Halloween craft recipe: Ghoulish gummy dessert

gummy dessert recipeTrick or treat? This storied Halloween dessert idea delivers both, with a subversive twist. Because what’s any holiday without a little sex and death served up to the table?

halloween devil face maskThe man with the neon kindergarten funland tray is not Tom’s brother. Can’t be. Tom has never seen the familiar face twisted into such a mischievous grin. The devil horn headband – lent by one of three darling nieces sitting at the dining table with Tom and his wife – completes the disguise.

“The treat is the gummies and the trick? Well girls, you’ve got to go hunting to track down your prey,” explains their uncle, setting down the tray.

One tiny pink hand reaches out and grabs a gummy mouse right out the nearest snake’s mouth. Then bedlam! Streamer and ribbon and sugar everywhere! The hunt, the competition, the strategy, the deliciousness!

Tom ignores the mayhem. His total focus is on the two other adults at the table. His brother and his wife. What’s this feeling? Jealousy? Fear? All the joy of her children is being channeled into his wife’s eyes, her delicate quivering nose; her small pink rosebud mouth is half open in ecstasy. There is another hunter at the table. All history rewrites itself, swirling under the tsunami of this new ordering. It all makes sense to Tom, everything – suddenly, horribly. And he sees on his youngest daughter’s face that same terrible grin for the second time tonight. Too much the same.

gummy dessert trayGhoulish gummy recipe:
Assorted predator/prey gummies (Bulk Barn)
1 roll green streamer
2 yards/meters green ribbon
Serving tray
Tin foil or plastic wrap

Cover tray with foil or plastic. Add streamer and ribbon – be as messy as possible! Cut slits in snakes’ mouths to hold prey. Distribute gummies, hiding half between layers of streamer. Happy Hunting!

Can a salad sex up your summer?

sexy saladsYou know you want it… the tastes, the smells, the mouthfeel (oh man, I love that word). Go ahead and indulge. You’re worth it. You’ve earned it. Life is short. Woah… wait a second. Are we talking about sex or salads here? Can the prerequisite platitudes we use to defend anything from hair colouring to having affairs apply equally to vegetables? Life is short – here, have a carrot. Nope. Didn’t think so.

pineapple avocado saladSo if life is so short why bother eating healthy? Because it’ll be a hell of a lot shorter if we don’t? Like that argument ever works – not! How about another tempting equation: eat salad = get skinny = get laid? Logical. But just ask the next whiny wisp of a woman how sexy she feels tucking into her sprouts n’ lentils. Now, I can sit here and wax on about supporting one’s optimal system state with a custom care diet that’s high in fiber/nutrients and low in calories/sugar. But why bother when the straight-up skinny is…

Pure unadulterated pleasure.

smoked herring saladForget parched packaged veggies and Subway blasphemies. The key is to go right back to your hunter gatherer roots and get primal about your lunch. The grocery store becomes your ranging territory rather than an overwhelming warehouse. Follow your senses! Hunt for the colours and textures that stand out (most likely to be in season) from the others and get creative. Jumble a load of random deliciousness into your basket – veggies, fresh/dried fruits, cheeses, kippers, etc. And don’t forget about novelty dressing ingredients. Listen to your mood, to the weather, and pay attention to whatever items stimulate and/or excite a reaction or craving.

raspberry pumpkin seed saladChop/roast/mix your foragings and store them in containers (I’ve taken over our office fridge’s bottom drawer) for easy custom salad recipes, made according to the tastes of the day. Basically, you’re trying to create easy access to a sensory orgy of nutrient rich unprocessed foods while giving you a sense of control over your system state without sacrificing novelty, risk, or surprise.

Can a salad set-up sex up your summer? Hell ya! When we invest time and energy into supporting our optimal system state – however counterintuitive the specifics may feel at first – we gain a new sense of ownership and appreciation for our bodies. Rather than feeding a desperate amygdala with sugars and fats, a healthy system gives us space to indulge a far greater range of pleasures – gastronomic and otherwise. An attitude of curiousity and honest indulgence about food (+ all that zinc) keeps our brains alert for other… um… indulgences. And obviously, getting in primo shagging shape is an extra bonus.

