13 April 2014

The elusive haroset recipe

I'm sure like many others, the haroset your mother made was always the best -- and never duplicated. It was very true in my mother's case and until this year, I think I'd only made it once. But this Pesach, my mother asked me to make it, so I had to step up to the plate. And, if I may be so bold as to say, I scored!

I had the old recipe book from the shul in Harare but in my usual style took to the internet to see what others do and pick and choose my way to the perfect combo of ingredients. Well, all the Sephardi recipes I found had all kinds of jazz in them that just wasn't right for me. Next was a call to mom to ask how she did it. Explanation provided, I mentally prepared myself for it. I don't think she was feeling too confident in me as I got a call the next day just to reiterate exactly what was what!

In the end, it was a combo of my mom's word and the wisdom of the shul cookbook combined that led to my haroset success.


The most awesome (and simple) Sephardi haroset on earth
  • 4 apples, tart-ish
  • 500 g dates (do yourself a giant favour and make sure they are pitted)
  • 1 cup almond flour (or a mix of ground almonds and walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup kosher wine (Manishewitz is my pick)
  • splash of cider vinegar
Chop up the dates and put them in a bit of hot water for a few minutes until they are really soft and you can mush them up to a paste with a wooden spoon. Leave to cool a bit.

Peel the apples and then coarsely grate them. You don't want them to be too wet so if the apples are really moist, then just squeeze the juice out of them into another bowl (this will give you a little apple juice drink later!)

Put the grated apples, mashed dates, wine, and almond flour into a bowl and mix them until it's all nicely mixed together. Taste to see how sweet it is and if it's super sweet (which it's hard not for it to be), then add a splash of cider vinegar to cut the sweetness and give it some brightness.  
Refigerate. Done!

15 March 2014

It happened to me and I am telling you so it doesn't happen to you...

Oh the wacky world of diet and exercise.

A few years ago... I watched my diet, religiously following Weight Watchers. Lost some weight. Fulfilled my truly lifelong dream of starting a running regime. Ran some 5Ks, some 10Ks, even completed a half marathon in sub 2:30. I was riding high.

But then, I stopped running so much. But I didn't stop eating the way I did when I was running. I 'knew' Weight Watchers, so I stopped counting points. Then WW changed and I just lost the plot on the new program, not liking the new points values and the moral-feeling judgment it made regarding my food choices.

I gained a bit of weight back. Not a ton, but about 10 pounds on any given day. It held steady. I ran off and on but never again with regularity, distance, or the verve I had in the beginning. I played around with WW, gluten-free, dairy-free, and felt better then worse then better then worse then fine then better then worse then fine and so on and so on.

And it just never got better. As the weight bounced, so did all the other things that running and weight loss had helped. Anxiety, tiredness, all of it... it's been no good. And as that kept going, I became more and more unable to get my head around what was going on with me.

I can't say that I have it figured out, but I can see the path of this destruction pretty clearly right now.

I kept acting like I was the thinner and more active me. And that's got to change.

So, what is the plan? I am going to be on a much cleaner diet, I am going to track my food on my fitbit (or maybe noom - it's an app - anyone using that?), and I am going to be more active. I am going to run three days a week and do something else at least two days a week. I am going to meditate for 5 minutes every morning. I am going to make this work for me. I know how to do it, I've done it before...

28 January 2014

Chicken Parmesan Sandwich

I've had a headache for several days and with it, a wicked craving for a chicken parmesan sandwich.


And there it is! Yum!!!

This is what I did so you can do it, too.

I used an Aidan's bun. They are gluten-free. I bought it at the Carrot and while I don't love them, they have a portugese bun-y consistency that works with this type of sandwich. The package is now frozen in my freezer, so I grabbed one, wrapped it in foil, and out it in the oven (425 degrees) for 15 minutes. Took it out, sliced into it, and kept it warm.

Chicken. Pounded out chicken breast. In two bowls, I out in egg mixed with water and another bowl of glutton bread crumbs mixed with salt and pepper, parsley, and garlic powder. I sprayed a pan with cooking spray, laid the chicken out, sprayed with cooking spray, and then put in the 425 oven. I cooked it for about 45 minutes.

I heated up some Archer Farms Arrabiatta sauce. Spread some in the bun. Sprinkled on some shredded cheese. Put the crispy chicken breast on the bun, topped with more sauce and added more shredded mozzarella.

And yeah, it was good. I still have a headache and am so tired that I can barely lift my head, but I have satisfied the chicken parmesan sandwich craving so today is a win!

16 January 2014

Eating gluten-free is soooo much easier when you are eating dairy... for example, one of my comfort food staples, mac-n-cheese can be enjoyed and loved.


Let me give you the recipe...

