The Lemons of Italy

blue and white bowl full of lemos and cut up lemon in front
Bowl of Lemons

Since following plant-based recipes, lemons are an ingredient I now use more frequently. They are extremely versatile for many dishes and can provide a light, fresh tangy flavor to savoury dishes, baked goods or drinks or be used simply as a garnish. In Canada, our lemons primarily come from Mexico and like many of us, I buy them in the grocery store and have never given much thought to their origins.

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Tahini as a Plant-Based Staple

two brighly coloured bowls one with homemade tahini in and the other with store bought tahini
Home-made Tahini (Top Left) and store-bought Tahini (Bottom Right)

Since moving to plant-based cooking, Tahini has become one of my staple ingredients. Previously, my only experience of Tahini had been many years ago when I tried it as a spread on toast. At the time, I found the taste extremely unappealing and did not go near it again until recently.  Little did I know back then, but it turns out that Tahini is highly nutritious and highly versatile in cooking adding a nutty flavour and creamy texture. Although I still don’t care for the taste as a spread, I now use it regularly for hummus, as a base for dressings and sauces and have even found it a tasty addition in granola.  

Not only has Tahini proved extremely useful today, I was surprised to learn of its rich history and the fact that references can be found as far back as the 13th century regarding its uses as a food dish, medicine, and currency. Although it has been a staple in many cuisines, especially in North Africa, Turkey, Greece and the Middle East for thousand of years, it did not make its first appearance in the USA until around 1940 and then only in health food stores. Now it is widely available in most supermarkets.

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Is it harder to lose weight today than it was 30 years ago?

image of slim female
Losing weight in 2020 [Photo Credit: Tumisu from Pixabay]

I recently found myself watching an episode of Highway to Heaven, a series originally released in the 1980’s. There were several things that stood out. The first was the fashions of the day, which I recall only too well, including “big hair”, leg warmers and over-sized tops with shoulder pads. Cellular phones were not commonplace and some of the “political correctness” was lagging behind today’s standards. However, what struck me most of all was just how thin everyone was.

Around the same time, I came across an article in The Atlantic by Olga Khasan referring to a study published in 2016 in the journal, Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, that asserted that “it’s harder for adults today to maintain the same weight as those 20 to 30 years ago did, even at the same levels of food intake and exercise”.

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Eat or Drink a Rainbow!

five glasses of juice in different colours - yellow, orange, purple, green and pink
Eat a Rainbow Juices [Photo Credit: silviarita from Pixabay]

I personally respond to colour and so it makes sense to me that colour therapy is based on the idea that colours create an electrical impulse in our brain, which stimulates hormonal and biochemical processes in our body. These processes either stimulate or calm us. There can be as many colours in colour therapy sessions as there are colours in the rainbow.

Why are fruits and vegetables so many different colors?

Fruits and vegetables gain their distinctive colours due to the presence of various phytochemicals. Although I had never thought of food colour being related to nutrition before, it comes as no surprise that each of the colors in fruits and vegetables are indicative of various nutrients.  As a result, not only do they look appealing in presentation but by eating a diversity of these colourful foods, your body can obtain a range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals that it needs to heal and thrive.

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Chocolate and the Differences Between Cacao and Cocoa

three bowls containing cacao butter, cacao powder and cacao nibs and plate of brownies
Bottom Left to Right: cacao butter, cacao powder and cacao nibs (Photo Credit: Blair/Joanne @ TheDragonsPicnic.com)

Considered by many as food of the Gods, the world’s love affair with chocolate is thought to have began approximately 5,300 years ago in the rainforests of Ecuador. It is believed that ancient civilizations used cacao to produce drinks for festivals, feasts and medicinal purposes. Also, contrary to the old adage that money doesn’t grown on trees, they also used cacao seeds as currency!

I concur with this global consensus and have coveted and feasted on chocolate in all its glorious forms since childhood. However, I only discovered the use cacao powder, cacao butter (oils of the bean) and cacao nibs (the dried and fermented pieces of cacao beans) since exploring whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) eating.  Cacao appears regularly in WFPB recipes as it is considered raw and is minimally processed with no additives.

