Refuse to be Passive

Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

The List of Beneficial

In Food, Life in General, Movies with a bit of TV, Uncategorized on October 28, 2012 at 10:24 am

“Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” It’s a riff on 1 Corinthians 10:23, and it’s been running through my head for nearly two weeks now. Every few months I like to take a quiet morning on the weekend and sit down to consider this, to apply it to my own life. Where am I going on a tangent, sapping my energies with wasteful endeavours, when my true purpose lies elsewhere?

It’s been chilly this past week, and when I say chilly, I mean that a blanket of white has covered the town of Jasper and the mountains that surround it. Just looking outside makes me want to stay home. It’s kept me from the gym, the library, and even from the stitching club that started up last week. I’ve been coming up with creative excuses for not going out, and my fridge is starting to like pretty pathetic. I’ve done an excellent job of using up what I’ve got in the house.

Beyond that, the past couple of weeks my personal spiritual practices have fallen into a bit of a slump. I finished my book by Shane Claiborne on The New Monasticism—I highly recommend it, even if you’re not leaning towards the lifestyle. I’ve started sleeping in later instead of taking time to get up and read my Bible in the morning. I’m not sure what it is about the morning, but it’s just so much more darned productive for me than if I come home and try to do stuff after work. I much prefer mornings for almost everything.

Due to the fact that I tend to want to relax after work, I’ve gotten into this horrible habit of turning on the TV or booting up my laptop and finding a television show to watch. It can suck hours from my life, and it also means that I’ve fallen into the trap of eating in front of the TV or computer. This is highly detrimental considering my endeavours to lose weight.

Not everything is bad though. It’s easy to focus on the bad and forget about the good. After reading the book Forks Over Knives, I’ve decided to adopt a plant-based diet for a year. Basically I’m going vegan, reducing my sugar intake, and reducing my intake of processed foods. Many people hear this and give me a pitying look, but I look at it and see it as a step in the right direction. If it reduces my risk of heart disease, breast cancer, obesity, and diabetes, I’m in. If it means that less carbon dioxide, monoxide, and methane are being pumped into our atmosphere, I’m in. If it means that factory farming and the abuse of animals can be clear in my conscience, so much the better. After all, God gave us the earth to care for it, not abuse it to fit our whims and Westernized lifestyle.

For many Christians, it seems much easier to take a concept like that and justify it, essentially burying our heads in the sands. But look at how well that works out for the ostrich.

Back to the task at hand! Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. Well, I’ve taken a look at areas in my life where what I’m doing isn’t beneficial. Now, it’s time to look for the change. Now, it’s time to make a list of beneficial. This is a list of things that are permissible, that will enhance life rather than make me lazy and suck the hours away. So here it is!

 

1)      Get involved in the community—volunteer with a cause you connect with

2)      Take part in local clubs and initiatives, ones that will allow you to network and build skills i.e. a stitching club, Toastmasters, or a swimming club

3)      Increase your vocabulary—start doing crossword puzzles. Not only will you learn new words, but you never know when useless facts will come in handy. Slumdog Millionaire anyone?

4)      Knowledge is power—If you’re like me and at the beginning of your career with some thirty years of work stretching in front of you, then now is a good time to recognize that our culture and economy is built on knowledge. While the adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” may hold true in many cases, if you change that adage to, “It’s what you know and who you know,” then you’re a shoe-in. Start reading, and not just in your area of expertise. YouTube also has some great instructional videos for things like the internet and social networking. And if you can’t get it for free, you might have to pay for it. Learn while you work—Google continuing education.

5)      Recognize the value of the spiritual—humans are more than just physical forms, they are also composed of the mental and the spiritual. Take time to develop your relationship with God. Learn to meditate, read, and write. Learn to converse with the master of the universe who loves his creation beyond what we can imagine. After all, who doesn’t want God on their side?

6)      Get fit!—This one doesn’t need much explanation in a culture that is obsessed with physical appearance. Just make sure that getting fit also means getting healthy. Remember, it doesn’t matter how slow you go, you’re still lapping the people on the couch.

 

That’s the list of beneficial for now. If you’ve got anything to add, feel free to comment!

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Weekends and Chicken Fricassee

In Food, Life in General on October 29, 2011 at 4:13 pm

The space heater has officially taken up residence in my bedroom. This morning was the first official frost. Winter is a’comin’ folks! That being said, while chilly, the sun was shining this morning, and it’s been a good day. Brunch with the neighbours, a movie, shopping at the thrift store for warm fuzzy pants (success!), and looking forward to an evening of baking sugar cookies with the eight-year-old girl who lives in my house. She has a halloween party at school on Monday and wants to cookies decorated like pumpkins. Actually, not a hard request, just time consuming between chilling dough and waiting for icing to dry. That being said, it should be fun.

