Back on the (Fitness) Wagon

Recently, in an attempt to shed the few pounds that I’ve  accumulated over the winter and firm up a few things, I’ve  intensified my workouts.

I’ve always been a bit of a fitness nut. I cycle. I run. I lift. I will do just about anything that involves physical activity, well, except maybe step classes…I don’t know why I can’t seem to get into them.  : S

Anyway, I’m sure it was little surprise to those who know me that I took up a “Squat Challenge” that had been circulating through my Facebook peeps. I’m currently up to 150 squats, in addition to the chest presses, the bicep curls, triceps “skull crushers and kickbacks, the shoulder work etc. Oh and I can’t forget my favourite; the spin classes I attend each week.

Needless to say, I’ve been feelin’ the burn. I’ve also been feeling hungry.

Trying to keep good quality, nutrient dense food at the ready for after a workout session used to be really easy. Before I went off gluten and dairy, I’d keep a bunch of protein bars on hand for post workout noshing.  These days I have to put a bit more thought into it. I always have a stash of fruit and nuts but sometimes bananas and almonds aren’t enough. Often I do my workout after 4pm so that by the time I’m done, I’m famished and likely to put just about anything in my mouth. So, I’ve been stocking my fridge with prepared nummies that can easily be tossed with some leftover rice, greens or into a wrap.

This is a list of what’s in my fridge right now:

Hard boiled eggs
Shredded Chinese cabbage
Artichoke hearts, tossed in olive oil and kosher salt, roasted
Homemade guacamole

Sweet potatoes, skin on, tossed in olive oil and kosher salt, roasted
roasted sweet potatoes

Black beans, simmered in chicken broth and dried Ancho peppers
Ancho Mayo
Ancho Mayo
Homemade corn tortillas
If you’ve never made your own corn tortillas you gotta try. They are so easy and full of amazing flavour.
Check out this video
http://allrecipes.com/video/3119/corn-tortillas/detail.aspx?prop24=RD_VideoTipsTricks
Make up a batch and keep ‘em in the fridge. Throw one in a pan for a minute to warm, then fill.

What do you keep on hand for  gluten /dairy free post workout munching?

It’s a Big Ol’ Smelly World : )

One of my main motives for starting this blog was to share info about living a gluten and dairy lifestyle. My secondary hope was to connect with more people who, like me, suffer from chronic nasal polyps. I am still looking for that piece of my personal puzzle that will allow me to breathe and taste and smell without relying on meds to keep my polyps at bay. Removing gluten and dairy from my diet has been a huge step in the right direction for me. However, my doctor recently put me back on Prednisone to shrink the polyps…again. L

It’s been a while since my introduction to Prednisone. When it was first prescribed for me, it helped a lot and I got my sense of smell back almost immediately… but I think I’ve developed a tolerance for it. The last few times I’ve taken it, it didn’t work as well. The polyps shrank, but not as much and I didn’t get my sense of smell back. I have been worried that the surgeries may have left me with scar tissue or something that might prevent my sense of smell from ever coming back.

So, this time my doctor and I agreed to increase the dose. Now, I’m very careful to listen to my body when I take this drug. I find that there are a number of side effects that surface while I’m on it.

Have you ever looked through a telescope or a pair of binoculars before they were fully in focus? That’s kind of what life feels like to me most days.

When my sinuses are inflamed and full of polyps my sense of smell is gone and my sense of taste is diminished. My ability to hear is affected.  When I sing, I loose half my range because there’s nowhere for the sound to resonate. I put away those songs, just like I  put away a favourite sweater when the weather turns warm.  I compensate for these things by turning up the volume, only singing in my low register and eating intensely flavourful foods.

But when my sinuses clear, it’s like everything comes back into focus. I hear how loud the birds are out side my window at 4:30 in the morning. (Crazy birds!)

When I sing, I get to go back to songs that are like old friends I’ve been missing and I’m able to hit the high notes and hear the harmonies again. I can smell my morning coffee. Very strong =)

But most of all, it’s being able to smell and taste delicate flavours again that bring me tears of absolute joy.

The smell of bananas; the delicate flavour of artichokes that have been slow roasted, the sweetness in a fresh, perfectly hard boiled egg; how amazingly green a sugar snap pea tastes,  the intoxicating aroma of the whole vanilla beans I keep for special recipes and  chocolate, OMG, chocolate!

These are the things I crave and want to be able to enjoy all the time. These smells and flavours are like my drug. When I can smell, I’ll walk around just breathing deeply, trying to enjoy as many smells as I can because I’ve learned that this probably won’t last.

