Surviving Urban Life in Your Late Twenties: Part 1

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When you’re 22, living in a big city is the perfect thing. There’s a seemingly endless array of things to do, people to meet, jobs to apply for, and restaurants to eat poutine in at 4 in the morning. It’s an indecisive time of life, so being constantly surrounded by options is the ideal scenario. But, skip ahead a few years, living in a city starts to feel a little different. The options are there but you know yourself better so you don’t always feel the need to take advantage of them. Tuesday night gallery openings might sound cool, but in reality they’re awkward and boring…plus you have pilates that night. And all those people? Who has the time? You barely see friends you have and they are cooler and better than everyone anyways.

With the honeymoon period of big city living over, the daily grind of doing “adult” things in an urban context (commuting, grocery shopping without a car, finding a non-sketchy family doctor, etc.) can start to get you down. And if you’re like me living in Canada in the middle of February, the whole experience can be pretty isolating….

So I thought I’d start a little series where I share some of my strategies for surviving city life as a responsible(ish) adult.

Survival Tip #1: ESCAPE
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It’s easy to start feeling like your neighborhood is the centre of the universe. In my case, living in Toronto’s West End, all my favourite bars, coffee shops, restaurants, food co-ops, yoga studios, terrarium designers, artisanal jam shops and literally every person I know are within a stone’s throw of my apartment. Escapes don’t necessarily need to be “vacations” but they need to take you out of context. Here are a few examples of mini-escapes I’ve taken, that have really helped to broaden my perspective during my down times.

Check out a new neighborhood : escapes don’t have to take you far from home. Hop a bus across town and explore what your city has to offer you beyond your own backyard.

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Go to the country: If you’re anything like me, the mix of consumer culture, jam-packed schedules and non-stop screen time can leave me feeling drained and disconnected. One of the best remedies for this I’ve found is to visit a smaller community where people do things a little differently. Good people, slower pace, tight knit community and rural life are just a cure all if you ask me.
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Hang out with munchkins: Full disclosure I am definitely a “kid person” but honestly I feel like one of the biggest things that gets me down about city living is how self-focused it all starts to feel. My apartment, my job, my hobbies, my gym, my friends, my plans, my needs, etc. It’s easy to feel purposeless or worse selfish and vain. And while I genuinely don’t think everyone in this world is meant to have kids themselves, I think we undervalue the restorative and frankly existential value of having children in our lives. So Skype your niece and nephew or take the bus out to the suburbs and hang with your married friends. As long as you don’t go comparing your own life to theirs (never a recipe for success) you might just find the boost you were looking for.

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Staycation: Not every weekend you have needs to be chock-full of social plans and to-do lists. Sometimes you need to kick back, relax and get some much needed R&R. Check out a new yoga studio. Go for a walk. Take a book & read/people watch in a cozy cafe (preferably NOT your local spot). Bake something tasty. Stretch. Marathon episodes of Empire…ahem. Whatever you do to relax and get your mind off the hectic world around you.

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Don’t heal your gut, follow it…

There’s a lot of talk in the wellness world about “gut” health. People cutting out gluten, chowing down on probiotics & eating foods in specific orders with the goal of improving their digestion/life.

But if we dive a little deeper, what is our gut really? It’s the part of our body that helps us process. That separates good and healthy from bad and toxic…It filters out bullshit that doesn’t serve us.

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Lately I’ve been making an effort to be more attentive to my gut…and not by cutting out dairy. I’ve been listening when it twists into knots. Am I anxious? Stressed? When it feels like its moving up from my belly into my throat. What am I feeling? Do I have emotions I need to identify or express? And especially when it feels like it’s sinking or dropping. Am I afraid? Is my fear rational?

This weekend I decided to follow my gut and found it brought me exactly what I needed…

Slow mornings.

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Yoga.

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Fresh air.

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Fresh food

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Long nights.

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It might sound hippy dippy but I encourage you to listen to your own gut and to think about what it’s really got to tell you. What that gurgling is actually all about. Was it really that gluten-bomb you ate for dinner or is there something more? If you put down the kefir water and gave yourself some R&R time, saw a friend for tea, marathoned some Broad City or drank a glass of wine with dinner….