What is the difference between cacao and cocoa?

Cacao and cocoa both start out as beans from the cacao plant and the difference comes in the way they are processed. Both are fermented for a few days to develop a flavour and then they are dried.

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Healthy Chewy No-Bake Granola Bars

healthy no bake chewy granola bars piled on a board and one bar on a plate
Quick and Easy No-Bake Healthy Chewy Granola Bars (Photo Credit: Joanne/Blair @TheDragonsPicnic.com)

The versatility of a recipe is a high priority for me when cooking or baking and I tend to gravitate towards dishes that can withstand a degree of creativity and tolerate substitutions to whatever might be at hand. These chewy granola bars fit this bill.

I have always preferred chewy granola bars compared with their crunchy counterparts and marvelled at their gooey consistency. The chewy texture always seemed a bit magical considering they were usually loaded with crunchy nuts and seeds. When I first made this recipe, even though the mystery of the chewiness was revealed, I am pleased to say they still taste just as good!

The main dry ingredients include:

  • 1½ cups (150g) rolled oats
  • ¾ cup (25g) rice crisp cereal

Mix and Match Ingredients:

Use about 1½ cups in total of any of the following combinations:

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“The Clever Guts”

The Clever Guts @ dragonspicnic.com [Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst]

“Your gut is astonishingly clever. It contains millions of neurons – as many as you would find in the head of a cat. It is also home to the microbiome, trillions of microbes that influence your mood, weight and immune system.”  Words of Dr. Michael Mosley from his book, “The Clever Guts Diet”. This book was my first introduction to the concept that our guts may play an important role in many aspects of our overall health.

What is “Microbiome”?

The microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes that live mainly in our large intestine or colon and it is believed that the foods we eat can help feed and reinforce the army of microbes that live in our guts.

Dr. Mosley refers to research over the last few years which has shown the value of having the right mix of “good” bacteria in our gut and describes it as “a bit like rainforests being vital for the overall health of the planet.” He suggests that junk food and overuse of antibiotics have wiped out many good gut bacteria leading to a rise in allergies, food intolerances, and weight issues.

Benefits of a Healthy Gut

There are multiple benefits to having a healthy, happy gut. These include obvious ones, such as “being regular” (constipation and diarrhea). It can also reduce inflammation in the gut which may lead to an increase in the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

The less obvious benefits include improved mood, better sleep, control over cravings, reduced bloating, and weight loss. The gut and our brains are intimately connected by the vagus nerve and gut bacteria can produce a range of chemicals that influence our brain including “feel good” hormones like serotonin and hunger hormones that influence how hungry we get and what we eat.

What can you do?

The good news is that we can influence the health of our gut by the foods we eat. One of the best way to create and maintain a healthy and diverse microbiota is to eat a wide range of whole grains, and fresh foods mainly from plant sources like fruits, veggies, legumes, and beans. Some other suggestions include :

  • Eat fermented foods including natural plain yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha since they can benefit the microbiota by enhancing its function and reducing the abundance of disease-causing bacteria in the intestines.
  • Limit artificial sweeteners since they may negatively affect the gut microbiota.
  • Eat foods rich in pholyphenols such as cocoa and dark chocolate, red wine, grape skins, green tea, almonds, onions, blueberries and broccoli. Polyphenols are plant compounds that have many health benefits, including reductions in blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol levels and oxidative stress.
  • Take a probiotic supplement although probiotics do not significantly alter the composition of the microbiota in healthy people, they may improve microbiota function and help restore the microbiota to good health.

As the full significance of the relationship of our guts to our overall health is a concept that had never occurred to me before, I found the idea a lot to digest. However, it has caused me to rethink the way I approach eating and now when I am unsure of what to eat, I am more inclined to listen to my gut!

Check out the full Healthline article 10 Ways to Improve Your Gut Bacteria, Based on Science by Ruairi Robertson, books by Dr. Michael Mosley and more WFPB sites on the Resources page.