My dinner last night was a plate of simple, delicately flavoured bites;

Artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes and lemon slices, tossed with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper, roasted together until the tomatoes became soft and the lemons started to caramelize combined with  torn red leaf lettuce, wedges of hard boiled egg, some blanched sugar snap peas, some finely diced sundried tomato and a little dressing of mayonnaise seasoned with saffron and garlic.

Heaven

Happy Tuesday

In keeping with the tone of my last post about gluten free & dairy free staples I keep on hand, I thought I’d put my money where my mouth is , so to speak.  I’m going to make posting simple meals that include pantry staples a regular occurrence on the blog.  This is a typical, easy going kind of meal I’d make for my Sweetie and I . There was plenty for two with enough left over for lunch the next day.

From my kitchen to yours, complete with pictures. (I’ve been working on my photography skills)

Pork tenderloin roasted with Kozlick’s Balsamic Fig and Date Mustard served with vegetable risotto.
And, yep, that’s my kitchen, complete with fridge magnets. : )

BFD w Risotto mis en place

The ingredients for this meal were things I had on hand and include two of my pantry staple items.

pork tenderloin
red pepper
zucchini
asparagus
scallions
Aborio rice
lemon
Kozlick’s Balsamic Fig and Date Mustard
Kirkland Gluten Free Chicken Broth
olive oil
kosher salt

For the Risotto;
In a medium size sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil.
Sauté red pepper until it begins to soften, add asparagus and zucchini. Continue to sauté 2-3 minutes. Add rice to pan, stirring to coat all grains in oil. Add broth to pan, a little at a time, allowing the liquid to become absorbed between additions, stirring often. Risotto should take about 20 minutes. Serve with lemon wedge.

Risotto in pan 2

For the pork tenderloin;

Preheat oven to 400°F oven
Remove the “silver skin”, the membrane running along one end of the meat, from the tenderloin. If this is left on it will become tough and unpleasant when cooked.

In a medium size bowl, mix 2 tablespoons Kozlick’s with equal parts olive oil. Rub all over tenderloin, place meat on a parchment lined baking tray. Season with  a little salt. Place tray in oven and roast, turning once, until instant read thermometer shows internal temperature is 71°C/160°F. Approx 45 minutes for a 1.5 lb tenderloin. Remove from oven and let rest before slicing.

BFD pork 3

Risotto

Enjoy!

Pssst… I think Spring is here.

I started out trying to write this post in my favourite spot. At my dining room table with my back to the window as the afternoon sun poured in, warm on my back.  I was feeling too fidgety to write. Well maybe not to write but certainly too fidgety to sit there. We’re finally having some warm weather here in The GTA and I thought I’d take advantage of it before the predicted thunderstorms roll in. I decided to go outside.

I think it’s pretty amazing that a week ago, I posted a piece about Mother Nature’s mood swings and now, here I am, sitting on the back deck and there are so many birds chirping it’s noisy! Thanks to the songbird clock I used to keep in my kitchen when my boys were little, I know that the cacophony I’m listening to includes Robins, Cardinals, Canada Geese , at least one woodpecker and, I’m pretty sure a Blue Jay or two. In fact, there’s a rather brave Robin eyeballing me as I sit here typing. I think I must be too close to a particularly wormy patch of garden.

Robin

The sun is warm on my face. There is a gentle breeze at my back and I’m getting the first real good look at my backyard since moving here in December 2012.  There are lots of big old trees. Lots of dog walkers. I like this old neighborhood.  It’s pretty and makes me think of planting basil, and tomatoes and marigolds, firing up the barbeque and enjoy a glass of wine while cooking up something yummy.

Whatever I cook, you can be sure there’s some kind of sauce to go with it.

Gluten free Barbeque sauces can be hard to find as so many sauces rely on malt vinegar. Here’s one of my favourite barbeque sauce recipes. It’s a little sweet, a little tangy, a bit smokey, with a wee kick to it. During barbeque season, this sauce never lasts longer than a week in my fridge.  Don’t worry about serving it to the kiddies, the alcohol gets cooked out.  I’ve used it on chicken, beef, pork…veggies, even fruit. It makes an awesome “Hobo Pack”, mixed with potatoes, veggies meat patties (and peaches when they come into season). Feel free to play with the chipotles to suit your tastes.

Dee’s Bourbon BBQ Sauce

1 large onion, finely chopped (2 cups)
4 garlic cloves, minced (2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups ketchup (12 oz)
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
½ cup bourbon whiskey
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon dry mustard
2-4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper
Salt & pepper

Cook onion  in oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until  tender. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30-40 minutes.