Weight loss from a system state perspective

body worlds exhibitYou desired. You ate. You were satisfied. Is there anything more exquisitely human? More worthy of celebration? But at the same time… so shackling? Sure, you can go full-on Buddhist and meditate to cognitively cancel out the dualities – been there bought the T-shirt – but enlightenment is an unnervingly unipolar, and surprisingly uncreative state of being. I prefer to grind brilliantly through life – but how do we honour our glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls, without becoming their slave?

Your conscious mind is only one small poignancy in your body’s comprehensive system state. Any arguments it puts forth should (ideally) be vetted against the needs of the entire system – wherever you’ve placed your flexible system state boundary. Test your ‘logic’ to see if it supports the three features of a successful system: its ability to adapt, accommodate, and regenerate. But here’s the thing. We project human designed systems into our society as reflections of our own internal biology. But our projections, in the forms of municipal governments, transportation systems, or even current weight loss programs, are invariably filtered through our left brain world of categorization and quantization. We find ourselves craving rules, numbers (BMI, calories), and all the social bell curve bullshit that add up to turn something as gloriously human as satisfaction into a moral issue of right/wrong and good/bad rather than how it supports the system as a whole.

Pragmatic system state theory asks the question: what is the true system cost of being fat? Now, I’ve always been attracted to bigger boys – in so many more ways than one – and I even recently found myself reconceptualizing my own “before picture” into a secretly indulgent celebration. But the hard (or rather soft) truth of the matter is that excessive fat prevents the body’s systems from effectively adapting, accommodating, and regenerating. Everyone’s optimal body set-point is different (due to genetics/hormones/stress) but when you tune into your most intimate biology you really get a sense for what keeps you humming along at your best. Leave your social and rational mind out of this! Your brain is only too eager to bullshit you back to the buffet! I have held tight to the truth for four years. But now, risking the wrath of big-bliss trolls, I feel brave enough to share it with you…

Body Worlds Exhibit Calgary 2010: A middle-aged obese man comes face to face with a plasticized slice of himself. I watch in rapt, almost gleeful, horror, as he is forced to acknowledge his own suffocating internal geography: intestines twisted and squeezed, skin stretched and distorted, liver puckered with yellowed lard… This is not fat as a cuddly blanket, a warm protection, but an invasive, merciless systems takeover by leaching grey/white masses of gelatinous flab. It took me five full blocks of my walk home to come up with a description of the man’s expression… “stern indignance.” I can still see his face.

Overcome a taste aversion in 5 simple steps

taste aversionA taste aversion is your brain being an overprotective parent. Sure, it has your best interests in mind, but that’s not much of a consolation when you’re the only one at the party who can’t binge on the olive dip or tequila jello shooters. From an evolutionary perspective, developing an aversion to a food or drink connected with (how do I put a this delicately?) a post-ingestion ‘indelicacy’, makes good biological sense. But sometimes this mechanism overcompensates and we’re left missing out on all the fun.

It was a magical night… The newlywed couple, deeply in love and deeply stoned, gazed dreamily into each other’s bloodshot eyes over a greasy vinyl tablecloth at Ottawa’s Shawarma Palace. Yes, magical, until the foolish bride munchied her way through an entire soup bowl sized slurry of ridiculously potent garlic dipping sauce, plus garlic potatoes and garlicky chicken shawarma! Thus, began the nightmare… CLICK HERE (if you dare). Don’t do drugs, kids – just don’t.

evil garlic bulbYes, dear readers, that dear sweet not-so-innocent girl was yours truly. For almost ten years post-trauma I managed to live quite contentedly off the garlic grid. Everything was peachy until the owners of my office building’s downstairs cafe changed and the ventilation system started pumping nauseating garlic fumes directly into my workspace through the overhead vent!

“Really?” I said, looking up at the ceiling – and possibly a little higher to find someone to blame for this cruel twist of fate. “REALLY?!”

No escape, no more excuses. I could either quit my job or somehow trick my brain into loving that little demon bulb again. Because I tell ya, time sure wasn’t doing the trick! And after spending years researching the brain, I knew exactly how to set about it…

The proof is in pudding, or in this case, the garlic chicken n’ sweet potato curry (pictured above) I ate for supper last night… and today’s breakfast… and lunch… CLICK HERE FOR RECIPE

How to overcome a taste aversion in 5 simple steps:

1- Find the origin story of your taste aversion and accept it with unrelenting compassion. This will give you permission to rationally refute your emotional/sensory bias, which will give you a good start. But like most cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), reconceptualization without more direct communication with your subconscious is a whole lotta pain for oftentimes marginal gain.

