t have ‘the good topcoat’.

She was right, but only to a degree. These lasted me about 36 hours (instead of the typical 12) before the paint started to chip pretty badly.

Baseball Massacre

Part of the nail chipping is likely due to playing catch and hitting some baseballs in the park with Matt and my BiL Sean last night. I love playing catch even though I am pretty terrible at both throwing and catching.

I have terrible hand-eye coordination so I’m lucky if I can hit a single baseball. It’s always a swing and a miss for me, except last night. Matt was pitching them nicely to me so I was hitting one ball after another (most of them aimed directly at his head, but I have no control over such things).

I was hitting ‘em so hard that I destroyed the baseball! (we’ll just disregard the fact that the baseball is about 20 years old and was already starting to fall apart).

Greek Frappe

Yesterday was finally Greek Frappe weather. Remember this awesome coffee drink that I exported back to me from my trip to Greece last summer? The one that tastes delicious but is ridiculously easy to make? Oh, I’ve missed it. Hello springtime!

25 Apr

Cardio without Running

I haven’t run in a really long time.

I’ve done some sprints (mostly on the treadmill because the rains we’ve been experiencing lately are level: British) which are fun but not a lot of “oh I’m just heading out for a quick 5-miler” stuff.

I’m trying to maximize my cardio and minimize the amount of time I spend working out so I can increase my weekly yoga practices. It’s really as complicated as it sounds.

As I mentioned in my last 5/3/1 recap I am swapping out accessory lifts for crossfit-style complexes and circuits which can potentially get my rate of perceived exertion up to anI’m gonna die level.

So four days a week, after lifting the big lifts (squat, bench, deadlift push press) +1 accessory lift then I do a circuit like the ones I’ve listed below.

Here are some that I enjoyed recently (and by enjoyed, I mean loved-to-hate because they were torturously exhausting)

15 Box Jumps
8 Push Press at 75lb
10 Plank Tuck Jumps
Repeat circuit for a total of 18min (ie. AMRAP 18)

5 Squat Cleans at 75lb
10 Mountain Climbers
15 Wall Balls at 15lb
Repeat circuit for 20 min (ie. AMRAP 20)

Row 1000m
50 Push-Ups
Run 1000m (0.6mi)
50 Inverted Rows

30 Wall Balls at 12lb
30 Sumo Deadlift High Pull at 45lb
30 Box Jumps
30 Push Presses at 45lb
30 Push Ups
30 Squat Jumps
Repeat circuit once.

4 rounds of 12 then 9 then 6 then 3 Reps (12-9-6-3)
Power Snatch at 40lb
Overhead Squat at 40lb
Burpees

5 Push Press at 75lb
10 Deadlifts at 75lb
15 Box Jumps
Repeat circuit for 10 min (ie. AMRAP 10)

20 Kettlebell Swings at 35lb
15 Burpees
10 Goblet Squats at 35lb
Repeat circuit twice.

I have been keeping track of my times or the number of rounds I do for these circuits so that when I repeat them I strive to do at least as well.

For more cool circuit exercises check out this programme.

19 Apr

Pheasant Pot Pie

Remember the pheasants that Matt brought home from one of his co-workers?

Well, we cooked them.

The first pheasant Matt roasted in the oven with a dry rub of miscellaneous spices that he enjoys. The bird was rather tough and I felt that I was gnawing at it with my teeth. It had a typical poultry taste but reminded me more of turkey than of chicken.

I took a different approach with the second bird since I knew what I was in for (ie. tough meat), I figured a good way to prepare it would be in a hearty pie. Because, obviously, I love pie.

It tasted much better this way. The meat was still tough but was tenderized by the longer cooking and the sauciness of the pie filling. . . plus everything tastes better topped with a flaky crust.

Pheasant Pot PieIt tastes better than it looks, I swear.

Pheasant Pot Pie

Ingredients

1 recipe for Perfect Pie Crust, wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated.

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 carrots, sliced
3 celery stalks, sliced
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
4 c chicken broth
1 pheasant cut into 8 pieces (2 wings, 2 legs, 2 breasts, 2 thighs)
4 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Directions

In an large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper, then cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 15 minutes.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add all the pheasant pieces, return to a boil, then lower to heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Remove the pheasant pieces and transfer to a plate to cool for about 10 minutes.

