Chickpea Coconut Curry

Well, I have been slacking this week. There really isn’t any valid excuse that I can give other than I have been taking a lot more time for myself these days and honestly, I’m loving it! In January, I’ll be starting my courses at Humber to be a project manager and between that, work and my Toastmaster responsibilities, I’ll be busy. Better to enjoy some down time now!

As today is Monday, I’d like to begin, or rather, re-begin (is that a word?) my “lunch a day” for a month challenge.

Today, my leftovers were chickpea coconut curry. YUM! It was Sunday evening, I had no desire or motivation to go the store so I scrounged up whatever I had in my cupboards and fridge and I came up with this little number.

Ingredients:

  • 2 small potatoes (finely chopped)
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 ½ large tomatoes (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 an onion (minced)
  • ½ can of chickpeas
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • ¼ tsp of black pepper
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ¼ tsp tsp thyme
  • ½ tsp curry powder
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • Chilli flakes to taste
  • ½ cup cooked quinoa
  • 2 tbsp of grape seed or olive oil or coconut oil (I used grape seed

This looks like a lot of ingredients, but it was SO easy to make!

Method:

  1. Cook the quinoa as directed.
  2. In a large sauce pan, pour the oil in and let it heat up. Then, add the onions and cook until they are soft. Add the black pepper, chilli flakes, coriander and thyme. Cook for a couple of minutes (until fragrant). Add the garlic and stir.
  3. Once this has simmered, add the potatoes and ¼ of the can of coconut milk and stir until simmering. Then, add the curry powder, garam masala and turmeric and stir. Let it simmer and add the other ¼ of the can of coconut milk. Cover and let simmer for a few minutes.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes, the chicpeas and the other ¼ can of coconut milk. Let simmer for about 10 minutes.
  5. Stir the pot and add the quinoa and the rest of the coconut milk. Stir again and let simmer for about 5 minutes.

This may look kind of weird, but it was absolutely delicious and tastes even more amazing the next day.

If I could, I would have added spinach to this, but I ran out so I had to do without.  Shredded carrots would also be amazing in this too – or any other veggie that you love and cannot live without. I find that by layering the ingredients, you get a fuller flavour and a more cohesive sauce/curry.  If you don’t have quinoa, you could always skip the step and serve over brown rice.

Let me know what you think and share with me any variations that you may have tried.

Enjoy!

Magical Fruit?

For me, one of the easiest and satisfying things to make is soup. If you have a steamer and a blender or food processor, then this will really simply your soup-making life!

Since it’s fall (sorry for those that may still be in denial – especially those of you who push it and wear shorts until the first few snow flurries fall from the sky), I wanted to make some butternut squash soup. YUM! Since I try to avoid dairy at all costs, I had to research a way to get that creamy goodness of soup without adding cream. I discovered cauliflower!

But of course!

I also wanted to add some protein and fiber to my soup, so I experimented and added lentils.

With soups, I try to add the ingredients in batches since the ingredients rarely ever all fit into the blender at once. But that was fine…it was definitely worth the extra effort!

I was worried that the soup would lose its sweetnees because of the lentils, but really, it had a nice “earthy” flavour to it and was quite hearty.

Here it is:

Some quick health benefits of lentils, in case you’re dying to know:

  • lowers cholesterol
  • balances blood sugar
  • high in fiber
  • full of minerals
  • good source of protein

More great benefits are listed here.

So now, I try to incorporate this magical fruit into soups, stews, stir fries, salads, sauces to get my fiber and protein. Every little bit helps, right?

Here’s how to make it…

Butternut Squash and Cauliflower with Lentil Soup

  • 1 medium butternut squash, cut in half and cooked with 1 tsp of butter and 1/4 tsp of cinamon in each half
  • 1/4 cup of brown lentils – cooked
  • 1 cup of cauliflower florets – steamed
  • 1 garlic clove – steamed
  • 1 cup of chicken stock
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/4 tsp of chilli flakes
  • 1/4 tsp of garam masala
  • 1 tsp of all spice
  • 2 tsp of coriander
  • 1/4 tsp of salt
  • 1/4 tsp of pepper

Method:

1. Cut a medium sized squash in half and scoop out the gooky stuff in the middle. Add 1/4 tsp of cinamon and 1 tsp of butter to each half. Place the halves in a baking dish with 1 cup of water in the dish so that that squash does not dry out. Bake for 1 hour at 350F.

