Birthday Cake Smoothie

On my birthday, my mom used to let me eat cake for breakfast.

She’d wake me up and bribe me down to the kitchen with it. CAKE! FOR! BREAKFAST! I’d leave school sugar high and pumped that I’d ditched the oatmeal for once. (Thanks for being cool, mom!)

Even though she doesn’t wake me up on my birthday anymore, the craving for that a.m. cake fix is a time-honoured tradition that I cannot and WILL NOT ignore. (I’m an adult damnit!) This smoothie is my 27-year-old compromise. It combines the YUM of cake mix with healthful ingredients like a l’il protein powder, yogurt, and frozen strawberries, a throwback to all the birthday breakfasts that have come before, covered in summer fruit. (Happy Summer Solstice, y’all!) I know, I know, healthy schmealthy… But a smoothie made with ice cream is just a milkshake, and that’s a different blog post.

Side note: lots of recipes I saw said sprinkles were optional… That is false. Sprinkles are only optional if you hate happiness or have food allergies to dye.

Birthday Cake Smoothie
Serves 1 (Easy to double and share the joy!)
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1/2 c. frozen strawberries
1/2 banana, frozen in chunks
1/2 c. plain or vanilla yogurt (regular or Greek)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 c. white or yellow cake mix, dry*
2 tbsp. vanilla protein powder**
1/3 c. cup almond (or other) milk
Sprinkles(!!!!)

1. Combine milk, yogurt, extract, and frozen fruit in blender until smooth. Add in protein powder and cake mix, blending again, scraping down sides if needed.

2. Add a few extra tablespoons of milk at a time if the consistency needs tweaking to your liking.

3. Top with sprinkles and a dusting of extra cake mix and enjoy! Happy birthday! …Or Wednesday… Or whenever you want this. Mama isn’t here to judge.

*If you’re wondering what to do with extra cake mix, Buzzfeed has lots of suggestions! Alternatively, you can go to your local bulk food store and buy a specific amount just for this! Or make this a bunch more times.

**If you don’t have protein powder just sub this with MORE cake mix!

Simple Asparagus with Roasted Feta

My mom does an amazing version of this dish where she uses shaved parm instead of feta—but I feel feta is a little more summer-y and fresh.  Either way, it was probably the only reason my sisters and I ever ate asparagus growing up… Cheese could talk me into anything! You could serve me shredded rubber tire-fire nachos with queso on top and I’d be delighted.

This recipe seemed almost too simple to post, and yet it’s stupid to avoid sharing an idea or a flavour combination because of its simplicity. “Blog food,” as I sometimes think of it, stresses me out in its attempts to be so unique that it becomes exhausting.

I also couldn’t go an entire spring season without posting a recipe featuring asparagus, It’s probably a law somewhere.

Simple Asparagus with Roasted Feta 
Serves 2 – 4
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2 bunches asparagus, rinsed
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 – 3/4 c. crumbled feta cheese
Coarse kosher salt, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (You may need more than one sheet, just make sure there’s enough room for the stalks to get roasty.)

2. Clean the asparagus by snapping off the bottom of the stalks, which will break at a natural point. Discard the inedible woody parts that break off.

3. Arrange the asparagus on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, tossing to coat. Lightly sprinkle with salt.

4. Place in oven and roast for 10-15 minutes or until just starting to brown.* Remove and sprinkle with crumbled feta. Return to oven for 10 minutes until stalks have some crispiness and feta has melted.

*Asparagus stalks can be very thick or very thin—adjust cooking times accordingly!

Buckwheat Pancakes with Strawberry-Ginger Compote and Date Syrup

Compote is lazy jam. Date syrup is dates blended with water. I’m telling you this because dishes with a bunch of components often sound more complicated than they actually are. Let me smash that: I went for an 8km run Saturday morning, and afterwards these pancakes came together before I was even tempted by my frozen donut stash.

The compote and the syrup are a (pan)cake walk with a little pre-planning. I made them in just minutes on Friday night, so they were table-ready and waiting for breakfast. Before anyone starts yelling about what’s wrong with good ol’ fashioned maple syrup, let me say that post-Whole30, sugar and gluten have become a little scary, so to ease back into grains and syrups, these are gluten-free and the toppings have no added sugar.