2- Observe your reflexive responses and replace them with new body behaviours. I noticed that whenever I was watching the Food Network, and the host would say, “and now add the garlic,” my face – no joke – would seize into textbook disgust. I consciously began anticipating garlic and greeting its stage entrance with a wilful smile. Felt like an idiot, sure, but only until the new reflex became automatic (which happened surprisingly quickly).

3- Visualize, visualize, visualize! This is big one. Start with visualizing (using all your senses!) other people enjoying your food or alcohol taste aversion. Fill the scene with as many positive emotional and sensory associations as possible. I used a warm, happy Italian family having a Sunday supper in a rustic Tuscan kitchen (stereotypes are great here because they come pre-loaded with helpful associations). Project yourself into the scene. Then, when you’re ready, visualize yourself enjoying the food in question on your own terms, in your own setting. Note: practice visualizations in Theta brain wave state for maximum effectiveness, when you’re dozing off or groggily waking up.

4- Practice a kinder, gentler version of exposure therapy. Sure Vogue food writer Jeffery Steingarten was able to fake it till he made it with his taste aversions, but why torture yourself? Develop your new intimacy slowly and strategically. Personalize new recipes and really play with this new ingredient. I chose a particularly non-threatening, dare-I-say ‘cute’ garlic bulb to get me started. Invite the food into a kitchen (and bedroom – wish I was joking) that’s loaded with positive associations, good music, mood, and/or company. Keep your mind and senses in the present moment to prevent memory from hijacking control. And don’t pressure yourself. First dates don’t dictate relationships – I would know!

5- Take your power back and watch your words! I was playing a dangerous game above when I referred to garlic as “that little demon bulb.” Words have incredibly powerful associations, so be careful which words you use when talking about your loosening aversion – especially to yourself. This is going to sound painfully Oprah-esque, but… appreciate where you are in your journey (Ow! it hurts to even type that!). Don’t lie to yourself by saying, “Ooooo I love ______,” when it pops up on the menu, but be honest and take that moment to reflect on your successful experiments and how you’re so proud of yourself for working at taking back your personal power over your taste aversion. Which is to say, take these opportunities to consciously congratulate yourself for learning to work with your brain and not be bullied by it!

Update: Using the above method, I’ve now cured my taste aversion to olives too! Finally, I can take the Mediterranean off my no-fly-zone list – watch out Greece, here comes Cymbria!

How to start merging your efficiencies with your indulgences

naked dancingI dressed up to flash the window washer this morning. Just another day at the office. Life is short – don’t make it short on fun! Just go for it! Play with your food, your clothes, and, in between snooze alarms… your wonderful self!

fast and easy summer salad recipes 3

“Sure,” you say, “but I have to do such n’ such, then yada yada, then…” Bet you’ve got a mile long list of efficiencies that ‘need’ to taken care of before you can drift off into your indulgences and escape to your Secret Garden. Bullshit!

Once you accept the simple truth that your brain will only let you do what you want to do and that there is no ‘have to’, you win back your freedom to play – anytime, anywhere. Our brains trick us into compartmentalization and hypervigilance. And, by natural extension, our culture promotes this fallacy. Our extended systems (community, culture) tend to reflect and exaggerate our internal functioning. Example: primal fear of starving has linked itself, full force, to the fear of not answering your boss’s email fast enough – connected in your brain to getting fired and not being able to afford food. But what might feel logical, even temptingly  intuitive, can trap you in unrealistically stressful beliefs and encourage extreme compensations like addiction, cheating, and obesity.

Why don't we tie it all together?Western culture’s ever widening gap between perceived efficiencies and indulgences has become crippling to our mental, physical, and spiritual health. But we don’t have to be slaves to outwardly imposed glamours. Let’s tie our wants and needs closer together! (in this case with a darling little bow) Trust your senses, not your preconceptions. Take your system boundary back down to the surface of your skin. What does commuting ‘feel’ like? Be honest. Probably just like sitting on the couch watching your fave program. Relax into it, why the hell not? We have choice. Don’t let so many millennia of evolution go to waste! We each have a prefrontal cortex that’s just begging to be allowed to reprogram our Viable Worlds.

