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Gluten and dairy-free for a week? Will try

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
~ Thomas Edison

It’s interesting, what and how you eat, when necessity (e.g. travel, budget, health) dictates that you change something.

Years ago, I had abdominal pain and bloating that left me writhing on the ground or pushing my stomach against a pole in an attempt to soothe the pain. A doctor thought I had IBS, but he wasn’t sure. The episodes ended after high school. So who knows… maybe it was just high school – which can really be quite bad for health in itself ;-)

Then at university, changes in diet, weather, lifestyle, etc saw my weight hit an all-time high: something I disliked mildly but more or less ignored until one day I tried running across the road and experienced a sensation like that of my knees giving way. That was a little unsettling.

Still, diets were not made for people like me – force on me restrictions like that and I’ll do double the damage. After I graduated, 10kg of that excess weight evaporated. Not sure how. Maybe Wellington’s wind blew it away.

Most of the time, with travel, moving country three times and discovering new and exciting foods, health tends to come last when good food is in front of me. Luckily, I don’t tend to like overly oily / processed / creamy things anyway, but I avoid them solely because I don’t like their taste. Anything else, if it’s to my taste, I eat. Even if I feel terrible afterwards. I don’t think I’ve blogged much about this (if ever? Hmm) – it’s always just been so good to concentrate on the joy and beauty of cooking, food and all that. As I am sure you know!

So for a while now, I have been allowing many moments of eating anything I want and bearing any subsequent discomfort like a reluctant soldier. I haven’t experienced abdominal pain as severe since high school, anyway.

But over the last months, I’ve noticed changes yet again in my body. It hasn’t been so well. When I look into the mirror, nothing seems amiss. But I guess I’ve gotten used to just not feeling that great. For much of it I attribute it to other things – you know, change, work, sleep, etc (all of which certainly play a role) but lately I begin to wonder whether changing my diet significantly might make a difference.

Because when I list the symptoms – puffy eyes, bloating, a terrible fatigue that strikes at random, headaches, etc… I think, hmm, that’s not so good. Somehow I manage to carry on working and doing other things, rushing sometimes to make up for lost time spent lying down, but this last Sunday I fell in pain into a steaming bath for over an hour, and thought… I should probably do something now.

One of my dear friends has recently had to make huge changes in her diet due to an autoimmune disease – changes which I know other people have made for their own reasons too. These are changes that I understand… mostly… and imagine must be difficult to implement. In a world of fresh pastries, butter, milk-and-cookies and friends who tend to eat mostly anything, who would choose to be gluten and dairy-free? I have never seriously considered doing this, since I have not been diagnosed with anything that requires it.

Anyway. When I received the news from my friend, I was very sympathetic. It’s a way of eating that is easy to mostly ignore until you are a dinner host with a gluten-free friend to cater for. But what about being unable to take gluten and dairy (or any other things) without being ill? Having to learn a whole new way of relating to food and nourishing oneself? Having to cope with people thinking you are just being difficult or chasing after a health fad? Having to change the way you shop for groceries, spend more than you used to, stop eating at your favourite cafes and walk past bakeries without acting on your resentment?

Frankly, I almost think I’d rather keep on being sick.

But this week, I am going to try to stick to gluten and dairy-free eating in support of my friend, and so we can exchange notes too… so far so good, though the banana and chocolate muffins I made last night are getting increasingly hard to ignore. I’ve eaten, so far, Ceres’s brown rice cakes; gluten-free pasta spirals with zucchini, tomato, paprika, chilli and basil; coffee with almond milk… and, the VERY BEST THING… two fresh figs. Oh my goodness! Figs send me into a state bordering on wild frenzy.

While I don’t know if I want to totally change my diet right now, and actually I am a bit apprehensive if there ever comes a day when I NEED to do it to protect my health, if you don’t try – you don’t know, right?

Any health stories or tips for eating gluten and / or dairy-free? Do share.

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Celebrating with hiding smiles

In the last 24 hours, there’ve been lots of changes.

The feeling of happiness will arrive soon, I am sure, when the smile nestled deep inside me eventually finds its way to my face. Meanwhile though, I was surprised by a rush of emotion last night, an erosion of all the stability and calmness I had felt just a few hours before.

I’m still recovering.

