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Macro (Easter) Monday: A guide to all that's sweet.

Happy Easter Monday, all!

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MM: The Sweet Stuff

In Macrobiotics, sweetness falls more to the yin side of things. Sweet things can be relaxing, soothing and expanding & help us feel better when the yang side of things take over (stress, hot weather, tension, salty foods, too much work). So it makes sense that permanently denying all things sweet is not a good route to go. Sweetness is good: we need some yin to balance the yang-paced world we exist in! Plus, treats are great and fun and are often a source of social bonding --- think birthday cakes, Easter egg hunts, Christmas cookies, and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.

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But, too much Yin throws off the Yang. Moderation is key. And some things are just simply too-strongly yin (fall to the very far side of Yin) and will always throw off the balance. You can always enjoy sweet vegetables like carrots & squash for a very balanced sweet taste. But, when you need something a little more treat-like, try making & enjoying some sweets made with some of these less-intense sweeteners.

My Favourite Sweeteners:

Pure Maple Syrup

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This is my #1 go to sweetener to use in baking. And not because I love the flavour of maple. In fact, I don't really enjoy maple flavour at all. But most store bought "maple" cookies, candies, pancake syrup etc. is full of artificial maple flavour. Real natural maple syrup is not-so-strong (don't get me wrong, if you eat it straight, you'll taste maple, but not so intense). Personally, I don't even detect the taste at all when I use it in baking. I also use it in teas, coffee, cocoas etc, and find it to add a very gentle, subtle sweet taste. You can even buy granulated maple syrup to use in baking (it makes substituting sugar a breeze, as it is dry, so it doesn't change the texture much). If I make brownies, I use granulated maple syrup.  Real maple syrup comes straight from the tree, full of vitamins & minerals. Or maybe I just like it so much because I'm Canadian?! :)

Fruit

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Of course, the simplest, purest, quickest way to get some sweet in your life is to chow down on some fruit. Stewed fruit is divine, and for a special treat try adding ginger to stewed apples. Fruit crisps are seriously wonderful. And fresh fruit kantens are wonderfully refreshing in the summer. Dried fruits are intensely sweet (dates are nature's candy), and frozen fruits are really convenient to throw into baking or smoothies. I love using apple sauce in cookies, muffins, and cakes. And of course, fresh fruit has many vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, and are recognized as powerful cleansing foods. I love fruit tarts, and will make more like the one above this summer, with recipes to post on here.

Brown Rice Syrup & Barley Malt

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These are the quintessential macrobiotic sweeteners. If you are new to natural sweeteners, these ones may take a bit of time and multiple recipes, to get used to the taste. They are more complex sweeteners, and therefore hit the bloodstream a little slower...giving you more sustained balanced energy. I quite like brown rice syrup. It's great as a replacement for honey as it has a thick caramel-like texture. I haven't used barley malt as much, as I try to avoid gluten. But as my digestion has become much stronger, and gluten isn't as big of a deal for me any more, when I see something with barley malt in it, I'm excited to try it. You can make great cookies with these two sweeteners.

Runners-up

Raw Honey

Honey as been used for centuries as medicine in many different cultures. I've seen tons of articles floating around these days toting the health benefits and healing properties of honey, often in combination with cinnamon. It tastes amazing (obviously), and is full of enzymes. It tastes sweeter than regular sugar, so you don't need to use quite as much. Also PB & Honey is a time-tested combination that no one can touch. YUM. Another amazing combination is tahini & honey.

Blackstrap Molasses

I love gingersnap cookies. Bring on the molasses, because without it you'll never get that wonderful gingersnap flavour. Blackstrap molasses is, well, black. In this case, black is a good thing, as it means that it is less processed and full of vitamins and minerals that are often taken out of regular molasses. Also, blackstrap molasses is really high in iron!

Coconut-palm Sugar

This is a newer product, and I've tried it in a few recipes over the past year. It is definitely not so sweet, which makes sense as it is supposed to be very low on the glycemic index. It is quite dark brown, and has a rough texture ---> this is good, as it shows that it is less processed. I would definitely try subbing some of this in for brown sugar or regular sugar in any recipe, if you'd like to try veering away from regular old white sugar.

Sucanat / Turbinado Sugar

These guys are basically less-processed white sugar. Some of the vitamins and minerals are still left in tact, making it slightly more nutritious, and easier to digest. These guys are easily found in all stores now, and you can make some simple & easy cookies with them, as bake just the same as regular sugar.

Not-so-sure

Stevia

Many many health professionals and healthy eaters love stevia, as it is from a plant, and doesn't impact blood sugar really at all, but tastes super sweet. I don't really have any particular nutritional complaints about it (some are more natural than others though, for sure). But, I put it in the not-so-sure category, because my stomach doesn't really like it. It is pretty potent for me personally, and is so-so-so sweet that it often puts my cravings for sweetness into overdrive. It can be delicious though, for sure. My favourite brand for taste is nunaturals alcohol free vanilla liquid stevia.

Agave

Agave has a nice mild taste, and is from a plant (if you get the real stuff), but it's not my favourite, as it has such a high fructose content. I do eat it occasionally though, as it's often the "natural, raw, low glycemic" sweetener of choice in healthier options at stores & restaurants etc., but I have never bought it myself, nor used it in any of my own cooking/baking.