The juicy seasonal strawberries with warming ginger match the cinnamon sweetness of the syrup, and together, they lighten the heavier texture and flavour of the buckwheat grain. These pancakes are also BOMB with almond butter. HOW-EV-ER, these would be just as amazing with maple syrup, so pick and choose your components!

Buckwheat Pancakes with Strawberry-Ginger Compote and Date Syrup
Serves 2 (4 med-small pancakes per serving)
Adapted from Cookie and Kate AND Oh, Ladycakes
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For the date syrup:
8-9 medjool dates, soaked
1/2 – 3/4 c. water
1 tsp. lemon juice
Cinnamon (optional)
Vanilla extract (optional)

1. Soak dates in hot water for 30 minutes. Drain the water and put them in a blender with new water and blend on high until smooth. Start with less water and add more to get desired consistence. Add lemon juice and optional flavourings and blend again. Seal in a jar and store in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

For the compote:
2 c. strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
2 tbsp. orange juice (or water)
1 tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. chia seeds (optional)
1 pinch of pepper (optional)

1. Clean the strawberries and cut into pieces, depending on how you would like the final texture. For a slightly chunkier compote, halve them, for a smoother jam-like texture, try quartered or smaller.

2. Place the strawberries and orange juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally, using your spoon to break up the mixture as it heats up. When the berries are soft and the rendered liquid is syrupy and bubbly, turn off the heat. Stir in the ginger, chia seeds, and pepper. Let cool slightly, and store in a jar in the fridge for up to a week.

For the pancakes: 
1 c. buckwheat flour*
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. buttermilk (I used almond milk with a tablespoon of lemon juice)
1 large egg
Ghee or butter for the pan

1. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together.

2. In a large measuring cup, pour your buttermilk, or put one tablespoon of lemon juice in and add 1 1/4 cup of whatever milk you’re using. Stir until thickened slightly. Crack the egg into the milk and whisk to combine.

3. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until combined—it will probably be a bit lumpy, that’s okay! Don’t stress and over-mix!

4. Grease a griddle or frying pan with a little butter over medium heat. Stir the batter once more to make sure it hasn’t separated. Measure out 1/4 c. of batter per pancake and pour it into the pan. When some bubbles appear, and the edges of the pancake are matte, flip and cook for another minute until golden brown. Store in a stove set to 200 degrees on a sheet pan to keep warm (or serve straight away)!

5. Serve topped with compote and syrup, or whatever you like. Nosh!

*If you’re new to buckwheat and want to ease in, or just want fluffier pancakes, swap half of the buckwheat flour in these for AP flour!
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Brunch Caesar Salad with Sweet Potato and Smoky Toasted Pecans

Fellow eaters of the internet: brunch makes miracles. Through brunch, we are enabled to drink champagne before 11 and get sweet and savoury on the same plate. Brunch makes the impossible possible. What I’m saying is that we need to believe in breakfast salad.  This one would look right at home as a cozy brunch side, nestled in next to some home fries, or even as a balance to a sweet dish like cornmeal waffles.

It’s a mix of kale and romaine (a borrowed combo from Oh She Glows), crispy strips of sweet potato roasted with smoked paprika, and ghee-toasted pecans flavoured with liquid smoke, topped with a crispy, pan-fried sunny side up egg. The melt-y goodness of the yolk with the crunch of the kale and nuts, and the garlic warmth in the dressing is just. so. good.

If you’re not an herbivore bound or by the unforgiving laws of the Whole30, you could double down by adding crispy bacon and maybe some shavings of old cheddar to play with the smokiness of the pecans and sweet potato.

This is an easily-doubled recipe that would also make an amazing lunch or dinner too!

Brunch Caesar Salad with Sweet Potato and Smoky Toasted Pecans
Serves 2 (double at will!)
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4 c. romaine lettuce, chopped
2 c. green kale, chopped
1/3-1/2 c. Caesar dressing of your choice, (I like Oh She Glows’ super easy recipe)
2 eggs

1 medium sweet potato, cut into thin strips
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 c. unsalted pecans
1/2 tbsp. ghee (or butter)
2-4 tsp. liquid smoke (to taste)

2-4 strips bacon (optional)
Old cheddar cheese (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside. Cut your sweet potato into thin strips or french fry shapes.

2. Toss sweet potato fries with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and smoked paprika, tossing again to coat. Spread out in an even layer on baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes or until crispy. Remove from oven and set aside.

