It's a classic December tale: the extra glass of eggnog, the second serving of dessert "all in the name of the holidays," and then suddenly, without warning, January materializes out of nowhere. Everyone you know and love is on a green juice cleanse, and you're wondering if you should start one, too. But hopping on a detox diet isn't the only solution; instead, why not start smaller by simply substituting the major food culprits behind that post-holiday bloat with their more nutritious counterparts? Swapping out dairy and white, processed flour from your diet can be an easy, lasting way to improve your overall health without compromising on flavour. Below, we've assembled some pantry improvement tips courtesy of one of Canada's pioneers of alternative baking for dietary restrictions and allergies, Joanna Schultz, the owner of British Columbia bakery Pikanik.
Pikanik, based out of South Surrey in BC, recently won Innovator of the Year from the Canadian Bakers Journal. Its products are all gluten free, nut free, soy free and dairy free, but what keeps Schultz's customers coming back is that her goodies all taste fantastic. She had always been a passionate baker, but she conceived of Pikanik when her daughter was diagnosed with dairy and wheat allergies. Frustrated with the limited (and often flavourless) options on the market, Schultz began experimenting with allergen-free baking. Five years later, business is still booming! Here are some tips and tricks from the expert on building a better pantry in the new year, as well as her sugar cookie recipe:
-Commercial sauces and salad dressings are often loaded down with starches, thickeners, and hard-to-identify sources of gluten. Make your own and freeze the leftover sauce for future use. Homemade salad dressings will keep for weeks in the fridge
-Swap out your usual pasta for a gluten-free blend made with quinoa and rice flour, such as GoGo Quinoa's spaghetti. (Gluten-free pasta is now widely available at your local grocery store in the gluten-free section, as well as any health food store!) The flavour and texture is comparable, but now you'll enjoy the benefits of additional protein and fibre.
-Going gluten-free doesn't mean having to give up on pancakes! You can order the Pikanik custom pancake mix from their online store here.
-There are plenty of gluten-free flour blends on the market these days, but they're each composed of different ingredients and ratios, so don't assume that they will all behave the same way when baking. Test out a few brands until you get comfortable with them.
Dairy and egg substitutions
-Your butter alternatives will depend on how the butter is being used in your recipe. If it's being melted, coconut oil works well in its place; if it's being creamed, try a soy-free margarine.
-Milk can be swapped out with rice milk, which has an unobtrusive flavour. In place of cream, try coconut cream instead.
-Egg substitutions also depend on the recipe for context. For a single egg substitution with a chewy texture (usually desired in bread baking), mix together 1 tbsp ground flax with 3 tbsp water and allow to rest for 10 minutes before using. For tender cakes and muffins, swap in a 1/4 cup mixture of fruit puree (applesauce or pureed pumpkin work well) and 1/2 tsp baking powder per egg. Non-dairy yogurt also works well in muffins; just swap in 2 Tbsp of yoghurt per egg.
PIKANIK ORANGE SUGAR COOKIES
Servings: 65 cookies
Hands on time: 20 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
For the cookies
2 cups margarine, softened at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 tsp orange extract
1/2 cup applesauce plus 1 tsp baking powder, mixed
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 2/3 cups brown rice flour
1 1/3 cups tapioca starch
1 1/3 cups potato starch
3 tsp xanthan gum
zest of one small orange
For the glaze
1 cup icing sugar
1 1/2 tbsp orange juice
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat softened margarine and sugar until fluffy. Add orange extract and apple sauce/baking powder mixture. Add salt, baking powder, brown rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, xantham gum, and mix thoroughly. Let dough rest 20 minutes or refrigerate for later use.
Scoop the dough into 1-oz balls, flattened slightly. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet about 2 to 3 inches apart. (Make-ahead tip: freeze any dough balls you don't want to bake for future use.) Bake in an oven heated to 350F for 8-10 minutes. Cool completely.
