Sunday, January 29, 2012

1/2 Marathon Training: Blister-free Running

Because Sunday has become my long run day, I thought I'd give share some more running tips as I continue along my quest for the 1/2 marathon. Today's topic: running blisters. When I started running, blisters were never an issue for me. Little did I know that it had more to do with distance + time (for me anyway), than just the act of running, that would create the problem.

Once I got in the habit of running 4+ miles, the blisters started coming. As I increased my mileage, it got worse and worse. I'm not talking plain old blisters here, I'm talking weird ones that creep up on you in between your toes, and stuff like that. That just doesn't make the rest of your week very pleasant...

I've heard that a lot of people use special running socks, and at first I just it was just some kind of sucker way to getting runners to spend more money (running can be an expensive activity for some, especially once you get into the good pair of running shoes + fancy the Garmin timers + aerodynamic water belts,  and what have you). Up til now, all I ever was a decent pair of running shoes (I love you Aesics!) and my iPod for music, but the callouses and blisters were getting out of hand... my feet vanity was taking a real hit (yes, that actually is a thing... Half of me comes from a foot-binding culture after all.) So I started looking into options, and after some online browsing, realized that better footwear isn't just restricted to good running shoes. Enter Thorlos' Experia Socks:

One run and I was a total convert. These things make a world of difference. It's like running on clouds, or cotton candy... or some other very fluffy blister-free thing. Running has become so much easier with these. I haven't gotten a single running-induced blister or callous since I started using these. I can't rave enough about how amazing they are. That and they come in all sorts of neat colours. I actually look forward to my now 8+ mile runs just knowing my pink Experia socks will be there for me and have my back... or my feet in this case, I guess.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wednesday Wisdoms

I love that the next four days of my life will be totally swamped with dance rehearsals and performances. This was definitely one of my to-do goals for 2012 (actually it was for 2011 as well) and it seems that everything is coming together to make that happen all at the same time! On top of that, I might have another gig for March! I'm so, so dance happy right now.

Because of that + course work overload, I leave you on this lovely Wednesday with some words that have been really important to me over the last little while. These are things I both want to take into account more in my life or truths I've always known! I don't think it would hurt to repeat them (and don't let anyone tell you otherwise!):

1. On Life Choices

2. On Self-Respect

3. On Self-Love

4. On Gratitude

 5. On Truth

6. And just 'cause...

Have a great rest of your week!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Compatibility and Cake

First off:
We had an awesome meal with friends last night. By the end, our bellies were filled with way too many home-made dumplings (my speciality!), mandarins, Tsing Tao beer, and a sweet black sesame soup for dessert. If you celebrated, hope you had a good one!

So, today I wanted to share with you that there are some very important things to determine when looking for a life partner; questions like what their views on having children are, what their financial goals might be, and most of all, if you are the kind of girl who wants to bake cakes at all hours of the night or day, will your partner always unquestionably and enthusiastically agree to eat everything you make.

I know it might sound silly to think that someone you live with might not want to eat cake all the time... but when you're always concocting new things in the kitchen (which might be hit or miss), I can assume it could get tedious to always be the go-to human waste disposal unit. Since I enjoy the process of baking and cooking more than the consumption, I do need someone on the receiving end. One thing I cannot stand is wasting food... but this is part of our unspoken spousal agreement. I bake. You eat. My Prince Charming.

Tonight was one of those nights. Thanks to Pinterest (I just added a link on my right sidebar so you can check my boards out!), I've had my eye on so many new dishes to try out I had to start a page for them. This evening's culinary wonder was a pornographic chocolate cake. Seriously, I'm talking gooey decadence here, and it totally delivered:

The only request I got from Andrew was that I actually stick to the recipe (since I wasn't too keen on using booze). I think the only 3 things I actually modified (hey, it's only three. That must be a record for me!) were 1) the types of flour I used: I did 1C spelt, 1 1/2C millet flour (which I really like), and 1/2 whole wheat flour; 2) I was closer to the 1C end of the spectrum for sugar than the 1 1/2 one; and 3) I only used about 2T of rum in the glaze rather than 4.