3. While the potatoes are baking, wash and chop the lettuce and kale, putting it in a large bowl.

4. For the pecans, melt the ghee in a medium fry pan over low heat, whisk in the liquid smoke. Add in the pecans and toss to coat. Turn up heat to medium, stirring until fragrant.  Remove from heat, but keep the pan  on the stove for the eggs.

5. Add the crispy sweet potato strips to the greens mixture, top with the dressing and toss thoroughly. Divide salad among bowls or plates, depending on how many people you’re serving. Garnish with pecans.

6. Add more ghee to the frying pan and crack your eggs, one per person, cooking until the edges of the whites are crispy, and the yolks are still runny. (Put a lid on to cook the yolk more thoroughly.)

7. Carefully lift the eggs out of the pan and serve one over each individual salad. Garnish with bacon and cheese, if adding. Enjoy!

The Whole30 Pt. III: The Bread is Nigh!

It’s the LAST DAY OF THE Whole30 EXPERIMENT! YES, ALREADY! I’ve come a long way from trying to huff cake and hoping to taste tiger blood (whether it’s on the plan or not)! At the end of it all, this was an experiment, and while I could yell about how excited I am about eating peanut butter for an entire post, but there’s information here and ready… So let’s get to the juicy stuff.

Some of the good things I’ve experienced on the plan:

• I stopped counting calories. Some years back, I was a fastidious (obsessive) calorie counter. That’s not the case anymore, but I still usually take mental tallies over the course of any day—like a weird hobby. This all but stopped the deeper I got into the Whole30. Even richer foods such as coconut oil, nut butters, dried fruits, or sausage, no longer have me reaching for a calculator.

• I started reading MORE labels. Label checking during my vegan experiment was small-time compared to the ingredient-scanning terminator I’ve turned into now. I can spot sugar almost in an instant. Soybean oil? Forget it! Corn? Back to the shelf with you! As a result, I’ve eaten less food with ingredient lists, and more dishes with ingredients

• My tastebuds have changed.  I won’t be able to confirm this until I eat something with refined sugar in it (something I’ll be putting off as much and as long as I can), but I think I’m currently experiencing natural sugars as the peak of sweetness. Yesterday I had few dried medjool dates, and I stood in my kitchen, chewing and marvelling over the the fact that I was sure they tasted EXACTLY caramels. Insane, I know.

My boss also says my skin has been looking amazing, but I still have some blemishes on my jaw, a recent problem area of mine… So either she’s biased and pro-program, or the rest of my skin looks good?

Some other observations about the body & mind:

Body stuff: Program protocol says you’re not supposed to weigh yourself at all, which I understand, and actually agree with (despite hating a lot of the Whole30’s website with a passion). I think the less people stare at the scale, the better.
HOW. EV. VER. This was an experiment and so weigh-ins became part of the data. I’ve been losing at a steady, healthy pace of about 1lb a week, so not all that different from my regular routine.

I didn’t use a tape measure, but it’s totally possible I smoked an inch or two off, between the leafy greens and ramping up my running mileage. My clothes do seem to be fitting better, but I’m not certain if that’s a by-product of the work or the diet changes?

Mind stuff: The Whole30 didn’t give me an endless wellspring of energy, but that could also be because I usually don’t get enough hours of sleep during the week anyway (and the one day that I drank egg coffee). To be fair to the program, I’m in the middle of tapering off of anti-depressants, so any lows could be linked to that.

It DID get me to examine lots of the food systems that exist in my immediate surroundings. The fact that sugar is everywhere, in everything, or that buying sustainable free-range, antibiotic-free meat is privilege. It opened conversations with friends about food—friends who I didn’t now would be interested in the topic in the first place.

Lastly, it showed me that temptation is basically nothing, and I’m capable of maintaining whatever food decisions I choose to abide in the future. That’s a great feeling, powerful feeling. While I wouldn’t say the Whole30 changed my life, that’s a bit too assertive and sweeping. I would say that it changed my mind—for the better.

Plus, now that first bite of off-plan pizza is going to be A-MAZ-ING. I can’t WAIT to start cooking with more variety again!

Whole30 Primal Egg Coffee

Egg Coffee. Invented by the Paleo/Primal crowd, (the people who also put butter and coconut oil in their java, surprise!), it’s exactly what it claims to be: eggs in your morning brew. Separately, the two words are innocent, but side-by-side they can sound wrong—like “nipple waxing” or “President Trump.” They summon images of steaming black liquid with curdled scrambled egg drifting on the surface—gross.

