Archive for August, 2008

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Guest Post: A Question Concerning the High Price of Bread

August 27, 2008

Sagan and I sometimes go grocery shopping together and she often takes a very critical eye of the ingredients in bread. Being the one in the family who is the ‘bread winner’, I take a critical eye of the price of bread nowadays.

Where we live a large loaf of multigrain bread – not necessarily organic and still loaded with preservatives can cost almost $5 Canadian – about $4.50 U.S. I’ve noticed the price rise significantly over the past year. I suppose some of the cost is due to the high price of fuel now but I do not understand why a loaf of ‘organic bread’ costs so much more than bread that is heavily refined.

If this healthy bread is truly organic, then I assume the wheat crops and manufacturing process would eliminate chemical sprays, preservatives and the like. Wouldn’t this result in a lower cost to produce a loaf of bread? Perhaps I’m missing something here and if I am maybe one of you can tell me why this is so?

In any case, Sagan and I are going to get around this by making more of our bread and baked goods ourselves with our bread maker. Next week we will be visiting my mom who in her late seventies still bakes all of her bread and buns etc. by hand. Mixing the ingredients, letting it rise, punching it down etc. Years ago she showed me the process and I used to make my own bread but it is such a lengthy process I gave in to convenience and started to buy store bought bread most of the time. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten all of the little tricks that ensure a perfect loaf. Any of you out there who bake from scratch know that there are no short cuts in the baking process – if you make one little mistake it will not turn out right. Next week I hope to get a refresher course in bread making and have Mom show Sagan ‘the way’. These are important skills that are fast disappearing and need to be handed down.

– Sagan’s Dad

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Guest Post: Growing Herbs

August 22, 2008

We live in a south-facing condo in downtown Winnipeg. Fortunately we have a very large balcony that has permitted me to put out a half dozen large clay pots in which I planted herb seedlings including basil, oregano, thyme, dill, sage and Italian parsley. These are the herbs we use most often in our recipes.

I haven’t planted cilantro even though many recipes call for it. The fact is, none of us like the taste of it. I read once in my Food Lovers Companion that ‘coriander leaves have an extremely pungent (some say fetid) odour and flavour that lends itself well to highly seasoned food….many find that fresh coriander is an acquired taste.’ That comment is spot on and I have to say I have not yet acquired a taste for this herb. I love my food aromatic and tasty whether sweet or savory but definitely not fetid!

I can highly recommend Harron’s Cooking Guide – Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst, described as ‘comprehensive definitions of over 3000 food, wine and culinary terms. It is a great little soft cover book that I refer to all of the time when I see an ingredient that I am not familiar with. It also includes appendices with weight conversions, volumes of different pan sizes and an herb and spice chart. It’s an indispensable tool for anyone who, like me, enjoys hanging out in the kitchen a lot.

Getting back to the plants that I am growing and the original point of this post; my herbs are all mature now and beginning to bud and flower. The sage, oregano and thyme remain low, bushy and strong but the others are getting quite tall and spindly looking. My question is to any of you who grow herbs, at what point do you cut back the plants to make them bushy without damaging the plant? I have heard conflicting opinions about this – some say if I tear off the flower buds the leaves will fill out better. Any advice is appreciated!

– Sagan’s dad

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Guest Post: Best Caesar Salad Ever

August 19, 2008

This is my first experience as a ‘guest blogger’, or blogger period for that matter and I’m honoured Sagan has asked me to fill in for her while she is away.

I have been an avid cook for many years and I make almost of our meals at home. Until Sagan became interested in nutrition and cooking I never really gave the health issue much thought. I now pay much more attention to the ingredients I use and thanks to many informative discussions with Sagan almost all of our meals are completely made from scratch. We very seldom use any processed foods at all. I have recently retired and have more time on my hands this summer to cook, but you know – it really does not take that much longer at all to cook from scratch and in the end the meal is nutritious and tasty. I find that processed / pre-made meals have no real flavour at all.

Anyways, I thought today I would share with you a Caesar Salad recipe that I cut out of the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper years ago and taped into my recipe collection. It’s a yellowed dog eared piece of paper now but I’ve made this recipe so many times I hardly need to look at the recipe any more.