This was probably the moistest (is that a word?) vegan chocolate cake I've ever made. I don't know if it would change the consistency, but I think I would personally actually hold off the rum next time... but definitely try this one out! It was a winner for sure!

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Paraben Problem & Natural Beauty Care Solutions

So, it's time we talked cosmetics again. This isn't a topic I get into often, but it's time I got back onto my organic soapbox for a rant. A recent scientific study just published in January has shown renewed evidence that there is a pretty direct link between parabens and breast cancer.
You might have heard of parabens before. Parabens are usually used as antimicrobials in cosmetics, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and even food (yuck). Parabens are usually absorbed through the skin and through the GI tract and blood system. The problem with parabens is that they mimic estrogen, so they can bind themselves to estrogen receptors by pretending they're the real deal. They can alter the expression of some of your genes, and change your hormone regulation (like by pretending to be estrogen), these kinds of weird bodily shifts create all sorts of dangerous developments, like the creation of breast tumour cells.

At this point, scientific studies have shown that different types of parabens have been found in almost all biopsy samples of breast tumors. The ones found were almost always those used in cosmetics. The downside is that parabens are so common in our products today, almost all commercial make-up, lotions, hair products, etc. that you use probably contain them… just check the ingredient lists on the back of your products!

The biggest culprits of breast cancer were the parabens found in underarm deodorant. Deodorant, you say? Thing is, underarms are super permeable (so, very receptive) to whatever you put on them because not only is skin permeable, but it's particularly dangerous because they're one of the body's major lymph nodes. More than other products, chemicals from deodorants have particularly been found to build up inside the body because they are deposited in the lymph nodes. To connect the dots, lymph nodes also happen to be found in the upper quadrant of the breast. When there is such a high concentration of toxins, good things don't happen…

And to think that parabens are only the beginning! I could give you a laundry list of the dangerous crap that's in mainstream cosmetics and beauty products. Think of how easily that can be absorbed into your body, and while it might not show up immediately, those dangers accumulate over time. Don't cut yourself short on life because of little vanities you can easily do something about!

So what do you do? Make sure you start by checking out the ingredient lists of your products, reading labels isn't just for food anymore. Don't be fooled by products with green or "eco" labels because they're just as likely to contain harmful chemicals, so do check. The safest products are obviously those that are clearly listed as paraben-free or that are certified organic. Here are some of my favourites:

For personal care products: My favourite mainstream lines of paraben-free products include Avalon OrganicsAlba Botanica, Dr. Bronner's, Mychelle, Pangea, Eminence. Keep in mind that these are only some of the tons of great products out there now that you can easily find at your local health food store, Whole Foods, or Trader Joe's (but you to have to check some of TJ's labels).

For hair removal products: Yes, this totally counts as beauty care you should be aware of, I love MOOM's wax. It only contains about 5 ingredients that you can easily recognize and it works amazingly well. Actually, it's the best commercial hair removal products I've ever used, and it can also be found at Whole Foods, your local health food stores, and some beauty stores (like Ulta).

For cosmetics: I highly suggest anything that's mineral based. To all my Canadian readers that you check out Dan Thompson, but  otherwise Mychelle's stuff, ZuiiBare Escentuals are great for anymore anywhere.

For deodorant: This isn't just some other hippy product, but I swear by the Crystal Stick. (Ironic thing is my mom tried to make me use it when I was a teen, while I wanted to use the crap that would make me smell like flowers like the other girls... see, moms often do know best.) It's super effective! Not only does it not contain parabens and aluminium (another culprit found in most antiperspirants), it actually prevents the bacteria that causes body odor from forming at all. Deodorants just mask a bad scent, and antiperspirants prevent your from, well, sweating (which means you're just clogging your lymph system by keeping toxins in your body because sweating is natural and good for you).

Once again, if you think organic or more natural cosmetics are too expensive, so is chemotherapy, so is palliative care. Harsh but true. If you knew there was something you could do about it, wouldn't you? 