I HATED the idea of this recipe—it felt strange, pretentious, and downright unnecessary… That was why I had to try it! I was an old man sitting on a dilapidated front porch scowling—back in my day, the only place the two mixed was in our bellies! However, in the spirit of having an open mind and an innovative breakfast, I broke out my stovetop brewer and got cracking. And…despite my fear, I took a big whisk and went for it.

…It was actually pretty good! Slightly creamy, smooth, with a hint of cinnamon and an impulsive half teaspoon of coconut oil adding to the velvet of it. Not only THAT, but the stuff was basically rocket fuel. In the time I usually drink two coffees at work, I only finished half. I went back for a cup of coffee in the afternoon, and found my energy level was actually TOO high and had to have chamomile tea to settle my anxiety. Those Paleos might just be on to something…

Am I about to start doing this on the regular? Probably not, but I’m definitely trying it least once more to see if the rocket fuel is real…

Whole30 Primal Egg Coffee
(Adapted from Mark’s Daily Apple)
Serves 1
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2 c. brewed dark roast coffee or espresso, hot
2 eggs, free range if you can get them, room temperature*, **
Pinch sea salt
1/2 – 1 tsp. coconut oil (optional)
Cinnamon (optional)

1. Crack two eggs in a small mixing bowl, whisking vigorously until slightly frothy. In the meantime, brew the coffee.

2. When the coffee is finished, slowly pour the finished brew into the eggs, whisking as you go so the eggs don’t cook. Pour and whisk simultaneously (go! go! go!) until the coffee is fully incorporated and the mixture is frothy.

3. Add the pinch of salt, as well as the coconut oil and cinnamon, if including. Whisk again to incorporate.

4. Pour into your favourite mug, have no fear, and take a sip!

*Note: if you decide to go nuts like me and try this, it’s one of the few times I’m going to recommend “free range” or organic anything. It’s a privilege we can’t all afford, but when a recipe only has four or five ingredients, I like to think the way to ensure its success within that simplicity is getting the best ingredients—but only if they’re within your budget!

**To quickly bring eggs to room temperature, place them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes before you crack them!

The Whole30 Pt. 2: Tiger Blood!

According to the Whole30 timeline, from days 16-27, many people sticking to the plan begin to experience something they call “Tiger Blood.”

TIGER’S BLOOD! It sounds like something a colonel with a handlebar moustache would yell in a Rudyard Kipling novel when he sees something astonishing.

It’s actually a state of being in which Whole30-ians experience boundless power, deeper sleep, and a general natural high. Whether this is because you HAVE the blood of the tiger in your veins, or you DRANK said blood (is that technically Whole30 compliant?), you should be a wellspring of vigour.

…So it figures day 16 has felt like the hardest yet.

At the grocery store there was sugar or soy or dairy in E V E R Y T H IN G. I tried to make Paleo Mayo (palayo!) and it backfired and refused to emulsify. I melted a piece of tupperware by accident by leaving it on the stove. Ruh roh.

Despite all of this, I now am over the half way point, with only two weeks left. The hardest part of the program is NOT the restrictions to what you can eat—it’s the restrictions that THOSE restrictions can put on your life.

Last weekend, my friends and I went to the flea market. One of them proposed grabbing a bite after, and then the issue was raised that I’m still on the plan. I insisted that I could have a coffee or find something to feed myself, but we skipped going out for food. I appreciated them not eating something in front of me (likely at the risk of me asking if I can smell it), I also felt pretty self conscious about the fuss, especially when talk of their hunger started. Everyone in the situation chose for themselves, but still, being the instigator created friction with my anxious desire to be selectively invisible.

Another example? I’m going away for a weekend to visit friends out of town. Immediately after making the plans, I began to stew over what I was going to eat, or even how to bring up the subject with my hosts. I didn’t want to offend by bringing my own stuff… But I also did not want anyone to go out of their way just for me. This is the sort of lifestyle change that is big enough that it draws attention to itself. I’m hating that aspect.

I am, however, lucky to have friends who support me. Both of the above stories above have resulted in preparations of special menus, shared Whole30 friendly dinners, and open dialogue about what I’m doing, and why.

That feels pretty big and important and awesome to know you can count on your people, even while you’re counting down the days.