I had planned to share some other things with you today, but the words aren’t coming out. I do want to say Mom and I loved dining at Le Canard last night (an early Mothers’ Day celebration) – the radiant face of our maître d’, the hearty, delicious food and the air fragrant with ribbons of enjoyment all contributed to this – and if you are in Wellington, I hope you don’t deny yourself the pleasure of dining here. Suffice to say, I thought of Julia Child as I brought the first spoonful of fish soup to my mouth – whatever once curled around her soul and enticed her into a permanent love affair with French food/cooking and all, wrapped itself around a corner of my heart last night. This was especially the case as memories of our trip to France a few years ago came rushing back to me…

Mom’s order:

    La Planche du Canard (a trio of duck liver mousse, rillettes and terrine of duck with fig and walnut)
    Poisson du jour (line caught fish of the day with champagne and oyster sauce, leek fondue and oyster gelée)
    Bavarois a la rose, rhubarbe confite (rose flavoured ‘Bavarois’, pistachio meringue and crystallised rhubarb)

My order:

    Soupe basquaise & sa garniture (fish soup from the Basque country with rouille and croûtons)
    Filet de Boeuf, beurre du canard (South Devon organic beef fillet with Le Canard butter and crispy celeriac galette)
    Le Café Canard (espresso coffee with Calvados and sugar cube)

I really loved every morsel of our dinner, almost as much as I enjoyed walking back to the hotel with Mom afterwards in the light drizzle, talking about all sorts beneath the velvety blanket of night…

Now, the rest of this post will be told with pictures… a little glimpse into some parts of my world.

Singapore:

Wellington, New Zealand:

Bonne nuit! (Goodnight!)

Le Canard – 10A Murphy Street, Wellington – Phone: 04 499 5252

Salute!

I had never before, nor have I since, been so happy to have no idea what I was doing with my life.
~ Molly Wizenberg, A Homemade Life

Life is a little crazy and chaotic for me at the moment; a little like wardrobes tumbling down the stairs, drawers akimbo, dresses askew. It’s been a little chaotic for awhile, to be honest…

I can’t begin to describe it here, and I haven’t yet processed it all in my head, but let’s just say so many things have been happening, there are now a few unknowns and changes due to happen yet again, and the air reeks of change. I’ve enjoyed some of all this – for starters, it’s led me way out of my comfort zone, to learn more about myself and the world around me, to open up my mind to new ideas, to conversations with some wonderful people I might never have talked to otherwise.

I cannot deny though, that I’ve had a few sleepless nights, tossing and turning, head overflowing with thoughts. I’ve had a few glum days, wandering down the streets of Wellington, unseeing. I’ve had some cooking/eating disasters and gone to get-togethers I’ve had to excuse myself from midway just so I could escape to a quiet place to be alone.

If there is one thing that’s helped me through the less stable times, it’s been time in the kitchen. Even when I am clumsy and subsequently agitated about giving myself flour baths, or cracking eggs outside the bowl, or feeding my poor flatmates soggy prego rolls…

I still love grocery shopping, feeding my flatmates (their feelings on this matter is a totally different story, mind you), bringing some baking to work – so cool when my colleagues enjoy it…… I love standing in the kitchen with the window wide open, sunlight casting light and shadows on whatever I am making, oven pregnant with good smells.

On that note, I love reading menus, and people’s faces as they eat, and experimenting with tastes and textures. I love the conversations food evokes. I love how cooking makes me feel like dancing. I love colourful markets, restaurants, and friendly cafe staff, and people who care about what they eat. I love the look on a person’s face when they are eating something fantastic.

I love how food is so interwoven with who we are as people.

I love how the kitchen is a place of life.

This afternoon, I attempted this dish from Tessa Kiros’ “Falling Cloudberries”:
#50 Salmon Ceviche with Coriander, Chilli & Lime – Page 341

It’s salmon coated with a zesty lime dressing, then left in the fridge for at least 4 hours to ‘cook’. I’ve just had a morsel of salmon, seeing that I am full to the brim from my dinner at cooking class (more about this shortly) – but oh, it’s good! It’s chilled and flavourful, and I can already imagine serving it as an appetizer at some as yet unplanned dinner party sometime in the future…

This evening, I went to a cooking class at Caffe Italiano. A few of us helped a little in some parts, but mainly, we watched an entertaining demo of how to make Risotto Emiliano and Torta di patate. An elegant dish of risotto with buffalo mozzarella and parmigiano, and a tasty baked potato dish alongside a crisp balsamic-dressed salad… in between the good food, aromas, wine, a quiz which proved us all to be terribly lacking in knowledge about Italy/Italians, and the friendly people at my table, it was alot of fun. We left with cute boxes of panettone to take home and instructions on how to turn them into dessert (something to look forward to sometime next week perhaps).

