I’m off to England!

Hi everyone!

Today I’m boarding a plane at 8:55 am for my first ever trip overseas. My sister is an au pair in England for the year and she has some time off, so we’re going to be spending the next 12 days frolicking around England.

london Picture credit to Henri1407 via pixabay.com

I have some posts scheduled to go up during this time, but otherwise I won’t be online much.

See you back on the 12th!

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10 tips for shopping at farmers markets

Farmers market season is in full swing here in Ontario – and I am loving it! But navigating the market can be confusing and overwhelming – sometimes it’s hard to know what to buy, where to spend your money, and how to make the most of your farmers market experience.  So today I’m sharing my top 10 tips for shopping at farmers markets:

10 tips for shopping at farmers markets

1. Shop around

Walk around and visit all the vendors before deciding what to buy. This way you can be sure to get the best deals and the best quality. Last time I was at the market I bought the first raspberries I saw, but after buying them I realized they were mushy! There were much better looking berries at other stalls, so I wish I’d shopped around first.

10 tips for shopping at farmers markets

2. Bring your own bags and containers

You probably already bring your own reusable tote with you, but have you thought about bringing your own containers? I like to bring tupperware with lids for my berries and cherry tomatoes so that they stay protected in my bag. I will also bring old plastic bags from the grocery store for things that I don’t want to put directly in my tote, like beets that still have some dirt on them. Vendors like it when you do this because it means they can keep their containers and reuse them, and save money on buying bags!

3. Talk to the vendors

Talking to the vendors is a great way to learn more about your produce and even pick up some cooking or recipe tips. They may even cut you some deals. One time I complimented a vendor on her gorgeous beets, and she gave me 50 cents off the price – she’s now my go-to person when I need beets. Another time I asked a vendor about a variety of apple I wasn’t familiar with, and he gave me a few free ones to sample!

4. Question the source

I don’t know about other farmers markets, but at mine there are some vendors that sell their produce directly from the food terminal. Even though much of this produce is still local, I prefer to buy my produce from the farmers themselves. So ask questions to find out where your food is coming from! Or just use your judgement: if you see blueberries at a farmers market in Ontario in June, chances are they are not local. If you’re not sure when a crop is available here in Ontario, check out this handy guide from Foodland Ontario.

10 tips for shopping at farmers markets

5. Go early

I know some people say to go late so that you can get the best deals, but by the afternoon on a summer’s day, most vegetables are looking pretty sad and limp. Not to mention some hot selling items like early season berries might already be sold out. I much prefer to go first thing in the morning to get my pick of the freshest produce!

6. Don’t go in with a plan

So this is the opposite of what I usually tell people. When shopping at the grocery store, it’s always a good idea to have a plan and stick to it so that you don’t overbuy. But when it comes to farmers markets, you never know what is going to be there or what will be the freshest. I like to just go in without a plan and buy what looks the best to me. I find the best meal inspiration comes from the farmers market!

10 tips for shopping at farmers markets

7. Connect online and on social media

Find out if the vendors at your market have websites and/or social media accounts and connect with them to be in-the-know about their crops, their favourite recipes, special deals, etc.

8. Be picky

Don’t be shy about making sure you get the best quality produce. Ask the vendor if you can take a quick peak at all the tomatoes in a basket to make sure they are fresh and not damaged; open a carton of farm-fresh eggs to look for cracks; give zucchini a quick squeeze to make sure they are firm. It’s okay to make sure you are paying for the best quality! Another tip is to ask the vendors when something was picked. Some things like beets and potatoes are good for longer periods of time, but if berries and leafy greens weren’t picked that morning, I would find another place to buy them!

10 tips for shopping at farmers markets

9. Ask if you can customize

Often when I’m shopping at farmers markets, I’m just buying for one person. So I may not need 4 zucchinis at a time or a whole basket of potatoes. And most of the time when I ask the vendor if I can buy half, they are happy to accommodate.

10. Enjoy it!

Set aside a chunk of time to go to the farmers market so that you don’t feel rushed. Chat, sample, dawdle, and enjoy the experience!

Do you shop at a farmers market? What are your tips?

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Wheat berry salad with tomatoes and basil

It seems like ever since I finished my dietetic internship a week and a half ago, all I’ve been doing is eating out at restaurants!

Last Monday I drove to London to get lunch with Sam. We went to The Church Key, which is a bistro-pub on Richmond Row that gets great reviews. My open faced steak sandwich with sauteed peppers & onions and buttermilk ranch mornay sauce definitely got my approval. And so did the company – we had a great time catching up!