This delightful little recipe that follows is for Chicken Fricassee. According to Easy French Food, fricassee is a word used liberally in French cooking and basically means browned in butter and finished in a wine or bouillon.  Not rocket science, but it sounds fancy. This fancy sounding dish is delicious, although not overly healthy. But it could be a lot worse!

2 chicken breast, skinned and diced

1 1/2 tbsp butter

1 1/2 cups mushrooms, sliced

1 oz brandy

1/3 cup white wine

2 tsp tarragon (feel free to use thyme if tarragon doesn’t suit your palate)

1/3 cup whipping cream (optional)

400 ml chicken veloute– see below for instructions on making veloute

salt and pepper to taste

Chicken Veloute: Veloute is basically a stock that is thickened using butter and flour. For this veloute, melt butter in small sauce pan. Stir in flour to incorporate. Cook over medium-low heat for a couple minutes to get rid of the starchy taste, but do not brown. Add chicken stock (I’d just round up to 2 cups or 500ml). Stir well until incorporated and thickened slightly. If clumpy, strain.

Chicken Fricassee

In saute pan, melt butter and sear chicken over medium heat. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Add mushrooms to the pan, adding additional butter as needed. Sprinkle with salt to help draw out moisture. Cook until mushrooms have reduced. Add brandy and flambe. (If you have a gas stove, simply tilt pan away from you and into the flames– careful with this one! If you have an electric or induction stove, feel free to use a match, but once again, be careful.) Flames will reduce when alcohol burns off. Add tarragon followed by white wine. Reduce until almost no liquid is remaining (au sec– nearly dry). Add your veloute and simmer until it begins to thicken. Add whipping cream. Fricassee is done when sauce is lightly thickened and big bubbles are forming on the sauce. Remove from heat.

Serve over rice with your choice of vegetables.

Serves 4.

Tired, So Tired– and Chocolately Fudge Icing

In Food, Life in General on October 4, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Today I have been dragging. I actually sat in a chair and did nothing but stare into space for almost a half hour. For some people this may be considered normal. For me it is not. If I’m not up to something then I’m bored or sleeping. I think it’s part of the reason I spend so much time in the kitchen. It’s a great way to spend your time without having to put in any form of consistent day-to-day commitment. That being said, tomorrow afternoon is devoted to baking! I’m making fudgy chocolate brownies, coconut pineapple bars, and pumpkin cupcakes for a coffeehouse I’m involved in the next evening. I agreed to do the deserts and apparently they’re thinking a dozen of three different varieties will be enough. I hope we get a good turnout for the coffeehouse as it is a fundraiser. That would be fantastic! But for now, I’m just plain old tired. It’s taking all I’ve got not to sack out right now at 8:24pm. Must keep eyes open.

Oh, but I did make a great icing for the brownies tonight:

 

3 Tbsp cocoa powder

3 Tbsp melted butter

1 Tbsp corn syrup

1/2 cup icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 Tbsp milk

Combine dry ingredients and sift. Cocoa tends to be lumpy. Once sifted, mix in butter, corn syrup and vanilla. Add milk a bit at a time, mixing until smooth and desired consistency is reached.  I did this all with a fork and came out with a light, creamy icing. It’s really quite lovely.

Singing in the Rain

In Food, Life in General on September 23, 2011 at 11:34 am

I’d checked the weather forecast before leaving the house this morning. There was no chance of rain until 8:30, which was great as class started at 7:30. By early afternoon we were supposed to have a light rain coming down. I’d biked home in a drizzle before and it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. I stuffed my pack cover into my bag to help keep it dry in the light rain on my ride home. I also made sure I had my public transit pass, just in case any of the food I made would prove problematic to bring home on two wheels. It was baking day in class and I wasn’t sure what we were making beyond banana bread.

Sure enough, by 10am it was raining lightly. The drizzle outside the window didn’t deter me. After a week of cutting up chickens, I was in my element–baking. I was whipping up banana bread, cheese biscuits and sugar cookies. I was doing all this under the supportive eye of a professional pastry chef.  She was fabulous, and very patient with those who had never baked before. Apparently cooks tend to not bake and bakers tend to not cook. I seem to be a hybrid of the two, although definitely feel more comfortable baking. Oh, and we also did a port and red wine poached pear. It was okay, but nothing to write home about.

Anyway, after class I packed up my bag, threw on the rain cover, slung it onto my back, and headed for home. I was not more than two blocks from the school when the rain started to come down harder. By the time I was halfway home, it was a definite heavy rain. Not sheeting, but almost there. I was soaked. My hoodie was hanging, heavy with water, from my outstretched arms. Water sloshed around in my shoes. My yoga pants couldn’t have absorbed more water if they tried, and I was infinitely thankful that I’d had the foresight to change from glasses into contact before heading out for my ride.

