Starting a Healthy Diet- Part One. The Problem With Our Weight Obsession

Yes, being overweight is generally part of being unhealthy, and especially in the more affluent countries more people are overweight than ever. Also, overweight people are more likely to be obese than ever before. But in spite of society’s ridiculous obsession with appearance (really- grow up shallow people of the world! Fat shaming is OK? How about we start non-critical thinking shaming?), focussing on weight loss is not how we will make society healthier.

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What the Heck is Jackfruit? (A Fruit You Can Use as a Meat!)

100_4392I am committed to a plant-based diet now. I have passed the point of no return, as the thought of eating real meat now makes me feel quite squeamish. That is sometimes a problem, as I grew up in Alberta- definitely meat country- and I loved meat. I really get the bacon-flavoured everything craze. So, I am always on the hunt for new ways to satisfy an old craving. I have already posted about meat substitutes, and this week I finally sourced one that I have been wanting to try for a long time. Believe it or not, it is actually a tropical fruit. When ripe I have read that it is sweet and deliciously addictive. In fact some sources said ripe jackfruit was the inspiration for the flavour of Juicy Fruit gum.

Green jackfruit, however, has very little flavour of its own, and it can be shredded and cut to resemble mild-flavoured meats like chicken, pork, and even tuna. Most vegan recipes 100_4366using jackfruit call for jackfruit packed in brine. The fruit I found, however, was packed in water. Better for heart-health anyway, but I suspect I will need to experiment a bit more with seasonings to find the perfect fit. In the meantime, expect quite a few jackfruit recipes as I try out ways to use it. If you are looking for green jackfruit yourself (and it does not grow where you live), try stores that carry Asian or Indian foods.

It cost about $1.50 (Cdn) per can and the nutritional info per 280g (a little over 1 cup) is:
Calories 60                                       Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 g                                 Sodium 1260 mg
Carbohydrate 14g                             Fibre 6g
Protein 2g                                         Sugar 0g
Calcium 4% RDA                             Iron 12% RDA


I wanted to make a quick lunch with no cooking, so the first thing I did with the jackfruit was to use it in a mock tuna salad. It really does not require a recipe- you can just use your regular tuna salad recipe and substitute the jackfruit for the meat, but I will outline the steps I took and give a few hints about modifications you might want to try. It would work exactly the same if you wanted to make it as a chicken salad- you would just change the seasonings that you use.

Jackfruit Salad Sandwiches

– Canned jackfruit100_4353
– Mayonnaise or vegan substitute
– Veggies. I used green onion, celery, mini tomatoes in the salad, and lettuce and cucumber in the sandwich. Shredded radish, carrots, peas, even green apple would be good too. If you were to make a curried “chicken” salad, you might add green grapes.
– Chick peas or mild-flavoured beans (I used them whole. To make the salad stick together more, you could mash them before adding. They add protein and body)
– Pickles (I like pickles in my tuna salad, and the vinegar also helps to add some flavour to the jackfruit. You could also try pre-soaking the jackfruit in a teaspoon or so of vinegar and leaving out the pickle if you don’t like it in the salad).
– Pepper, spices, and extras as desired (sometimes I like chicken salad with cumin, other times I like it with a bit of chili powder. Experiment. This time I just added pepper for flavour and some hemp hearts for texture and extra omegas. Flax seed would be good for that too).
– Bread, pita pockets or lettuce for holding and delivering the salad to your eager mouth.

– Shred the jackfruit with two forks to 100_4376give it the look of tuna or shredded chicken (It shreds naturally into strings). Soak in vinegar if desired (this would make it more tuna-like. When I made it plain it was more like chicken)
– Chop up veggies, pickles and extras to add to salad, and slice the ones for in the sandwich.
– Mix jackfruit, chopped veggies and extras, and add a Tablespoon or two 100_4390of mayo (to taste). Add pepper and spices (to taste) and stir.
– Pile it all up in your bread and add lettuce and other sliced veggies (you could use sprouts, too).
– Serve with a pickle slice. This was as good as tuna salad any day, and I imagine (like real tuna salad) it would get even better if you let it sit in the refrigerator for an hour or two so flavours can mix.


