Thursday, July 30, 2009

An Icy Morning in a Heat-wave

Three weeks ago it was so cold the furnace kicked in. This week, July remembered it's a summer month and has made up for its earlier confusion with record high temperatures. It's almost too hot to write. It's certainly too hot to work in the kitchen, so most of our meals have been prepared on the barbeque. Except for the granita experiment.

Earlier in the month I tried to freeze the leftovers of a smoothie. I had hoped to have something resembling granita when I was done. Instead, I got a large watermelon and cucumber ice cube. Not exactly what I was aiming for, so I decided to do a little research.

I picked up David Lebovitz's "The Perfect Scoop" from the library and went straight to the chapter on granitas. After a quick glance through it, I realized that it wasn't my off-the-cuff smoothie recipe that was the problem, it was my stirring technique, or more accurately my lack of stirring technique, that caused my problems. With that helpful bit of information in mind I set the book aside. The weather was too cold to consider granita. Then the weather turned and it was back to the book.

The granita chapter is the shortest chapter in Lebovitz's book, and though the recipes looked wonderful, there were few that would work for me. It was too late in the season for fresh strawberries, and too early for fresh peaches. (The recipe called for nectarines anyway.) I was all out of champagne. I did have beer in the house, but after sampling beer-and-pretzel gelato earlier in the week I wasn't going there. There was really only one option. Espresso granita.

Espresso granita was an intersting choice given that Hubby and I have pretty much given up coffee, but I had both ingredients, it didn't require any cooking, and it was too hot to think about consequences. As luck would have it, I didn't have quite enough sugar. The online recipe calls for 2 tablespoons per cup of strong coffee. The cookbook's recipe calls for over 1/3 of a cup of sugar per cup of coffee. No matter. I was craving frozen treats, so strong coffee was brewed, what sugar I had was added, and stirring and waiting commenced.

It took much longer than I had anticipated for the granita to freeze. What I had planned for an afternoon treat became dinner's dessert. It was worth the wait though. It was wonderful. It was even better the next day topped with whipped cream. I hadn't yet seen the online version of the recipe, so I hadn't considered topping the granita with Baileys. I wish I had. The alcohol may have helped to counteract the effects of the caffeine and sugar. Yep. You guessed it. Our tasty frozen treat had us up all night. Once again, I blame my lack of foresight on the heat. Since then we've been limiting our granita consumption to midday. That is until today.

This morning I was up before 5am and was unable to get back to sleep. After several days of heat-disrupted appetite, I was hungry but unable to decide what to eat. Then the granita called. I was off to the freezer and helping myself to a cupful of granita before I could give it a second thought. (Without the Baileys, of course.) Oh. So. Good. I wish I had thought of it earlier in the week. Still, I thought it was a strange breakfast until I had another look at "The Perfect Scoop". According to Lebovitz it isn't unusual for Sicilians to breakfast on a roll filled with granita. If that's the case, I'm going for a second helping. Ciao!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Will It Blend? - Sister's Soft, Moist Sunday IV

Anyone remember the Saturday Night Live Bassomatic 76 skit? It involved Dan Ackroyd, a bass and a blender. It was one of those skits that was revolting and hilarious at the same time. I'd watch in horror as Ackroyd fed the bass into the blender, yet I'd laugh through the whole thing. Then I'd be disgusted with myself for laughing.

Recently, I've found myself thinking about that skit more frequently than I am comfortable with as I go through my days pondering the suitability of different foods for the blender. Surprisingly, I'm not the only one who ponders such things. Apparently there's an entire website devoted to the question of what will blend. Thankfully, I've not yet resorted to blending a fish, but I did find myself blending a salad last week.

I was inspired, as I often am, by Rose-Anne over at Life, Love, and Food. She had posted a simple yet elegant salad recipe, and it struck me as something my sister might enjoy. I started thinking about adapting the recipe, which led me to ask "Will it blend?" The answer is yes, and with a few small changes I was able to create a smoothie that was delicious, easy to make and true to Rose-Anne's original recipe.