Strain the stock and reserving both the vegetables and stock separately. Remove and discard the herbs.

While the pheasant is cooling, preheat the oven to 400F. Prepare the pie dough by rolling it out to the size and shape of the baking dish you will be using for your pie (I used a 9×13”).

When the pheasant is cool enough to handle, pull the meat into bite-size pieces, discarding the skin and bones.

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour then whisk in the stock one ladle at a time. Bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Continue cooking until the sauce has the consistency of heavy cream then stir in the chicken pieces and vegetables until well coated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer the filling to a baking dish. Cover with the rolled out pie dough and bake for 40min or until the crust is golden brown.

17 Apr

Torta Margherita Recipe

While I’m talking about cakes, here’s one that was leaps and bounds more successful than the last.

This recipe comes from Pellegrino Artusi, the author of the veritable bible of recipes from all regions of Italy: La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiare Bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well) which he published in 1891.

Torta Margherita

As an uber-geek interested in both food and history, I get overly excited by historic recipes like that time I found out that the National Archives has a full copy of The New Galt Cookbook on their website(!)

I like to think about how much more work it would have been 100 years ago to prepare food compared to today. I think’s it’s amazing both how little and how much recipes have changed over the years. And I think eating food from historic recipes gives you a real connection to the past.

In my grade 12 Modern European History class, we had a project where we had to prepare a dish typical of revolutionary France. I still recall showing up to school smelling like fried bacon and onions from the roasted squash dish that I made that morning. Best. Project. Ever.

Torta Margherita

Italians love simplicity– seriously, just ask my Nonna. If she calls you “simple” it really is the utmost compliment.– even in their desserts. In this sense, Torta Margherita is classically Italian.

It’s an unintentionally gluten free and dairy free cake that has only 4 ingredients. It is made with potato starch (not potato flour) and leavened with egg whites. It’s cheap to make, it’s easy to make (although it would have arguably been a hell of a lot more labour intensive before the age of electric mixers and beaters), and it is a really great, light cake.

The taste and texture sort of reminds me of ladyfinger cookies which makes me think it would be awesome in a tiramisu. I ate mine with a very hefty drizzling of coconut curd (which is also coincidentally gluten free and dairy free).

Pellegrino Artusi’s Torta Margherita Recipe

This is a very simple cake that can be served in many ways. Simply with a dusting of icing sugar and dunked in a caffe, or served with a berry compote, or as part of a trifle or tiramisu, or you can drizzle it with an Asian coconut curd called Kaya if you want a really cool cross-cultural fusion like I did.

You can also play around with the flavours, swapping orange zest or vanilla or perhaps even a little rum for the lemon zest.

Ingredients

120 grams potato starch, sifted (not potato flour)
120 grams granulated sugar
4 eggs, separated
Zest of 1 lemon

Directions

Butter a round cake pan and line with parchment. I used a 6″ pan for a taller cake but you can also use an 8″ pan for a wider cake and bake it for less time.

Preheat the oven to 350*F

In a large bowl, beat the yolks together with the sugar until very pale and creamy. Add the lemon zest and the potato starch and beat until combined. Note: the potato starch will make the batter very tough and tacky, but don’t worry the egg white will lighten it up so it’s smooth and pourable.

In a separate clean bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form then fold the whites gently through the batter a little at a time. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake at moderate heat for an hour or until the cake is firm and passes the toothpick test.

Remove from the pan to a wire rack and let cool. Serve as desired with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar or with whatever accompaniment that you like (like coconut curd, for example).

Torta Margherita

15 Apr

Chiizukeiki – Japanese Cheesecake

It’s the 15th of the month, that means it’s time for this month’s Baking Partners Challenge.

Previous themes were Super Soft White Bread, Macarons, Pie, Christmas Cake, Kaiser Buns, Cupcakes, and Cookies.

The theme for this month is Cheesecake!

I personally love rich desserts, so I can never say no to cheesecake (not that I ever say no to any dessert). Plus, it’s super versatile and lends itself well to countless different flavours and varieties.

I’ve made a handful of cheesecakes before and they’ve all been delicious, rich, creamy cakes. So I was excited to try a cheesecake of a very different variety: chiizukeiki or Japanese cheesecake.