It might just do the trick.

Healthy Homemade Chocolate

I’ve never been one for Valentine’s Day.

When I was in 10th grade my boyfriend made me a hand welded amethyst ring and I told him it “looked hard to make” then walked away. In 12th grade my boyfriend and I ate our first chocolate fondue over a delicious Valentine’s Day dinner then proceeded to amicably break up. College days are a blur in general, though I do remember one where me and my partner at the time got A&W burgers and went to a black and white movie…I guess they weren’t all bad.

No matter what your feelings are about the love-centric aspects of Valentine’s Day, I think we can all agree that a day celebrating chocolate in the middle of February is a universal good.

So with that, here’s a recipe for some. And it’s kinda healthy, but not too healthy.

Healthy Homemade Chocolate

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Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp almond butter
  • 1 heaping tbsp honey
  • 3 tbsp good quality cocoa powder

Directions:

  1. In a medium sized bowl mix together melted coconut oil, honey and almond butter and stir until smooth.
  2. Add in cocoa powder and mix until well combined.
  3. Line a shallow bowl with saran wrap.
  4. Pour mixture directly onto saran wrap and freeze for 30 minutes.
  5. Remove bowl from freezer, peel away saran wrap. Use a sharp knife to chop chocolate into 3 inch squares (mine made about 16).
  6. Store in freezer until ready to eat.

Enjoy!

The Weekend Cookie

Hey pals.

A while back I posted a recipe for what I boastfully called “The Ultimate Cookie” that’s been one of the most popular recipes on this blog. It was my own take on Bunners’ (a gluten-free vegan bakery based in toronto) gypsy cookie. And I must say that even after all this time, this recipe keeps me coming back.

But there’s a new cookie in town.

These days when the weekends roll around and I find myself hunting for a treat, I’ve been finding myself reaching for another Toronto baker’s fare – a local raw vegan kitchen called Earth & City, and more specifically their INSANELY delicious “Cowgirl Cookie.” I’ve been obsessed with these babies for years but the price tag (about $3 a cookie) has kept my cravings in check…until now. Today I decided that rather than springing the $3 for my favourite treat, I’d whip up my own version and see how things went.

All I can say is “Holy Cowgirl.”

These guys are naturally sweetened (for all you folks cutting out sugar this month) plus they are full of fibre and healthy fats so they won’t leave you craving more sweets after eating them. Perfect for kicking your sunday afternoon cookie craving. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

The Weekend Cookie

IMG_2593Ingredients: 

150 grams dates (around a cup) – if they aren’t soft I’d recommend soaking them first
150 grams ripe banana (about 1.5 bananas)
2 cups oats
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3 oz good quality dark chocolate, chopped coarsely into chunks
1/4 cup coconut oil
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of salt

Directions: 

1. Preheat oven to just under 300 degrees.
2. Place bananas in a food processor and blend until they are smooth.
3. Add dates and continue blending until the mixture is thick and smooth. Add 1/4-1/2 cup of water if necessary.
4. Pour date/banana mixture into a big mixing bowl, then add oats, coconut, oil, chocolate chunks, cinnamon and salt. Mix until well combined.
5. Use a 1/4 cup measure to scoop mixture and your palms to form it into medium sized cookies.  The dough won’t stay together like regular cookie batter but it should stick when you press it. If not, refrigerate for an hour or so and it should be easier to work with. Place on parchment lined baking sheet.
6. Keep forming cookies until you’ve made about 18-20 cookies.
7. Bake for 30 minutes at low heat – I suggest 275-300 degrees.
8. Remove from oven and let the cookies cool completely (this will also keep them from crumbling) before removing.

These store in the fridge for 5-7 days or in the freezer for as long as your will power allows.