The Church Key Bistro-Pub

The next day I went to the an LCBO cooking class and four course meal. You can read about my experience in this post!

Wednesday I had plans to go on a walk and grab dinner at Lettuce Love Cafe with my friend – I got the Power Bowl with quinoa, braised kale, sweet potatoes, black beans, sauteed mushrooms, avocado, tempeh, and tahini sauce. I get this bowl all the time and love it!

Lettuce Love Cafe Power Bowl

Thursday was a mother-daughter shopping day in Toronto, and we decided to take advantage of Summerlicious to get a 3 course meal at Sassafraz for only $25. It’s such a steal! My gazpacho starter was good, but the real highlight was this BC chinook salmon with parsnip and fennel hash, green beans, and Bearnaise sauce. For dessert mom and I shared a cheese plate with a raisin compote and berries.

Sassafraz

I also ate out over the weekend, although it was less gourmet and more along the lines of 2 am pizza and a greasy Sunday breakfast. Hey, it happens.

But after all that eating out, I’ve been craving fresh, homemade food this week! Enter this salad. I based it off a salad I’ve had at the Whole Foods salad bar, and it turned out great. With local tomatoes and basil straight from my garden, you can’t really get any fresher!

Wheat berry salad with tomatoes and basil

Wheat berry salad with tomatoes and basil | Nut free and vegan

Serves 4

1 cup wheat berries
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
2/3 cup diced cucumber
2/3 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced sweet onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine wheat berries with 3 cups of water and bring to a boil in a covered pot. Reduce heat and let simmer for an hour. When they are done, drain them and rinse under cold water.

Shake in colander to get rid of excess water, then combine wheat berries with the tomatoes, cucumber, carrot, celery, onion, and basil.

Then in a small dish combine the oil and vinegar. Mix the dressing into the salad and add salt and pepper to taste. Don’t be stingy with the salt – it really helps bring out the flavours! Top with more basil for garnish.

Wheat berry salad with tomatoes and basil

What’s your favourite thing from the Whole Foods salad bar?

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LCBO Cooking Class at Millcroft Kitchen

I love the LCBO – and no, not because I’m a wino!

What I love about it is how they celebrate food and the pleasure of making it and enjoying it – with a complementary drink of course. I’ve been a fanatic of their magazine “Food and Drink” for years, and just recently I discovered they actually host cooking classes at select locations!

LCBO cooking class

I finally had the opportunity to try an LCBO cooking class at the Millcroft location in Burlington last Tuesday. It was called “The Best of the Season” dinner and it was taught by Chef Tobias Pohl-Weary of the Red Canoe, a local bistro.

LCBO cooking class

It was just an observational class, which meant we sat and watched while he cooked and explained. Good food without having to put in any work? That’s fine by me! Oh and did I mention there were wine pairings for each course? Even better!

Course 1: Local sweet pea and tarragon gazpacho

This was served with a scallop ceviche, but due to my allergies I had to have it left off. I liked this dish – although it was very garlicky! I also learned a neat tip that if you blend your gazpacho with olive oil, it emulsifies it and lightens the texture.

LCBO cooking class

Course 2: Heirloom tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad with maple-Merlot reduction and grape seed oil and basil puree

This was awesome! I like the way he revived the typical tomato and cheese pairing by using a basil puree and the unexpected flavour of Merlot.

LCBO cooking class

Course 3: Smoked heritage chicken served with summer sausage and potato casserole and sweet balsamic onion jam

I really loved the onion jam, but everything else was pretty mediocre. Maybe it’s because I’ve never really been that impressed by smoked chicken – I’ll take a nice brined and roasted chicken over smoked chicken any day! But if the fancy ever strikes, I learned how to make a stove-top smoker that can be used for not only chicken, but other meats, fish, cheese, or even tofu!

LCBO cooking class

Course 4: Sweet buttermilk biscuits served with whipped cream, strawberries, and chocolate mousse

This was my favourite course! The biscuit was topped with turbinado sugar, so it had a nice sweet crunch to it. And the mousse was soft, and rich, and everything a mousse should be.

LCBO cooking class

We got to take home the booklet of recipes with us, which is great because I can almost guarantee I will be making that mousse recipe soon! I also plan on playing around with wine reductions and seeing what other flavours I can use. I may or may not make the other recipes again, but I can definitely say I came out of that class inspired and with a few new tips under my belt!

Have you ever been to a cooking class before? What was it like?