Caesar Salad

Ingredients:

– Romaine lettuce

– ¼ teaspoon salt

– ¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

– 3 buds garlic

– 2 anchovies

– ½ teaspoon hot mustard.

– 4 tablespoons olive oil

– 1 ½ teaspoons vinegar

– 1 egg yolk

– 4-5 drops Tobasco sauce

– 6-7 drops Worcestershire Sauce

– 1 tablespoon capers

– 1 tablespoon crumbled crisp bacon

– 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

– 2 tablespoons croutons (home made if possible!)

Method:

In a large salad bowl put salt and a little pepper. Add garlic and grind into salt with a service fork and spoon. Add anchovies and grind again.

Add one or two teaspoons hot mustard; then the oil. Add the yolk of one egg. Stir above ingredients until a creamy pate-type sauce forms. Add Worcestershire sauce, tobasco, vinegar and little more oil in order to get a good liquid type of dressing.

Add capers and stir; add a little pepper. Add greens and toss well.

Top with bacon, Parmesan cheese; toss and add croutons.


I like this recipe as the mustard gives the dressing a spicy edge and there is no mayonnaise used at all. Personally, I usually add some extra hot mustard as well as bacon. I know that all of you are very concerned about diet so you might want to use turkey bacon or something like that instead of the regular type – but I am a bacon addict myself so can’t bring myself to change that ingredient! I’m not a big fan of anchovies so I don’t add those little fish to my salad. I hope you enjoy the salad!


– Sagan’s dad

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Goodbye for now!

August 14, 2008

This is it! Tomorrow I leave early in the morning for Ontario to visit my grandparents. On Wednesday, August 20th my plane departs for Rome (!!!); we’ll be heading straight to Palermo, Sicily for 3 days. Then we’ll take the train back to Rome for 5 days before staying in Florence for another 3 days. After that, its 3 days in Venice and then back to Rome for just one night. I’ll be returning home to Canada late on Friday September 5th.

All of this traveling around means that I likely won’t be on the computer at all until I return in September, so I unfortunately won’t be blogging myself or reading your blogs during this time. However, my dad has very kindly agreed to write up some guest posts! And he will be responding to any comments you leave (providing, of course, that the Internet doesn’t try to mess with him or anything).

Have a wonderful next few weeks everyone, and I’ll be back in early September to tell you about my adventures and return to regular health blogging! I will likely return with several extra pounds around my middle (hello delicious Italian food!), excessive amounts of photographs, a considerably lighter bank account, extreme excitement about the trip as well as moving out as soon as I get home (we get possession on September 1st!), and much anticipation regarding what all of you have been up to while I’m gone. Have fun and stay healthy:)

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Cookbook Review: Quick & Healthy Recipes and Ideas by Brenda J. Ponichtera, RD

August 12, 2008

This cookbook is perfect for where I am right now. Being a student (fingers crossed I’ll be moving into an apartment with my sister on September 1st!), I need to have recipes that are non-fussy and tasty. Between work and school I won’t have a great ton of time to devote to cooking and sorting out meal plans so having this book will be incredibly useful. It details the nutrition information, size and number of servings for each dish, offers options to cook the meal several different ways (for example, using the oven or the microwave), and it also has tips on each page which suggest what other dishes to pair this one with or how to store certain vegetables etc. If you don’t know too much about cooking (Me! Me! Ooh, pick me!), then this style of cookbook is your go-to for understanding the strange and complicated world that is the kitchen. Notice the number of green stickies poking out of the top of the book- those are all of the recipes that I thought looked really interesting and yummy and wanted to review. You’re sure to find loads of recipes in here with ingredients that you like!

The coil binding of this book is great. The book falls open flat onto the required page, and each page is also very splatter-friendly. Its a book that you won’t be afraid to use. It has an enormous wealth of recipes, among them the staples like spinach salad and vegetable stock, as well as more interesting and unusual dishes like chicken stuffed in biscuits. At the front of the book is a suggestion for a 20-week meal plan, with 2 of those weeks offering recipes that do not require an oven (perfect for a hot summer day when you don’t want to be slaving in the kitchen).