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It can be really difficult to make healthy choices these days, with tons of information floating around out there, and coming at us in every direction from tweets, magazines, newspapers, facebook, news stories, etc. I think the best way to choose the foods you eat, is to simply be open & willing to try anything, and then make a note of how it makes you feel --- both physically & mentally. And then, once you eat those foods, if you're aware, you'll notice how much of them is right for you.

What is your favourite sweetener, and how do you use it?

Great Eats This Past Week


Mmmm....so instead of spending my time blogging this past week, I spent my time preparing, cooking, and enjoying delicious food.

Starting out with last weekend, here are some photos:

Unfortunately (fortunately...hehe) I enjoyed a delicious latte, made with unsweetened almond milk, dark italian espresso, and flavoured with a bit of honey and cinnamon.


I then moved onto what looks like a typical macrobiotic breakfast: greens, squash, veggies, and rice with seaweed and seeds! Macrobiotic breakfasts are definitely wonderful at re-balancing the body (especially after indulging in a massively wonderful latte).

Posting the photo reminds me of how much I enjoyed that latte, but also how CRAZY I felt after drinking it! I drank that bad boy down, and then did a quite intensive yoga practice at home. My body was definitely not used to such a large amount of caffeine, and while in some ways I felt that it made me more open in my practice (easier to bind in some poses), I was sweating like crazy, and actually felt quite light headed. I tried to just move through the coffee-party going on in my nervous system, but I actually got so light headed and jittery that in the middle of the seated postures I had to get up and eat a bit of brown rice I had in the fridge, just to calm my body down. So...lesson learned: coffee tastes wonderful, but should be enjoyed in SMALL quantities, or perhaps not very often at all, or at least eaten with something hearty to balance it out.

Hmmm...here are a few snacks I enjoyed:


Yes. That's right. When I get desperate I snack on frozen veggies. And you know what? They are DELICIOUS! Frozen corn and peas taste wonderfully sweet, and are crunchy enough to trick my mind into thinking that i'm eating something bad for me. You should try it!

Looks like I also made some cocoa-oats, with some pear cooked in with it.
Step 1: Mix up cocoa powder, spices (i'm guessing my usual: loads of cinnamon, and a sprinkle of cayenne). Add a bit of water or cold liquid, sometimes I used almond milk or amasake until it can be stirred into a paste.

Step 2: Then boil pears/apples on the stove, after ~5 mins add in oats and oatbran and cook until desired thickness. Then stir into cocoa-liquid-delicious-paste in bowl, and top with whatever your heart desires:

Looks like this one had some COCOA BLISS thrown on top. I can't keep my paws off of that stuff (see previous post). It is SOOOO good. It melts into the oatmeal and blends perfectly. And it also tastes great off the spoon, for a morning kick before yoga!

Looks like the next day I also had a macro-oriented breakfast (I really do need to branch out):

Ooooh!! Then I had a China Town Adventure and came home with some great goods:

Check out the monstrous bag of Dried Mushrooms (Witches' Butter or Snow Fungus): mushrooms have great healing properties in Chinese Medicine, and are known to balance blood sugar, detox the liver, and stimulate T-cells (relating to our immune system).

I also picked up some longan berries which are great for calming nerves and helping sleep problems. And how could I resist the best priced, and FRESHEST, softest, reddest goji berries in town!?? Goji berries are wonderful for the liver, eyes, and digestion!

The next morning was ABSOLUTELY perfect:
While I was doing yoga, some beautiful bunnies (correct term: hares) decided to spend some time outside my balcony eating grass and playing. As if yoga couldn't get any better!? Yoga plus bunny-watching!? A match made in heaven.

Then I decided to cook up one of those weird dried mushrooms I bought the day before>. You just soak them in some luke-warm water for 5-10 minutes, then steam or boil for a few minutes. If I remember correctly, I added them ontop of my usual quick-boiled breakfast veggies. Although it wasn't displayed, i'm sure my usual rice bowl was lurking there somewhere.

Looks like I also had to have some COCOA-BLISS oats with COCONUT BUTTER on top. As if Artisana Cocoa Bliss wasn't the best thing ever!?? Well, it was so good that I went back to the store and bought the coconut butter. I'll post a picture later of it. It is 100% coconut. Not just the oil. All it is is blended coconut, and it tastes FABULOUS!

Later on, sometime in the week? Can't remember when exactly, I made a green smoothie Even though it doesn't look green, it was filled with delicious ingredients.

"Green Smoothie"
Blend up the following, and enjoy out of a fun-shaped glass:
Large handful of spinach
1 banana
1 pear
handful of frozen berries
squeeze of lemon
a bit of water
1/4 of an avocado

SATURDAY MORNING markets are my favourite!
I woke up and looked in my fridge. Although my brain was telling me otherwise, what I really and truly wanted was something simple, and satisfying, to take me through the yoga class I had to teach. So I ate some brown rice with flax oil. Nothing fancy, but truly great.