Black bean brownies

I can’t place exactly when black bean brownies came on the scene. Maybe it was something cooked up by Jerry Seinfeld’s wife – you know, the one notorious for her putting vegetables in all sorts of inappropriate places? Or maybe it was The Happy Herbivore, the first place I ever saw them. Either way, they have become a staple of the “tricked-you-this-is-actually-healthy” dessert genre.

While I enjoy healthy desserts as much as the next healthy living blog addict, but my philosophy on healthy desserts is to keep them to yourselfFor two main reasons.

1) You made them for yourself. You took the time to shop at the health food store, dropped a bunch of cash on chia seeds and maca powder then spent all afternoon in the kitchen so that you could enjoy a delicious baked good without feeling like garbage afterwards. Keep half the batch in the freezer if you need to but you deserve to enjoy the fruits of your labour.

2) When you push a bite of a “healthified” treat on a friend or a co-worker and then surprise them with its secretly beet-infused contents, you’re not sharing you’re looking for validation. If they don’t enjoy the treat, it will probably make you feel self-conscious and judged. If they do enjoy it, you’ll feel proud and like you beat the system. Either way, who cares what they think? Wasn’t it supposed to be a treat for you in the first place? Obviously you should offer a bite to a pal if they ask, but maybe just let them try it and spare them the ingredient list?

ON THAT NOTE….

Here is a recipe that’s just for you. These are nice, dense chocolatey brownies that – no secrets here – are made without any sugar and are loaded with fibre. I have a feeling you’re exactly the kind of person who will appreciate them.

Black Bean Brownies

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Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups cooked black beans
  • 1 cup soft dates or raisins*
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour

*If your dried fruit is too firm, simply place it in a bowl and add some boiling water. Let it sit for 5 minutes then drain.

Directions:

  1. Place dried fruit, cocoa, beans and almond milk into your blender and blend on high until smooth.
  2. Pour wet batter into a large mixing bowl and mix in 1/2 your chocolate chips
  3. Finally add coconut flour and allow the batter to sit for 3-5 minutes or until it thickens up a bit
  4. Pour mixture into a greased or lined 8×8 baking pan
  5. Top with remaining chocolate chips
  6. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until the centre is firm
  7. Remove and allow to cool completely before cutting, otherwise the brownies will crumble
  8. Cut, refrigerate and enjoy

 

 

RECIPE: 4 Ingredient Fermented Coleslaw

Don’t ask me to explain it, but hipsters love to ferment things.

Beer is a given. But also tea (kombucha). Soy (tempeh). Milk (kefir). And now…vegetables. Yes, the rise in “craft” vegetable production can be seen across the urban landscape – from every food truck serving up kimchi tacos to every hippie grocery store hocking $10 juniper-scented saurkraut.

And they’re not wrong. Fermented foods are incredibly good for you. Something like 80% of your immune system exists in your digestive system and fermented foods are the fastest way to load up on all those probiotics you’ve been hearing about. They’re also delicious and are an easy way to add loads of flavour to any sandwich, salad, soup or bowl of bibimbap.

So…while you might feel like the whole thing is a little “trendy” or even a little gross…Here’s a super easy recipe for those of you who might be feeling just a little curious and are interested in taking a step into fermented waters.

RECIPE: 4 Ingredient Fermented Coleslaw

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Ingredients:

  • 1 large head of green cabbage
  • 4 carrots
  • 1 tbsp course pink salt
  • 2 cloves garlic

Directions

  1. Remove outer leaves from cabbage and set aside for later.
  2. Shred vegetables with a knife, grater or food processor.
  3. Combine shredded carrots and cabbage in a large metal bowl, then sprinkle with salt.
  4. Using your hands, massage salt into vegetables for 3-4 minutes until cabbage has wilted. Vegetables will release water as they wilt.
  5. Pack coleslaw mixture into several mason jars or one large jar (like the one pictured above), making sure there are no pockets of air and that vegetables are submerged in their own liquid (you can add the remainder from the bowl to each jar).
  6. Cover coleslaw mixture with reserved cabbage leaves (these keep air from getting in and help keeps vegetables submerged).
  7. Leave the jar out for 3-4 days. Open the jar daily to ensure vegetables are submerged and to relieve any air pressure that may have built up in the jar. When packing down vegetables, always use a wooden utensil rather than metal as this can affect the fermentation process.
  8. After 3-4 days, taste the mixture. If it tasty sour, bubbly and a little spicy it is perfect! Just refrigerate and the coleslaw will keep for 2-3 months in the fridge.

