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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Smoothies vs Juicing, and the evils of Sugar.


I have to admit, though it might incur some judgements... I've become a smoothie drinker.  No longer just a casual smoothie drinker either, it has now become a full-blown aspect of my lifestyle.

It's hard not to see, and thus enjoy, the benefits of drinking a cup of well-thought-out fruit and vegetables.

A lot of people, it seems, are extolling the awesomeness of green smoothies these days.  Just google it, and you'll see an insane representation online.  I mean, I get it, they can be great. The one thing I don't get, however, is how bad for you many of these concoctions can be.

Indeed, it seems like people are solely interested in getting one or two good things down their gullets that they don't see anything wrong with all the bad they're also throwing in.  I've seen so many great-seeming recipes that are just ruined by the addition of yogurt, milk, or (shockingly) even sugar.

For the life of me I can't understand why anyone would add sugar to a smoothie.  Do you put sugar on your salads?  Well, maybe sometimes I'll admit I've had a honey-vinaigrette dressing while dining out... 

But how about a bowl of fruit?  

I mean fruit has so much sugar in it already... and it's fructose which is far, far better than sucrose.

Anyway...  sorry about that.

My point is just that I've been getting into smoothies.  And, as such, I've been delving into researching different aspects of consuming food in puréed form.  From what I can glean, much of the bad flak that is directed towards smoothies comes from an ignorance that fails to distinguish adequately between smoothies and juicing.

Juicing is bad.

I'll just say it.

Juicing involves taking a whole food and rendering it... not whole.

In addition to throwing away much of the good nutrients and roughage from what your juicing leftover as a by-product, there is the very interesting side of it which is how your body digests this juice.

I've been seeing and reading a lot about sugar lately, how North America really needs to reconceptualize how sugar is classified, and ultimately how it is consumed, in our diets.  A lot of it should be common sense (like avoid processed foods, eating pure whole foods instead), but one thing which I found very interesting, was the way in which our bodies metabolise sugars according to the rate at which these sugars are ingested.  Apparently your liver can literally go into 'shock' when too much sugar is consumed too quickly.  I mean, we always knew that blood glucose spikes are bad, and that the healthiest diets all consist of unrefined sugars and carbohydrates that take a long time to digest within the stomach, thus releasing sugar into the blood slowly and at a much more consistent rate.  After all, it's those spikes which are just really, really bad.

But we've all been there... you're hungry and haven't eaten all day so you pop a chocolate bar or a cookie and it gives you a literal rush of energy.  It has always been common knowledge that you'd get a sugar 'high' and then a corresponding sugar 'crash' soon after, often leaving you with less energy than you had had before.  This is super, dooper bad for you though.  That glucose spike just curb-stomped your liver,  stopping on its way only long enough to smack your pancreas upside the head.  They're still dazed long after the sugar has been 'metabolised'.  But the really scary thing is that, do this too often, and you're basically going to get type II diabetes... or studies are showing lately, even heart disease.

Heart disease from sugars?  Yup.

Sure I'm over-simplifying things, and let us not forget that I'm also not a doctor, but it does seem to make sense to me that if you piece together all the information we've been told over the last few decades indicating a preference for whole foods, whole grains, and unrefined sugars, it a clear picture is painted which places the speed at which your stomach can digest these sugars as playing a very large role.

Drinking a sugary beverage, even one made entirely of pure, organic, all-natural fruit or vegetables, isn't really great for you.

So here we circle back to juice, and juicing.

It seems there are still a lot of companies marketing (and successfully) juices couched in buzz such as 'organic', '100% pure', 'All-natural', etc.  And people are buying them.  Sure there are some nutrients in there, and sure, it's better than something artificial, but it still is not great for you.  And sure, I have been known to buy some OJ myself, in order to get a quick hit of sugar and vitamin C, but make no mistake, I consider this an 'extra' not a 'fruit'.  Indeed, part of this reconceptualization of sugars that is being called for, is the notion that juices should no longer be considered as fruit or vegetable servings.

Basically, with juice, you're taking something that your stomach would naturally take its time digesting slowly, with any nutrients entering the blood stream leisurely and naturally, and instead forcing a distilled and mis-represented deluge of concentrate into your stomach, with no roughage or anything to slow down the digestion.  

Think about it this way: if your cup of juice contains the juice from 5 large carrots (just as an example here), consider how quickly you'd be able to bite, chew and swallow 5 large carrots, vs. how long it takes you to drink 250ml of liquid.  Next think about all the extra things that go into your stomach when you eat 5 whole carrots, and how long your stomach will feel full afterwards, vs. the same considerations regarding 250ml of carrot juice.

