Friday, November 26, 2010

Food for the gods

Someone I know took a terrible fall this week after the first snow and ice of the season. She was walking out her front door and in a split second, she slipped and broke her leg. Now, with five titanium pins in her femur, she is home recuperating. 

With that experience in mind, I hunkered down indoors, safe from the elements and my own clumsiness. I whipped up my special dark, delicious drink.  It packs a small punch of flavonoids which have beneficial effects on cholesterol and inflammation.  
The ancient Mayans considered cocoa a food for the gods, a cure-all, an aphrodisiac. The Spaniards consume it as part of their first meal of the New Year. Chocolate con churros is said to be the perfect cure for a hangover.
A childhood friend who is married to a Spaniard told me about a Spanish legend about Queen Maria Teresa, the wife of King Louis XIV. Legend goes, the Queen's teeth were black from her addiction to chocolate. (I am happy to report that my own addiction hasn't cost me my teeth, yet.) 

I tracked down the most luxurious hot chocolate. CafĂ© Angelina in Paris near the Louvre serves up a 14-ounce mini-pitcher with fresh whipped cream on the side. 
This was my lunch one afternoon. I dragged hubby back for seconds the next day. I have my own version of hot chocolate. It is thick, velvety and slightly spicy. A welcome elixir on a wintery night.

AK's Spicy Hot Chocolate
AK's Spicy Hot Chocolate
100 grams/ 6 ounces good dark chocolate - minimum 65%  
3/4 cup milk or almond/soya milk at room temperature       
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg  
Pinch dried chilli pepper flakes or 1 dried chilli pepper, slit down the middle
Pinch crushed szechuan peppercorns
Pinch sea salt

Carefully melt the chocolate, making sure it does not burn.  
Stir in the milk. 
Add cinnamon, nutmeg, dried chilli pepper.
Pour into espresso cups.
Sprinkle sea salt and szechuan peppercorns on top.

This rich recipe makes enough for one generous mug, but I recommend sharing between two or three chocoholics. And use a spoon to scoop out every last drop.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Week of Mindful Eating

I'm back on track, feeling healthier and more energetic after the sugar orgy. Last weekend's lapse did me and my gang a load of good. We were all extra mindful of what we ate. The memory of Mama hugging her waist, fumbling to the washroom gave us all plenty of incentive.

On one night, we feasted on a Sweet Yogurt Crunch, plain yogurt with walnuts and a splash of raw honeyAnother night, we had "pretend chocolate truffles". (See "Meet My New Date," Oct.12.) By mid-week, we no longer craved dessert.

While we were all mindful of our eating, I also took my youngest off gluten. He was having nasty skin rashes, so bad that the skin around his fingers and hands was cracked and bleeding. The itching kept him up at night. This week, a remarkable difference.  His skin is clear, and he has slept through the night, every night this past week.

A friend of mine just came off a detox diet to cleanse her system of gluten, dairy and refined sugars. She said it was tough to stick to at first. But after the two-week cleanse, she says she feels terrific. When she eats too much gluten or sugar, she feels "lousy and gets headaches."

One follower AnnaBe has been off sugar for two weeks and counting. You go girl! I bet you look and feel trimmer. And I bet everyone in your household is eating healthier because of your example.

Sweet Yogurt Crunch

1/2 cup plain, natural yogurt
Pinch of cinnamon
1 Tablespoon walnuts
1 Tablespoon or more raw honey
1 Teaspoon raw cacao (optional)
1 Tablespoon sunflower seeds (optional)

Spoon the yogurt into a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients, finishing with the honey drizzled across the top. Dive in and enjoy a bowl full of calcium, protein and beneficial bacteria. Great for breakfast or as a delicious snack or dessert!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Painful Payback

I did a very bad thing. I fell into temptation. I was seduced by the sexy packaging and an easy opportunity. I indulged in something I've been without for so long. And now I am truly suffering the consequences.

This afternoon, my family and I were enjoying a walk through a trendy neighbourhood. We passed trendy shops and inviting eateries. One of them pulled me by the nose through the doorway. I was intoxicated by the smell of vanilla and fresh baking. Inside, I found myself in a trance, ogling every single cheesecake, pie and cookie. Without even thinking of my gluten and dairy sensitivities, I eagerly placed my order. I had completely forgotten the fact that my body has been without sugar for months.  

After dinner, I opened the box of sinful treats. I sampled the chewy brownie, the peanut butter chocolate cupcake and the tiramisu cheesecake. My far-more-sensible 10-year-old son watched me, shaking his head. I could hear him thinking, "Mama's not thinking. She's gonna regret this."

Here's what was left after I made a pig of myself.

Within minutes I felt the effects of my mindless indulgence. My insides were screaming. I was bloated, gassy and in pain. There will be no next time. (Hopefully publishing the thought will help me stick to the intention.)
As I write this, I have a hot compress sitting on my protruding tummy. Beside my keyboard is a mug of my homemade remedy: a tepid tea of grated ginger and fennel seeds. My grandmother always gave us ginger to soothe our intestinal pains. Fennel has similar soothing properties. Plus I like the mild licorice taste when I chew the seeds.
Fennel seeds and fresh ginger
Next time, I will be mindful of what I am feeding my body. Mindful eating, mindful eating, mindful eating.  It's going to be a long evening with a lot of ginger-fennel tea.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lychee Chicken

Here's today's Jeopardy question: What can you do with chicken and lychees?
I was cleaning out my fridge and had to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs, leftover roasted eggplant and two wrinkled red peppers. I also had a can of lychees.