So that's my rant for the day, I promise I'll have something more uplifting next!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA/PIPA Awareness

Do you like readings blogs? Well I do, and I quite enjoy reading them too. You might have noticed that a bunch of websites you probably use on a daily basis (Google, Wikipedia, etc.) were "blacked out" today. I tried to join the "black out" band wagon but I'm unfortunately not that tech savvy at the moment. So hopefully if you haven't looked around to find out why you have been able to freely surf the internet today, here's a really quick run down:

In very short, the U.S. Congress is currently considering two bills: one in the House of Representatives called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and another in the Senate called PIPA (Protect IP Act). Both these bills both use similar methods to further criminalize and police intellectual property infringement. Sure intellectual property piracy is a no-no, but these bills would allow the use of tactics that would severely limit our freedom of speech, freedom of information, and general freedom to surf the web.

SOPA and PIPA would give the U.S. government the ability to block pretty much any website if the site is perceived to be an “infringing site.” Search engines would be required to remove the site from their search listings, payment processors and advertisement networks would be forbidden from doing business with the site, and ISPs could be forced to block access to the site for Americans. The bill provides little detail about what would constitute an infringing site, which makes the potential for abuse far greater. Hello, potential censorship! 

At this point, I've already signed a bunch of petitions and written a few letters to my Congressman and Congresswoman and my Senator! I definitely suggest you do the same asap! To locate the contact information for your representatives, visit one of the following websites:

If you're not an American citizen, I'm sure you still use American-run websites like Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis. You can still let your voice be heard as well by sending your thoughts via this website:
And just in case you're not that motivated to come up with a letter, here's one you can just copy paste into the message box:
Dear Senator ____________, 

I am writing to you as a voter in your district. I urge you to vote "no" on cloture for S. 968, the PROTECT IP Act, on Jan. 24th. The PROTECT IP Act is dangerous, ineffective, and short-sighted. It does not deserve floor consideration. I urge my representative to vote "no" on SOPA, the corresponding House bill, and to help convince other Senators that a "no" vote is the right choice to make.

SOPA and PIPA violates our freedom of access to information. It would also put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won't have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won't show up in major search engines. SOPA and PIPA would build a framework for future restrictions and suppression. 

Over coming days you'll be hearing from the many businesses, advocacy organizations, and ordinary Americans who oppose this legislation because of the myriad ways in which it will stifle free speech and innovation.  We hope you'll take our concerns to heart and oppose this legislation by voting "no" on cloture. 

Thank you for your consideration,

Exercise your right as a citizen of a democracy today :)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Raw Chocolate Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream

This Monday, I say yay for starting out the week with a raw version of a classic indulgence! Who says you have to wait 'til Sunday for treats...

Chocolate Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream
Yield: About 4 servings

3 C cashews, soaked overnight
3/4 C maple syrup

1 1/4 C water
1 vanilla bean (or 1.5 T vanilla extact)
1/2 C frozen cherries, halved (or dried cherries*)
1/3 C chocolate chips (or more!)
1/2 teaspoon of salt

*I used dried cherries this time, but this recipe is one million times better with the frozen ones!

1. Blend all the ingredients, except chocolate chips and dried cherries, in a Vitamix or similar high-powered blender.
2. Place in ice cream maker, and follow the maker's instructions. About half way through, add in cherries and chocolate chips.
3. Serve with your favourite raw chocolate sauce, cookie, etc.

Friday, January 13, 2012

1/2 Marathon Training: My Guilt-Free "Run-Walks"

I know it sounds crazy for someone who used to snicker at the very thought of running for more than 10 minutes to say that they look forward to running 6+ miles once a week, but hey, people change. I've come to love my weekly long runs, a lot. I don't post about it often despite my crazy excitement, but my half-marathon training has been fairly smooth sailing since I started about 13 weeks ago. I actually can't believe I only have about five weeks left. With that, I thought I'd share my most recent running tip or runner's discovery with you: The Run-Walk.
Since I started running 5+ miles for my long run at about Week 10 of my training, I decided to let go of my runner's guilt complex and adopt the "run-walk" method. The point of the run-walk is to take short walking breaks at a regular pace to restore energy and to keep from overstraining your running muscles.  Marathon trainer, Jeff Galloway, is actually a big run-walk fan, and claims that it allows runners to improve their time 10 to 40 minutes during their marathons compared to those who run continuously. He also says that it really extends your capacity to run and reduces fatigue during the race. Afterwards, it'll also leave you a lot less sore and able to recover faster... so there! 