Turn off CNN’s perma-coverage of flight 370 for a second. We are blessed to live in a glorious age of concealer and condoms, grocery stores and glasses. Big spoiler alert… You’re gonna die. So what? Really, so what. Depending on where you place your system boundary, this small detail can be of either infinite importance or infinite unimportance. Re-quantize your relationship with time (details in upcoming posts). I know, I know, the concept takes neuroplasticity and self-acceptance to their very limits, but if I can learn to do it anyone can! Slowly, after concentrated practice in attention control, every breath you take (in… out…) becomes a lifetime lived in full. Why not make each the most honest, complete life you possibly can?

shower sexTake inspiration from Japanese ryokans: “As my food is being prepared for me, I’m being prepared for my food.” – Anthony Bourdain. Use this sort of priming and splash yourself with cold water before stepping into the best shower of your life. Story your dishes… why not? Turn your salads into personalized sensory symphonies by following the example of Naples pizza makers: “Almost a poetry to it.” – Heston Blumenthal (because apparently I get all my wisdom from TV chefs lol). Shitty morning? Accept your emotion with unrelenting compassion and work it through your body with a snooze alarm interpretive dance that embraces the unabashed horror and agony of the moment. Just go for it!

Exercise in Engagement: Roll up a sleeve. Bury your nose in the warm, soft – possibly furry – inside of your elbow. Take a long deep breath of your scent. This is a new intimacy. This small area of skin is all your own. Give it a little lick. Its smell, taste, and texture are the physical manifestation of every decision you, your parents, your parents’ parents ever made. This is time. This is life. This is you. Love this moment and be transformed into your own, delightfully portable, indulgence.

Have we all gone mad?

Healthy choice general tso chicken steamerBefore every revolution there is a tipping point, a fine line in the sand that heralds the inevitability of a cultural paradigm shift. Fanatics are rebranded as leaders, and past leaders as fools. Today that line was crossed, not tiptoed over, but jumped across with both feet landing solid on the other side, no turning back.

‘General Tso’s Spicy Chicken Healthy Choice Gourmet Steamer’ – The name of today’s lunch provided more of a mouthful than the paltry 300 calorie, sodium loaded, mockery of sustenance contained inside. Now, I’m a woman habituated to a culinary culture that has us all walking around with salt-licks hanging around our necks. And I’ve been desensitized to the inhumanity of chemistry lab ingredient lists. I can overlook the fact that out of the 73 words appearing in this “Healthy Choice” ingredient list, 35 of those words – including all available forms of parentheses ([{}]) – are dedicated exclusively to “cooked seasoned chicken chunks.” Whatever.

As we become further removed from the growing and processing of food, we are also being increasingly separated by physical barriers. More layers to tear through and discard in the form of packaging. This is more than poetic metaphor – this is f*&^ing ridiculous!! The packaging on ‘General Tso’s Spicy Chicken Healthy Choice Gourmet Steamer’ has crossed over into the kind of cultural exaggeration on par with Marie Antoinette’s sky high wigs and WWE wrestling. Has the whole world gone mad! One use, 300 calories – cardboard box, thick plastic bowl, inner plastic steamer tray, plastic sealed top… is nobody else seeing the insanity here???

general tsoThe average human would have to eat a whopping 7 of these ‘Gourmet Steamers’ to meet their daily calorie requirements. Which, beyond cost and nearly doubling our daily sodium needs, would create a mountain of trash big enough to completely bury poor General Tso and stop him from ever objecting to this appalling (on so many levels) bastardization of his namesake.

Our wastefulness has officially crossed over into the obscene. We jack ourselves up on caffeine with single serving cups/lids/stirrers/sugars/creamers. And bottled water!! Buy a f*&%ing filter people!! Convenience, once a glamour, has become an insatiable. We guzzle energy with a gluttony that would make Caligula blush for shame. I live in Calgary, Canada’s pick-up truck capital, and am constantly dodging out of the path of these behemoths. They harness the power of hundreds of horses and thousands of pounds of metal/rubber/glass, but the only load I ever see them hauling is a few inches of penis and a couple of fleshy nuggets riding shotgun below. There certainly can’t be any brains on board!