(Sidenote: How fun is it to say chiizukeiki? Honestly, I’m never going to call it cheesecake again.)

What’s the story?

Chiizukeiki is the Japanese version of cheesecake.

Unlike American cheesecakes which are thick, crusted custards, Japanese cheesecakes have no crust and are made in the style of a soufflé instead, that is, it has a base of eggs yolks and cream cheese and is leavened with whipped egg whites. But, don’t worry, there is sufficient enough flour, sugar, and cornstarch in a chiizukeiki recipe that it won’t deflate like a soufflé does.

As a result of this technique, the chiizukeiki is light and airy unlike any American cheesecake you’ve ever had.

chiizukeki - what it should look likeIt should look like this (source)

. . . that is, unless you fuck it up like I did and your chiizukeiki ends up with the consistency closer to fudge than soufflé. Wah waaaaaah. Sad smile

ChiizukeikiThis is what mine looked like . . . not quite right.

The Result

I’m not exactly sure where I went wrong with this. Admittedly, I did sub all purpose flour for cake flour (I never have cake flour on hand) and then I accidently forgot to bake the cake in a water bath, so it could have been one of those 2 changes. The chiizukeiki ended up rising quite nicely in the oven, but then when I took it out it fell flat and was super dense.

Chiizukeiki

Oh well.

I’m not sure whether I want to go through the effort to try making this again. I found the flavour a bit egg-y and not as sweet as I’d like, so I’d need to have a nice sweet sauce to pair it with.

Granted, lots of people in the baking partners group did execute this recipe effectively, so maybe it was just me. Maybe it’s totally worth making.

The Recipe

Chiizukeiki – Japanese Cheesecake

2 ounces (4 tablespoons) butter
8 ounces cream cheese
3 ounces (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon) milk
2 ounces (generous 1/2 cup) cake flour
1 ounce (1/4 cup) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 egg yolks, room temperature
6 egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
5.25 ounces (3/4 cup) granulated sugar

Preheat your oven to 325F and line an 8″ springform pan with parchment paper and wrap the outside with aluminum foil (as the pan will be placed in a water bath before baking).

Combine the cream cheese, butter, and milk in a microwave-safe bowl microwave on high long enough to melt the cream cheese and butter, stopping and stirring occasionally, until you have a homogenous mixture. Set aside to cool.

Whisk the egg yolks and lemon juice together, then whisk that into the cheese mixture.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and salt then whisk that into the cream cheese mixture.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until they’re foamy. Add the cream of tartar and all of the sugar and whip the mixture to soft peaks. With the machine on low, add the cheese mixture and stir until combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, place the pan in a water bath, and bake for 45 minutes, until the cheesecake is browned, firm, and set.


BakingPartners



07 Apr

Four Things

Today is my sister’s 30th birthday!

We celebrated by going out for dim sum yesterday and wood oven pizza today. . . followed up by these amazing ‘goddess kisses’ (fried dough balls tossed in cinnamon sugar and drizzled with chocolate)

Aside from being a milestone, her Dirty Thirty birthday is an especially exciting one since she and my brother-in-law don’t have to worry about driving back home to Illinois today. They’ve moved back to Windsor, for good! And they bought the house right next door to ours! Doesn’t get much better than that.

Vicki's BirthdayHappy Birthday Vicki!

Spring is in the air!

The weather has finally started to take a turn for the better and the signs of spring are starting: waking up to the birds chirping, seeing the tulips and daffodils sprout, and being able to go out without a jacket without developing hypothermia.

My favourite sign of spring started to appear a while ago though: Cadbury Mini Eggs!

Mini EggsMini Eggs mean Easter, spring, and deliciousness

I started and finished reading Sarah’s Key this week.

The book club that I was in last year was on hiatus and is finally being revived and Sarah’s Key was April’s selection. I enjoyed this book about a woman’s journey to investigate a young girl’s experience during The Holocaust but would have liked more Holocaust story and less of the modern day. It was no Night, but it was good.

In any case, it just feels good to be able to finish a book in less than a month’s time, after having read Storm of Swords and Feast for Crows.

DSCF2271Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

I bought another 10 class pass to the Moksha Yoga studio.

In yesterday’s class I almost got myself into full expression of peacock pose (mayurasana). I got closer than ever. I was really excited. Now I have yet another pose that I’m keen on mastering.