It actually took me a little bit of ego-work to accept this. I kept having runners in my head telling me that "real runners don't stop." Nevertheless, during one of my 5 mile runs a couple weeks back, I felt like I was flagging and thought, "you know what? Walk." So I sucked it up, and walked. I gave myself a minute, no more, no less, and it worked miracles. No shame. Just walking. Really, I'm just trying to avoid running for the sake of running and look like this: 
Conveniently, I'm pacing myself to run 10 minute/mile. Since then, my long runs have consisted of 9 minutes of running and 1 minute of walking, so long as I run my 1 mile in 10 minutes. So far, it's been a winning strategy. Now, I've seen this method poo-pooed all over the runner internet for being a kind of "cheat" method or not as real as if you run the whole race without ever stopping, but you know what, I'm cool with that. If it helps me keep pace, if it helps me take a breather and enjoy myself more during a gruelling 13.2 mile run, I'm going to walk those darn minutes whenever I please!

Maybe I just lack that hard-core/goal-driven trait that seems to be part and parcel to running culture, but this is working great for me. What I know is that I'm running this race for fun. I'm running this race to do something cool with my sister before her wedding. The extent of my "real runner-hood" is probably that I just bought fancy running socks (in pink of course) a couple days ago to keep from getting blisters after long runs. To me, as the French would say, running, "c'est pas la mer a boire" (roughly translated as, "it's not like you're trying to drink the sea").

To all those of you also training for races right now, try it out. Seriously, your legs will thank you for it the next day. Happy Training!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

No Cheese Pizza

Since we moved to Ottawa, we have a number of go-to places when we need a non-homemade vegan fix. While the Green Door and the Table were always our favourites, there's a charm and quirkiness to our neighbourhood's Wild Oat Bakery, which has always made us come back for more. My favourite vegan item on their menu is actually their raw "pizza," which is more of a big salad on a flax cracker. Andrew's is their Vegan "No Cheese" Pizza, which is essentially veggie toppings on a flat bread. Really the catch of that pizza is the sunflower seed-paste type thing they use instead of cheese and tomato sauce, so I knew that would have to be my focus. (For any local readers, their vegan hemp brownies or their raw truffles are to die for.)

I knew exactly what to do. We also recently went to Montreal for a long weekend to celebrate the New Year, where we rediscovered our love for Aux Vivres, probably the city's most popular organic vegan haunt. On the first night there, we randomly ordered an appetizer (the Paratha) containing their "vegan butter," which was one of the tastiest things ever. While it had nothing to do with "butter," it did have a lot more to do with being a delicious cheesy sauce. Perfect no cheese pizza sauce anyone?

So, in light of my recent desire for renewed culinary creativity, I've attempted to recreate my own version of the Wild Oat's No Cheese Pizza with my own Aux Vivres-inspired twist. This recipe will be more a la French recipe, which means no measurements, and more cooking "by feel." That's usually how my recipe are when they're best!

Vegan No Cheese Pizza 
1 pita (or similar flat bread)

For the "vegan butter" spread, blend:
tahini, nutritional yeast (a very generous amount), water, sea salt, liquid sweetener of choice

For the sunflower paste, blend:
sunflower seeds, sun-dried tomatoes, salt, water, pepper
(here you can add different spices and herbs for flavouring)

Any! I used broccoli, tomato slices, pepper, beets, avocado.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

♪ J'aime la Galette, savais vous comment?... ♪

To any of you who might know that French tune, I actually think one of my favourite holidays of the year is the Epiphany (I explained the concept a couple years back). Mostly, that's because it's when you serve my favourite dessert for dinner: la Galette des Rois. La Galette is a delicious pastry filled with an almond paste, in which you hide a "fève"(which literally means bean, but has long since been traditionally replaced by a porcelain figurine of the Virgin Mary.) The one who gets the piece with the fève in it, is declared King (or Queen) for the evening, and gets to wear a silly crown.