I am no fanatic, but maybe I’m fool enough to believe that we can all be heralds to this cause. The madness has to stop. I pledge to forward this post to ConAgra Foods, the makers of ‘General Tso’s Spicy Chicken Healthy Choice Gourmet Steamer’, one week from today (Aug. 7th) along with the total number of Likes and Comments received on this blog post (and the same post on Blank Canvas Living’s Facebook page or Twitter). Let’s join hands and jump over that line together, and into the bright new paradigm beyond!

UPDATE (Aug. 7th): As promised, I’ve forwarded this post on to ConAgra Foods and will keep you posted as to their response. Thank you for all your likes and comments!

UPDATE (Aug. 15th): I’ve posted ConAgra’s response in the comment section below. In rebuttal: If the only available solution to a problem is one that has destructive consequences, in this case to the environment, I think we really need to ask ourselves if we have defined a problem worth solving. In this case the ‘problem’ was choosing a material for a one-use microwave safe steamer tray. Do we, as a society, really ‘need’ a one-use microwave safe steamer tray? And if we, as a society, decide that the answer is “yes,” then maybe the root problem lies within the very nature of that society. Which I believe, is the definition of a problem worth solving!

Save major time and money with this grocery list template and bonus online flyer trick

Time saving grocery list templateOverwhelmed by choice, the modern hunter/gatherer can easily fall prey to the psychological manipulation of 21st century grocery stores. Arm yourself! In a retail environment specifically designed to seduce you into following its lead, this grocery list template will let you get in and out without succumbing to temptation or be paralyzed in the produce aisle. I’ve been there, bag of carrots in hand, caught in a moment of near existential angst – “where do I go from here!?”

Click Here To Download Grocery List Template

Stress, existential or otherwise, causes us to think with our limbic/emotional reactive brain. Use this structured list to guide your rational brain gently through the aisles. The vegetable section is given the largest space on the template to give a direct visual cue to load up on soil born succulence and minimize less healthy items. Yes, there are some cravings that demand satisfaction, but you can’t seriously tell me you woke up dreaming about that jumbo bag of novelty gummies on the endcap of aisle #3.

*BONUS* I saved $45 at the checkout the first time I used this trick! Most grocery store chains now post their weekly specials flyer online. Write these sale items into your grocery list template before you fill in the rest. With the sale items on the page in front of you, you can then build the remainder of your grocery list and Meal Map (details in an upcoming post) around these foods.

Follow these links to your find grocery store’s weekly specials:
Sobeys * Loeb * Safeway * Loblaws

Don’t see yours? Links to other Canadian grocery stores can be found at Smartflyercanada.com. And if you’re looking for links to American stores Click Here.

Sandwich to Salad Week Day 5: The happy ham and egg weekend brunch anticipation salad

The happy ham and egg salad

What is joy? One brief moment of sensory/emotional bliss? Extend the moment retroactively through time with this ‘happy ham and egg salad’. This flavour preview lets you enjoy the raw exquisite anticipation of what lies just out of reach – the weekend. But this salad is more than its emotional garnish. ham and egg salad ingredientsIt is no mediation, no compromise. There’s no lettuce filler or mere hint of ham. This is not a Subway sandwich lying to your face with false promise of satisfaction. This is today. This moment is all we have, all we are. Let’s make this lunch as pure an indulgence as we possibly can. As this 5 day meal plan revolution draws to a close, let’s celebrate with a firework explosion of flavour, colour, and texture. Exalt! For you (and your taste buds) have survived another week at work!

The happy ham and egg weekend brunch anticipation salad
2 boiled eggs
50+g sliced ham
1 yellow bell pepper
2 small tomatoes
2 large white mushrooms
1/2 cucumber

Chop all ingredients into bite-sized pieces. Drizzle with your happiest dressing – perhaps some ‘Punny Mustard Vinaigrette’?

This is a Story Thread post – Click to read more…

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fast and easy summer salad recipes 3Day 1: The ham and cheese sandwich salad + Inspiration story
Day 2: The fresh off the ‘cobb’ salad that can’t be ‘beet’ + Punny mustard vinaigrette
Day 3: The ‘too healthy for its own good’ beany bread bonanza salad
Day 4: The solar powered spinach mushroom salad + *BONUS* The ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ salad
Day 5: The happy ham and egg weekend brunch anticipation salad