Makes about 5 cups.

Help! I Just Went Gluten & Dairy Free!

My thoughts are with the people of Boston, including the thousands of Canadians who were expected to run the marathon. It it a terrible thing to have happen, anywhere, anytime.

Recently, two of my Facebook pals told me they were going to go gluten and dairy free.
The family of one pal was already dairy-free and this new issue was proving to be a challenge. She mentioned she had been eating quinoa. But just as my family has gotten sick of the ham leftovers from Easter, I got the impression she was getting a bit tired of it. “What else can I eat?” seemed to be the question. The other pal was jumping in with both feet based on the advice of her doctor.

So here’s some basic advice for anyone thinking about or newly transitioning to a gluten and dairy free lifestyle.

  1. Take a deep breath. You can do this.
  2. There are many cultures that don’t use a lot of gluten and dairy. For example, Chinese, Japanese and Thai foods don’t use dairy. In Indian food, swap a bit of coconut milk mixed with lemon or lime for  the yoghurt to marinate chicken. Find a place that sells corn tortillas and go Mexican. Try avocados! There is nothing like homemade guacamole and I use it when I’m craving something savory and creamy instead of cheese. This is a great opportunity to explore food from other cultures. Mix it up!
  3. Go simple. Buy more ingredients and fewer ready-made products. There will be fewer labels to read! Not every dinner needs a starch. Lunch boxes don’t have to have sandwiches, just think of all the amazing things you would find on a fruit and veggie tray or put in a wrap…then skip the wrap!

It’s really easy to focus on all the things one can’t have when one makes a drastic change to their eating habits. I remember getting caught up in “replacing” all the bread and cheeses and butter etc, etc.
I won’t tell you it’s an easy thing to do but it really isn’t the end of the world.

I’m an ex-smoker and when I quit cigarettes (nine years ago!), I used a patch until I was ready to go without. Going gluten and dairy free is much, much easier and even though I’ve never heard of a gluten or dairy “patch” there are  many great products out there to help you along.

Here’s a short list of safe products I try to keep on hand at all times.
Where there is no “brand” name, please read labels carefully!

San-J Brand Gluten Free Tamari Soy Sauce http://www.san-j.com
Mayonnaise
I use Helman’s
Diana’s Brand Marinades (several are dairy and gluten free)
Selection Brand Worcestershire sauce (found at Metro Grocery Stores)
Kozlick’s Brand MustardCheck them out at http://http://www.mustardmaker.com or take a trip to Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market in person, to sample all the flavours. They are blow-your-mind amazing and all but two are gluten and dairy free!
Tinkyada Brand Pastas, check them out here http://www.tinkyada.com
King Soba Products, they make yummy noodles and stuff! Check them out at http://www.kingsoba.com
Chex Brand Cerealscheck them out at http://www.chex.com  I mix ‘em up with stuff like nuts, chocolate chips and dried fruit. I snack on them like trail mix.
Rice Noodlesthink wide Pad Thai style noodles and skinny vermicelli noodles to make for an awesome stir fry!
Basmati and brown riceCook it and keep it on hand in the fridge, cold rice is the best for making fried rice!
Canned Coconut Milk– Marinate with it. Cook with it. I even mix it with rice milk and froth it for my morning cappuccino!
Fortified/Enriched Rice Milk-I like other kinds of “mylk” too but I find rice to have a neutral flavour, especially for baking. Buying fortified brands ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need.
Corn Tortilla Chips-check the labels to be sure they’re all corn!
Soft (Fresh) Corn Tortillas
These can sometimes be hard to find  , but they are sooooo good!
Salsa
Humus
Quinoa
(of course) – Treat it like rice and keep it ready in the fridge. I mix a scoop with coconut milk, brown sugar, dried fruit and nuts for a yummy hot cereal.
Ready Made Chicken BrothI like Kirkland Brand, in tetra packs from Costco.

And if you live in the Oshawa/Whitby area of Southern Ontario, Halenda’s Meats, see http://halendas.com has an impressive list of products that are gluten free.

With all these items in my kitchen, I can whip up a snack or full blown meal in no time and never miss what I can’t have.

Hmmm, I’m getting hungry.

Mother Nature Hits Menopause?

April is supposed to be spring in southern Ontario.  You know, “April showers bring May flowers” and all that.

But I think Mother Nature missed the memo.

Here in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA for short) we’ve had a long, weird winter. We’ve had big storms followed by above zero temps that melt everything, then back down to frigid temps. Up and down, up and down. We’ve had a very cold, sloppy, long winter. It’s like Jack Frost doesn’t want to loosen his grip.