2. Cook the lentils.

3. Steam 1 cup of cauliflower.

4. When the squash is cooked, scoop out the squash and place in a blender of food processor. Add the cauliflower and lentils, and gradually add enough chicken stock so that it blends.

5. Add garlic,  chilli flakes, garam masala, spice, salt and pepper.

6. Blend and serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8

Enjoy!

Whey not?

I read, recently, that women do not get enough protein in their diet. This made me question my own eating habits and I realized that with my busy schedule, I’m probably not getting enough either. Even though I have a solid breakfast, a mid-morning snack and I drink plenty of water, I’m still STARVING by lunch time. What gives? Do I need to fry up a steak in the morning? Do I need to crack a few raw eggs in my mouth a la Rocky Balboa? I hope not. Then I remembered the wise words of my naturopath suggesting whey protein and I thought, whey not?

I went to Noah’s health food store and asked the sales person a million and one questions about whey protein – how much to take, what brands were good, what did she recommend for someone with a lactose, sugar and wheat sensitivities etc. She recomended an isolate – which is the whey protein in its purest form with minimal lactose. Of course, I opted for the natural flavour to avoid any additives. I figured by adding fresh fruit, not only would I get a natural flavour, but it would be sweet enough. She also had some great suggestions and shared with me that she adds fish oil or flax oil to her smoothy. I thought that was genius, so I totally copied her. Then, after a few days, I had the genius idea of adding matcha to my smoothy and I feel like a rock star! I usually add berries (strawberries have been the best so far) and/or a banana (but I limit my banana in take as bananas have a  lot of sugar).

Some immediate benefits were that I felt fuller for longer and I had more energy, especially after I went running.  After trying this out for a week, I’m noticing that my digestion is improving and I’m toning up a bit (but maybe that’s all in my head).

Anyways, I did some Internet research and I came across some great websites that explain why protein is important. Here’s one that you should check out.

Basically, whey protein is very low in fat and calories and a great source of amino acids, which is important because it:

  • helps build muscles
  • promotes skin, hair and nail growth
  • assists in weight management
  • assists with healthy aging
  • aids with wound healing

If you find that you are not getting enough protein in your diet but are watching your weight, I say, give it a try! You don’t have to be a body builder or competitive athlete to enjoy its benefits. Who doesn’t want a stronger immune sytsem and more energy? Especially now that cold and flu season is around the corner!

Here is my favourite recipe:

Combine the following ingredients in blender and blend on low until all contents are mixed.

  • Recommended serving of whey protein isolate
  • 1 handful of frozen strawberries
  • 1 banana
  • 1 tsp of matcha
  • 2 tbsps of fish oil or flax oil
  • water (until desired consistency is achieved)

Enjoy!

The Best Things In Life Are Free

This week, I tried something new; something that I haven’t done in a long time: Exercise. Up until my sickness reared it’s ugly head in March 2011 and  nearly immobilized me, I was jat least going to yoga 2 to 3 times a week to destress. But since then, I haven’t been doing much. Honestly, for the first few months, I really didn’t miss it and I couldn’t imagine having to exercise ever again. The thought of taking the stairs to my 3rd floor apartment made me sweaty and achey.

As time marched on, I began to feel better and  I began to take on more; and the more I was able to take on, the more stressed I was getting. It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? My temporary solution was beer, and the summer weather made that temptation greater.  But I started to find that my symptoms were slowly creeping back in. And it wasn’t just beer that was the culprit, but the snacky foods that went along with it. And then I found that I was cheating more and more – a piece of chocolate here, some chips there…before you know it, I’m feeling lethargic, sinusy, stressed and just not my energetic self.