I was just about to leave, but my HORRIBLE chocolate addiction won out, and I tasted some great chocolate I picked up the night before.

I am a chocolate snob---I can only enjoy dark chocolate. I usually don't even like 70% too much because I find it too sweet. But I was at an earth-friendly store the other day, and I had never seen this brand of chocolate before, so I thought i'd give it a whirl. It was truly delicious, and the cocoa nibs on the bottom were DIVINE.

This little beauty gave me some glorious yoga-teaching energy, and I can't wait to try another one soon!
Before my class, I had time to run to the Saturday Farmer's Market.

I forgot to take a photo of my stash right away, so the photo is from now, with half the stuff gone. I left with:

* a GIANT buttercup squash, which I am so excited to try
* 2 beautiful blue bowls handmade by this cute couple
* some THAI basil (which will show up in the stir-fry photos next)
* some new green called tat soi, which is kinda like bok choy
* a big ass bag of carrots
* some beets
* and a bag of baby red potatoes for my boy-wonder


I came home from class, and for lunch me and my guy made another "green smoothie" and decided to use my glorious new bowls for a light lunch of organic blue corn tortilla chips, homemade guacamole, and salsa. The lovely glass of milk in this photo was for my guy. It looks so good---sometimes I do miss that creamy consistency that milk provides. Nothing can really replace dairy and get that same texture.

We went for a LOVELY walk through the river valley, and camped out on a blanket in the sun for hours. After spending 5 hours outside, we were ravenous, and came home to make a thai-inspired stir fry:

In the mix was:
- ginger
- lemon grass
- cayenne
- canned straw mushrooms
- canned baby corn
- canned bamboo strings (they were out of the shoots)
- LOTS of fresh thai basil from the market
- a can of light coconut milk

We enjoyed this served over lots of brown rice! mmmmm sooo good! nom.nom.nom.
so much good food...

Stir Fry and Apple Pie** (oooh! that rhymes!)

Yesterday was full of wonderful food. My guy and I decided to stir fry it up.

Deliciously Fresh Stir Fry:

We used a bit of sesame oil in a wok, and added some freshly minced ginger and lemon grass stalks for flavour.

To make sure we hit up our daily green veggies, we added a lot of:
broccoli
sui choy cabbage

We also added:
carrots (sliced and shredded!)
mushrooms
bean sprouts

I added a bit more sesame oil throughout (2 tsp in total), along with some water. When it was almost done cooking, I added 1 more tsp of toasted sesame oil this time, as well as some cayenne, some lemon zest and a few squeezes of lemon juice, as well as one of my all time FAVOURITE MACROBIOTIC seasonings: umeboshi vinegar! We ate it served over ample short grain brown rice--macrobiotic approved!

Voila! Lovely dinner!

I also had a FABULOUS dessert. A spur of the moment creation that will definitely be repeated:

**Apple Pie a la mode (aka: apple oat bran topped with coconut milk icecream)


To make:
Dice an apple, and throw it in a pan with about ~1.5-2 cups water and a pinch of sea salt. Bring to boil and let boil for around 4ish minutes. Add in ~1/3 - ~1/2 c. of oat bran, and maybe 1/4 c. rolled oats. Let it boil for a few minutes, then let simmer until thickened to your liking! Near the end add in a bit of sweetener if you like (I added in 1 tsp of brown rice syrup). Pour into a beautiful bowl, and let it cool for a moment.Top with cinnamon....and So Delicious coconut milk icecream (dairy free, and sweetened with agave). Then try not to cry from sheer joy (because it truly is that good) :)

The quickest oatmeal loveliness ever!

So I really like oats. And oatmeal. And oatbran. My absolute favourite way of eating oats is the whole oat thing, but that takes awhile, and unfortunately, doesn't happen as much as I would like it to. Even regular stovetop oatmeal can take a few minutes (and pan washing!). BUT, I am not so much a fan of quick oats.
My solution???

Quick Oatmeal/bran (minus the quick oat part)

Take your favourite mug, and add:
~1/4 cup of oatbran
~1/4 cup of rolled oats

Then pour boiling water over top of the oats (just eyeball how much...the oats gobble it up pretty fast).
Do a little stir...maybe add a bit more water.
Then cover the mug with a plate, or whatever, to seal in the heat.
Wait for a few minutes (maybe 3?), then uncover and there you go!

Add whatever delicious toppings you like, and you're ready to feast!
This works AMAZINGLY well if you need to take a snack with you to work. All you need is a kettle at work, and you can bring the oats in a tupperware with a lid.

Today I topped mine with coconut milk, cocoa nibs, and cinnamon....mmmmm....
Sometimes I use more oats than oatbran, othertimes I used more oatbran...and depending on the size of the mug, the amount of oats might be bigger!

I also sometimes make a hot cocoa base (add some cocoa powder, spices, and amasake or ricemilk to create a liquid paste) then add the dry oats to that, then add the hot water. This is delicious too.
Here are a few photos of QUICK cocoa oats in a mug, with some cinnamon, and either a bit of maple syrup of rice syrup:

If you need some oats quickly, don't like the idea of "quick oats" and don't have access to a stove, or simply don't want to wash a pan, this is for you!