Even if your juice says quite clearly on it 'no sugar added', it is imperative to note that it doesn't need to have sugar added because it has already concentrated the sugars from the fruit or vegetable.

Downing the sugars from 5 large carrots in a matter of a minute or two is just as bad for your blood glucose levels as drinking a can of coke.  In fact it contains almost as many calories.

So what if it doesn't have sucrose, glucose-fructose and other really bad laboratory-concocted sugars, the fact remains you've just dumped a shit-tonne of sugar into your stomach with no filter, nor any medium with which absorption gets slowed.

So... even good sugars (fructose) can be bad if distilled and concentrated into liquid form.

It's sad, because I used to love juice.  I was raised on orange juice.

Smoothies are often confused with juice, however, and I feel like we should stand up for them.  The same things do not (at least not necessarily) apply.

For one thing, you aren't removing any food or food nutrients.  Everything is still in there, you've just used a machine to 'chew' it for you.

If however, you are one of those smoothie drinkers who adds sugars, then there are considerations, namely those blood glucose level issues we were referencing above.  Even still though, you've got a lot of dietary fibre and solids in there to accompany the sugar, so it has to be a little better still, right?

But let's not even go there, let us--for the sake of this argument--assume we're only talking about smoothies consisting of nothing but natural fruit and vegetables.

If I drink a cup of smoothie that is, in order of volume, kale, almond milk, banana, blueberries and raspberries, sure my delivery method speeds up the consumption a fair bit, but I could argue that I could down the equivalent foods just as quickly.  But the important thing, I think, is that nothing has been distilled or concentrated.  It's still the food, and I'm still eating it whole, I've just blended it.

Think about this:  take all the food that would be equivalent to 250ml of a smoothie containing these things, and arrange them as a salad.  That's not a lot of food, so even taking your time, you'd probably only take a minute or two of eating, right?  So if I drink my smoothie in the same amount of time, what's the difference?  

Next, arrange the exact same salad, but instead of eating it all whole, squish all the liquids out of the food and throw away everything else.  Drink the paltry few millilitres you got from that, and think about how inefficient that was.  Finally, consider squishing enough of this food in order to get enough liquid to get back up to 250ml.  How much food did you imagine getting?  Imagine wasting?  Furthermore, consider how that liquid is going to be digested, all at once, in one big hurry?

I'm not your stomach, but I'm going to guess that it would far prefer the first scenario.

Even something as wicked-awesomely-healthy as kale, isn't great when juiced.  Made into a smoothie, though...  It is not really any different from eating it whole...  Just bear in mind that the healthiest smoothies are like the healthiest salads.  If you add a crapload of dairy or oils or fats or sugars, it isn't going to be as healthy, right?  So that's why common sense needs to prevail.

So... to summarize this rather long and raving rant... we went from: 'I like smoothies' to 'If you think smoothies are bad, you're probably confusing them with juicing', to 'juicing is bad because it is inefficient and because it concentrates a lot of sugars', to 'concentrated sugars lead to disease', to 'smoothies aren't all that different from eating whole foods', and finally ending on 'just be smart about it.'


You don't have to believe me, and sure if this was an academic paper or professional article I would have to back these claims up with references, and I'm not going to here.  But I could, if I wanted to, I'm just being lazy and well honestly, it's a blog people, not an authoritative doctrine.

If you are interested in what I've laid out here though, and whether you agreed or disagreed, I do (as always) strongly suggest and encourage you to read up on it yourselves.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Vegan Bean Dip

While not being an expert on bean dips, I have noticed that many (if not most) appear to really be "cheese dips" instead; they all seem to follow a similar theme, which is a small amount of beans, spices, and then a large amount of dairy.  For the dairy, I've seen everything from cheese to sour cream or yogurt, to even cream cheese.  Often some combination of these.

This is something I've never really understood.  I mean, you don't need to infuse flavour into this using 'tricks' like cheese or salt or the like; the awesome flavour of bean dip comes from... well... beans!


Myself, I'm a pretty decent fan of beans, lentils, and all things legume-like.  They're great for you, and have a low glycemic index, meaning they'll fill you up with good stuff without spiking your blood glucose levels.

So, I figured it was high time I tried to make my own version of bean dip.

Now, if you've read my posts before you'll know that about some things I seem quite knowledgeable and experienced, while about some other topics I defer to others' advice and admit to being a first-timer.  While some other times entirely, I also enter full-on experimenter mode, and am not satisfied until I've concocted what I believe to be the best iteration of a menu item I can possibly concoct.

