Sunday, 27 January 2013

Granola Energy Boost

January 27, 2013

SmartCooks here.  Thankfully, this infernally cold Ottawa January is almost over.  Today is a comparatively balmy -11 degrees C with sun!  Conditions for skating the 7.8 km Rideau Canal are ideal -- this morning after its nightly cleaning and flooding, it was as clear as glass, the type of skating when the sound of your blades slicing the ice is perfection.  A former much-missed neighbour dropped by afternoon Saturday after skating the entire length of the canal, and I left Himself and the ex-N toasting winter with a bottle of Skinny Girl Margaritas

Me, I rummaged around in drawers for my seldom-used passport and took off for the outer edge of the Ottawa universe -- the Asian SuperStore in Orleans.  I was on a mission to re-stock some shelves and find ingredients to make my winter energy booster, which I have dubbed "Granola Energy Boost!".  

It turned into a many-hours expedition, browsing the aisles by country -- Japan, China, Korea, India, North Africa, South Asia etc.  The produce selection blows me away and I always select one item I've never tried before.  This time it was green radish but more on that in another posting. 

This Granola Energy Boost is super simple to make, filled with healthy nuts, seeds, coconut oil, chia, dried cranberries and without the sweetness found in many of the commercial granolas. The spices can be increased or decreased according to taste.  (I prefer more spiced :))

Benefits of Chia Seeds

Chia, like quinoa, is the new darling of nutritionists promoting optimal dietary health.  Relatively unknown outside Mexico until just a few years ago, its popularity has grown  quickly as a complete protein and high in dietary fiber and other minerals.

Nutrition warriors recommend a tablespoon of chia seeds a day in, say, smoothies or a stir fry.  Honestly, though, my quick tour of the research studies led me to conclude that the prescription is far from scientific.  Bottom line:  no harm whatsoever to incorporating it into recipes whenever possible.  Granola fits that bill.  

Benefits of Dried Cranberries

I've come to appreciate the benefits of cranberries over the years.  You'd have to count me in the 'believer' category with personal testimonials to its health and nutritional benefits.  And, no, no details forthcoming ... but it works, that's all I know.

Whatever ... I noted with great interest the arrival of Upper Canada Cranberries at the Carp and Ottawa Farmer's Markets in recent years and have tried many of their products.  They are the only commercial cranberry grower in Eastern Ontario; in fact, their farm is listed as being within the city of Ottawa near the Ottawa airport.  Can't get much more local than that.  

Over the years, they've developed their dried cranberry product to keep it soft and full of nutritional vitamins and antioxidants to help boost the immune system and battle against the evil germs, bacteria, infections and bugs that are ratcheting down the workforce numbers these days.  
I kept all ingredients as organic as I could.  Enjoy! 

Granola Energy Boost! 


3/4 cup raw pecans
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/8 cup chia seeds
2 T sesame seeds
2 T honey
3 T melted coconut oil
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 vanilla bean


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  

Place nuts, seeds, coconut in a large bowl.  

Leave fruit -- dried cranberries and dates -- to the side.

In a separate bowl, mix honey, coconut oil, salt, cloves, cinnamon, and the scraped vanilla bean.  

Pour the wet mixture into the nut bowl and make sure everything is evenly coated.  

Spread out on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Check often, as this can overcook very quickly.  Mine was ready at 20 minutes.  (My first batch I tried was overdone at 25 minutes... so check often).  

Let cool, break into clusters and add the chopped dates and dried cranberries.  Store in an airtight container.  Keeps easily for a few weeks.  

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Avocado and Cucumber Soup or Dip or Side (you decide!)

January 2013 

SmartCooks here.  I'm definitely in that weird January space.  I hate this -40 plus extreme cold. It makes me feel claustrophic as I huddle around the fireplace surrounded by kitties, my laptop and various other electronic gadgets, herbal tea and music.  The three feline children obviously feel the same way and I couldn't resist posting another photo of them on Facebook.  Check it out.  

I played semi-hookey from work today after 14-plus consecutive days of intense work pressure. This morning the day caved in on me. The water wouldn't work in the upstairs bathroom (pipes frozen) and the car was giving me the sluggish whir-whir of a nearly frozen engine.  Clearly it was not going to be easy to haul myself to a 12-hour 'Retreat'.  I felt terrible.  Sore throat was a-brewin.  So, I called it a 'sick day' and burrowed in for some much-needed space/time completely by myself, with a solid, hard workout at end of day rocking to a new Body Attack release at the gym. Rejuvenates the soul kindof day. 

I spent quality time surfing some interesting on-line journals and trying my hand at adapting some recipes I found.  Today's obsession was a fresh, simple recipe for Avocado and Cucumber Soup or Dip or Side (you decide!). It reminded me of spring.  I sampled it as a chilled soup (photo from the site; two others are mine), a dip for vegeys, or as a dollop for tonight's dinner of lemon kale, tomato salsa and chicken strips. 

I found the original recipe on a blog called Whole Family Fare, written out of New York by a young woman who is both vegan and devoted to cooking fresh and raw foods.  She and her family travel to places like Costa Rice to live in treehouses and browse farmers' market.  Years ago we would have called her a 'hippie'; now I think she would be called an 'environmentalist' or a 'locavore'.  Whatever, she comes up with some terrific recipes based on nutritious, low-calories, organic, foods for the family.

Preparation is super simple -- five main ingredients i.e., avocado, cucumber, green onions, garlic and lemon juice plus some water and sea salt.  (For a bit more heat, add a jalapeno.  I did.  Cilantro was a nice touch too).  

A blender is all the clean up you need.  No cooking, no muss, no fuss.  

Avocado Soup or Dip or Side (you decide!) 


2 ripe avocados
1/2 large cucumber
5 green onions (white part only, save some of green parts for garnish)
1 clove garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup of water 
Green parts of onion for garnish
Jalapeno (optional)
Cilantro (optional)


Peel the cucumber, cut into slices and set aside.

Chop the green onions, white parts only.  Put the avocados, cucumber, green onions, garlic, lemon juice, 1 cup of water and 1/2 tsp of sea salt into the blender.  If using a jalapeno and/or cilantro add as well.  

Blend well, adding more water if necessary.  Consistency can be thicker or thinner, depending on the amount of water you use. 

Chill in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours before serving.  It will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week, after which I would pitch it.