Whisk together the icing sugar and orange juice together until smooth. Add more icing sugar and/or orange juice until you reach your desired consistency. Drizzle glaze on cooled cookies and let rest until glaze has set up.
As their housing needs change with age, a group of Toronto women are turning to co-living, a community-focused housing option.
Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg was thinking about aging. It was 2012, and her son had just called to tell her there was a documentary on CBC Radio's The Sunday Edition about La Maison des babayagas, or The Babayagas' House.
A new-build apartment building in Montreuil, one of Paris's eastern suburbs, it looks like any other complex from the outside: six storeys with a modular façade and 24 private studio units, plus ample shared spaces, including a gym, a library, a meeting room and a garden. But inside, the documentary revealed, its differences were clear. For starters, everyone who lives there is elderly and female. Like a mature activist sorority, it has overflowing bookshelves, community engagement, collective meals and regular workshops on topics ranging from nutrition to memoir writing.
The residence is characterized by a playful but radical joie de vivre; even the term "baba yaga," which means witch or crone in Slavic mythology, is a tongue-in- cheek tribute to society's enduring negative perceptions of unattached women, the "cat ladies" of yesteryear.
Purpose-built for single senior women to age in dignity and companionship, the entire project is a state-funded and self-administered intentional community— a residential option designed to emphasize social connections and to serve members who share a common lifestyle. "Women who live alone are often lonely, especially once most of their friends have died," says Dorothy, now 79. "It's the caring that appeals to me and to a lot of us."
A call to action
That's why, for women across Canada who tuned in to the documentary, or heard about it from friends or family, learning about La Maison des babayagas felt like a call to action. In fact, soon after the airing, a group of about a dozen women, most previously unacquainted, began meeting to discuss a potential Toronto project. Dorothy was one of them, of course. All of the women in the group were worried about their own prospects for aging, and it didn't take long for them to come to the same conclusion: This could be the perfect alternative to the lonely future often experienced by single senior women. A small steering committee formed and has now been working for nearly four years to gather the necessary funding and community partnerships to open its own version of the French residence, Baba Yaga Place. (Though there is one major difference: While the Toronto project will be primarily for women, since their need is greater, it will reserve a small number of units for men or married couples who believe in their philosophy.) There's still a long road ahead, but plans are certainly in the works.
Senior co-living has long been a compelling, if under-the-radar, option, both in Canada and abroad. Models vary significantly, from mixed-generation co-ownership models to more classic roommate arrangements. The first Canadian versions were technically cooperative housing projects that prioritized older women's housing needs without excluding other groups. Vancouver's Mature Women's Housing Co-op launched in the 1980s, followed by a 142-unit building in downtown Toronto that officially opened its doors in 1997, an initiative spearheaded by the Older Women's Network Ontario. Wolf Willow Cohousing, a 21-unit condominium that opened in Saskatoon in 2012, was the first official co-living project. Then, in 2014, 68-year-old Beverly Suek transformed her three-storey Winnipeg home into an "intentional community for senior women." (As you might expect, comparisons to The Golden Girls have been irrepressible.) "Everyone has her own life, but if you want to watch a movie or do some gardening, there's someone to do it with," says Beverly.
Demographics are partially responsible for driving interest among women. As in most of the world, many women in Canada outlive their male counterparts, with an average life expectancy of 84 years versus 80. According to the Canadian Labour Congress, 30 percent of senior women who reside alone live below the poverty line—twice the rate of senior men—so pooling resources makes sense.
"For women of my generation, we're finding that our situations aren't what we expected," says Beth Komito-Gottlieb, 61, who spent much of her professional life supporting those on the autism spectrum. "Our money's not going as far as we expected, our pensions aren't what we hoped and, often, our marriages have broken down."
Baba Yaga Place philosophy
The core pillars of Toronto's Baba Yaga Place project closely mirror those of the French model: self-management, feminism, interdependence, community engagement and environmental responsibility. In the CBC documentary, the women of La Maison des babayagas speak passionately about integrating their planned community into the broader neighbourhood and teaching the French language to new immigrants; their social-justice narratives spill beyond the gates.
