Remember when you were a child, and your parents took you to Dairy Queen, and you were allowed to get a dipped cone, and you would watch with fascination as the teenaged Dairy Queen employee took that swirl of soft serve and dipped it into the vat of chocolate, and then you felt like you just witnessed something completely magical as that chocolate hardened into a perfect, scrump-dilly-umptious treat?
There are so many things I love about this time of year: the sun rising as I'm leaving the yoga studio in the early morning, the sun setting as I'm getting ready for bed at night, leaving the house without multiple layers on, and little green shoots coming up in the garden. I love how the trees are leafing out and the grass is greening up, and I really, really love the return of salad season.
If there's one thing I love to do, it is to create a dessert that features all sorts of nutritional goodness - especially if no one eating it can tell that there are "secret ingredients."
Oh, strawberries! Could there be a more perfect fruit? Sweet, juicy, and so tantalizingly colourful, strawberries are the stars of the berry world, in my opinion. One cup contains 47 calories and 141% of your daily total of Vitamin C, so eating them is exactly akin to boosting your immunity in a very tasty way.
It doesn't matter how long Seinfeld has been off the air: whenever I hear the words "Kung Pao," I think of George Costanza. George likes spicy chicken! Fortunately for me, my children have started to take an interest in Seinfeld reruns, and so they do not immediately raise their eyebrows and exchange meaningful glances when I repeatedly say "Nicole likes spicy cauliflower!" while preparing this meal.
Nutritional yeast is a common staple in plant-based cooking, and of all the ingredients I use, it is the one I get questioned about the most. Nutritional yeast is as common as salt in the cupboards of those of us who have been following plant-based diets for a long time, so I sometimes forget that not everyone is acquainted with this tasty little flake. For every question I receive, I assume there are many people who wonder about it but do not want to ask.
May I take a moment to applaud a certain member of the palm family? If fruit is nature's candy, then the Medjool date is nature's gummy bear, and I mean that in the best possible way. Medjool dates are exceptionally sweet little things, with the vast majority of their nutritive value coming from naturally-occurring glucose and fructose. That means that they can be used to make sweet treats in a natural, no-processed-sugar way.
There are so many wonderful things about Spring, the most notable being it marks the end of winter. In spring, I always think of the Ingalls family in The Long Winter, wan and pale and starving, seeing the tiny blades of green grass sprouting and being filled with hope.
Oh, Spring! It's such a happy season, with its feelings of renewal and growth, and with the sudden mildness that leads to the shedding of woolly layers. It's also the season for asparagus, one of my favourite vegetables.
Many years ago, while my firstborn was still in utero and my second was just a twinkle in my eye, I had a vision about what motherhood would be like. I imagined pushing my children on swings in the playground, coffee dates with my girlfriends while our toddlers quietly played together and our babies slept peacefully. I also imagined a weekly family night in which we would all happily eat snacks and play board games.
As you know, things don’t always go as you imagine they will.
In my house, spring is cake season! Starting with my older son's birthday in March, and ending with my dog's birthday at the end of May, there is an occasion for a cake every three weeks. Hooray for cake!
However, even the most enthusiastic baker (i.e., ME) gets a little weary after the third or fourth cake. It's tempting then to just grab a box of cake mix and a container of frosting. I understand! It seems like the easiest solution: grab a box of mix, dump it into a bowl, beat it with some water, oil, eggs...but wait!
Let's set the scene: it's 9:00 pm. The school bake sale is tomorrow, and you just found out over dinner that you were "volunteered" to bring two dozen cupcakes. You've finished helping with homework, overseeing baths, getting the kids into bed, AND baking the required cupcakes. You pull the beautiful, fragrant cupcakes out of the oven only to realize that you have no frosting and are all out of butter and icing sugar.
If you have young children, the thought of including them in your kitchen activities may seem overwhelming. Before I had children, I imagined us happily cutting out sugar cookies together, neatly, in a perfectly clean and sunshiny kitchen. The reality was much messier and featured me trying to figure out exactly how much flour would need to be re-added to the mixture to make up for the massive amount on the floor and countertops.
Did you know that most commercial tomato sauces and soups contain added sugar? Even ones touted as being healthy choices contain added sugar, either in the form of cane sugar or in glucose/ fructose form. I'm not anti-sugar, but I prefer it in my desserts - not my spaghetti.
March is a lovely month, isn't it? Even if it's blizzarding outside - which it is, right this minute - there is still the promise of spring. There's more daylight, the weather starts to become milder, and if you're very lucky there might even be greenery starting to poke out of the thawing ground.
I don't mean to make you jealous, but I married into a grape-growing family. This has many, many benefits: at our wedding, each guest was given their own bottle of Gewurztraminer with a personalized label, we get to spend our vacations hanging around a vineyard, and in the fall, we share in some of the harvest excitement. Although my in-laws are now retired and have sold most of their property, they still live on two acres of land with several rows of Concord grapes. And this is one of the greatest benefits of all - for a prairie girl like me: UNLIMITED CONCORD GRAPE CONSUMPTION.
I admit, I'm not the most with-it person sometimes. It often takes me a long time to realize that something is a "thing." For example: the sudden, disturbing resurgence of acid-wash jeans. I kept seeing girls wearing jeans similar to my 1987 favourites, and I had myself convinced that those girls were simply unique individuals, but after a while I realized: acid-wash jeans are a "thing" again. I know, I weep for humanity too.
Remember Eat-More candy bars? I have not eaten one for many years, but the old cowboy commercial with the skipping record has been burned into my brain since childhood. The slogan back in the Eighties was "A Good Chew - And Peanuts Too." I wasn't a huge fan of Eat-More bars back then, to be honest; if I received any for Halloween I probably would have traded them, and I certainly wouldn't spend my allowance on them during weekly after-school trips to the corner store.
We really never should judge by appearances, should we? And yet, this salad is so pretty, so esthetically pleasing, that I can't help admiring it. I'm one step away from singing to it: you are so beautiful to me, can't you see? A little while ago I was on the morning news, talking about New Year's resolutions and plant-based diets, and to illustrate different protein sources I took a variety of jarred salads into the studio.