This Week's Soft, Moist Selections

Salad in a Blender

(Sister is meant to avoid acidic foods, so I omitted the balsamic vinegar from Rose-Anne's recipe. Besides, I wasn't too sure about balsamic
in a smoothie. I substituted pomegranate juice for the vinegar, but apple or grape juice would likely work just as well.)

Makes 2 1/2 cups

1 1/2 cups lettuce (4 to 5 leaves. I used red and oak leaf lettuce)
1/2 cup strawberries
1/2 cup pomegranate-blend juice
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp flaxseed oil (optional)
1 cup ice

- Tear lettuce into smaller pieces and put them in the blender.
- Add juice and blend.
- Add strawberries, water, honey and optional flaxseed oil and blend.
- Add ice and blend until smooth.

Getting Greener Smoothie

(This smoothie starts out brilliant green until you add the blueberries. Then it turns an ucky grey colour. Don't let that put you off. It's pretty good, and you don't even taste the kale. Of course, you can sub all or part of the kale with other greens. You can also substitute vanilla yogurt for the plain yogurt and honey.)

Makes 4 cups

2 cups kale
1 1/2 cups water
1 banana
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 tsp honey
2 tsp flaxseed oil (optional)

- Tear kale into smaller pieces and put them in the blender.
- Add water and blend.
- Add blueberries and blend.
- Add yogurt, honey and optional flaxseed oil and blend.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Making Connections

Writing about local food gives me the opportunity to connect with many Vancouver Islanders. Some of them know me as a writer, but more know me as a regular shopper. Getting to know the people in my community is more fun than I expected. I can be rather shy you know. (My friends and family can stop laughing now.)

This week, as a result of my visit to Natural Pastures, I've been in touch with Karen from Bite Sized Specialty Foods. She's preparing for her cooking demo at Natural Pastures on Monday, and what she has planned so far sounds wonderful. Fruited pepper jelly combined with Natural Pastures cheese makes my mouth water just thinking about it. If you can't make it on Monday, be sure to check out Karen's new blog where you can see what she's up to, find where Bite Sized items are available and discover some yummy-sounding recipes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Shout Outs - Sister's Soft, Moist Sunday III

If you were following along back in April, and I selfishly hope that you were, you'll remember my taking part in Making Love in the Kitchen's 3-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse. At the time I wasn't sure what drew me to this challenge, but I'm beginning to wonder if it was some sort of subconscious precognitive hunch. Of course, it may have been co-incidence or just plain old luck that prompted me to participate. Whatever the reason, I find that I'm drawing on that experience every time I break out the blender and try to conjure up new smoothie for my sister.

Not that I'm trying to dispense nutritional advice. That's Meghan's job
. I'm just trying to find a way for my sister to incorporate more whole foods into her diet. Participation in the cleanse has given me the confidence to experiment. I find myself combining ingredients I'd never considered before, like watermelon with cucumber or strawberry with lettuce and green tea. In spite of my sister's doubts, I'm sure nothing I've combined will harm her. She suspects I might be trying to get even for past sisterly mishaps. Like the gum in my hair incident. She forgets that I test all these smoothies on myself and hubby first.

Another advantage of taking part in Meghan's program was the opportunity to connect with other participants. Even now, months later, I found myself being inspired by Ginger Lemon Girl's (aka Carrie's) experiences during the cleanse. It was her unique solution for conquering peanut butter and jelly sandwich cravings that prompted me to do a little experimenting of my own. While my recipe is rather different from hers (I based mine on price, ingredient availability and my sister's taste) the original idea came from her. I'm grateful to her for sharing her thoughts so freely, and I'm grateful to Meghan for hosting the cleanse and making such connections possible.