Cooking Club- New Year, New Ingredient (Part 3). Farro and Kale Salad

Ready to start cooking club

Ready to start cooking club

At our first cooking club meeting of the year, we made two curry recipes to take home for our families’ dinners, but we decided to eat Sarah’s recipe right there. After all- we had earned a good lunch after our hike and all our cooking and cleaning. It was an excellent idea because, let me tell you, this salad is top of my new favourites list! Continue reading

Patties- The Vegetarian/Vegan DDD Trick

Just a quick post to talk about how I squeezed yet one more meal out of my pepper pot soup and Hoppin’ John. If you remember from past posts, I made a huge batch of super easy, super tasty pepper pot soup- far too much as it turned out. I froze some of the surplus for a later quick meal, and then used the rest in our New Year Hoppin’ John.

That recreated the problem- adding all the beans and rice again gave us too much to eat at one meal. I added some to my FITR salad the next day- yum- but I did not want the second dinner of a new year to be a repeat. So instead I pulled a very handy leftovers trick- I made vegan patties for dinner. In this case it was even easier than usual. I simply used pressure with a burger-press, and then heated them in the oven. They held together well because of the beans and cooked veggies, and with a bit of salad and tzatziki they made a very nice light meal quite unlike the hearty stew of the day before.


Of course, vegetarians and vegans did not invent the idea of using leftovers for patties, but they have certainly opened my eyes to their versatility. Many Fridays after swimming I lunch at a local vegetarian café and the delicious patty variations never fail to please. I hope to offer some recipes in the coming months, but in the meantime I will provide some ideas and a quick formula so you can experiment yourself:

Making Vegetarian or Vegan Patties

First, you do not need a burger press, you can simply form the patties with your hands. But if you make patties frequently you might like the way a press makes them a consistent size and allows for more pressure to help hold them together more firmly. You can find all styles and sizes of press, go with whatever suits you.

1- Cooked Leftovers: veggies, grains, whatever. Be imaginative here- really you can throw in anything you cooked the night before (you can also use shredded raw root vegetables, or add a few chopped raw veggies to the patties). I’ve had patties made of millet, rice, shredded beets, quinoa, beans, turnips, hash browns, and many more. They have contained leafy greens, onion, peas, mushrooms, tofu, even vegetarian meat- the list is endless, and I’ve rarely had one that I did not like.
2- Binder/glue: Meat-eaters often use egg to bind burgers and patties. Similarly, vegetarians often use egg substitute or a flax egg, but there are many other choices, too. Beans, legumes, and cooked root vegetables are good for holding patties together. You can add chopped veggies and beans or lentils into the patties and then if you require extra “holding power”, also add some more blended beans. Some people use breadcrumbs or rolled oats to help bind, and you can also use nut flours (simply grind any nuts to powder).
3- Seasonings: Again the possibilities are endless, from none at all, to strong seasonings like curry. Experiment.

-Mix all ingredients together until you get a texture you like.
-Make patties.
-Bake or fry. If you used raw chopped or shredded veggies, you will need to cook them through, otherwise you really only need to heat or brown them, depending on the texture you are aiming for. You can use oil or dry heat.
-Serve. You can serve with a sauce, in a bun, however you like them.

How cinchy is that?

It’s Pepper Pot Day!


In case you were looking for another holiday this week (or just a nice warm soup to fortify you in preparation for New Year’s Eve), today is Pepper Pot Day. Somehow this fact was sent to my email ingeniously embedded within advertising. So I deleted the message and googled the day. According to American lore, pepper pot is a thick spicy soup first created on December 29, 1777, during the Revolutionary War. The army was running low on food and morale, so Christopher Ludwick, their cook, gathered whatever food he could scrounge up in the countryside, and made pepper pot soup. It rejuvenated the troops and was dubbed “the soup that won the war.”

Apparently the original soup was made from scraps of tripe (don’t even ask), bacon rind, root veggies, and some peppercorn. I’m sure there are people who adore the original recipe, but it sounds to me like he made it in desperation from whatever he could beg, borrow, or steal from the locals.

My pepper pot soup is exactly nothing like Ludwick’s soup, but then again you don’t have to be starving in a field to love it, so you choose.

Jo’s (Made Up on the Spot) Pepper Pot Soup

Ingredients (all amounts approximate- this is soup, so just go with it):
– 1 cup of dried pantry items (lentils, beans, barley, rice, etc- whatever you have)
– 1-2 cups of root veggies (carrots, onions, celery, leftover Brussels sprouts, etc)
– 2 cloves of garlic.
– 3-4 cups of bell peppers (I used traffic light colours)
– Any kind of hot or spicy peppers you have- to your own taste (I used jalapenos, pickled banana peppers, dried paprika, crushed black peppercorns, and dried red pepper flakes- it is called pepper pot soup after all).
– 4-5 cups of vegetable broth.
– Any other “scrounged” items you desire- I threw in a few tomatoes that needed using up, and some dried shiitakes. Soup is always good for using up leftovers.
– Meat substitute if desired. Since I was grabbing my dried items anyway, I threw in a cup or so of dried soy chik’n pieces.
– 1/2 tsp. thyme.
– 1/2 tsp. marjoram.
– 1 tsp. cumin (secret ingredient).
– salt to taste.