But spring was starting to take hold. Over the last two weeks you could feel it. The Canadian geese and the song birds are back. Most of the snow had melted away. Last Saturday it was warm enough outside to swap my winter coat for a light jacket. On Tuesday I left the gym after my workout still wearing my shorts and I didn’t freeze. Golf courses are opening up. People have started planning their cottage weekends for the summer.

And me? I’m shopping for a new barbeque to kick off the new season.

Then today, my local weather report tells me that there is a “winter storm watch that will include heavy freezing rain and ice pellets, temperatures hovering around freezing, accumulation of 4-5 cm, followed by more of the same tomorrow but with temperatures around 8°C”.  Really?

As a forty-something female, I’m very much aware of the changes my body will soon go through as I approach “the change of life”.

Two well know symptoms of the approach of menopause: hot flashes and mood swings.
Hmmm…Mama Nature has definitely got that.
With the crazy temperature shifts come colds.  It seems like there has been at least one person in my family with the sniffles at any given time this winter. I know I’ve been fighting something for few weeks.
The best way I know to help fight off a cold is to eat some homemade soup.

I think I’ve made more pots of soup this winter than I can count. My current “go-to, make everyone better recipe” is full of white beans and veggies. It’s an easy going kind of thing that comes together quick and can be modified to suit what’s in your fridge or pantry. I’m on a Cannellini bean “kick” lately, so they’re in the soup too but feel free to sub in potatoes or your favourite gluten free pasta.  For a vegetarian option, swap the chicken stock for your favourite vegetable broth and omit the chorizo.

Here’s hoping Spring will come back to us  soon.

Vegetable Bean Soup with Chorizo

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 ½ oz (100g) Spanish Chorizo sausage, diced

1 large Spanish onion, diced

1 medium fennel bulb, tops removed, diced

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 medium zucchini, diced

2 large carrots diced

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

14 oz (398mL) can of diced tomatoes

8 cups chicken stock or broth

14oz can Cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed, drained

4 cups kale, stems removed, chopped

Heat olive oil in heavy large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add Chorizo, cook 3-4 minutes, letting the sausage flavour the pan. Add onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes. The Chorizo juices will colour the onions while they cook. Add fennel, carrots, zucchini and garlic; continue to sauté 3-4 minutes or until the veggies have softened. Add the smoked paprika, sauté for 1 minute to release the flavour. Add tomatoes and chicken stock; bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes. Add beans and kale. Cook until vegetables are tender, kale is wilted and soup is slightly thickened, about 10-15 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper, if needed. Enjoy!

Serves 6-8

Men vs Women: Groceries

In my house, I do all the grocery shopping but it wasn’t always like this.

Before my Sweetie and I decided to take the plunge and shack up, we used to shop together all the time. It may sound funny but when I reminisce about those early shopping expeditions, I don’t think of them as a chore that had to be done. Rather, I think they were an integral part of how we got to know each other. You can learn a lot about someone by the way they shop.

At the time, my Sweetie was a busy, self employed, single dad, living in a small town, a forty five minute drive away from where I live.  When I’d visit him, we’d head out to the one big grocery store in town.
My love never carried a grocery list.  He’d just grab a cart and proceed to go through every isle in the place, driving like he was in a slow motion recap of the Indy 500, taking the corners on two wheels. I thought it was hilarious and I looked forward to the next trip as a part of our “date”.

We leave the store with his usual, eggs, milk, cheese, bagels, a bag of Oreos and whatever looked like a good idea for dinner that night (those were my pre gluten/dairy free days). It filled about 2 bags.

Me? I approach the task in a very different way.

My family calls me “an ingredient snob” and I’m proud of it. I know all the stores in my city and I know which place has the best selection of produce, meats and dry goods. When I shop, I have a list and a route, a plan and I’m on a mission.

I have perfected the mid-week, mid-afternoon “Hit & Run”. The “Mad Dash to the Cash”, the “Zip in / Zip out”, all to avoid being in the store when 3:30pm rolls around. That’s when busy parents everywhere are scooping up their kids from daycare or school and draggin’ them out to get something for tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s lunch all before the lovely little munchkins have to be at “insert name of activity here”. Having been there, done that with my own boys when they were little, I learned a very valuable lesson. Just like shopping when you’re hungry never works out well, grocery shopping with bored hungry kids is worse!

Yeah, ok, so my Sweetie’s way is more fun. The other day I was thinkin’ how I missed those days.

My Sweetie and I just celebrated our four year anniversary….by going grocery shopping in my favourite place. Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market.  It was a lovely date.