This Week's Soft, Moist Selections

PB & J in a Blender

(This one is a work in progress. When I asked hubby what he thought it tasted like, he said satay sauce. Obviously needs some work, but tasty none the less. You can add more or less water, depending on how thick you like your smoothie. Also, consider other fruit instead of strawberries if strawberry jam isn't your favourite.)

Makes 4 cups

1 cup strawberries
3/4 cup apple juice
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 banana
1 cup milk
1 tbsp honey
1/2 cup water

- Blend strawberries and apple juice.
- Add peanut butter, banana and milk and blend.
- Add honey and water and blend until smooth.

Banana, Peach and Green Tea Smoothie

(I'm guessing a nectarine would work as well as a peach here. I'm also guessing that plain yogurt and a bit of sweetener of your choice would work for the vanilla yogurt. I know, that's a lot of guessing, but that's much of what has been involved in this process. No wonder my sister is suspicious of my concoctions!)

Makes 3 cups

1/2 banana
1 peach peeled and sliced
1 cup green tea
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
1 cup ice cubes

Blend banana, peach and green tea.
- Add yogurt and blend.
- Add ice and blend.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Local Cheesy Goodness

July is a wonderful month for local food on Vancouver Island, and Our Big Earth, Brambles Market and have teamed up to encourage us enjoy the bounty. Together they are hosting the "EatRealEatLocal 30-Day Food Challenge" inviting Island inhabitants to sample locally-produced foods whether dining out or at home.

Throughout the month there have been several events highlighting local foods. Sadly, in the midst of all the return-from-holiday/return-to-work kerfuffle, I have had to pass on most of these events. Monday was my lucky day though. I just happened to have the day off, and Natural Pastures Cheese Company was having an in-store demo. How could I resist?

Years ago Dad worked for Silverwood Dairy. On one occasion my sister and I got to visit him at work. Though we weren't allowed in the work area, we were able to watch the action from above. We stood with our noses pressed against a window directly above the milk processing area. I don't remember many details of the work taking place below, but I do remember making silly faces at Dad and his co-workers. Imagine my delight when I arrived at Natural Pastures to find a row of children with their noses pressed against the window watching Master Cheesemaker Paul Sutter set up for the demo. I felt like I fit right in.

As at Silverwood, the public wasn't able to tour the Natural Pastures work area. Instead they opened the large window at the front of the building, and Paul gave an informative mini-demo of the processes involved in making their award-winning Comox Brie and Camembert.

First step, heat the milk to the correct temperature.

Next, add the appropriate bacterial cultures and microbial enzymes and wait for coagulation. Once it has thickened, the curdled milk is cut into small pieces...

... and poured it into a mould. During regular production over 200 moulds are used for each batch of cheese.

The filled moulds are turned regularly.

The result is a lovely, yellowish round of cheese that is then matured and wrapped for sale. (During the maturing process the cheese develops a distinctive, tasty layer of white mold on the surface.)

After the demo there were samples available in the cheese shop. It was difficult to decide what I wanted to buy. After much tasting and consideration this one followed me home, as did a package of Aged Farmhouse.

As you can see, these cheeses don't last long at our house. It's a good thing I snapped this picture when I did.

Of course, the demo only provided a taste of the cheese making process.
For a more complete picture, check out Natural Pastures website. There they outline the basic steps of cheese making on a larger scale. Or, if you think a taste of the process (or of the cheese) would be to your liking, there are two more demos planned for this month. On Monday, July 20th Natural Pastures' Dutch cheeses will be featured, and on Monday, July 27th Natural Pastures teams up with Bite Size Specialty Foods for a cooking demo and tasting. The demos take place at 11am, noon and 1pm at Natural Pastures Cheese Company, 635 McPhee Ave., Courtenay, BC.

Friday, July 10, 2009

In Her Own Words - Sister's Soft, Moist Sunday II

Below is a slightly edited version of an email my sister sent after last week's post. It will give you an idea of what she's experiencing, and it will give you an idea of what kinds of things I'm trying to consider when I'm planning my Soft, Moist Selections.