Dorothy, who has worked with the National Film Board of Canada and lectured at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, still rides her bicycle around the city. She can excitedly discuss a wide variety of interests, including but not limited to her granddaughters, her exercise schedule and that time she marched against the Vietnam War, shoulder to shoulder with legendary pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock. Mostly, though, she speaks of her lifelong activism and dedication to community—a commitment shared by Dorothy's cohorts, whose biographies highlight advocacy work of all stripes, as well as volunteering at libraries, singing in choirs and caring for rescued pets. "We're not just a bunch of old ladies," says Dorothy. "We have a lot of history, and the idea of social responsibility follows us."
The baba yaga vision is a stark contrast to aging alone, with or without the grim institutional norms of hushed dining rooms and social isolation. Ellen Passmore, 66, works for Ve'ahavta, a charitable organization that addresses homelessness and poverty, and was drawn to the baba yaga idea after dealing with the private assisted-living facility where her 92-year-old mother lives. "With traditional seniors' facilities, there's a lot of isolation from the day-to-day life of the community," she says. "It's all about loss of independence, loss of autonomy, loss of decision-making, and it's a very medical model. It's very clear to me that I don't want to go down that route."
In fact, several of those on Toronto's Baba Yaga Place committee can cite a moment—a car accident or a medical issue—when they started to more seriously consider the increasingly practical need for close community. Two years ago, when Dorothy, who has a son in Montreal and a daughter in France, needed hip-replacement surgery, her children were concerned about her ability to cope on her own. They were each able to stay with her for a week, but then the baba yagas took over, drawing up a care schedule to ensure that all of her needs were met.
The baba yaga emphasis on co-care comes with the promise that the women will be living independently, but in a supportive community—they will have the option to eat meals together in communal areas, and they can feel at ease knowing that neighbours are on hand if, like Dorothy, they need help. "I'm most looking forward to having people I can count on," says Ellen, who currently lives in a co-op.
Andrew Moore, the president of the Canadian Senior Cohousing Society, says co-living options build on the idea of extended families looking after each other, and they support a whole range of communities who want to live in a similar way, including faith-based groups, condo dwellers and seniors helping seniors. "It's about being able to flourish until the end of your days," he says.
The challenges ahead
The Paris project took 13 years to come to fruition, from the moment it was conceived by founder Thérèse Clerc in 1999 until the day the doors opened in 2012. Baba Yaga Place is hoping to get the Toronto project off the ground in a much shorter period, but the logistical issues involved are myriad and will require both political advocates and financial support to subsidize the development of a potential property. The four million euros in funding for La Maison des babayagas came from multiple public sources and was a pet project of the then-ruling Green Party.
As a group, the baba yagas here at home don't have sufficient personal means to buy land in downtown Toronto and build a community from scratch. And they don't want this project to be exclusive to those with big bank accounts. Instead, they're looking at rental options—anywhere from 20 to 60 units in a retrofitted disused church or school to a couple of floors in a new building (such as the massive complex destined for Toronto's Mirvish Village). Affordable housing is a major obstacle, but the baba yagas would like to remain in the downtown core. "We don't want to move to some beautiful spot in the country where no one's ever going to see us again," says Beth.
Despite these challenges, the women, like the various founders of senior co-living projects before them, have tapped into the need for a compassionate alternative to our present models for aging, one in which vibrant and supportive community looms large. Interest is likely to grow as the population ages; that's why, though there's no timeline for the Toronto baba yaga house, there's also no doubt about the demand for one. "If we started accepting applications, we would be flooded," says Beth.
Salt and Pepper Steak Rub
Photography by Ryan Brook Image by: Salt and Pepper Steak Rub <br /> Photography by Ryan Brook
Re Lauri Patterson/Getty Images Image by: Re Lauri Patterson/Getty Images