Peacock PoseMayurasana – What a cute print! (source)

03 Apr

Good Food: Legumes

Good Food: Notable bean dishes that I’ve made recently.

I love beans and could eat them at every meal. Here are a few delicious dishes that I’ve discovered recently.

Slow Cooker Navy Bean Soup

Recipe from Prevention RD – A really thick and hearty soup with lots of herbal flavour.

My variation on was to cut back on the amount of liquid resulting in more of a stew or ragout than a soup. I also cut out the ham, but I used homemade pork stock to retain that pig flavour (so, sadly, it wasn’t vegetarian).

I think I was a little heavy-handed with the sage, but I love the earthiness of that herb. I would probably add the same amount next time and just call it Navy Bean and Sage Stew.

Navy Bean Soup - PreventionRD

 

Whisky Baked Beans

Recipe from me adapted from The Simple Dietitian – Totally traditional, grandma’s baked beans with a slight twist.

This is comfort food. I love the sweetness from the molasses and brown sugar. I could eat these for breakfas, lunch, and dinner.

 

Vegetable Pita with Lentils

Recipe from New American Table by Marcus Samuelsson – A stew that eats like a sandwich.

My sister introduced me to this one. It is one ridiculously messy dinner and it is a bit involved to make, considering it’s just a simple pita sandwich, but it’s totally worth it.

I love the Indian, Lebanese, and African influences all rolled into one meal. That’s fusion.

Vegetable and Lentil Pita

 

Black Bean Burger

Recipe from Oh She Glows – Staple formula for a good veggie burger.

I usually vary the ingredients slightly based on what I have, but I stick with similar ratios and this burger ends up a winner. Also, you can make the patties and freeze them before cooking so you have a quick and painless meal at the ready. (I have a stash in my freezer right now)

Black Bean Burger

02 Apr

5/3/1 For Women – Cycle 4 Recap

As of today I’m deloading from cycle 4 of the 5/3/1 for Women Training Programme.

My original plan was to follow the program for 3 cycles but I’ve been loving it so I’m going to keep going for another 3, at least.

Each cycle is 4 weeks. It focuses on building strength in the big multi-joint lifts: squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press by increasing weight and decreasing reps each week (5 reps/ 3 reps/ 1 rep/ deload, hence the name 5/3/1).

Read more about how it works here: 5/3/1 Training

Main Lifts

Cycle 4

I’ve slaughtered PR’s in 3 of the 4 big lifts in Cycle 4 which feels totally empowering. I was pretty content with my loads in Cycle 1 so being able to push heavier weights than ever is kind of blowing my mind right now.

Deadlift: 225lb for 3 reps
Push Press: 115lb for 4 reps
Squats: 210lb for 3 reps (though I don’t think my form was spot on for these ones)
Bench Press: 135lb for 3 reps (not a PR, unfortunately)

Cycle 5

I’ve recalculated my loads for cycle 5 by adding 10lbs to my Cycle 4 1RM for Squats and Deadlifts and adding 5lb for Bench and Push Press, then taking 90% of these as my baseline number. This is putting me at some frighteningly heavy lifts that I’m quite nervous for, but I’m going to try to crank them out to the best of my ability and if I can’t make them then I’ll have to take a couple steps back.

Accessory Lifts

Cycles 1-3

I was doing a variation of the ‘boring but big’ accessory lifts:

– the Main lift, then
– the Main lift in a different form (eg. squats + front squats, bench press + dumbbell bench press, etc), then
– 3 accessory exercises with a higher rep range (10-15)

Unsurprisingly, this was getting boring so I’m switching it up for the next 3 cycles to include more cardio.

Cycles 4-6

Cardio time! I’m doing some variations of complexes and circuits that I make up myself or steal from crossfit football. I like it because I get an elevated heart rate and a good sweat in 10-20 minutes.

Something like this took me only 8min:

5 rounds of:

10 Inverted Rows
15 Kettlebell Swings
3 Burpee Broad Jumps

Deload Week

Deload week is awesome. It gives me a chance to recover and gives me more time for cardio and yoga.

Cardio

I’m getting most of my cardio from my accessory lifts now. I’m cutting back on my ‘cardio only’ workout days so I can have more time for yoga (. . . for super exciting reasons which I plan to divulge soon!).