When most people ask me what's wrong with me (besides the normal things), and I say I have MS I get that blank-eyed stare and head-nodding that people get when they have no clue but don't want to be rude. I most always have to tell them that MS stands for Multiple Sclerosis. Almost 99% of the time, after I tell them what it is, I get what I now call the "stare-n-nod-n-OH?" and they still don't get it.

Here is a quick definition in English if you want to use it:

Multiple Sclerosis is a progressive lifelong debilitating disease for which there is no cure, and the only treatments are injections or intravenous drugs. These drugs only serve to "hopefully" prolong episodes of relapse where your symptoms get worse and "hopefully" make the symptoms of the relapse less severe.

MS is a neurological disorder, potentially caused when your own immune system attacks the covering of nerves in your brain and spinal cord causing the nerve to be exposed and create a "lesion" or "lesions" along the nerves. The lesions make it impossible for your nerves to relay messages correctly along their paths, which in turn causes different physical symptoms to appear.

So far I have a very weak right leg with foot drop, a weak left leg, continuous spasms in my ankles, frequent spasms throughout every other part of my body, hand weakness and spasms bilaterally, a neurogenic bladder that I have to catheterize every 4 - 6 hours to urinate, swallowing and choking problems, EXTREME!!! fatigue that doesn't go away with sleep, severe pain everywhere but especially down my back and legs, nerve pain that comes and goes all over my body without rhyme or reason and feels like severe burning inside and out, severe vertigo where the world spins. The vertigo has caused multiple falls, quite a few being down the stairs, and the loss of my driving privileges. I have already progressed from a single straight cane to a four prong cane, and I now have to use a four wheel walker to get around. It has a seat so I can sit if I get tired or dizzy.

I experience progressive cognitive issues where I can't find the words I want, or forget what I was talking about to begin with. I have difficulty conversing or even typing this email because I need to reread it over and over. I am going to different specialists and have appointments at a minimum of three times a week including physical therapy. The therapy is intended to improve my strength and mobility, but we're just hoping it will help keep me as functional as I am now without regression. I'm on injections every other day and multiple other meds every day, and I am getting weekly procedures at a pain clinic to devise a regimen of medications and treatments so I can tolerate my daily pain and keep moving and also not affect my cognitive being negatively. I can't remember if there's anything else wrong with me, I hope not, but I might have missed something in this list.

I'll start trying some first stage smoothies. It's like my own form of Baby Foods, they all come in different stages with more added to them with each level. This is A's Beginner Stage Smoothies. Haha.

See ya

Love A

This Week's Soft, Moist Selection

Watermelon, Strawberry and Romaine Smoothie

(I used frozen & sweetened strawberries for this recipe. They were a gift from a gardening friend. You may want to sweeten the smoothie if you are using fresh or unsweetened berries. You'll also need to make some green tea for this one. I make a pot and store it in a jar in the fridge for use in smoothies. It looks like a huge urine sample. Good times. Use store-bought prepared tea if you must, but remember there's going to be extra sweetener and other unnecessary stuff in it. It's also likely to be more expensive.)

Makes 3 cups

2 romaine leaves (or other lettuce - about 1 cup)
1 cup green tea
2 cups cubed watermelon
1/2 cup strawberries
1 cup ice

- Tear lettuce into smaller pieces as you put it into the blender
- Add green tea and blend
- Add watermelon and blend
- Add strawberries and blend
- Add ice and blend until smooth

Blender Pasta Sauce

(This is an adaptation of Mondo Bizzaro Sauce from the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. There's much more Mollie than Laurie to it I'm afraid, but it's a recipe that should be easy to prepare.)