Then – the wake-up call happened: I weighed myself. To my disbelief, I had gained 5 pounds. I honestly thought that the scale was broken, so I shook it, played with the settings and then stepped back on. Nope. Not broken. I did a mental playback of the past summer and realized how my diet has slowly deteriorated. It’s no wonder I’ve gained some weight!

Being the calm, cool and collect person that I am, I ran to Shoppers Drugmart at 9pm and scoured the shelves for some sort of detox formula. $25.00 later, I bought this liver flush from BodyLogix. It’s an all herbal formula and really, I only needed 3 tablets for one night. Not bad!

The next thing I did was cut out all sugar, alcohol, soy and wheat since I had been overdoing it with thesee items. I also increased my water intake to flush out all the toxins that had built up in my body. Over the next couple of days, I felt like I was coming down with something; I had a sore throat, my sinuses were sensitive and I felt feverish. I realized that I wasn’t catching something, but it was my body’s reaction to the detox. Crazy! Mind you, it was NOTHING like the initial detox I went through in the spring, but still…after only 2 months of not eating so well, I couldn’t believe that I had that kind of reaction. Scary!

So that was a nice wake-up call to not take my health for granted. But don’t worry, I’m back on track!

The other thing that I started doing, was running. I went for my first jog last Monday. The last time I had gone was probably in November of 2010 in a meagre attempt to lose some weight for my trip to India – not very successful. I tried not to overdo it, but once I got going, I really enjoyed it and actually missed it. I ran for about 30 minutes and made sure I stretched as much as possible afterwards. It all seemed for naught because the next day, I could barely move! Every movement was  a production and I couldn’t imagine ever running again!

My snazzy runners

Wednesday, was much of the same. When I came into work, I saw a sign on our elevator saying “Donate to the Shelter Foundation to Ride the Elevator!”. Being the decent person that I am, I thought: “Are you kidding me?! I can barely walk, let alone walk up 50 stairs to my desk!” Plus, Ididn’t have any spare change, otherwise I totally would have donated. It turned out that walking up stairs was the best and the worst thing that I decided to do that day.

Eventually, after the burning in my thighs subsided and my lungs no longer felt like they might burst, I realized just how out shape I am and that spurred me to challenge myself to take the stairs for 30 days, correction: 30 work days. Ya. Well, to clarify, I mean the stairs at work – I can’t always take the stairs at home because sometimes I have way too many groceries and I would likely injure myself. I have a nightmare of falling backwards on the stairs carrying toilet paper and bottles of water. I don’t think that would look very good when and if someone were to find me.

I’m on day 5 of the stair challenge and I’m happy to say, that my lungs don’t feel like they are going to explode! I’m still really out of breath by the time I get to my desk, but I just try to go to my happy place – the kitchen, to fill up on tea and water and hope that no one comes in to hear me panting like a furry dog on a hot July day.

The point of this story – there’s a point? Is that I’m realizing how beneficial exercise is. You won’t lose weight just by exercise, diet is key, however, with my recent exercising adventures, I find that it has really helped me manage my stress, given me more energy throughout the day and improved my quality of sleep. Not too bad! And the best part? It’s free!

My advice is to find an activity you enjoy or even love. Gyms are overrated so if you hate the gym, don’t go! Join a team, go for walks, start jogging, go swimming, try yoga, learn to dance, climb stairs in your building, dance in your bedroom for half an hour…the possibilities are endless.

Enjoy!

How It All Began…

Up until recently, I never really took my health seriously. One of my weaknesses was that I wasn’t any good at coping with stress. I would be fine and dandy until something stressful would happen, and then my life would lose momentum and all hell would break lose; I would eat junk food, go out drinking all the time, not get enough sleep and then get too much sleep; my relationships would suffer and I was always too busy trying to get through a day rather than living it. I always knew, that one day, my excessive drinking and partying would catch up to me, and you know what? It did.

