Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A Healthier Breakfast Cookie

I’ve officially been back on Canadian soil for two weeks now and experiencing the classical ‘reverse culture shock’. I have to remind myself that I can open my mouth in the shower and brush my teeth with tap water, I forgot how fast Internet really was, and I am learning to use my iPhone all over again. One thing I am really enjoying? The reliable hot water and electricity in my apartment, makes me appreciate Canada so much more!

On the other hand, there are some things I miss about Africa. When it was ugly and snowing outside this weekend, I longed to be back in the sunshine and ditch my winter coat and gloves. I also miss the abundance of fresh and healthy produce available at all street corners for unbelievably cheap prices (juicy pineapples for less than $1, umm yes!!!)

My first trip to Starbucks was a huge reality check with their gleaming display of giant, overpriced, non-allergy friendly and unhealthy food selections. Now that I finally have a functioning kitchen again, I was so excited to get back to baking and the first thing I did was make a healthier version of Starbucks’s Fruit and Nut Oatmeal Cookie. According to their website, one of their breakfast cookies has 360 calories and a whopping 29 grams of sugar. I find their prices for food ridiculous, especially because it leaves you with nothing but a sugar coma and hungry tummy. This recipe below was adapted from several different blogs online and offers a much healthier way to enjoy a coffee and morning treat at your desk. Best of all? This recipe is gluten, soy, egg and dairy free, making it allergy and vegan friendly (unless you use a protein powder containing whey or soy protein isolate). If you’re allergic to nuts, try using Sun-Flour (made from sunflower seeds) as a substitute for almond flour, and try using Sunbutter or pumpkin seed butter instead of almond butter.

I don't know the nutrition or calorie count for these cookies, but you could always use an online calorie counter to figure this out. All I know is that they are much higher in protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals, and much lower in fat and sugar than the ones you get at Starbucks. The original recipe made 1 dozen, but I decided to only make 9 since I like my cookies big :)

1 cup rolled oats (I used Bob’s Red Mill GF)
½ cup Almond Flour (JK Gourmet)
2 scoops vanilla protein powder
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon each ginger, nutmeg and allspice

1 very ripe mashed banana
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 tablespoons almond butter (I like MaraNatha Almond Butter)
2 tbsp sweetener of choice (agave, honey, maple syrup etc, I just added a few spoonfuls of uncut stevia)
1 chopped granny smith apple

1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line a cookie tray with parchament paper
2.     Combine all the dry ingredients (oats through spices) in one bowl
3.     Combine wet ingredients and sliced apple in another small bowl
4.     Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until just combined
5.     Form into balls and press down onto cookie sheet
6.     Bake for 25 minutes if you make 9 large cookies like me, or 20 minutes if making one dozen
7.     Remove and let cool

These cookies freeze well and I’m looking forward to finishing the batch when I get back next week from my conference in Boston. A teaser for the next post, look at all the great, healthy products I found at Costco!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Asante Sana Africa

This afternoon I will be leaving Rwanda and returning to a sense of normalcy with life back home in Canada. Overall, my three month internship here in Africa has been one of my best life experiences so far. I have learned SO much, met some truly amazing people, and managed to skip another cold and snowy winter!

If given the opportunity to travel, I can’t stress enough how important and worthwhile it is to get out there and try living somewhere outside of your comfort zone. Although this blog is centered on fitness and healthy eating, I strongly believe that traveling to foreign countries can give you a more positive outlook on life, and increase your understanding of the world around you.

People back home love to complain, but let me tell you life in Canada is pretty cushy. The simple things I take we take for granted (running water, reliable electricity and internet, access to quality health care) are things that so few people in the developing world have, but desperately need.

No, my time here was not all rainbows and butterflies; there were some struggles and moments of ‘culture shock’ I had overcome. There were times when I really wanted to go home, like when I was projectile vomiting after a bad bout of heatstroke and food poisoning, or when there was no running water, electricity, internet or toilet paper at the hospital. Those were the times I longed for the conveniences of my apartment in London. However, these feelings would pass, and I learned to make do like everyone else here, the flashlight on my cheap Nokia phone turned out to be the best and most used feature!

Overall, travelling abroad, especially to developing countries, really gives you a different perspective on life. You finally learn what it means not to ‘sweat the small stuff’ and appreciate everything your home country has to offer.

My best tips when traveling abroad?
Learn a few words of the local language, this is very appreciated and will be helpful if visiting rural areas
Allergies aside, try to sample as many new foods as possible. I had some tasty goat stew, ugali, kachumbari, dodo greens, cassava, fish eyes (by accident), African eggplant, sorghum and millet porridge, matoke and large quantities of various tropical fruits during my stay here. Some things tastier than others, but always worth it to say “yah I tried that” and get a feel for the local culture and flavours
Smile, be friendly and greet people! In Rwanda, it is very common to say hello to strangers on the street, wave at all the school children, and shake hands before beginning a conversation with anyone.

If your Department Head ever calls you into her office and says “how about going to Africa next semester?’ do yourself a huge favor and say yes