Makes 2 - 3 cups depending on ingredients

2-4 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 - 2 cups tomato sauce. (I used homemade, but pre-made should work)
1 handful of fresh basil (About 10 or so leaves)
2 - 4 cups assorted greens (I used spinach, beet greens and kale)

- Blend garlic, olive oil and 1/2 cup of sauce until smooth
- Add basil and remaining sauce. Blend.
- Tear up greens and add them a bit at a time. Blend until desired consistency is reached. (Mine was like a thick, green milkshake.)
- Toss with hot, cooked pasta.
- Top with parmesan cheese if you want.

Leftover sauce can be frozen.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fridge Foraging and Farmer's Market

I woke yesterday morning to the sound of the furnace running. Yes, the furnace. How wrong is that? It's July for crying out loud. It shouldn't be cold enough for the furnace to run, but it is. I truly didn't want to get out of bed after hearing that. After much stalling and snoozing I eventually pried myself out from under the covers and slogged off to the Farmer's Market.

I'm glad the market is open on Wednesdays again. There aren't as many vendors as on Saturday, but there aren't as many shoppers either. It gives me a chance to browse and chat a bit with our local growers. On Saturday I feel I have to dart into the booths, snag my items, pay and get the heck out of the way for the next person. Wednesday is much more relaxed, and though the vendors aren't as numerous, the selection is still wonderful. Look at all the beautiful stuff I bought:

I finally had to stop shopping, as I had run out of room in my bags. It's a good thing I had cleaned out the fridge on Tuesday. I barely managed to squeeze all my purchases in as it was.

Tuesday morning's fridge clean-out wasn't really a planned thing. It was more an act of desperation. I was getting ready for work, and I needed to pack something for lunch. I just started throwing things together until I had used up many of the leftovers and other odds-and-ends in the fridge. Oddly enough, I had fun packing my lunch. Generally I'm rushing around trying to get myself together. Packing my lunch is just one more chore to get through so I can get out the door. Fun doesn't enter into it, but the creativity involved in Tuesday's lunch prep pushed the act from mundane to something much more satisfying. I couldn't wait to eat my lunch.

Tuesday's Foraging-in-the-Fridge Experimental Lunch

Salad Course

1 generous tsp of home made bean dip
2 generous tsp of plain yogurt
2 smallish cooked potatoes, cubed
3 radishes
handful of sprouts
chopped cucumber (about 3/4 cup)
shredded lettuce (about 1/3 cup)
Salt and pepper

Mix bean dip and yogurt until smooth. Add all the other ingredients and toss until coated with bean dip dressing.

Smoothie Course

3 cups greens (spinach, beet greens, kale)
2 cups green tea
1 peach - peeled, sliced
1 cup strawberries

Blend greens and tea until smooth
Add peach and blend.
Add strawberries and blend.

Ok, I realize there's nothing original about potato salad and a smoothie. (Though I was rather pleased with my idea to mix bean dip and yogurt for a salad dressing.) It wasn't the uniqueness of the lunch that I found so satisfying, it was the spontaneous creativity involved in preparing it. That, and the fact that it kept the leftovers and the odds-and-ends in my fridge from going to waste. Not bad work for someone who generally isn't a morning person.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cherry Fairy

I came in from mowing the lawn this evening to discover hubby in the kitchen sorting through a huge bag of cherries. Apparently the Cherry Fairy (aka L from Sleeping Cougar Acres) had been by while I was in the back yard.

When I was at the farm on the Friday she had mentioned picking cherries this weekend. She didn't think they were quite ripe, but there had been a raccoon in the tree taunting her dogs and stealing cherries Friday morning. She wanted to harvest the fruit while there were still some left. As I wasn't going to be there to help pick, I didn't think I was going to get any. What an awesome surprise to come in from my yard work to find she had left us 3 3/4 pounds of cherries. They taste wonderful in spite of her concerns about ripeness. Now we have to figure out what we're going to do with the ones we don't eat right away. If there are any left of course. Suggestions?