I went to India in December 2010. This proved to not only be the worst experience but the best thing that has ever happened to me. From that trip, I realized my life was going in the wrong direction, but more importantly, I realized that I wanted to change it.

What brought it on? Sharp. Stabbing. Severe pains in my lower left abdomen that steadily got worse and worse. It started towards the end of  my trip, but when I got back, it began to get progressively worse.  I went to the doctor who tested me for parasites and liver function. Both came out fine. Still, pain, pain and more pain. Whyyyyy? I went back to the doctor who admitted to me that he had no idea why I was in pain, which is exactly what you want to hear from a trained professional when you are frightened and vulnerable.

He ordered me an ultra-sound of my entire torso. The results came back showing that I was fine. Huh.

Still stumped, my doctor ordered me a CT Scan but the only availability was 3 months later. He sent me on my way and told me that if they pain was unbearable, then I should go the ER. Well guess what, the pain started becoming unbearable. It got to a point where I couldn’t sleep a whole night without the pain waking me up. It got to a point where I couldn’t get through a work day without having to leave early because the pain was unbearable. Eventually, I stopped being able to work full time hours. I would either have to call in sick, or leave early. Thankfully, my boss was very supportive and was behind me 100% to find out what was causing me so much grief.

One day, I was at work and I really wasn’t feeling well; I freezing cold, but I was sweating. I was very lightheaded and I just felt yucky. By 11am, I decided that I had enough and that I should go to the ER. I walked into my boss’ office and before I could ask if I could go home, she told me that I didn’t look good and that she would drive me to the ER. She later told me that my face was a light shade of grey. Not good.  It was then that I realized how sick I was but I didn’t know why. When I finally got to see a doctor in the ER he thought that I might have diverticulosis since I had pain all the time – even when I drank water. He loaded me up on antibiotics and sent me on my way. Out of desperation, I filled the prescription and began taking it. Nothing was working. Little did I know that these antibiotics were actually making me worse!

A few days later, I had an appointment with another family doctor for a second opinion. She wasn’t convinced that I had diverticulosis and asked me to stop taking the antibiotics, agreeing that it could be making me worse. Instead, she asked me to puchase a probiotic and begin taking that. She also asked me to stop consuming caffeine, alcohol, wheat, dairy and sugar for the next few weeks. I was heavily addicted to all of these substances and wasn’t sure if I could do it. She also sent me to get a colonoscopy and a gastroscopy. Both showed that I was “perfectly fine”. I remember the technician telling me that I probably just needed to eat more fibre. Oh….kay…..If only it were that simple!

I really tried to cut it out all out, but it was tough, and honestly, I wasn’t taking it that seriously mainly because I didn’t understand why I was doing this. I cheated every so often, and a few weeks later, during Easter, I completely fell off the band wagon and had some chocolate. I began to feel depressed because my efforts were not helping and I still felt the same – in pain and yucky. I went out drinking a few nights later with my friends and the next morning when I woke up, I felt like death.

That day at work, I could barely focus on what I was doing. I decided to at least make myself useful so I did some research. I had been reading a book called “The Body Knows” by Caroline Sutherland. In it, she describes a condition called Candiasis or Candida Albicans Overgrowth. The symptoms she described in her book sounded like what I was going through, so I decided to research it. What I found, changed my life. I took a quiz to determine whether or not I did indeed have Candidas.

The quiz said that if you scored over 180, then you definitely had it and to get help. My score? It was 285! I couldn’t believe it. I freaked out. Luckily,  my friend was able to refer me to her Naturopath. I was able to get an appointment to see the doctor within a few days.

In the meantime, I was still freaking out. A few days felt like like a lifetime, to me. I consulted a few websites to see what I needed to do to remedy this awful sickness. One the best websites I found was this one. The general advice was to avoid wheat, dairy, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and anything processed. Very similar advice to what the other doctor had given me. Hugh. The good news? I could eat as many veggies as I wanted and as much protein as I wanted. Everything I was told to avoid, I was highly addicted to. But this time,  I was determined to give it all up if it meant that I would feel better.