There is a huge quantity of recipes in here (ranging from sandwiches, gravies, soups, appetizers, beverages, ground meat dishes, seafood, meatless dishes etc), but the first hundred or so pages have grocery lists and explanations regarding artificial sweeteners, food exchanges, and the macronutrients. There’s chapters on how to reduce fat, cholesterol, and sodium, brief exercise ideas and a number of really quick meals that you can make within about a minute for days when you’re really time-pressed. Among these quick “no recipes needed!” ideas are Breakfast Yogurt (mix fat-free or low-fat ogurt with fresh fruit and add high-fiber cereal) and Tossed Salads (top with kidney or garbanzo beans for protein): basically, this section of the book are the really obvious recipe staples that use ingredients we all will have stored at the back of the pantry but might forget about. Simplicity is best when you need to throw a meal together within seconds!

The recipes themselves are fairly easy to throw together and many of them call for ingredients you’ll likely already have on hand (or ones which could be substituted for something that you do have). I made the Fruit Milk Shake first, which is basically what I have for breakfast every morning (fat-free milk or yogurt with sliced fruit), except that this blends it all together and you add some vanilla extract (and sweetener, if desired). It was nice to have it in drinkable form, although I find cleaning blenders to be a royal pain so I’m not sure that I would make it into a drink again. However, its nice to know that if I’m ever craving a milkshake then I’ve got a recipe for one!

Chicken in a Pocket with Spinach Salad (and sauteed mushrooms on the side)

The Chicken in a Pocket was a delicious mixture of chicken, fat-free cream cheese, and green onions stuffed inside warm buttermilk biscuits topped with a sauce made of low-fat cream of chicken soup and water. The recipe uses store bought canned biscuits and canned soup, but both of these could easily be homemade for a really spectacular gourmet meal (especially because finding trans fat free canned biscuits is just about impossible). I would definitely make this one again.

We had the Chicken and Spinach Salad without the chicken alongside this meal, and it is your basic spinach salad that will go well with most other light dishes. It isn’t anything of a spectacular nature, but if you’re just looking for a simple recipe for spinach salad then this would work just fine (ie. its a good one for us students). It also has the nice addition of fruit and you could always throw on some nuts if you like to have those in your salad for extra crunch.

Basil Tomatoes

We used fresh basil rather than dried- just toss the tomatoes and basil with some chopped garlic and black pepper and you’re good to go! Makes for a nice veggie side dish, and it looks pretty. The recipe also recommends serving it on a lettuce leaf for a classy flair.

Cheese-Stuffed Potatoes

This is a photo of them before we put them in the microwave to bake. I loved this version of healthy cheesy potatoes, but the directions aren’t entirely clear. It calls for “medium baked potatoes, still warm”, which you then stuff with the cheese mixture and then pop in the microwave for 5 minutes on high. So, we cooked the potato in the microwave to get it to the warm stage and then after we had softened them and prepared them (see above photo), we popped them in the microwave to finish cooking them. Because 5 minutes seemed a little long, we just put them in for 3 minutes… but I guess even that was too long, because when we took them out they looked like this:

Oops! They still tasted really good (mashed potatoes rather than baked?), but the directions for this recipe weren’t all that clear. Even so, I’d try this recipe again and either have it in mashed form or else try cooking it for a much shorter period of time.

Oriental Noodle Soup

This was all around incredibly disappointing. There just wasn’t any flavour to it, and I’m not even sure what could be done to really give it good flavour. It only cooks for 5-10 minutes so the ingredients don’t have enough time to all meld together, I suppose.

Even though some of the directions are a bit iffy and the soup wasn’t all that tasty, I still think that this book is a wonderful addition to anyones cookbook collection. You’ll likely have to fiddle with the recipe by adding more spices than it calls for and perhaps use trial and error when it comes to the exact timing (as with the potatoes), but if you’re living alone or have no time to cook this book is very handy. I am sure that I will be putting it to excellent use when I move out next month! Most of these recipes aren’t going to really WOW you, but they are great for everyday meals, especially when you’re wanting something of a healthier variety. I can see myself using this book a lot for cooking for myself or family, but I’m not entirely sure that I would want to experiment with a new recipe from here if I were having guests over (although that Chicken in a Pocket would be well-received by everyone, I should think! You’ve just got to find the recipes that are really wonderful in here between the other more regular ones).