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Cacao avocado pudding

It has been quite a week over here guys! First I graduated from dietetic internship and just yesterday I got my temporary RD license. Which means I’m now Chelsea Allen, RD!!! I still have to write the Canadian Dietetic Registration Examination in November to get my permanent license, but the Dietetic Act permits those of us with a temporary license to still use the RD title.

I think I’ve had a constant grin on my face since getting the email yesterday. I’ve been wanting this so badly for the past 4 years, and now I’m finally there! It’s funny though because being a dietitian wasn’t always my plan – it actually took me a while to find my passion and it wasn’t until my third year of university that I figured it out. When I first started university at 18, I never would have guessed I would eventually be a dietitian.

But I think a lot of things have changed since then. Back then I wore Abercrombie and American Eagle, and now I wear Aritzia and J Crew. Back then I was a perfectionist, and now I value balance. Back then I had a LiveJournal, and now I write a blog. Back then I ate bucket loads of chocolate pudding from my dorm cafeteria, and now I’m making cacao avocado pudding.

Cacao avocado pudding

If you had told me back in first year university that pudding could be made with avocado, I would have laughed in your face. Maybe you’re laughing in my face right now… But hear me out!

Cacao avocado pudding

Avocado lends the perfect creamy base, and its mellow taste is masked by the cacao and sweetness of dates. The result is a sweet, smooth, chocolatey pudding that is a great dairy-free alternative for allergies and vegan diets. Not to mention it’s bursting with healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamin B6, folate, potassium, and magnesium!

Cacao avocado pudding

Cacao avocado pudding | Gluten free, nut free, vegan

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 4 Medjool dates in 3 tbsp boiling water and left to soak for an hour
  • 2 tbsp cacao powder
  • Optional: 3 tbsp shredded coconut

Directions

Combine avocado, dates with soaking water, and cacao powder in a powerful food processor (I have a Cuisinart 12 cup food processor – I’ve also tried this in a mini food processor, but it did not blend the dates as well). Blend until all ingredients are combined and there are no chunks of dates. Spoon into 2-3 small bowls or ramekins and top with shredded coconut (optional).

Cacao avocado pudding

How have you changed in the past 5 to 10 years?

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Graduation dinner at Earth to Table Bread Bar

Friday I graduated from dietetic internship!!! I’ve been waiting for this day to come for the past 10 months – I just couldn’t wait to get out there on my own in the working world. But now that it has passed, I’m a bit sad. This internship has been frustrating, tearful, and even discouraging at times. But also full of learning and self discovery. I seriously feel like such a different person now.

Well, in some ways… I guess some things don’t change.

11July5

That picture on the right was taken on Friday during the graduation ceremony for the Hamilton Health Sciences dietetic interns. It was a brief afternoon ceremony with just the interns, our friends and family, our dietitian preceptors, and other individuals involved in the program – it was a really nice time, but I think all of us interns spent the whole thing in disbelief that we are finally done!

11July6

After the ceremony we had an hour to kill before our dinner reservations, so we went to The Courtyard for a round of drinks. I had the Robert Mondavi cabernet sauvignon, which I loved! Robert Mondavi wines were the first ones I actually liked when I started drinking wine about five years ago.

At 5:30 we headed next door for our reservations at Earth to Table Bread Bar. I’ve been here a handful of times before, but no one else in the group had. They were all really excited to try it out after hearing my rave reviews.

I started with the arugula and fennel salad with sunflower seeds and fontina, which was really good. My mom also loved her kale Caesar salad, which I’ve had before. JZ was more iffy on it – apparently it tasted too healthy!

Earth to Table Bread Bar

Earth to Table Bread Bar has a variety of things on their menu from burgers to mac & cheese to porchetta on a bun. But what they are most famous for is their pizza, which never lets me down. This time I went for the Gusto pizza – a new addition on their menu. It’s made with tomato sauce, mozzarella, rapini, sausage, chili peppers (which I subbed for roasted red pepper), olive oil, and garlic. It was a bit soggy in the middle, but I still loved it!

Earth to Table Bread Bar

The restaurant staff knew it was a special day for me because of Twitter, and they made it even more special by sending us out a complimentary dessert platter. There were lemon squares, vanilla cheesecake with sour cherries, and brownie with toffee bits – I sampled them all and was not disappointed. Big thanks to the Bread Bar staff for the thoughtful gesture!

Earth to Table Bread Bar

I finished the day stuffed, happy, and proud. And maybe a bit scared of the upcoming job hunt… but I’ll worry about that after my trip to England in a few weeks. For now, it’s time to enjoy freedom for a bit!