Note: if this is your first time fermenting, you might want to check out this video, this kimchi recipe or this safety guide

Eating out on weekends: 80/20 Redux

For most city dwellers eating at restaurants is a daily practice. Most people don’t want to rush out of the house in the morning lugging a bpa-free Tupperware of lentil salad with pockets full of cashews and a bamboo fork in their purse. For me, these things are a comfort. I love feeling prepared for my day and a big part of that is knowing that my nutrition is covered and I don’t have to rely on others for healthy, inexpensive food.

That said, on the weekends I think it’s important to release my micromanaging tendencies and let someone else do the cooking for a change.

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There are so many benefits to eating out now and again, either at a friends house or your favourite neighborhood takeout spot. There’s nothing like taking a bite into something you didn’t prepare and having the flavours be a complete suprise to your palette. It’s also a great way to enhance the meals you eat day to day, by inspiring you to enjoy new ingredients and combinations. Mostly its good for your mental health and happiness to vary your routine now and then. After all, diversity is the tastiest spice.

This past weekend I had the chance to try a few spots in Roncesvalles -one of my favourite Toronto neighborhoods. The first was La Cubana, a sweet Cuban restaurant with a 50s diner vibe and the best lighting in the city. I wasn’t super hungry so I ordered a grapefruit and avocado salad with a side of coconut shrimp. Heaven. Next time I definitely want to try one of the platters with rice beans slaw and spicy fish.

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I also got to try one of Toronto’s best polish restaurants called Cafe Polonez. Apparently this place is so good it’s attracted the likes of Anthony Bordain. Obviously I ordered the Borscht, which was served ice cold on a hot day with an egg on top and baked potato on the side. Filling, delicious and hot pink.

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While some people may believe in the 80/20 rule when it comes to healthy eating, I’m not totally convinced. I’d prefer not to label food as good or bad unless it’s past it’s expiry date. But I think it’s a great approach to eating out! Making the majority of your meals in your own kitchen is cheap, rewarding and delicious, but grabbing tacos with a pal on a Saturday afternoon is a simple luxury that you well deserve.

How to Overcome FOMO with Quinoa

I think my entire generation suffers from a malignant case of FOMO. And I’m no exception.

It’s nearly impossible for me to commit to plans. When my friends text me about their breakup I’m back and forth with them for hours, but when they message me on a Friday night my response is usually 10 minute long “…” followed by 2 hours of silence.

So it’s not a suprise that this past weekend it took everything I had to escape Toronto’s busy social calendar (we pack a lot into these two months of sunshine) and head for the country.

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It was worth it.

Despite all that my city has to offer, a lot can be said for a little sometimes.

So often we are overcome by stress and anxiety  simply because we try to do and feel all the things, to be everywhere all at once. Paring down – on your to-do list, your social calendar, even what’s on your plate – can be just what you need to pull yourself back together.

Simple Quinoa Bowl. 

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Ingredients:
(serves 2)

Mixed organic greens
1 cup chickpeas
1 cup cooked red quinoa
1 large chopped raw beet
1/4 cup hummus
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
balsamic and olive oil, for drizzling

Directions:

1. Fill 2 bowls with greens followed by 1/2 cup chickpeas and quinoa
2. Top with chopped and a dollop of hummus (store bought or homemade)
3. Drizzle with dressing and a sprinkle of salt
4. Enjoy.

 

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WHY BOTHER TO “DIY”?: LIFE SKILLS, YOU DUMMY!

As Jane Eyre once said, “the the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I couldn’t agree more.

Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane Eyre in 1996

Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane Eyre in 1996

The benefits “doing it yourself” (aka DIY) go far beyond the 90s grunge/punk aesthetic (although that may have been what got me interested in the first place), it is positively life affirming.