– Clean and soak the 1 cup of dried pantry items. (I chose all items that do not take a long soak time, and I just threw them in the crockpot and poured boiling kettle water over them. Then I set the crockpot on low and did some errands for an hour or two).
– Drain the soaked items and put them back in the pot. Add vegetable broth.
– Meanwhile, cut up the root veggies, garlic, and fresh peppers. Soften them in a frying pan with a little vegetable oil, and add to the crockpot.
– Rehydrate the shiitakes and chik’n (I use boiling water, drain, then soak for a few minutes in Bragg’s aminos) and add to the pot.
– Finally, add the spices, salt and dried peppers to taste.
– Cook on high for 1/2 hour, then turn down low and leave in the pot until you are ready to eat (the longer it cooks, the more flavourful it becomes.Taste and check the seasonings at least 1/2 hr. before eating).


Surviving Christmas in a Carnivore House

It’s December, which is of course dominated by Christmas around here. I’m torn by Christmas. It still holds a lot of childhood magic for me, but I’m also acutely aware of its “other” aspects- mainly the consumerism and the cultural dominance. Cultural traditions are a double-edged sword; they create a feeling of togetherness, but they can also be exclusionary to anyone who doesn’t follow them, and Christmas has so many traditions.

I’ve already mentioned how the vegan/carnivore split caused a (minor) problem in our family when it came to the Christmas day feast. We solved it easily and we will be having options for every kind of eater on the big day. But, there are people who don’t get to solve it quite so easily. So, for all the young vegans who will be negotiating their first Christmas at their mega-carnivore in-laws’ house, this column is for you!

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Plugging in to the Plan

Last post I talked about success at New Year’s Resolutions. This is a very quick illustration of how I am putting the plan to work for me.

Step one- Set Your Resolution as a Goal.

My goal is healthy weight loss, and it will have two parts to it. The part I will “plug in” here is the diet part. (Exercise is already in place, though I will be tweaking that later).

Going by my “SMART” parameters:
S – specific, stepped, significant, stretching
M – measurable, meaningful, motivational
A – agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented
R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented
T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

Specifically (and measurably), I am aiming at an even 150 lbs.
This is indeed attainable, reasonable, and trackable, and by setting out my diet plans and tools, it will be action-oriented.

There, that part was simple (I could detail it a bit better, but it will become clearer as I fill out step two and three)

Step Two- Plan for the Goal.
Part One- Check out the research on what has worked for other people:
After comparing Canada’s food guide, a vegan food pyramid, and Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine’s Power Plate, and reading literature about them, I will be basing my diet on PCRM’s Vegan Power Plate.

Part Two- Figure out what has worked for me in the past: In the past, I have found the two most important parts of eating well to lose weight are to never let myself go hungry, and to stay completely away from processed foods. When I get hungry I become like a nicotine addict seeking the next cigarette, and all thoughts of real food go out the window as I urgently seek something fatty and chemical-filled. What the heck do they put in processed foods anyway to make this happen? Willpower holds me off for a while but all too soon it is game over. Then I have to go cold turkey again as I continue to experience cravings for processed foods for the next few days (often at the exact same time of day). If I keep well-enough fed on good food I don’t experience these cravings at all, but it definitely takes careful planning to stay out of that cycle.

Step Three- Prepare for Success.
Set up my tools and supports:
I will be relying on three things in particular for this step. First, my online diet/exercise tracker (which goes back to the “T” in my SMART goal). This is a well-known technique for dieting success, in large part because it makes you eat and exercise more mindfully. There are many different free programs, and it is not a bad idea to sign up for a few and then after a few weeks drop the extras and keep up the one that seems to offer the ease and features that fit your lifestyle best.

I will also be modifying and using an old visual template that I used to use to plan meals for the week. When I get it completed, I will post it on the blog. The old template was based on an older food pyramid, so I want to update and improve it before sharing.

The final step is to create a backup plan for days or weeks that knock me off track. It will consist of “emergency” foods, meals, and strategies that will be posted in my kitchen. I will also share it as it is developed.



That’s it for now. Easy-peasy plugin.