Mmmm… and now, I have 2 short speeches to write so I had best get going… so… Salute! – (as our instructor was prone to saying while he raised his glass and we did the same).

Fish cheeks

Then my father poked his chopsticks just below the fish eye and plucked out the soft meat. “Amy, your favorite,” he said, offering me the tender fish cheek. I wanted to disappear.
~ Amy Tan, The Opposite of Fate

Is it an odd thing to miss, fish cheeks?

I have a sudden longing for fish cheeks.

Half because they really are one of the best things to eat, a marvellous poem of tenacity and tenderness. Half because they were always plucked out for me with love by my grand-folks and parents.

And even though tonight I read that Amy Tan’s dad also did this as a gesture of love, it is still a unique and wonderful memory of my childhood for me.

Quite possibly, I will not eat this for a long time yet. After all, when we buy fish at New World here, we don’t buy whole fish, we buy fillets with no real features of life on them.

My thoughts stray to culture. I’ve been thinking about it a bit this year, maybe because I live with 3 Caucasian boys who would possibly be mortified if they should be served fish head for dinner one night?

Maybe because I’ve started feeling like I’ve been missing part of myself in my interactions here – feeling like a part of me has somehow been discarded; like I have no history, like there is little here to remind me of another life beyond the one I have now (read: no crazy tall buildings, no National Day songs, no packed trains, no real egg tarts, etc) – and yet, it is there, somewhere. Maybe because I didn’t realise it was Chap Ngo Meh (Chinese Valentine’s Day / 15th Day of Chinese New Year) on Sunday, until it was announced in a church I visited (and my friends sang a Chinese song for it)?

And yet when I am in Asia I feel a humongous hole within me, missing the people in New Zealand who have most shaped the present me, the splendid freshness of the air here, the cafes, the scenery, the laidback lifestyle, even the trees.

Sure, the gap between countries is closing slowly and they have in New Zealand the French Film Festival, dragon-boating, lantern festivals, Italian delis… but it’s not the same. It could quite probably never be the same.

They still don’t sell fish with their heads on here, or understand how people can have maids and two cell phones and still have no time, and most of my friends here might struggle to envisage a wet market with live chickens squawking, some headless; people haggling over fish, the wet smelly lively bustling crazy mad mess in Hong Kong that I grew up bewildered by / despising, then being fond of.

And many of my friends and relatives in Singapore will probably not understand how I could do nothing at all and call it a holiday, or live in a house colder than the outside in Winter, or be happy in a place where the shops close at 5.

Well then. There is too much to this to sum up in a blog post right now. It is past 11pm on Tuesday night. It is time to stop the pen (or the fingers on my keyboard, in this instance), and say hello to dreams…

Good night!

Thank goodness for hungry boys

A full belly makes a dull brain.
~ Benjamin Franklin

I met Annisha in my first few weeks at university, and somehow we stayed friends despite our awkward first conversation in class (I was shy and not so good at reading faces; she was having a “don’t talk to me!” day). 6 years later, I am sooooo glad we can roll off the couch in laughter, cook together in the kitchen, attempt singing French songs while in our pyjamas… you know those people with whom you can sit at a bus stop waiting for a late bus, and have fun the whole time? She is like that for me.

Wellington was blessed with warm sunny skies today and we made the most of it! We had coffee with Haidee at Espressoholic, then spent the afternoon strolling past the buskers on colourful Cuba Street, eating a late lunch, traipsing in and out of shops…… ahh, perfect! No urge to buy much however, except a very CUTE secondhand book “Accommodating Brocolli in the Cemetery – or why can’t anybody spell?” by Vivian Cook :-) On the back of this book is printed: “It is a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word.” (US President Andrew Jackson). Ahhhh, language, words, English, I love you, even though you are one of the craziest languages in the world.

Passed this cute wall and window by Swonderful (a funky Wellington shop) and couldn’t resist snapping a photo of it:

Nish and I made dinner tonight for 3 boys (2 of them my flatties) and ourselves.

The cookbook project continues… from Tessa Kiros’ “Falling Cloudberries”:
#26 Greek-Cypriot Salad – Page 188
#27 Moist Chocolate Cake – Page 374

From the talented cook Nish:
Baked chicken with lemon, chilli and herbs
Potatoes

Salad: ‘generous’ is the way I would describe it – feta, tomatoes, cucumber, celery, oregano, onion, garlic, red wine and vinegar (the recipe had called for red wine vinegar which I didn’t have… oops)… for some reason I could imagine a large Greek family huddled around a table eating this.