Mac-n-Cheese with Chorizo

2/3 package of Catelli gluten-free penne (that's the amount I had left!)
2 cups of milk (1%)
2.5 tbsp corn starch
cheddar cheese to taste
parmesan to taste plus more for sprinkle on top
gluten-free panko to sprinkle on top
chorizo (gluten-free)

1. Cut up the chorizo and fry it until it's crispy
2. Boil the pasta until it's almost done, then drain
3. While the pasta is cooking, put the milk in a small saucepan with corn starch
4. Stir the milk until it starts to bubble and thicken up
5. Stir in cheese and let it melt
6. Mix the cheese, pasta, and chorizo and mix in a bit of mustard
7. Oh yeah, and salt and pepper it up!
8. Pour the pasta mix in the pan, sprinkle with parmesan and bread crumbs
9. Spray some cooking spray on the bread crumbs
10. Bake in a 425 oven for 15 minutes then broil for 5 minutes
11. Let set for 5 or 10 minutes

I really enjoyed this. I didn't want to get into figuring out how to make a roux or anything fancy, so corn starch in milk worked a treat. I loved the mac n cheese and will definitely be making it again!

Hope you like it too!

15 January 2014

I quit you, Weight Watchers!

It lost me with PointsPlus.

I lost weight on Weight Watchers. For the most part, it was easy going, a simple formula of calories, fat, fibre, that made sense and was easy to guesstimate when you were out.

Points were what I knew, and it was a good thing.

And then came the PointsPlus. Stupid stupid PointsPlus. Demoralizing PointsPlus.

And then I went gluten-free and the PointsPlus became even more frustrating!  Gluten-free breads and pasta are ridiculously high in points! RIDICULOUSLY HIGH! Even when not so high in calorie.

It came to the point (ha!) that I had to face facts, burn more calories than you eat.

Don't just burn more calories of the types of food that take longer to digest in your system so they are lower in PointsPlus and therefore 'good' to eat.

Don't just eat fruit bc it's zero PointsPlus even though that smoothie had 400 calories in it.

Just don't do Weight Watchers anymore.

So I quit. Today, I cancelled my online membership and deleted the app from my phone.  I am counting calories using the fitbit food log and seeing the calories I burn against the calories I eat. And it makes sense.

During the PointsPlus rollout Weight Watchers often said something along the lines of 'We developed PointsPlus because we thought it was ridiculous that a bag of 100 calorie cookies had the same points as an apple'.  While you still need to burn the same number of calories, we are going to value the food that you eat and 'reward' you for 'good' choices and 'penalize' you for 'bad' choices. But wait, we're a diet where you can eat anything, as long as you don't mind docking a million points for your 'you're so naughty' 100 calorie bag of diet cookies. No calories are calories.  Don't make a moral judgment on my food choice.

Not to mention the frustration I have long felt with Weight Watcher's reliance on low-fat foods and other franken things to help keep points low. Ridiculous. Reading through the message boards, etc., there are a plethora of weird recipes crafted out of scientifically engineered low-fat foods so you can eat chemical laced sweets for low points.  What?  That's not healthy living.

So yeah, again, today, I quit you Weight Watchers. I believe that I need to burn more calories than I eat and I need a program and lifestyle that supports me. You don't anymore. So goodbye and thanks for the memories.

04 January 2014

Not Getting Sick in India and How to Pack for the Ladies.


We recently returned from a two week stay in India.  It was amazing and wonderful and overwhelming and incredible and fantastic.  We rode elephants, saw the Taj, ate amazing food, saw tea plantations ... we really did so much that the two weeks felt like a month!

Before going, I had two main questions that I googled endlessly: one was what to pack, and the other was how not to get sick.

I scoured the internet for packing lists and dietary tips. I read tons of blogs and found that some were good and some really missed the mark.  As a result, I decided to write my own round-up to supplement what's out there.

How Not to Get Sick
We didn't get sick. At All.  And I am not going to lie, we were pretty cocky about avoiding delhi belly or any other gastric distress issues while away.  I have a super sensitive stomach and G has digestive issues that we get sick ALL THE TIME when we travel,s o getting through this unscathed was nothing short of miraculous. EXCEPT for the fact that we were incredibly prepared.

First thing that I truly believe made a difference was taking probiotics before going and while away.  I began taking them about 3 weeks in advance of going.  I took Align, but there are all kinds of different ones that are available.  This one was recommended by a pharmacist, so I grabbed a box and started in. I took it every day before bed and didn't miss a day. Increasing the healthy bacteria can't hurt, so give your stomach the best defense straight out of the box. 