*Updated: Last night we had the Crispy Potato Chicken for dinner:

…and it was great! Easy to put together but it looks rather fancy; its basically grated potato baked over chicken. Yum yum. My sister suggested that some crushed prosciutto would taste great mixed into this dish and add just the right hint of flavor.

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Cookbook Review: "The Eat-Clean Diet for Family and Kids" by Tosca Reno

August 9, 2008

This excellent book was recently sent to me to review, which I was delighted to do. Tosca Reno is an inspiration to women everywhere; not only is she both a mother and a fitness model, but she also found her way after losing a significant amount of weight to be healthier and she writes a column in Oxygen magazine. On top of this, she has written several books to help people learn about nutrition and benefit from eating clean, describing her personal experiences to encourage readers of their abilities to adopt a healthier lifestyle for themselves.

The word “diet” always makes me a little suspicious, but Tosca recognizes the word diet as not necessarily associated with fads; she uses it the way that the word “diet” should be used: simply a way of eating (now, is there anything scary about that?). She emphasizes that eating clean is a way to treat your body the best way possible, so we’re not looking at hunger pains or moodiness or harmful substances, which is what most fad diets seem to unfortunately promote. No: the Eat-Clean diet is primarily concerned with our greater health and well-being and focuses on really enjoying the food that we eat.

This book is of particular interest to me, because although I have no children, I do have the same problem from time to time of trying to encourage my family and friends to eat a little healthier (or at least to accept that when I’m eating with them, I’m going to want to eat healthier!). It is incredibly difficult to get kids to eat healthy foods when they adamantly refuse, so Tosca offers all sorts of useful tidbits of information and ideas to slowly ease your children into eating healthy and adopting it as a lifestyle. She also reminds the reader that it will take a while- about 10 tries- for a child to switch their habits and learn to like something, so you’re going to have to be patient. But, if you’ve got small children in the first place, I imagine that you’re already quite patient!

When this book was first sent to me, it was an unfinished copy. The editor in me was completely fascinated and excited by seeing a book in the middle of its production! My dream is to be in a room surrounded by incomplete health books for me to read and edit at my leisure, so as you can imagine I had fun with looking through this book. However, unfortunately the binding was not too good and about 1/3 of the pages fell out! But I believe that this is due to it being an unfinished copy rather than general poor manufacturing. I will be receiving the completed copy soon and am very much looking forward to it (one of the missing parts in the unfinished copy is the nutrition information for each recipe).

The book itself is lovely to look at, with lots of colour photographs and reader testimonials dispersed throughout. There are cute little notes every few pages, with sayings like “Mushrooms are funny looking vegetables”:

Photos of really adorable children adorn the pages alongside the basic nutrition information that is offered. There is a chapter discussing the the nutrition situation at schools, a chapter about how to eat healthy at no great expense, grocery lists and nutrition ideas for special occasions, and suggestions on how to get the whole family involved in eating clean. Tosca also compares fast food to clean food and demonstrates the dramatic difference between the two. One of my favourite parts about this book is the comparison between breakfast cereals and chocolate bars; it is shocking to realize that many cereals out there are just as bad as a lot of candy bars circulating in the market. Even for someone like me, who loves to read nutrition labels, I hadn’t thought about comparing candy to cereal. It’s appalling to think of the number of parents who feed their children those kinds of cereals every single morning. No wonder children are getting diabetes and other harmful conditions and diseases (which Tosca also discusses at length).

There is a recipe section at the back of the book, which includes beautifully presented photos of the finished dish, nutrition information per serving, as well as helpful tips and a couple of vegetarian variations.