Now most people would be unhappy about being caught in a downpour on a bike, but for some reason today it just made me laugh. I thought about how absurd I must look, and the fact that I knew that I had a warm and dry home to go to. I thought about the amusing feeling of the water running around my feet. I took joy in the water that my bike tires kicked up, and the fact that when a car splashed me, I didn’t notice because I was already so wet. It was brilliant! By the time I was a few blocks from home I was soaked, singing “Lovely Day” by Out of Eden at the top of my lungs, and swerving my bike back and forth to the music. I must have been a sight. But truly, what a lovely day! When life gives you rain, go to the store, grab some lemons, and make lemonade! Or just go home, have beef asian soup for lunch and ice the sugar cookies you made that morning. Yum!

A Culinary Adventure– or not

In Food, Life in General on September 13, 2011 at 12:05 pm

“I don’t really like raisins.” ” Are there nuts in this?” “Eww…coconut.” I must confess that when moving into my current home, complaining about baking was the last thing I expected to hear. Most kids would be over the moon for regular homemade baked goods, but these kids seem more interested in President’s Choice Chocolate Chip Cookies. Even their father, who would never say so out loud, only really likes the simple baking. He doesn’t like raisins either. Their mother is pretty open, but I can tell in the first hour whether I’ve hit it out of the park or whether it’s going to be a long road for the baking I’ve just made. For example, I made five dozen peanut butter cookies yesterday. By midnight tonight they’ll all be gone. The adults alone will eat four or five a piece over the course of the evening. Considering there are four adults in the house, and then another two kids, plus whoever is visiting, I suppose it’s not really surprising.

A couple of weeks ago I made chocolate coconut drop cookies and they sat there all week, slowly being munched on by one of the adults, the rest of the house rejecting them for the coconut. Such a shame. Today, I’m experimenting with chocolate banana muffins with coconut. We’ll see how they go over. I tasted the batter and it was delicious. Fingers crossed other people will think so too.

That being said, there’s been some challenges in my baking with adjusting temperatures, liquid, and flour due to the humidity out here. My peanut butter cookies yesterday required an extra 2/3 cup flour. I had a similar experience with my ginger cookies (those also didn’t last). Thankfully, my cooking has not needed much tweaking due to the humidity.

Tonight we’ve got stir-fry on the menu, and we’ll have to see how the tofu goes over. We’ve just had 2 vegans join our community and I think it will take a while for the rest of the community to understand that you don’t need to have meat at all three of your daily meals. That being said, things like Taco Wednesday make for easy adjustments.  Yesterday night we had spaghetti with homemade sauce and most of the adults seemed surprised that you could have such a great sauce without having meat in it. It’s good to broaden one’s horizons. I also made spaghetti squash for me and the hardcore vegan girl who opted out of the spaghetti as it may contain eggs. It was delightful, and once again, a few people tried it and were surprised to find that they enjoyed it. The kids, well they like what they know, and as such, weren’t such big fans of this divergence in cooking. But they’ll learn, assuming their parents don’t let them get away with being picky eaters.

But without further ado, my own personal recipe for Banana Chocolate Muffins with Coconut:

1/2 cup butter

2/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

1/2 cup egg whites

2 large, ripe, mashed bananas

1 1/2 cups flour

1/4 cup cocoa

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp sea salt (used 1/2 tsp if using table salt)

3/4 cup unsweetened coconut

Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and banana. Mix well.

Combine dry ingredients and add them to the wet. Mix until just moistened. Fill paper lined muffin tins 3/4 full.

Bake immediately at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Note: Baking times may vary. If you’re in a drier climate, watch for a shorter baking time.

As Far As It Depends On You… Part 1

In Food, Life in General on May 19, 2011 at 10:15 am

There are many people out there wary of hopping on the environmental sustainability bandwagon. To them, all they can see is that doing it all will shoot their budget, and it’s simply something they cannot afford. Buying local and organic, as well as more natural, less processed can put your food budget through the roof. Greenpower can be expensive, and not everyone can afford to put solar pannels on their roof or go for geo-thermal heating. All the hype about environmentalism has some people dubious about it’s validity, and they’re not convinced that it’s not just a passing trend. Then there are the other people who take in all on, whole hog. Go big or go home. Ironically, going big often means simplifying life, but that’s another post in itself.

In the grand scheme of going green, it can be a challenge to know where to start. Most of us already recycle what we can, many compost, and a large number have switched over to energy saving lightbulbs. Great. But isn’t there more we can do? We’re not exactly reducing our environmental footprint by that much just doing those things. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a great start, but isn’t there more to be done? Obviously, as a single person on a budget, I can’t do everything. I can’t opt to buy only organic, unrefined, local ingredients. I’d be living on a loaf of bread with some honey and a container of yogurt a week. But one conclusion I have come to is, “as far is it depends on you,” or “in as much as you are able.”