It was also advised to take some natural antifungals to kill the yeast.

Some of the main suggestions were:

  • Pau d’Arco tea
  • ginger
  • garlic
  • onions
  • coconut oil
  • olive oil
  • cayenne pepper
  • cinnamon
  • cloves…

More are listed here.

Basically, you name it, I took it.

Within a few hours of cutting out the no-no foods and taking the anti-fungals, I began to feel some effects. And then, without warning, I began to feel like a crackhead coming down from a meth addiction. I had the shakes, I was sweating, running to the bathroom every 10 minutes, dizzy, foggy, bloated and achey. I felt like I had the flu! 

Because of the strong side-effects, I knew that I definitely had Candida. When I went to the ND and told her what I had been up to, she laughed but in a horrified kind of way. You know, with the gaping mouth and wide eyes but trying to smile at the same time? Yeah.

After spending more than hour with her, she assessed me and put me on a brand new plan, something a little less hard core and a little more simple and manageable to relieve me of feeling like a washed up celebrity passing out on Hollywood Blvd after yet another failed audition. She gave me these tablets called Candida SAP  and they were used to kill the yeast. I had to take 2 of those 3 times a day. Then, an hour after taking that, I had to take a strong probiotic to rebuild the good bacteria in my gut. I had to take 3 of those a day. Then she put me on  a more manageable eating plan. She gave me recommendations of what to eat so that I wouldn’t be eating stews and carrot sticks for the rest of my life.

This meant that I had to start cooking. No more pizza, or McDonald’s or sushi or subs. Cooking. This meant that I had to plan my meals, buy groceries and re-arrange my schedule so that I would have time to shop, cook, eat and clean. Honestly, it was a huge adjustment for me! I felt very stressed by that whole thing. For a while, I felt like I was constantly shopping and cooking and doing dishes. I was always researching recipes and it would take me forever to make anything because I had never made it before and I didn’t have a clue what to do!

It also meant that I needed to stock up on basics, like spices and dishes and appliances. The best decsion I ever made was buying my blender. It’s kind of like a Magic Bullet but it has lots of different sized cups and is BPA free. Because of this purchase, I discovered my love for soups and dips and smoothies. Oh my!  

I also invested in a spice rack, but that came much later after months of living out of spice bags which was SO ghetto!

The other thing that I invested in, and that totally saved my life was a steamer. I could steam veggies to go with my dinner or steam veggies to make a soup. These things just made life so much simpler for me.

After a while, a funny thing happened – I began to enjoy cooking. After trying something new that I cooked I would say to myself, “Holy, that’s delicious! Who knew that such simple ingredients could be so satisfying??

I began to look forward to trying new recipes.

I also began to get more organized and strategic. When I would cook, I would make triple the amount: one serving for lunch the next day and then the other two, I would freeze. If I had time on the weekend, I would cook a couple of dishes and freeze them. Not only did this save me time, but it saved my sanity!

Whenever I run low on lunches, I pick a night in the week to cook something. At any given moment, I have tomorrow’s lunch ready to be thawed. It’s genius!

After 3 months of careful eating and lifestyle changes, I can say that I feel better than I ever have in my whole entire life. Maybe even better than when I was a kid. I have more energy, my moods are better, my pain is gone, my complexion is better, I’m no longer losing my hair, I’m sleeping better, my allergies are nearly gone and  I lost about 15lbs! I will never, ever go back to that lifestyle.

Remembering how sick I was and how unhappy I was is motivation enough to keep me on the right track and that is why I started this blog. Not only will this blog serve to motivate and inspire me to keep learning about health and nutrition so that I stay on the right track for the rest of my life, but I hope that whatever informaiton I learn, I will be able to share with you, to help you, so that you don’t have to go through the same suffering that I went through.

I look forward to sharing my journey with you as I live and learn!

Bon appetit!