WHY SHOULD YOU BOTHER WITH DIY? 

  1. You provide for yourself.
    As a young Gen-Y urbanite, we are constantly confronted with our lack of life skills. But being brought up in a world of coddling and convenience makes providing for ourselves all the more satisfying. Enter every young hipster male’s obsession with curing meats & fermenting or hipster female’s affection for knitting circles and terrarium maintenance.
  2. You get creative. Okay, that novel you wrote in grade 12 might not be so great after all. And your career as a freelance photographer has turned out to be more weddings and bar mitzvahs than artsy analog collages. But you gotta eat. So you might as well channel some of that pent up creative energy to a place where it will finally be appreciated…your belly.
  3. It’s meditative. Nothing says “quiet mind” like rolling out tiny balls of healthy cookie dough.
  4. It’s cheap. Nothing grinds my gears more than overpaying for granola I could have whipped up in the kitchen in 20 minutes. And the store bought stuff won’t make your kitchen smell like honey and coconut.
  5. It’s proactive. You can make decisions about what you WANT to put in your body rather than focusing on what you’d rather avoid. No dairy? Low sodium? Sugar-free? Gluten-free? Suddenly those terms melt away and all that’s left is the foods you can enjoy and the incredible things you can do with those ingredients.

All of this brings me to the main point which is…this garlic scape pesto.

Now you know who makes a good pesto? President’s Choice. (<— Canadian grocery store brand). You know who else makes even better pesto? The local, organic farmer’s co-op near my house. Vegan kale pesto in fact. It’s not even that expensive. But this week I took the time to use seasonal ingredients to make something delicious and healthy for myself. And the results were pretty perfect.

Glowing Green Garlic Scape Pesto (V) 
Adapted from here

Garlic Scape Pesto

INGREDIENTS

1 cup finely chopped garlic scapes (or 2/3 cup finely chopped chives, plus 1/3 cup finely chopped garlic)
1/2 cup olive oil
2/3 cup raw cashews
1/3 cup nutritional yeast

Salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

Pulse garlic scapes, oil, nutritional yeast, and cashews in a food processor until finely chopped; season with salt and pepper.

Yield: about 1.5 cups. If you like, freeze half the batch in an ice cube tray so you can use it to add flavour to your sauces, pastas and salads all summer long

 

PROUD.

Every year Toronto hosts a pretty spectacular pride parade (I posted about it here way back in 2011) but this year we were given the task of hosting World Pride and let me tell you this city has been AMPED. This morning I drank my breakfast and booked it across town to participate in a little of what the day had to offer.

Green apple, spinach, cucumber smoothie topped with homemade cashew coconut granola.

Green apple, spinach, cucumber smoothie topped with homemade cashew coconut granola.

By all accounts, taking our already momentous parade “global,” shouldn’t have been that big a deal. It mostly meant jamming our subways, bars & beer gardens criminally over capacity & hearing maybe 6 or 7 global languages whilst walking down the street rather than the usual say 4 or 5. But  it has been a big deal.

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I’m going to venture a guess and say that pride isn’t something folks outside the queer community think about very often. And, when it does come up, it’s probably thought of as a vice not a virtue. Humbleness is just more acceptable in our culture than pridefulness. We are constantly enabling each other to deprecate, deny and devalue ourselves in fear of public scrutiny.

 

World pride this year has meant a lot of things to a lot of different people, but I think for a lot of people it’s meant the chance to not just witness Pride but to actually appreciate the purpose behind the events, and the value of appreciating oneself – of feeling worthy, loved and accepted.

So today’s healthy tidbit isn’t the recipe for my smoothie (I promise I’ll post that someday soon), it’s that little piece of advice. Take a moment to be proud of yourself, your assets and your accomplishments in any way you like. Treat yourself. Spend the night in flipping through old photos (without judgement). Dedicate your freakin yoga practice to yourself, I don’t care. But feel proud, baby because YOU. ARE. FABULOUS. 

 

 

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