Earth to Table Bread Bar on Urbanspoon

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Is coconut oil good for you?

The nutrition world loves to debate about things. From saturated fat’s effect on heart disease to the existence of gluten sensitivity, there are always arguments going back and forth amongst professionals. And because I love a good debate as much as the next person, I thought I’d jump in with my two cents about one of the most hotly debated topics as of late: coconut oil.

Is coconut oil good for you?

That’s the big question everyone has been wondering these days: is coconut oil good for you?

Before I can answer that, I need to take a step back and look at the evidence. So you might have heard that coconut oil is a good source of a type of fat called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which is correct. On average, coconut oil is made up of about 86-93% saturated fat with over 65% of that saturated fat being the medium chain kind (1).

These MCTs act differently in the body and get rapidly absorbed directly into the bloodstream, rather than going a lengthy route through our lymphatic system like other fats (2). From the blood, they go right to the liver where they tend to get oxidized rapidly rather than getting stored as fat (3).

So far this all sounds good, but what does it mean for our health?

Is coconut oil good for you?

Source

To answer this, I’m going to separate my points into each supposed effect of coconut oil that you may have heard about in the media:

Metabolism: MCTs may slightly increases metabolism, but the longest study on this was only several days long. MCTs may have no effect on metabolism over a longer time period (3).

Weight: Some studies showed that it may decrease waist circumference, and this was most evident in men. But the subjects ate a restricted diet and had 2 tbsp of coconut oil per day, which may not be realistic for some people (4). There are also some studies that show that coconut oil causes more weight loss compared to other fats (5), but the evidence for this is not consistent.

Cholesterol: Good news – coconut oil seems to increase your HDL cholesterol (that’s the good stuff)! It also raises LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff) as well, but not as much as butter does (6).

Nutrition aside, one of the benefits of coconut oil is that it is a very stable fat and doesn’t tend to go rancid very easily. It also has a high smoke point, so it is better for higher temperature cooking like stir frying.

The bottom line: Coconut oil may not be the miracle oil that it’s promoted as in the media, but I think it definitely has a place in a healthy diet, especially for use in high temperature cooking. But I wouldn’t recommend using only coconut oil in your kitchen, because then you’d be missing out on the awesome benefits of other fats, like those in olive and flax oil. Like all aspects of our diet, I think a good balance is important!

Chelsea’s Healthy Kitchen recipes using coconut oil:
Coconut oil chocolates
Nut free coconut cream pie Larabars
Raw chocolate chip cookies

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Do you use coconut oil? What’s your favourite use for it?

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The first step to weight loss

The first step to weight loss

As a soon to be RD, I can’t even tell you the number of times I’m asked by my friends, family, and random people on the street how they can lose weight. I get asked about juice cleanses, detoxes, superfoods, you name it. And then I give them the answer they all don’t want to hear:

“It doesn’t work like that.”

You can do all the juice cleanses you want, but the only weight you’re going to drop is water weight. And then when you allow yourself real food again, you might even put on a few extra pounds because in your excitement to chew solid food, you overeat.

What I always tell people is that the first step to weight loss is this: accepting that you need to make a permanent lifestyle change.

This doesn’t mean throwing all your junk food and microwaveable dinners in the garbage the second you get home, buying a gym membership, stocking your fridge with 10 bunches of kale, and buying a CSA at an organic farm all on the same day. Because that will probably have the same effect as jumping into a juice cleanse. You’re just going to overwhelm yourself and soon settle back into your old familiar lifestyle.

Instead, let yourself dwell on the idea of a lifestyle change for a while. Think about it, imagine what it would look like for you, ask yourself if you’re ready for it. Accept it.

And when you are ready, start slowly.

Think of what you can realistically do.

Does ditching the convenience foods and cooking your meals from scratch sound overwhelming? Then try starting with just cutting up some vegetables to keep in your fridge for quick snacks. Not ready to train for a 5k? Then try out group exercise classes at your local gym.

That’s how I did it when I made changes to my life six years ago – I started slowly and incorporated realistic but permanent changes to my life. I started working out at my local Goodlife Fitness for the first time in my life. I only did 20 minutes on the elliptical or bike to start out, but starting slowly helped me get familiar with it. At the same time I ditched pop and stopped eating out so much. That’s it. 3 small changes. And by the time I was comfortable with those changes, I was confident and ready to tackle more.

That’s how weight loss works. Not crash dieting, not juice fasts, or any of the other crazy diets out there. Just slow, gradual lifestyle changes. And the first step to doing that is simply accepting it.