Chicken: wonderful, fresh and flavourful with the lemon and chilli, browned and just yummy.

Potatoes: always the perfect complement to food, spuds. These were salted and herbed… heartiness.

Cake: butter, sugar, eggs, chocolate, flour, rum (used in place of brandy, which the recipe called for)… and a thickened sugar syrup poured on the top of it when it was cooled, to moisten it. I found this ok, but certainly not the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had ;-)

Sure glad the boys were here to help eat everything. Nish and I were way full from our 3pm lunch and could hardly stomach our food – and the glorious 3 boys sat eating, even saying the food was delicious, while it all disappeared into their skinny selves.

Italy (from a distance)

You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.
~ Yogi Berra

I had started writing a post on the 6th of January which most unfortunately got saved as a ‘Draft’ and tossed in the back of my WordPress wardrobe of posts… oops! It is this post that I publish tonight.

    Italy (where I have never been) has been flowering in my thoughts, rather like an army of wild mushrooms or neverending trails of ivy. I can’t stop them growing. Everywhere in my brain, crawling in the recesses, climbing up the walls, slithering along, whispering, cajoling, singing…
    Honestly! What do I DO with you, brain!!
    Cathy & I treated ourselves to a rather extravagant lunch today. Well, it wasn’t too costly, but it was certainly regal compared to the ol’ homemade sandwich! Between us, we had a margherita pizza (tomato sauce, basil, olive oil, fresh mozzarella) & insalata di rucola (rocket, tomatoes, parmigiano, balsamic vinaigrette), & hot drinks in whimsical little cups. Very fresh ingredients (key for a good meal), funky chairs, attention to detail and the loveliest staff with a characteristically European charm. If you are in Wellington, you must visit Caffe Italiano (they have a few branches in town).

Ah, I remember why I did not publish it now… I couldn’t think of how to finish it.

It seems okay tonight though. Maybe because it is a little similar to how I feel with some things in my life at present – they are hanging in the balance, ‘on hold’, uncertain; late, unfinished and far away from perfect.

Hmmmm. Maybe though, just maybe, it will suffice for now.

‘Death medicine’ (or green soup)

I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.
~ George Bush, U.S. President (1990)

What you see here, my dears, is version #16 (or so) of a concoction with humble, accidental (?) beginnings.

One memorable day last year, I found to my horror that my flatmate Matt had made us green soup for dinner. GREEN SOUP. I’ve had tasty colourful soups (like a blood-red champagne & watermelon soup in a vineyard once) before, but the sight of this gloopy, mossy, duck-poo coloured green gloop did not appeal to me at all… at first, anyway…

I remained doubtful even though Matt attributed this magic potion in part to a marvellous cauliflower amuse bouche we once had in a restaurant (flavourful and poignant, a bouquet of garlic and wonder which truly paved the way to an enjoyable dinner).

When I finally closed my eyes and lifted the glass to my lips… I found myself surprised to the point of glee… which just goes to show you should NEVER, EVER judge a book by its cover. Or a soup by its look. Whatever.

“Try everything at least once”, my mom always encouraged, and except for the odd occasion (eg. turtle soup, sea urchin and ostrich eggs), I have mostly emerged the better for it. Sometimes, especially when you least expect it, food can reach past your senses and surprise you with something akin to a happy dream.

Anyway, I had 2 little shot-glasses of it tonight when Matt made this particular version of what he has named ‘death medicine’… and I include the recipe below with his permission. He did not measure these exactly, but they should be pretty accurate.

    Ingredients:
    1/2 broccoli
    1 courgette
    1/2 cup sango sprouts (I hate this in salads but it is not bad in soup)
    1/3 cup unsweetened yoghurt
    1 tbsp cream cheese
    tuscan seasoning
    cajun spice
    black pepper
    truffle oil
    dill
    Method to Matt’s madness:
    Steam broccoli and courgette.
    When they are soft, pulse and blend them with any excess water (approximately 1/3 cup), sprouts, yoghurt, cream cheese, seasoning and spice until it becomes a nice creamy soup. Adjust ingredient quantities till you reach desired taste and consistency.
    Pour it into a glass and pour a tiny bit of truffle oil on the top before adding a small sprinkle of dill.
    Yields 2 servings.