The second part of not getting sick was being hyper careful about the water. We all had some fear of the water, and we were always pretty cautious.  Almost all bottled water was sterilized but we often still used our steri-pen for added protection.  And we brushed our teeth with bottled water (sterilized with the Steri-pen).  In restaurants, etc., we drank beer or cokes and never used any ice, even when told it was safe.

(Let me say that the Steri-pen is AMAZING. It sterilizes a litter of water in 90 seconds, in the bottle, with ultraviolet light. It doesn't make a mess, doesn't change the taste, and fits in your bag for sterilizing on the go. It felt like a bit of overkill to take this, but in the end, I was so glad we did. You can't be too careful, really.)  

Next, we didn't eat uncooked veg at all.  I mean, we seemed a bit insane, but I would scrape garnish off my plate.  It just wasn't gonna happen, no uncooked veg.  This meant that ME who hates salad was craving salad something fierce by the time I got home, but again, uncooked sliced veg could have been cleaned or dipped in unsafe water.  Maybe a bit overzealous, but again, I didn't get sick and that wins out.  

Fourth on the list would be to really watch not eating when not hungry. I say this because there was so much great food that I would always want to try, but with all the other variables, not overeating was the one cause of stomach distress I could wholly control.

On our tour, breakfast was the one meal that was always included, but most mornings I really would just eat a little rice and maybe a bit of a curry or omelet or potato.  But just a bit.  I found that I was so full from our delicious dinners, and lunch was always just around the corner.  Not eating when I wasn't hungry sounds like a no-brainer, but when the food is all so delicious, you want to keep eating!

Last and final would be to start eating spicy/rich/Indian style food periodically before leaving home.  I think we really benefited from the fact that we eat spicy food all the time.  We eat lots of Indian and lots of Mexican food, and I think that our systems familiarity with this level of spice really helped out.  

Next up: What do you take when you are a lady. I read lots of lists before we went and I really wanted to add my own.

Things to Pack for Sure - Not a Complete Packing List, but my view on the essentials when on a tour:

- Thin capri pants -- It is true that people/women do not wear shorts.  Don't be that person who wears shorts unless you really want to stand out. Wear thin capris. 
- Sleeveless shirts are okay provided they aren't spaghetti strap or skin tight.  -- Lots of blogs will say people don't wear them, but we saw it often. I took lots of really thin long-sleeved shirts so that I could stay covered from the sun. 
- A thin scarf is of paramount importance! You don't know when you are going to need to cover your head or shoulders, and having something in your bag makes it super easy.
- Comfortable shoes that are closed toe and preferably closed on the sides. When you are walking around the cities it can be a bit dirty, so protect your feet and wear shoes that cover you.
- A thin jacket in case it cools or is very bright and sunny.
- Deodorant bc when it's hot, you will sweat.
- Soap if you have allergies, which I do. Having my own soap made a big difference.
- Toilet paper and carry it with you. G and I each took a roll of paper and kept it in our backpack. Even when a 'western' bathroom was on offer, there was often no toilet paper.
- Hand sanitizer or wipes. You will want them and you will use them.
- Water purifying system for moments when you don't trust the bottle of water being offered or don't have one to hand. We took a Steripen, which was amazing.
- We didn't need to buy feminine hygiene products, but I took just in case. Why not?
- Paracetamol and ammonium are available everywhere BUT when you are on a tour, it's not always possible to stop. I brought my own and was glad to have it (and so were the others on my tour who had trusted that it would be easy to come by so they didn't bring their own).

Anyway, lots of people have said to me that India is not on their list of places to go. I totally get that, but I have to say, change your list. It's absolutely an amazing country with wonderful people, gorgeous things to see, delicious food, and interesting history (which I realized I know absolutely nothing about). It was a great trip and I really was happy to have gone. It's definitely somewhere you should go, whoever you are!

Gluten-free Chicken Pot Pie of Awesomeness.

After spending much of last year on the gluten-free bandwagon, I fell off the wagon towards the end of the year and after spending much of the end of the year feeling like poo, I am back on the wagon for this 2014.

And speaking of which, happy new year folks! May 2014 bring you peace and happiness, in whatever form you choose.

But back to me. It's been a week back on the gluten-free and I can't say that my life has changed, but I can say that I am feeling clearer headed, my stomach is less bloated and sore, and I am sleeping better. So there's that.