The first recipe from this book that I tried was the Ginger Spice Cookies, which everyone enjoyed immensely! These are quite cake-like with just the right amounts of molasses and spices, and the batter was also incredibly tasty (an important feature to have for a good cookie!). It only calls for 1/4 cup of fat (I used butter rather than margarine) and 1/2 cup of sugar (I reduced this amount to 1/3 cup and found that it still made for a delicious cookie, although if it had the 1/2 cup it would have a lovely amount of sweetness), so it is a very healthy cookie. The method of dropping them onto the baking sheet is very child-friendly- just take a large spoonful and slap it down! I like a non-fussy cookie like this.

I also tried the PB & J All Cleaned Up, which is the genius idea of having bread slathered with all-natural peanut butter and sliced fresh strawberries atop instead of jam. It’s the simplest alteration to make on a great sandwich, yet for some reason this idea never occurred to me. I enjoyed it and I think it would also be good to just take those strawberries and mash them with a fork to get a more jam-like consistency, if desired. But I like the presentation of the sliced strawberries! Such a basic breakfast but it looks beautiful.

The Omelet Roll Up was yummy too (but not all of my eggs fit inside my little tortilla):

All in all, these are fairly common, basic recipes that can be put together in a snap and which I think most children would enjoy without noticing them to be “health foods”: sloppy joes, pizza, granola bars, burgers, chicken fingers, fish sticks and cupcakes are among these family staples. There are also recipes for homemade ketchup, apple butter, and yogurt cheese, which most cookbooks do not offer. The information that she provides is fundamental and for the average person who won’t already know a great deal regarding nutrition, but it is all essential knowledge. Tosca has it all figured out when it comes to feeding children and I know that if I had kids I would definitely be putting this book to good use . If you have a tough time with feeding your kids or are looking for a nice starter health book for your family, this would be a great addition to the shelf!

*Update: It was my best friend Brian’s birthday the other day so I made him the Birthday Cupcakes. These cupcakes call for no fats– instead, there’s cooked pureed carrots! I had a little trouble with mixing the rest of the ingredients with the beaten egg whites, because I’d never dealt with beaten egg whites in baking before, and consequently over mixed them a little. This resulted in rather small cupcakes but once I frosted them (a mixture of yogurt cheese, vanilla, and sugar), you couldn’t even tell. They were delightfully sweet and everyone who tried them asked me if there was orange in them. Somehow, you can’t taste the carrots at all and instead they lend an orange flavour to the cupcakes. Its a very pleasant taste and was a successful venture overall!

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The Blackberry! (Phone. Not fruit. Although some blackberries would be tasty if you’ve got some and would like to share).

August 8, 2008

At the moment I am the proud owner of an ancient pay-as-you-go cell phone. It does the necessary functions that a phone should do- that is, it rings, I answer, we talk, and hang up. And it’s even got the awesome futuristic feature of having text messaging!

Excuse my sarcasm. I am grateful for my cell phone. It has served me well. The problem? It doesn’t work overseas. Or outside of the country, for that matter.

I’ve never needed anything super crazy and intense. I never saw the point in having all of those fancy features like cameras and goodness knows what else (yes, having a camera on your phone IS fancy to me!). All I wanted was a basic cell phone with caller ID, voice mail, and text messaging. And that’s exactly what I got. And its all I’ve needed for the past few years. But this week I went to the store to find out if it would work while I’m in Italy (for emergencies, because it looks as though I’ll be going to Pompeii by myself. Can you believe that the people I’m going with aren’t incredibly excited to go and see Pompeii?! It’s only one of the most remarkable historical sites ever. I can’t wait to go there and swoon over the architecture and the history. Anyways. Tangent over), and it turns out that it will not work outside of Canada. Actually, the salespeople also gave me about 3 different answers as to whether it’ll even work outside of province, so I guess I’ll find out.

I’m getting tired of this phone and its lack of abilities when compared to other, much cooler, phones. It’s time for a new one, and I said as much in exasperation to my dad as we walked out of the store. “Why don’t you get yourself a Blackberry?” He suggested.

That was possibly the last thing I ever expected to hear him say.

A Blackberry is one of the most ridiculous/awesome/useful gadgets that have been invented. It’s got just about everything, all in one device. Perfect for the supremely important CEO etc etc. All in all kind of silly for the average person.