Sister's Soft, Moist Sunday

Much of my recent vacation was spent in Southwestern Ontario eating, drinking and hanging out with family and friends. If you can judge a vacation by weight gained, I had tons of fun. Well, maybe not tons, but I certainly acquired several pounds of enjoyment while traveling. After a week of indulgence I was ready to hit the road again, so my parents and I hopped in their Journey and headed south of the border to see my sister and her kids.

Last summer I had the good fortune to spend a day with my niece and nephew, but it’s been almost three years since I’ve seen my sister. Much has changed for her in that time. First there was a car accident that left her with permanent jaw damage. Next was surgery to remove parotid gland tumors, followed almost immediately by emergency gall bladder surgery. Then, this winter, after weeks of illness and mystery symptoms, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This combination of conditions has created many challenges for her, most of which I am completely unable to help with, as the distance between us makes it impossible for me to assist with the practical, day-to-day stuff. I was home for a week before I realized there is something I can do from here.

The jaw injury, decreased saliva from the removal of her left parotid gland, laryngopharyngeal reflux, and MS symptoms such as choking and difficulty swallowing, make it tricky for her to find anything to eat. And even when she is able find something, MS induced fatigue, vertigo and spasms can interfere with her ability to prepare it. This is where I come in. Though I’m not able to help her with food prep, I can help her find things that she can eat. This will be tricky, as there’s a substantial list of foods she should avoid, and her preferences are often quite different from mine. We’ve already had conversations where I’ve made suggestions that have been met with resistance. (“Resistance” is a polite way of saying she deemed some of my ideas “gross”.) No worries. This is nothing new. I hope that she’ll be more open to my ideas if I introduce them gradually. And, surprisingly, there were more things she was interested in and excited about than I expected. I’ll share what I come up with here, and I hope she’ll share her comments too. If all goes well, this will become a weekly feature here at Elusive Onions.

This Week's Soft, Moist Selection:

Banana Blueberry Smoothie

(I hope this is one that can be easily made on days when co-ordination is off. There's no chopping, and the measurements can be a guesstimate.)

Makes 2 ½ cups

1 ripe banana
½ cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
¾ cups milk
½ cup plain yogurt
1 tsp honey
½ tsp vanilla
3-4 ice cubes

- Blend banana, berries and milk until smooth
- Add yogurt, honey and vanilla and blend
- Add ice cubes and blend

Note: Can substitute ½ cup vanilla yogurt for the plain yogurt, honey and vanilla

Cucumber Watermelon Quencher

(I combined these two ingredients when I remembered that cucumber and watermelon are related. That, and they were both on sale at my sister's local supermarket.)

Makes 4 cups

1 cup peeled, seeded, cubed cucumber
3 cups seedless watermelon, cubed
½ cup water
¼ tsp salt (Optional. It seemed like a good idea at the time.)
1 cup ice cubes
1 tbsp honey
Sprig of mint – optional

- Blend cucumber, melon, salt and water until smooth
- Add honey and ice – blend
- Serve with sprig of mint

(I had leftovers from this one, so I put them in the freezer in the hopes of making something resembling granita. Difficult, as I’ve never had granita, so I really didn’t know what I was doing. In spite of frequent stirring while it was freezing, what I got was more like a giant watermelon/cucumber ice cube. I chipped it into smaller pieces and served it with blueberries and watermelon chunks. Tasty, but beware of brain-freeze.)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Back in the Garden

In spite of evidence to the contrary, I have not vanished from the blogosphere. I have been off travelling and visiting family. I've actually been home for a while now, but it's taken me this long to get back into the swing of things. Today was my first visit to Sleeping Cougar Acres since June 2. Wow, have things changed. Plants that were wee sprouts when I left are full grown and thriving. Some have even started to bear fruit. Conditions were obviously perfect while I was away. Mind you, the weeds have enjoyed the situation too. I spent much of my time this morning pulling them up by the roots. It's a more satisfying chore than you'd think. And I came home with cucumber, zucchini and green pepper. I feel like I was well rewarded for my efforts.