I may not be able t afford to buy organic chickens, but I can cut down on my meat consumption. It reduces overall grocery costs, as well as reducing the resources needed to produce food. Animals are one more step removed from natural forms of protein like legumes. It takes exponentially more grain energy to raise and animal than the caloric benefit we get out of it, versus just eating the plants themselves. Plus, things such as cattle and their methane emissions are making a greater impact on global warming and energy use than your car is. (I’ll deal with the car later). So, my “as far as it depends on you” for meat is, eat 2 meals per day with protein, but no meat. It didn’t take me long to build up to it, you just need to find some new recipes and be creative in your thinking.

Meat-free breakfast options:

Eggs, Oatmeal, Dried/Fresh Fruit, Cottage Cheese, Yogurt, Cereal with milk or soy milk, Toast with berries and natural peanut butter, blueberry flax muffins– your options are endless! And notice, most of these are good protein options.

Lunches:

Taco salad with black beans instead of chicken or beef, vegetarian chilli, peanut-lime coleslaw, vegetarian pilaf, fresh multi-grain bread with goat cheese and veggie sticks, once again– the sky is the limit!

Dinner:

Homemade Tomato Soup, Asian grilled tofu stir-fry, tomato and brie paninni with honey mustard,  black bean burritos, smashed potato salad,  tomato basil cream pasta– you get the idea

Meat is not the be-all and end-all of food. For the next week, challenge yourself to go meat-free two meals out of three. Let me know how it goes!

Be careful what you wish for…

In Food, Life in General on April 16, 2011 at 4:43 pm

I often have ideas that fall flat on their face. I try to start up a dinner or cooking club, and it all comes to naught. But once in a while I hit an idea that just seems to be what people are looking for. Then, watch out, or you might get trampled! I offered to do some meal prep or baking for friends who would reimburse me for the cost of the ingredients. That way I’d get to try my new recipes without having to worry about my wallet or my waistline. Apparently this was an excellent idea, as I’ve had a little more interest than I’d initially anticipated. Ah, the sweet smell of success and the panic following behind it…

Basket Weave and Cake Decorating

In Food, Life in General on April 14, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I have a friend who is into fondant and the like. She loves decorating cakes, and I’m always really impressed by the work she does. I’m amazed that quality like that can come out of a domestic kitchen. She made a comment the other day about doing basket weave, which left me wondering how exactly one does do a basket weave. Thus, today, I Googled it. Goodness. I should have remained blissfully ignorant. It’s not rocket science, but how time consuming it must be! It’s a very nit picky process, and I had to read the instructions over a few times before I could grasp what it was actually saying. Then, once I processed how one does a basket weave, I began to understand why specialty cakes are so darn expensive! The time and care that goes into making a cake like that is intense. I, personally, had I decorated a cake with a basket weave, would be horrified when someone sliced into it. All those hours making it look perfect! All that frustration when things didn’t go according to plan! All the preparation and patience! All of it demolished with a few quick slices. And then someone saying something like, “Wow, there’s a lot of icing on this cake,” at which point they scrape off the lovely basket weave and leave it in a pile on the side of their plate. I’m in pain just thinking about it. Goodness. It’s a good thing I’m going to school to take standard culinary arts and not cake decorating, or I might just want to hurt myself. *sigh* That being said, I truly admire the people who have the patience and consistency to do things like that. They’ve got to be rather analytical, detail oriented people with a good dose of creativity. Creativity I’ve got. Detail oriented? Sure, but not to that extent! Analytical? Good with math and fractions? Not really, but I can do it. At least it’s not conics!

Obsidian Stout Ginger Torte

In Food on March 18, 2011 at 10:35 am

It was my brother-in-law’s birthday yesterday, and I wanted to make him a cake. In honour of St. Patty’s day, as well as the fact that he’s a bit of a beer aficionado and loves ginger, I settled on the Epicurious Guiness Stout Ginger Cake. Due to a missing ingredient or two– like molasses and Guinness, a bit of adaptation was necessary. I substituted part corn syrup and part brown sugar for the molasses and used an Obsidian Stout from Portland in place of the Guinness. The cake was dense, but lovely. Next time, I’ll make sure I have molasses on hand.

 

From there I topped it with ginger whipped cream and raspberries. Overall, a nice cake with a cup of coffee. And my brother-in-law? He loved it.

Sauteed Garlic and Onions

In Food on March 17, 2011 at 10:42 am

Have you noticed that there are few savory dishes in the world that don’t require sauteed garlic and onions? My question becomes, why do I saute garlic and onions so often, be it for brunch, lunch, dinner, or appetizers, that I don’t just do up a big batch once a week and keep them on hand? I know it’s not quite the same as having them done up fresh, but the sheer convenience of it just may be worth it. I also think I may be brilliant. It’s test week! I’m going to saute up a storm when I get home tonight.