But. I do plan on doing lots of traveling over the next few years, and I’d like to have a phone “just in case” while I’m overseas. It would also be really nice to be able to check emails from my phone and not have to pay the 2 Euros it costs to go to an Internet Cafe. Plus, it would save me the trouble from writing down important notes/plans/events on little scraps of paper which then wind up somewhere between my room, purse, work, and the car- instead, it would all be organized neatly on my Blackberry!

Can you tell that I’m smitten by the idea of getting a Blackberry?

This would just be so much fun! And useful. Highly useful. After all, I’m sure I’m every bit as busy and important as that CEO (tehe). Anyway, ever since the idea was planted in my head I’ve been having visions of Blackberry phones dancing in my head. But I want to do some quality research before I go off whimsically and buy one of these beauties. I need to figure out exactly which one is best for me and if the price is reasonable and what the contracts are like and such.

It turns out that there’s a lot of different “series” of them. I think they do that for the sole purpose of confusing us regular people who know nothing about phones. But when I get back from Italy, I think that I will buckle down and start investigating as to which one would suit me best/if I can even afford one because I imagine that they’re waaaay beyond my price range. Until then, does anyone else have a Blackberry? Or used one? Or know of someone who has one? Let me know if you’ve got any tips/suggestions regarding these things! Any info you’ve got on the Blackberry would be mega helpful right about now.

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Love your body (and the deliciousness of fiber!)

August 6, 2008

I’ve talked before about different reality TV shows and specifically the show How To Look Good Naked. Last night was one of the rare occasions that I turned the TV on, and that show happened to be on. The woman in this episode was explaining her body image at the beginning of the show and she said that she hates her body so much that she wears tights year round and her husband hasn’t seen her naked in 5 years. She said that even when they have sex (which, she says, is not very often), she wears special tights so that her husband can’t see her body.

This saddened me beyond belief. That is some intense body hatred! Can you imagine not letting your husband see you in your underwear? It’s your husband, for goodness sake!

It reminded me of something I overheard recently. Two guys were discussing what their favourite parts about a woman are physically, and you know what they liked the best? The musculature- that is, seeing the muscle in a womans leg and such- and the curve of her stomach. That’s right. If you ask any woman what she likes least about her body, chances are that her tummy is going to be right up at the top there. Perspective is really an amazing thing.

While this show was on I saw a commercial for Fiber One cereal, in which the people in the commercial are talking about how fiber “doesn’t taste good” (the point being that they’ve found fiber that does taste good, in the form of this apparently heavenly cereal). That’s like saying “all fat is delicious!” or “man, I really hate vitamin C. I mean, the taste of that stuff? Yuck.”

Is it just me or are commercials getting more and more ridiculous every day? They don’t even make sense!

Moral of todays story: love your body. All of it. And eat up your fiber!

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Granola Bars!

August 4, 2008

You knew they were coming.

I got this granola bar recipe at Culinary in the Desert (Country?). I adapted it by reducing the amount of maple syrup to 2 tbsp, using PB2 for the peanut butter, eliminating both the oil and brown sugar, adding in 3/4 cup applesauce, and using Kashi 7 Whole Grain Puffed Cereal instead of the crisped brown rice cereal. I wasn’t exactly sure what crisped brown rice cereal is and I picked up the Kashi Cereal for my dad a little while ago so I figured I’d use it for these bars (my dad likes cereal but with so many choices, he wasn’t sure which was the best choice nutritionally, so he allowed me to have my fun of going up and down the cereal aisle comparing cereals. While I’m not overly impressed with most Kashi products- I think that they’re raved about to unnecessary levels in terms of their health value, although to be fair I have yet to taste any of their products- this cereal is rather impressive. The ingredients list: whole hard red winter wheat, whole long grain brown rice, whole oats, whole barley, whole triticale, whole rye, whole buckwheat, sesame seeds. No sugar! Not too much fibre and not an extraordinarily high amount of nutrients, but at least all of the ingredients are real. For myself, I just stick with regular puffed wheat cereal if I’m in a cereal mood (one ingredient, plus it’s way cheaper and tastes roughly the same), but this cereal was just about perfect for these granola bars that I was making. I think that regular puffed wheat would not be the right consistency to be baked. Too puffy.