Tonight, I didn't want to venture out into the world, or into the cold, so I decided to cobble together a chicken pot pie to combat the stupid cold and the coming snow. And so I did. And so we ate. And so it went. (ha ha)



I read a number of recipes online for both biscuits and chicken pot pie. I wanted to figure out a way to make the kind of chicken pot pie I like, with biscuits and a slightly creamy sauce. I settled on some version of this:

I made the biscuits first, to let the dough settle, especially because of how sticky it can be.
(I made an altered version of this recipe from here: http://www.sugarfreemom.com/recipes/gluten-free-chicken-or-turkey-biscuit-pot-pie/)

You need:

1 cup gluten free flour (I used Bob's Red Mill, which I don't entirely love)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum 
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup butter - cubed
1 beaten egg (part in the sauce, part as a wash)
just over 1/2 cup milk 
chopped fresh parsley 
pepper to taste

Mix the dry ingredients. Add in the butter and mix. I never quite understand this step. I don't know how it's supposed to look, but I just whizzed it around in the mixer for want of better instructions. From there, I added half the beaten. I then slowly added in milk, just until it all started to come together. The amount you use will probably vary depending on the flour blend, etc. I then added in chopped parsley, pepper, and realized that at this step you could add in all sorts of tasty things. Use your imagination.

I then set the bowl of the raw biscuits over to the side and went on about the rest of the meal.

For the rest of the meal, I used the following:

1 lb or so of boneless chicken breast
some butter
1 cube of chicken bouillon 
2 stalks of celery, chopped
2 smallish potatoes, chopped (I don't peel potatoes but of course you can if your life is interminably long)
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2.5 cups of chicken broth
1/2 cup of milk
frozen peas
french cut green beans (I used frozen)
thyme
3 tablespoons of corn starch

While I was mixing the biscuit dough, I was also poaching some chicken breast in water with bouillon and pepper. I cooked it for 15 minutes, took it off the heat, and kept the liquid it had poached in.

I put some butter in a large pan and once melted, I added the chopped potato, carrot, and celery. To this, I added the liquid from the poached chicken slowly while the vegetables softened. I added thyme, salt, and pepper and kept it cooking slowly. I would say it cooked for maybe 20 minutes or so? I chopped the chicken into little cubes and added it to the pan, along with the stock, the milk, frozen peas to taste, and green beans to taste. I let that come back to the boil.

In a separate little bowl, I mixed the corn starch with the leftover broth from the poached chicken (a couple of tablespoons). You can use water if you don't have any broth leftover. 

After the mixture had reached the boil, I slowly stirred in the cornstarch mixture and brought back to the boil and cooked for a few minutes, until it started to heat up. 

I poured the mixture into a pan large enough to fit (it made way more than I expected, as I was just sort of throwing stuff in the pan). I took the biscuit mixture and put little dollops of it all across the top, watching in horror as some of them sunk into the mix! It didn't cover it completely, but I wasn't trying to. I didn't want it to be too bready in case the biscuits were rubbish. 

(Anyway, while all this is going on, you should be pre-heating your oven to 400 degrees.) 

Over the tops of the little biscuity dumplings, I brushed on the rest of the beaten egg and then threw the whole lot in the oven. 

Because my biscuits were so small, I needed only cook the entire lot for about 25 minutes. 

No word of a lie, it was delicious!  I was super happy with it, and am looking forward to the upcoming leftovers. Here's the inside:


Honestly, you could add anything you like.  I didn't add onions or garlic, though lots of recipes called for them. To be honest, I just didn't want my hands to smell. That being said, the end result was creamy without being overly heavy, but filling and warming all the same. 

As we embark on this new year, I am working on some new things including a new blog, new plans, and improving my diet and overall health. We lose sight so quickly of taking care ourselves and then once we start feeling crappy again, we just feel like it's the way it's always been. So enough of that crap. Enough of complacency. And maybe one baby step in that direction is the introduction of a delicious gluten-free pot pie. 


01 January 2014

Just ducky

Have had a duck in the freezer for months so I've been waiting for an opportunity to give it its due. Over the holidays I got it in my mind that a roast duck dinner was inevitable and even necessary but as I was flying solo for much of it, I never got around to it. One person can only consume so much duck. So with amorphous New Year's Eve plans in place, I figured this would be a great time to prepare a roast dinner for J and myself.

It has been years since I actually roasted a duck and the last time I had a lot of trouble finding a recipe that didn't have Asian flavours -- in the end, I had to use one from a hunting magazine that began with "firstly, remove any buckshot." My foray onto the internet proved much more fulfilling this time around and I settled upon this Christmas (I know that was so last week!) roast duck recipe from Jamie Oliver. I had everything required on hand in the house so didn't even have to go shopping.


It takes time but is not all that complicated and it turned out even better than could be expected. Roast duck with potatoes roasted in duck fat is not a light meal that you'd want to eat very often but for a special occasion, it really hit the mark. The gravy (which I made gluten free for J) made with port wine was luscious and brought the whole meal together.  Simply added a few steamed and dressed green beans (and a glass of bubbly) to the operation and we had an absolutely divine NYE dinner.


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