Cindi’s Quintessential Quinoa Salad

I wrote about this super, frequently requested salad in another post, and Cindi was kind enough to give me the recipe, so I am going to print it here just as she gave it to me:

Cold Quinoa Salad – Cindi A.

You will need:
Quinoa – (this recipe is based on roughly 3 cups of
uncooked Quinoa)
8- Green onions – separate the white end from the green and dice both finely
1 fresh lemon – take zest off lemon for dressing – finely mince
2 inches fresh ginger- finely grated, skins removed
½ – 1 Tbsp. minced Garlic, minced (more if you like, like, like it!)
Olive oil – (amount should be roughly 3 parts oil to 1 part lemon juice)
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 cup roughly chopped, Cilantro
Pint basket, halved Grape tomatoes
½ to ¾ English cucumber, peeled and diced (I love to use the mini cukes for this salad when I can find them)
1 to 1 ½ finely diced bell peppers. (I like to mix a few different colours of peppers.)
Broth for cooking quinoa

Cook Quinoa and allow it to cool. I use my rice cooker with equal parts chicken broth and water to Quinoa. Drain any additional liquid away from Quinoa. Quinoa is cooked when you can see a white silky line arching the outside edge. I let cool on a cookie sheet, because it’s faster.

While Quinoa cools, make the dressing for salad by combining together the white ends of green onion, juice from lemon, finely minced lemon zest, olive oil, ginger, garlic, and salt & pepper to taste. Shake and let marinate. If it too thick, you can play with the amounts of oil and lemon juice to your taste. Salt is important for a balanced flavor.

While Quinoa cools, and dressing marinates, and if you plan to serve your salad same day; Put Quinoa into a large mixing bowl and add cilantro, green onion (dark ends), tomatoes, cucumber and peppers, additional S &P to taste and serve.

If you want to make your salad a day or so ahead of time, combine everything, EXCEPT tomatoes and cucumbers.

I believe that’s it, peeps. I made this recipe up over the years, so forgive me if it doesn’t make sense somewhere along the line. It’s a simple concept. You’ll figure it out if need be.

NOTE: Allowing Quinoa and dressing to rest in the refrigerator is never a bad plan. Salad is best when ingredients are thoroughly chilled, except for the grape tomatoes of course!


So, I made it almost exactly as Cindi outlined, but you know me, I can’t resist experimenting nearly immediately upon getting a new recipe. Since I try to keep things vegan at home, I used vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. Instead of just using the zest and juice of the lemon, I threw the pulp in too. Then I put the dressing through the bullet blender before mixing it into the salad. I forgot about Cindi’s note about salt and I didn’t add enough (or maybe the veggie broth is less salty), so I sprinkled in a little rice vinegar on my plate to bring out the flavours more. I think that worked too. Next time I might try mushroom broth, or add different veggies like snap peas or edamame along with the ones listed here, because for me it is always about playing with my food. This salad is so good (even better after sitting to develop flavours) and good for you (quinoa is a superfood), that you can go back for seconds with a clean conscience- and believe me, you will! Thanks Cindi, prepare for fame on this one!

Cooking Club Chronicles Update: Part 3 of 3

Ahh burgers. I know how much people like their beef burgers, but it is one thing I can truly say I do not miss anymore as a vegan. This has not always been true. When I started cutting meat out of my life, I tried a lot of nasty processed veggie burgers and wondered how anyone could choke them down. I would occasionally give in to cravings and get myself a beef burger. But I quickly discovered that once you go off meat, it does not taste like what you remembered anyway, and so I could not go back. I was a little resentful- stuck, it seemed, in a burgerless void (talk about your first world problems!)

I’ve moved on- commercial veggie burgers have improved tremendously, but I have also learned two important things. First, you need to cook non-meat burgers differently than meat burgers. They aren’t all full of fat, so you need to use cooking methods that retain the moisture and give that satisfying fullness in your mouth (some of us who tend toward the synesthete’s spectrum would call it a “round” taste). Second, non-meat burgers aren’t supposed to taste like meat burgers (though one of my cooking methods brings them pretty close). Once you let go of that expectation, the possibilities open wide and deliciousness ensues. Continue reading

Double-Duty Dinners: Chili/Wraps

Some weeks I know in advance there won’t be a minute to spare, so I like to play a game by giving myself points for planning super easy dinners that can be eaten over a few days. Bonus points if I don’t have any pans to wash, and more bonus points if I can get a lunch or two out of them. Oh yeah, points are lost for exact repeats, and points are doubled if the family wants seconds on the second day. Today I will share with you one of my highscore DDD recipe sets.

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