Sunday, December 19, 2010

All I want for Christmas...

I want my kitchen back! AK's Kitchen -- the real one -- has been out of commission for a while because of water damage. I won't get into the painful details, but suffice it to say the damage hit my favourite room, and the floors above and below it.

We were in decontamination mode for two weeks. Now we're in reconstruction mode. I can hardly wait for the final painting to happened days before Christmas.

With our ceiling ripped out and pot lights dangling, the kitchen has been a less-than-inspiring place to cook. We've been feasting on canned beans, tuna and fried eggs.  We've also been doing a lot of take-out shawarma.

Last night, I took back my kitchen and fired up the stovetop. I threw together a fast stir fry with my new favourite soya sauce.

This brand is free of wheat and gluten. No wonder I always felt ill after eating food made with my old brand of soya sauce. I made the connection after a friend told me that most soya sauce is made with wheat.

With a generous sprinkling of my new wheat-free condiment, along with leftover basmati rice, frozen veggies and frozen squid (my kids LOVE LOVE LOVE squid), I whipped up some fried rice.
We got most of the main food groups in one frying pan. Plus, it was a welcome break from canned pork and beans.
Seafood Fried Rice

Fingers crossed that Santa brings efficient elves to get my kitchen back on track before Christmas.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday Granola

When I was much younger, "granola" was an adjective. It was how we described some of my classmates at the all-girls school run by the Sisters of Saint Anne. "Granola" was part of the angry schtick of one Ottawa radio commentator. In his daily rants, he fumed about the "granola set", those "tree-hugging, cappuccino-sucking lefties."

When I think of granola today, I think of the crispy wholesome stuff that cleans out your insides. I've seen all sorts of designer granola. Ginger and honey-flavoured, cranberry-almond and pecan-maple granola.

This afternoon, I made a big batch of granola and spiced it up for the holidays. I scooped it into decorative gift bags for the teachers.  I also set aside a couple of bowls for Santa and Christmas brunch.

This recipe makes a big batch and takes no longer than 25 minutes to whip up. The longest part is  measuring out your ingredients. Play with the seasonings to create your own signature granola.

Holiday Granola

AK's Holiday Granola
6 cups large flake oats (spelt or kamut work well too)
2 cups sunflower seeds
2 cups cranberries/ currants
1 cup pecans/ almonds
1 cup grated coconut
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup soya flour
1 cup water
1 cup oil (grapeseed, sunflower or canola) 
pinch salt
3 Tablespoons vanilla
2 Tablespoons cinnamon  
1 Tablespoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground dried star anise (optional)  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with wax paper.
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.
Spread onto cookie sheets.
Bake for 20 minutes. Flip mixture and bake for another 10 minutes.
Enjoy sprinkled on yogurt or on its own as a snack.   

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cake and Other Blessings

'Tis the season for cakes and cookies, family and friendship. This is the season that reminds me most of my Auntie Maitoni. 
At this time of year, her living room was transformed into a fruitcake assembly line. Her fruitcakes were in high demand in Metro Manila ever since she began taking orders in the 1960's. She prepared hundreds of fruitcakes every holiday season. She started the process as early as September. Each cake received a generous dousing of Philippine Tanduay rum. "For the extra moisture," she would say with a wink.  
Auntie Maitoni also made elaborate wedding cakes. To pull off such works of art in the tropical heat was an amazing feat. Her cakes were adorned with edible flowers, each one painstakingly made by her steady hand. Each orchid, each rose were weeks in the making. 

Auntie Maitoni's Golden Anniversary Masterpiece 
For one wedding in Los Angeles, she made delicate sugar roses, wrapped them individually in bubble wrap, and transported them from her kitchen in Asia to the bride in L.A.!
My Aunt and her trans-Pacific cake

My Auntie Maitoni fell ill just before the holiday season in 2007. On December 20, 2007 she passed at  81 years of age. She and my uncle Gaby had been married for 60 years and 10 months.  
When word spread about her passing, my uncle -- a veteran CBS News correspondent -- received touching notes from around the globe. One of his newsmen colleagues described Auntie Maitoni as his mother in Asia while he was a cub reporter. Auntie Maitoni made certain that he was well-organised, well-informed and well-fed.  

When she wasn't working on her daily New York Times crossword puzzle (she was one of the few people I know who could actually finish them) or when she wasn't reading a newspaper cover to cover, she cooked, baked and rummaged through local farmers markets. She had a great appreciation for food and its preparation. 

During her days as a coloratura soprano
Food was not merely calories and sustenance to my aunt; food was her medium to express her affection and creativity. Her cakes were just one of her canvasses. 

I wish I could share Auntie Maitoni's cake recipes, but they were her own concoctions based on old family recipes. Trying to duplicate them would not do her justice. Instead, I wish to share a few  memories of a wonderful woman. She was my role model and the first true foodie in my life. 

Auntie Maitoni 1926 - 2007