I've been celebrating this holiday with my family since I was a kid, so one of my inner French housewife fantasies has always been to have my own household to which I could invite friends over for dinner to eat galette. Last night allowed me to fulfill that wish, as we had an amazing night of laughter and warmth with close friends under our roof in the name of cake. After all, what better cause is there than that? It was perfect! Thanks to those of you who made it out.

Vegan Galette Des Rois
8-10 sheets of phyllo pastry*
1/3 C of organic Earth Balance margarine, room temperature
1/4 C sugar
1/2 C liquid sweetener (agave, maple syrup, etc.)
2 C almonds, without skins, ground into flour**
3/4 tube of marzipan, softened and cut up into pieces
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1 tsp of rum
1 teaspoon of almond extract
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 flax egg (1 T ground flax + 3 T of water)

*If you live anywhere civilized, you're actually suppose to use a "pâte feuilletée" but those just don't exist around here (or even have a name...). Phyllo pastry is the closest thing I've found to substitute it. I'm not enough of a fancy pastry chef to know how to make my own pâte feuilletée. It makes the process a little bit more complicated to use phyllo, but it's close enough!

** I soaked organic unpasteurized almonds overnight, peeled them and ground them into a flour. I'm sure you could use almond flour or just ground almonds.

1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. In a small bowl, make flax egg by combining ground flax and water. Let sit.
3.  Mix margarine and sugar until fluffy and well combined. Add in liquid sweetener, flax egg, vanilla, rum, and almond extract, salt and marzipan. I combined these in the blender, although I'm sure you could do it by hand or with an electric beater.
4. Mix in almond flour.
5. Lay out phyllo pastry in the centre of a pie plate (the edges will spill over the pie plate, don't worry about it, because you'll fold them in at the end). Brush on a light coating of margarine every two sheets to make it golden and crunchy when baked.
6. Spoon the almond mixture in the phyllo and spread evenly. Fold the corners of the phyllo pastry towards the centre so you can "seal" the galette closed. Try to also brush margarine in between every couple sheets and on top as well.
7. Bake for 25 minutes. When you pull the galette out of the oven, brush a layer of agave syrup to make it shiny. 
8. Place crown of choice on top and serve!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit...

... if you soak them, you won't toot. Yep, it's true. I was recently asked by a friend why I bother to soak my beans overnight before I cook them and I realized there are actually tons of reasons why:
  • Soaking beans minimizes gas because soaking them helps remove the complex sugars from the bean's outer layer that is indigestible to us. 
  • Soaking beans in hot water (I just used water I boiled in the kettle) also reduces their levels of phytic acid which helps with nutrient absorption by about 50%. This can't be achieved as well if you just try to cook them. (Sprouting before cooking is also a great way to increase nutrient absorption.)
  • Soaking beans minimizes the time you need to cook them so a) you will preserve the most nutrients from doing so (think more vitamins, minerals, etc.); and b) you'll save energy by not having to keep the burners/oven as long!
Word of caution: RINSE your beans after you've soaked them! Don't use the old water to cook them because it contains all the stuff you're trying to get rid of. That's usually why the water is thicker or darker... kinda gross, I know.

Useful, yes? Anyway, what do you do once you've soaked your beans? Well, I'm not sure about you but I decided to try my hand at my very own vegan chili & cornbread. I know that doesn't seem very innovate but when you are raised in a Chinese/French culinary household, things like "chili" or "cornbread" seem positively exotic. This is also all part of my whole goal to diversify my culinary skills. I was really pleased with the results!