Ideas to Start your Whole Foods Plant-Based Recipe Collection!

Image by silviarita from Pixabay

With an abundance of whole food plant-based recipes (WFPB) available, I have selected some of my favourites to share:

Deliciously Ella

Founded in the UK by Ella Mills, Deliciously Ella contains a selection of recipes with more to be found on the App. The App contains over 400 WFPB recipes, some instructional videos and step-by-step images. It is available by subscription and also has a meal planner, shopping list, as well as yoga and meditation instruction. Deliciously Ella has a number of cookbooks.

Oh She Glows

Founded in the USA by Angela Liddon, Oh She Glows is a recipe blog in which Angela “celebrates her love for plant-based food”. In addition to being meat and dairy-free, most of the recipes are free of gluten, soy, and processed foods. Oh She Glows also has a recipe App, at a nominal cost, as well as a number of cookbooks.

The Happy Pair

Founded by twins from Ireland, Dave and Steve Flynn, created this site which contains an array of hearty WFPB recipes. The site is much more than just recipes and one of the goals of the twins is to build a community “around health and happiness”. I am not aware of an App but The Happy Pear does offer courses, shop products, cafes and cookbooks.

Green Kitchen Stories

Founded by David and Luise, who live in Sweden with their family, this site offers a range of vegetarian recipes, including a vegan section. Green Kitchen Stories is about “healthy vegetarian recipes using whole food and organic products” with an aim for the recipes “to be as simple and pure as possible”. There are two recipe Apps available, at a nominal cost, as well as a number of cookbooks.

To access these sites and more, please see

Curious about Whole Foods Plant-Based Eating?

Image by M4rtine from Pixabay

One of my early introductions to whole foods plant-based (WFPB) eating was through a documentary on Netflix entitled Forks and Knives. The film, created by Brian Wendell and first released in 2011, explores the premise of food as medicine and suggests that by changing our nutrition, it can be a powerful way to live longer, help the environment, and reduce the risk of getting sick.

The documentary follows the personal journeys of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a nutritional biochemist from Cornell University, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a former top surgeon at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic.  

Dr. Campbell at the T. Colin Campbell Centre for Nutrition describes WFPB eating as eliminating the “diet” label and thinking of it more as a “lifestyle” choice. He further suggests that is not about eating restrictive and complicated meal plans, deprivation, binging and guilt but simply a “return to whole foods, rich flavors, and natural health.”

What can I eat?

In a nutshell: whole (minimally processed), unrefined, plant-based foods:

In abundance

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Tubers and starchy vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Greens
  • Omega 3 rich seeds
  • Spices

In Moderation:

  • whole nuts
  • seeds (except omega 3 sources)
  • coconut and avocado
  • dried fruit
  • natural sweeteners
  • tempeh and tofu
  • whole grain flours and breads
  • plant-based milks

Avoid or Minimize:

  • meat, poultry and seafood
  • dairy products
  • eggs
  • refined sweeteners
  • refined grains
  • refined sugars
  • bleached flours and white bread, pasta and rice

What are the benefits?

The proposed benefits of this type of WFPB lifestyle can be significant and may include:

  • Weight management: reduces need to count calories since plant based foods tend to contain mostly fiber and water creating a feeling of fullness while consuming few calories
  • Disease prevention: may lower the risk of some cancers and prevent, halt, or even reverse chronic diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Lighter environmental footprint: reduces stress on the environment

Will I need Supplements?

The main essential nutrient missing from a WFPB diet is B12.  Although this can be found in some fortified foods such as plant-based milks, the best source is a B12 supplement.

What is the difference between a WFPB Diet and a Vegan Diet?

The main difference between a WFPB and a vegan diet is that a vegan diet avoids all forms of animal products or exploitation, however, it is not necessarily a diet that focuses on whole plant foods. It may include refined and processed foods whereas WFPB eliminates or minimizes these as well as animal products.

How do I get Started?

If contemplating a WFPB lifestyle, check out Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s  Three-Day Meal Plan for some ideas on what your meals might look like!

To access these sites and more, please see