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Taking Your Taste Buds to Lunch

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Many people are suffering from lunch-basket burnout by this time of yea.

Many people are suffering from lunch-basket burnout by this time of year. You may have spent the last eight months trying to dream up a sufficiently varied and nutritious lunches for your children to take to school, or your own taste buds may be stuck in a rut. But by taking the time to properly nourish ourselves with a wide assortment of foods and to enjoy the sensual pleasures of preparing our own "take-out" food, we return food to its rightful role as an important factor in both health and culture.

For many, a sandwich is still the quintessential lunch-box staple, and the possibilities are endless. The old standby, organic peanut butter, offers a nice protein cover for your bread but, consider using other nut butters as well. If you have a good juicer or food processor, you can make your own nut butters in small enough quantities to keep them fresh. Nuts vary dramatically in price and taste, ranging from macadamia to almond and cashew. Before pur?ng the nuts, soak them overnight to increase their digestibility.

Bread Spreads

Other bread "spreads" include hummus, mashed avocado, grated raw vegetables, tahini or mashed, cooked beans. Check out the Whole Foods Kitchen in this issue for tasty herb spread recipes, or try the Spinach Spread recipe accompanying this article.

Cooked short grain rice tends to stick together and can make a good base for lunchtime creativity. Dust almost anything with nutritional yeast for an extra dose of B vitamins and a nice nutty flavour.

Fresh farm eggs hard-boiled and mashed together with homemade mayonnaise, a touch of mustard powder, salt and pepper to taste and perhaps some diced pickles (sweet or sour, the choice is yours) can be topped with cucumber slices and sprouts.

The same magic can be performed on tofu: boil up the tofu for two to three minutes, then cool before mashing. If you like it hot and appreciate the benefits of capsaicin, add some hot pepper sauce. Cottage industry offerings of hot sauces are popping up all across Canada. Look for them at local farmer’s markets, which open in late spring or early summer.

Use Your Leftovers

Leftovers can inspire creative genius in the kitchen. Diced or minced fresh vegetables can be added to leftover grains or pasta for a filling salad. Sprinkle with unhulled sesame seeds and minced fresh herbs to liven up yesterday’s food.

Sweet and sour or savoury baked tofu is delightful cold, especially if made from tofu that has been pre-frozen in water, thawed and squeezed out. Tofu prepared this way absorbs the maximum amount of flavour and adds a pleasant texture to the lunch experience. Cold, cooked garbanzo beans are also lovely eaten on their own or mixed with garlic, olive oil and fresh tomatoes for a luscious salad.

Be Saucy

Homemade sauces can have all kinds of applications in the lunch basket. Many can be used as a dip for fresh veggies, the sauce for a grain or pasta salad, or a sandwich spread. Try blending miso with tahini, tamari and flax oil to create a tasty and nutritious sauce. Or pur?lentil sprouts with hemp oil, nutritional yeast and a touch of tamari for a savoury spread. Kefir and unpasteurized yogurt can be spiced up with diced chives or green onions, a dash of hot sauce or a sprinkling of gomashio (a Japanese sesame seed condiment).

Don’t forget the popcorn and pickles! Popcorn is quickly made and can be spiced up with curry powder, gomashio, a ghee and olive oil blend, or nutritional yeast flakes. Try adding organic seeds and puffed grains for texture variety. Pickles add the "sour" so often missing in our diets and can be packed in small glass jars or plastic containers.

Other elements in a creative lunch include toasted nori strips or other sea vegetables, dried fruit of all sorts (unsulphured), a selection of nuts, and homemade cookies and muffins featuring in-season fruits that can be found across Canada starting in late spring and carrying through into autumn. Children who have engaged in a treasure hunt for wild-harvested berries will be all the more inclined to take them in their lunches and share their adventure stories with their friends.

Go Fresh

Get creative with fresh vegetables and offer green onion "wands," cucumber coins or broccoli trees. Those old standby carrot sticks will go over well with both young and old taste buds if they are fresh from the garden or local farmer. You’ll be amazed at the flavour difference. The same is true for vine-ripened, local tomatoes.

Raw, fresh fruit provides crunch, juice, fibre and colour to the take-out lunch. My children used to pretend that their apple pieces were sprinkled with cinnamon to account for the brown colouring. If someone you know has an aversion to the natural browning of cut fruit, try disguising it with a dusting of cinnamon or simply dip the fruit pieces in water to which you have added a touch of lemon juice. This will stop the browning.

A word about food safety: As we head into the hot summer months, it is important to keep many foods cold. If a refrigerator is not at hand, it is still possible to keep our lunches at an optimal temperature. Empty plastic vitamin bottles make great mini icepacks: simply fill them with water and freeze. If you pack them in the morning, by the time lunch rolls around, they will just be starting to turn liquid and your food will still be cold.

With all these ideas, now you’re well prepared for warmer weather, lazy summer days and, of course, picnics!

Simply Delicious Spinach Spread

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