But these bars are so easy to make. Mix ingredients together, pour into pan, bake for 25 minutes. I love recipes that are that simple!

I tried a little taste of the bars after I first brought them out of the oven and I realized that my mistake had been in the sweetness, and here I must admit that I read the recipe wrong. I thought it said 1/4 cup maple syrup, not 1/2 cup! So I really should have reduced the amount to 4 tbsp of maple syrup rather than reducing the amount by a quarter, and if I had taken the time to read the recipe properly I would have done that. Or, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before, I should have instead added in a few chopped dates or some raisins. That would have been perfect.

But the next day I preferred the taste. You could taste more of the peanut butter flavours and the cinnamon, which was nice, but it would still be good if it were a tad bit sweeter. Making some chocolate sauce to spread over the top by combining a few squares of dark chocolate with some sugar might be just what its missing (now that they’re already baked and the extra maple syrup or some dates can’t be added in).

At any rate, if you’re tired of scouring the grocery stores in search of a decent granola bar, I suggest you give these a try. They’re healthy and easy, and if you add in that little bit of extra sweetness then they’ll taste really great too! This is another one of those recipes that I think I might fall in love with for the simple fact of its versatility. I’m sure that if you wanted to add in nuts, coconut flakes, or other dried fruit it would also be really great like that. I considered adding in a tbsp or so of cocoa powder but decided that for this first batch that would just be too many changes from the original recipe so I controlled myself. But maybe next time if I’m feeling daring I’ll attempt to do that too!

Whats your favourite granola bar? Or do you have a recipe that you like to use to make your own? Leave a comment!

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Strangers

August 1, 2008

I used to be one of the shyest girls in the world. I followed my sister around everywhere, barely spoke to anyone, and kept to myself a lot. One of my teachers in elementary school even exclaimed her astonishment to my mum one time when I actually laughed out loud in class.

I’m still shy in my own way, but I’m much more open than I used to be. This is partly because I don’t really have much choice; strangers seem to like talking to me. I think its because I appear so non-threatening that no one is too intimidated to speak to me, whereas they might be with other (taller?) strangers.

Because of this, I’ve come to really enjoy talking to random strangers. The brief conversations we have are nearly always silly, quirky, thought-provoking, and friendly. Not too long ago I was approached by a guy who starting walking down the street with me, trying to guess my name and then leading me into a store and suggesting that he buy me a zebra statue. Another time, a guy came up to tell me a joke as I walked across a bridge. Someone else who was mowing the lawn borrowed my lighter (I have it especially to use for fondues. Really. And, incidentally, was given it by another random person at a gas station) and struck up conversation as he took a break from his work.

One of my nicest encounters was on my walk to work, a couple months ago, when an old man was walking his dog. “You’re late today,” he said. “What?” “Usually you walk past here at about 9am. You’re late today.” I imagine that he sits in his living room every morning, watching the world go by before taking his dog out for a walk. And he had grown accustomed to seeing me walk by his house every day. There is something sweet in knowing that someone you knew nothing about notices you.

There have also been times when I have not stopped to speak with a stranger when I know now that I should have. Seeing a child alone in a mall. Hearing someone crying in the bathroom. Passing people who just looked like they needed a break.

And so it was that yesterday I came across a girl in her mid twenties who looked as though she were crying. Rather than continuing on my way, I stopped her to ask what was wrong. This girl poured her heart out at the first signs of encouragement, speaking so quickly and in such frustration that I could barely understand her, but it wasn’t meant to be really understood by me. She just needed to vent. And when she was done, she squeezed my hand and thanked me and walked away with a calmer expression on her face.

There’s something about a stranger listening that does something a friend cannot. There are no obligations or expectations within the relationship between two strangers. A stranger is not getting anything from listening, not the way a psychiatrist or a therapist gets your money. I think thats why I like to talk to strangers. There’s a genuine aspect in the bond between two strangers and a sort of innocence that cannot be found in a regular friendship. A stranger offers what a friend cannot.

Everyone have a great weekend and have fun getting out there, meeting new people as you go! You won’t regret talking to a person that you normally would pass by. And you might just make their day by doing so.