Not quite Heston Blumenthal level of detail, but still enough to make me feel like I've considered everything it is that makes a particular something good and representative.

So, for bean dip, I needed to do some research on other people's bean dips first of all, and after being shocked by the abhorrent amount of bad things in what (in my mind) really COULD exist on its own in a healthy varietal, I decided to take action.


Now, because I wanted to make these without any animal products, some consideration needed to be paid to from where the flavour should be delivered.  Remember my penchant for assigning dominant vs. complementary flavours, well in this, bean dip, forgive me the conceit of thinking that beans should be dominant.

So, we want to play up the bean flavour, and accompany this with some complementary root veggies and dried spices.

For this, I went with, in order of prevalence (volume): white beans, pinto (refried) beans, onion, tomato, garlic, cumin seeds (freshly ground), oregano, jalapeño, avocado oil, smoked salt.

That's it.

The veggies all enhance the bean flavour without ever becoming so powerful as to overwhelm them.  Which is at the core of what I mean when something should be dominant and complementary... so, that's good.


Now for the preparation.

In today's age of competing products, there really is no shortage of brands of beans out there.  

As with ALL packaged foods, I strongly encourage you to READ your ingredient labels!

Remember that healthy eating begins at the store.  Now, that said, beans are one of those things that actually can be had, packaged, in a relatively pure and healthy form.  I've found many products on the market at a variety of grocers, wherein the ingredients are basically just beans.  Maybe tomatoes, or spices or salt as another ingredient, but for the most part, just beans.  Now, I've also seen beans with insane ingredients in there, so the rule of thumb is just don't trust the manufacturer, trust yourself, and read the labels.

This brand, Pacific, is actually pretty good, and I recommend it.  I admit I've not done a whole lot of their products, but I have enjoyed many of their soups... and these bean tetrapacks are really great.

These, after all, are the star attractions for tonight's rock show.  So please choose these carefully.

You can, of course, make your own beans from dried, and I have done this before, but if you choose a good packaged bean (read: not containing a crap-ton of superfluous and detrimental ingredients) that is pretty much just beans, don't feel guilty about that.  It really saves a LOT of time not to have to rinse, soak and cook your dried beans.  Like, crazy-town amounts of time.


First thing though, and before the beans even, is the soffritto, which if you've followed my spatterings at all, you'll know is a regular to many of my culinary forays.

The soffritto for tonights bean dip is going to be simple, and just onion, garlic, and pepper.

I used a fairly large amount of onion.  More than I would for other things, but think of it as the number two star of tonight's show.

The amount of garlic is still a little on the voluminous side, but more in line with my typical usage.

The oil you use for softening these veggies is important.  Try not to use olive oil.  I've talked before about the rise and fall of my love for olive oil, but that's neither here nor there.  

Tonight's dish doesn't really need a lot of cooking, especially not high-heat cooking, so our considerations for oil choice are more based on flavour.

So, I've opted for avocado oil.  Which incidentally does have a high smoke point, but for tonight's purposes I've chosen it for it's taste.

So, we lightly sauté the coarsely chopped onion in a generous amount of avocado oil for a few minutes, then add the garlic and (de-seeded) jalapeño and cook for another few minutes.

Because we want a little bit of heat for our bean dip (not muy piquante, but pleasantly warm), I chose to use two chillies.  But I made sure to de-seed and de-placenta them before chopping them up and adding them to the pan.

At this point I ground up a large amount of cumin seeds and dried oregano.

When the veggies were nice and soft, and the onion almost translucent (I'd say close to 10 minutes total on medium-low heat), I added the spices.

A couple of quick turns about the pan, and normally this would be ready to go into the blender or food processor.  But, bean dip is even more reliant upon texture than most things, and so we really want a uniform consistency here.  So, I added the baked beans at this point.

After a couple of minutes, now THIS was ready to be puréed in the blender.

As always, my trusty immersion blender is my go-to processor.  I find the degree of user-control to be unparalleled; it's very easy to make everything very even and smooth.

At this point I also puréed a single tomato.  For colour, flavour, and a bit of cool acidity.  Acidity is a good thing to have in a dish like this.

When everything got blended very smoothly, I carefully scraped it all into my slow cooker.

Next I added the refried pinto beans, which just need a few stirs as they are usually already nicely puréed.

Lastly, a pinch of smoked sea salt.

It's not a lot, and depending on whether your beans had added salt in them or not, you may even need less.  This really doesn't make or break the dish, it really is just about taste.