Vegan Chili
1-2 T of olive oil
2 medium carrots, sliced
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
10-20 button mushrooms, sliced
1 can of tomato paste
1 T sweetener (agave, maple syrup, honey)
2 tomatoes, diced
3 C of soaked beans*
1 to 1 1/2 C of water or veggie broth
salt, to taste
chili powder, to taste
black pepper, to taste
1/2 chipotle pepper, chopped (optional)

* For colour, I used red kidney beans, black turtle beans, and great northern white beans

1. In a pot, use olive oil to fry onions and carrots until the onions are translucent.
2. Add in everything else and allow to simmer for 30-40 minutes. Pour in the water slowly to make sure there isn't too much and it becomes soupy (do note that the water levels will decrease as the chili simmers). You may also have to slowly add water in as you let it simmer.
3. Serve with your favourite cornbread and enjoy!
(I would have liked to add a can of corn to this recipe but couldn't find any... next time!)

Here's the cornbread recipe I used, I wasn't super impressed with it, but it's a good basic recipe:

Vegan Cornbread

1 3/4 C of cornmeal
1 1/4 C of spelt
1/3 C of olive oil (or any oil)
2 C milk substitute
2 tsp of apple cider vinegar
2 T of maple syrup
2 tsp of baking soda
1 tsp of salt

(image source)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Line a 9x9 pan with parchment paper or oil it.
3. In a bowl, whisk together "milk" and vinegar and let sit.
4. In another bowl, mix all the dry ingredients.
5. Add the oil and maple syrup to the milk mixture, and whisk until bubbly.
6. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and mix until well combined (don't overdo it!).
7. Pour batter into pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean! 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Raw "Calamari"

First off, Happy New Year to you all! 
Hope your year has started off with health, happiness, and light!
To those of you who make resolutions/goals, may you fulfill all those intentions!
To those of you who don't, have an awesome guilt-free year!

I can't believe it's been a whole month since I've written, and before you know it, I'm back in classes again tomorrow. This holiday season was wonderful, stressful, relaxing, healing, and so many things at the same time I don't even know where to start... I know I've always kind of written a resolution post around this time, but my goals and intentions this year are pretty intense, so I think I might actually hold off for now and go straight to the funner goods.

One of my mini-resolutions for the year is to continue on my raw food journey without having to completely ignore the fact that I do love baking and making vegan foods. I know that to be happy I want to do both. The catch is to feed the non-raw stuff to your spouse and/or friends, so you can stick to your diet while getting the fun cooking feedback too, hehe. In fact, I'm considering letting out my inner housewife and start meal planning on a weekly basis to keep it new...

Tonight, I stayed raw though. I started this year's recipe attempts with a bang, by making something that's been on my mind for about 2 years now (seriously):

Raw "Calamari" 
(convincing, isn't it?)
Yield: 1 serving (or 2 small sides)

200g of oyster mushroom, cut into strips
3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
generous pinch of salt

3/4 C ground flaxseeds
2T of herbs of choice (rosemary, thyme, etc.)
ground pepper to taste

1. In a bowl, marinate sliced mushroom with olive oil, lemon, and salt for about 30 minutes. They should be well marinated in the liquid because that's what makes the flax stick.
2. In a separate bowl, combine ground flaxseeds with herbs, and pepper to make "breading".
3. Mix flaxseed mix with the mushrooms and stir 'til they are coated and look breaded.
4. Transfer mushrooms onto dehydrator sheet at 110 for 2-3 hours or until it reaches desired levels of chewiness (or crunchiness). 

I first got the idea in one of Sarma Melngailis's recipe books and never got around to making it because it was based on king oyster mushrooms and they've been really difficult to find organic. However, the stars are in my favour this year. So yesterday when I found organic oyster mushrooms (not king) at Nicastro's in the Glebe, I knew they would do the trick. The recipe ended up being pretty low maintenance. I served it with a salad and homemade ketchup (tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, and sea salt). It was just like I remembered... Delicious!

Here's to a new year of foodgasms and culinary creativity! (Along with all those serious fitness goals :)