For the uninitiated, fresh lychees resemble a rough, prickly nut, about the size of a walnut.  The shell is thin and easily cracked open with your fingers. The inside is a white, fleshy fruit with a black pit. The texture reminds me of a peeled extra large grape.

The tropical fruit is native to China, the Philippines, Malasia and India. Outside of Chinatown and Asian grocery stores, fresh lychees are hard to find in my part of the world, which is more arctic than tropical.
When I get a craving, I open a can and pour it into a bowl with ice. The ice dilutes the sugary syrup.

Back to the Jeopardy question. I've mentioned before that Thai curry paste is one of my go-to condiments. Once again, it was my supper saver.  I did a variation of my Thai Curry chicken (see Curry in a Hurry from October 22) using red curry paste. I substituted coconut milk with chicken broth plus the juice from the canned lychee. The result was a light sauce with a hint of sweetness and the plump surprise of lychees. Since it was clean-out-the-fridge night, I threw in the leftover roasted eggplant and the wrinkled red peppers. I added the lychees last so they didn't break apart as I stir fried the other ingredients. And voilĂ , Lychee Chicken.

Lychee chicken on rice noodles
The yellowish cubes in the picture are tofu cubes, in case you're wondering. This dish is also fantastic with shrimp or BBQ beef strips. It is also perfect for dairy and gluten free eaters.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cheers to your eyes

I came to a wonderful realization when a friend came to visit me recently. We were chatting in my kitchen and she remarked, "AK, you're making eye contact! You are looking into my eyes!"

This time a year ago, I was unable to look anybody in the eye, let alone appreciate the site of food or  anything else in front of me. Nerve damage made it difficult to focus on objects and follow moving objects. Even looking at people's faces as they spoke to me was a painful challenge.  Those days seem like a distant memory. Time and rehabilitation are improving the way I see. The damaged nerves are beginning to heal. 

As my friend Steph and I continued our face-to-face conversation, I studied her face with my eyes. We've seen each other regularly over the last year, but for the first time, I was able to really take in the complexity of her deep grey eyes. During that flash of visual clarity, I was astounded by my dear friend's beautiful face. (Steph, middle age has been very kind to you. I can say that because now I can see you properly.)

I did some research on some eye-healthy foods. Extensive studies in the U.S. found that a diet rich in B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin) may help reduce the risk of cataracts. Riboflavin is found in eggs, mushrooms and almonds. Niacin-rich foods are chicken and turkey breast, wild salmon, kidney beans and natural peanut butter. The American National Eye Institute identifies several key nutrients that help contribute to eye health: beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and omega-3 fats.
  • Beta carotene-rich foods: carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, cantaloupe, apricots and cherries. 
  • Vitamin C-rich foods: bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, oranges, strawberries and kiwis. 
  • Vitamin E-rich foods: wheat germ, almonds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, peanut butter and avocados. 
  • Zinc-rich foods: oysters, ostrich (a very lean meat), turkey, pumpkin seeds and chick peas. 
Here's another interesting find: in a study on rats and tea, rats that were given green and black tea had fewer cataracts than their non tea-drinking counterparts.

Eye-opening smoothie  
Eye-Opening Smoothie
1 orange, zested, then peeled and cut into sections
1/2 medium pink grapefruit, peeled and cut into sections
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup frozen berries
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Dump all the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. 

Makes 1 large serving (1 3/4 cups). 
Enjoy the blast of eye-healthy nutrients. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween Hangover

My household is nursing its annual Halloween Hangover. The overdose of high-fructose corn syrup is enough to make your teeth ache and your tummy groan, especially since we've been free of cane and processed sugars for months. We need to gargle with fluoride and chug a glass of psyllium. (

I managed to get rid of half the Halloween loot. But not without a consequence; my kids guilting me out, saying I am the grinch who stole their hard-earned candy. So I bribed them. The trade-off was half the junk in exchange for one of their favourite homemade treats.

I make a mean chocolate cake with quinoa instead of wheat flour. Quinoa is a super grain that contains nearly twice the protein found in other grains. It's also a source of iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, magnesium as well as vitamins B and E.

When you're cooking quinoa, rinse it twice to get rid of the bitter coating. This recipe is great for dairy free and gluten free diets. I use coconut milk, but if you are not fond of coconut, use plain soya or almond milk. In place of butter, I use grapeseed oil or melted coconut oil. In a pinch, vegetable oil also works.

AK's Chocolate Torte

topped with mango jam and coconut
2/3 cup quinoa
1  2/3 cups water
1/3 cup coconut milk 
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup grapeseed oil 
1 cup agave or maple syrup
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1  1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Cook quinoa in water in a medium saucepan. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove lid and let cool. Fluff with a fork. (If you already have cooked quinoa, you will need 2 cups.)
2. While quinoa cools, lightly grease 2 8-inch pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. In a small bowl, whisk all the dry ingredients. 
4. Combine wet ingredients in a blender. Slowly add the cooked quinoa. Blend until smooth.
5. Add dry ingredients.
6. Pour batter into pans and bake for 40 - 45 minutes.

This makes a super moist torte. After a day or two in the refrigerator, in an air-tight container, it's even more delicious.