I really like the phrase (or, I guess, directive): "salt to taste".  I don't see it often enough, but I like what it implies.


Anyway, that's all stirred up, all nice and uniform in texture, and ready to be forgotten about for several hours in the slow cooker.

And, when done, this is a glorious, fragrant, bean sauce or dip.

Did I mention healthy?  This shit is so good for you, I might go so far as to say you could live off of it.  Maybe that'd get boring, but I will say that if you incorporated a good vegan bean dish like this in your diet on a weekly basis, you'd certainly be better off for it!

We've made this 100% vegan so far, and I recommend you keep it this way - it really is quite delicious (not just 'vegan' delicious, but ACTUALLY delicious) - but if you absolutely need to, you could sprinkle a bit of freshly shaved cheddar and/or some sour cream or yogurt on top.

Myself, I just sprinkled some fresh scallions on top.

And served it with a decently healthy (sodium is really the only bad thing) tortilla chip.


If you try this, you might wonder why so many bean dips have all that dairy in them yourself, as this really is quite tasty.  And filling... but in a good way.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Automatic Soap Dispenser

So, I don't think I've mentioned this before, but I have two automatic soap dispensers.

I used to use those little pumps for which you can buy refills, Method, actually, was my brand of choice.  But, for a couple years now already (yes, I should have mentioned this sooner, I guess...) I've been using motion-activated soap dispensers.

I bought one for the bathroom sink, and a second for the kitchen sink.

They are positively awesome!  They hold a fair bit of any kind of liquid hand soap (except the foaming kind, which is stupid anyway IMO) :D and as such, do not require refilling more than once every few months.

Although the manufacturer, SimpleHuman (which is a great brand for some stuff) makes their own soap refills, I still use Method soap for these.  Lavender scented, because I like lavender.


Anyway, because I'm a bit of a germaphobe they're great for washing up when your hands are dirty. However, other than receiving a perfectly-proportioned dollop of soap at the wave of a hand, the best part of these guys, I'd have to say is the fact that they have their own internal rechargeable batteries!
They can be charged using any microUSB cable, and either with a USB wall adapter or just into a USB port itself!  

A few hours of charging every few months only is all that is needed, and I would say that is with moderate-to-heavy usage.

Pretty cool stuff!

And I've never had issues with finicky sensor readings.  If anything, the sensor is a little TOO sensitive as I've had it dispense soap accidentally a couple of times.

It is easy to be mindful of the sensor though, and for those times when you just want it deactivated altogether, that is easily done as well (at the touch of a button.)

Anyway, a great kitchen (or bathroom, or any sink really) tool.  I've become so used to mine I don't think I could revert to a manually-operated soap dispenser!

Plus guests always comment on how cool they are, which never hurts!

If you're more than just casually interested in these, here is a link for more info.  I do strongly recommend getting the rechargeable kind, as the battery-operated versions require 4 AAs each, and go through them quickly!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Holy Organic Green Kale (Batman)!

I just bought a couple of particularly gorgeous-looking bunches of organic green kale, so I think it might be time for another instalment of...

Holy Organic Green Kale (Batman)!

In all reality, kale barely squeezes into this favourited slot.  It's really bitter, kinda tough, and can be hard to digest. However, because of its immense nutritional values, it proudly gained membership to this elite group of culinary spattering's favourite foods.

Kale is some of the produce that we like to buy organic.  I mean, organic vs. inorganic is always better, but with those really long stems sucking everything from the soil and surroundings, kale seems more than most that it should benefit from growing in a clean and V.O.C.-free environment.

The washing of it can be a bit tedious and time-consuming.

But I use the 'washing' as an excuse to also de-spine them and break up the leaves a bit.  Which is an appreciated step later on.  

Most often I use a fair bit of this stuff right away, but if I need to keep some, it can actually last quite (surprisingly) long in the fridge if you put it in a sealed plastic container lined with a paper towel or two.

I've had it last for close to a week before showing any signs of going bad, which is usually just some mild yellowing; certainly not as bad as other types of green leafy veggies (like romaine, which just seems to disintegrate into a wet black mulch when it starts to turn).  :)

Anyway, kale is great stuff.  I don't use it for or in as many things as I should.  Partly because of the bitter taste, but also partly because it is still relatively new to me.  I like making dumplings with kale, mixing small amounts into salad, but the lion's share of kale by far goes into smoothies.

Something I want to look into for the future, although it will probably wait until the weather starts to get a little cooler, in autumn perhaps, is including some diced kale in soups and stews and such.

Exciting stuff!