This post was written as part of the GoodLife Fitness Blogger Ambassador Program; however all opinions expressed are my own.

Did you ever undergo a lifestyle change? How did it happen for you?

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Why health claims and symbols aren’t health promoting

This week the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Health Check program announced that it is ending. I’m sure you’re all familiar with that red check mark on certain products at the grocery store – the check mark that indicates these products are supposedly good for you.

health check - Copy (2)

Well, soon you won’t be seeing them anymore because the program is ending, giving the reason that it is “no longer the right program for the time”.

And I wholeheartedly agree.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big supporter of efforts to get people eating healthier. But when it comes to symbols and nutrient claims, though they have good intentions, they’re sending out the wrong message.

Why health claims and symbols aren't health promoting

Because the bottom line is that they promote packaged foods over whole foods.

Tomatoes, basil, garlic, and onions – all healthy whole foods – don’t have symbols and claims on them. A jar of Heart Smart Prego pasta sauce has a Health Check. Homemade pasta sauce is obviously going to be a whole lot better for you, but consumers will be persuaded into buying that pasta sauce because a) it’s apparently “healthy” and b) it’s quick and easy.

People get won over by the symbols and claims on the package, and then they totally overlook the nutrition facts table and the ingredient list. But no matter what the front of the box says, it’s always a good idea to turn it over and check out the ingredients and nutrition facts table!

If you turned over that jar of sauce you’d see sugar as the 3rd ingredient on the list, and the nutrition facts table would tell you that half a cup of the product has 10 g of sugar. The World Health Organization’s draft guideline on sugar intake recommends that sugars should contribute less than 5% of your total daily calorie intake for the best benefits, which is about 25 g. So if you have half a cup of that pasta sauce, that’s almost half of your daily sugar intake right there.

My other beef with health claims and symbols is that it doesn’t even consider the other junk in the product. Take a look at Healthy Choice Gourmet Steamers, which have the Health Check symbol. But what it doesn’t tell you on the front of the package is that along with your dinner, you’re also getting soy protein isolate, sodium phosphate, and carrageenan. So lots of additives, but not a lot of real food. One of these dinners has only a measly half cup of vegetables and about 50 g of chicken. A healthy choice? I’d think again. You’d be much better off making your own stir fry from real, whole foods.

That’s really what it really all comes down to: eating whole foods. And we don’t need health claims or symbols to know that those are good for us!

What are your thoughts?

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Confessions of a busy blogger

I feel like I’m kind of flying by the seat of my pants with the blog lately. My weekdays are taken up by internship and my weekends are often filled with adventures with the boyfriend, exploring local veg fests, and catching up with friends. Life is grand, but unfortunately it leaves little time for recipe testing or blogging.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I did find some time this weekend to play around in the kitchen, so I tried making an Asian kale salad… but unfortunately it turned out pretty tasteless.

14June1

So I opted to stick to already tried and tested recipes, like these flourless peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, swapping in soy nut butter for the peanut butter. I mean, you can’t ever mess up when soy nut butter and chocolate are involved, am I right?

7June1

Those cookies also provided some much needed comfort after seeing my sister off at the airport on Thursday. She’s nannying in England for the next year and I might not see her until Christmas! On the plus side, that means I get to raid her closet and steal her dehydrator while she’s gone (pretend you didn’t read that Hayley!).

We had a nice going away dinner for her on Wednesday at our favourite restaurant Blacktree. My favourite dish was my appetizer – sea bream with creamed corn, red pepper compote, and parsnip crisps. Actually, who am I kidding? My favourite part was the raspberry cheesecake for dessert, but I forgot to take a picture of it. #bloggerfail

11June1

Another blogger fail? Going to Rise Toronto over the weekend and only taking one picture of a sign. Oops. It was an awesome event though with lots of great eco-friendly, sustainable vendors supporting the theme of “raising the standards for a healthier life”.

15June1

I was really excited to see Greenhouse Juice Company there, a Toronto based company I’d heard about through the Twittersphere. I think I drank about $30 worth of samples, so I didn’t feel too bad about spending $8.50 on a small romaine, kale, celery, and apple juice.

15June2

The rest of my Sunday seemed to fly by after that and now it’s back to the grindstone at the public health unit where I’m running some group nutrition education sessions and writing up some reference material. And I’ve also got to squeeze in working on a report, meeting up with a friend, and my dad’s birthday… busy busy! If you get another “Confessions of a busy blogger” post next week in place of a real content, you now know why!

How do you find the time to create blog content when you’re busy?

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