Stuff I’ve learned lately…

A lot has happened in the past few months. You know how it is – you think you have a plan and some goals to achieve but life always shows you who’s the boss: definitely not you. They say smart people know how to make the best of what they have rather than pine after what they don’t have. In that aspect, you can say I’m trying to be smart.

Lately I’ve learned that…

  1. I’m gluten intolerant. After the elimination and provocation diet, coupled with tons of medical tests, I received my diagnosis mid-March. It has taken me awhile to deal with it as I am a huge foodie. I love food. It’s also one of the key things my husband and I have in common and something that we use to bond with our friends. I spent a few weeks being really, really sad about this diagnosis. In fact, I’m still kind of upset about it. It hits me at moments like when I see something I used to enjoy eating, or when I remember a childhood dish and think “I shall eat that when I’m back” and then I remember that I’m not allowed to eat it. Well, I could eat it but I would definitely see a reaction. I currently don’t have celiac’s disease but I have the gene for it – so I may develop the disease in future; which is very, very scary for me as I know people who have celiac’s and it is not easy. I seem to react to wheat in general so I am currently staying away from wheat entirely. I refuse to be down about this, which brings me to my second point.
  2. There is life beyond wheat. When I look back, I’m shocked by how much wheat I used to eat. I ate pastries, bagels, bread (all the time), pasta, wraps (my former favourite), pizza – you name it. On days when I felt a bit sad or stressed, my fix was to go for a walk outside of my office and grab a latte with soy (due to my self-assumed lactose intolerance) and a pastry. It wasn’t like I ate a sugar laden pastry all the time, but sometimes. Sometimes I had a muesli bar (also wheat) or a wholewheat scone. *Shudder* Today, the husband and I live off salads. We eat tons of vegetables so much so that we can no longer justify buying vegetables at our high end supermarket *cough* Meny *cough* because we eat a lot more of it. Instead we go to a quaint little grocer nearby and buy as much vegetables as we need. That way we save at least 20% on our groceries. The reason we do this is because health food is expensive especially in a city like Oslo. Almond milk, chia seeds, nut butter, erythritol (sugar alcohol), low carb seed crackers, gluten free bread mixes, protein bars/powder, sugar free chocolate, kale chips are all luxury items that are quite expensive at the health stores here. We also eat a lot of soups and baked fish as well poultry. I’m allowed 1 carb meal a day, beyond that I have to lead a high fat, lean protein lifestyle with little to no processed food at all. The reason I say “lifestyle” instead of “diet” is because I have been prescribed this lifestyle as a way to eat clean and maintain a high level of energy and a clear mind.
  3. I can no longer eat much sugar. My nutritionist wants me to avoid sugar as much as possible. This is doable, but it’s quite tricky because a lot of gluten free foods have sugar in them and sometimes you really want to eat a chocolate chip cookie or a Marie biscuit that you kind of have to ignore the sugar. I can’t, however, eat very sweet food anymore. I start to feel really guilty and worry about my skin. The more I stay away from gluten and sugar, the clearer my skin is. This also means I won’t be able to eat my wedding cake in July as it will contain both gluten and sugar. I’m trying not to feel bad about this, but it’s hard. I will also not be able to eat a large portion of the food that we will be serving our guests. I have less than two months to come to terms with this. So far, I’ve been repeating in my head “It’s just food”. It’s kind of working.
  4. I’m no longer lactose intolerant. This came as a surprise as the tests actually proved I was lactose intolerant. However, it seems that if I’m not eating gluten, I don’t react to lactose. That said, cottage cheese seems to cause some breakouts on my skin, so I am trying to avoid that as much as possible – even though it’s really tasty and energizing to eat cottage cheese with fresh berries as a mid afternoon snack. But, the best part of being able to tolerate lactose is being able to drink regular caffe lattes again. Nothing like milk with coffee – also helps that I get to save between 5 or 6 NOK as cafes do charge you extra for soy milk.
  5. Sushi will not always taste the same. Most Japanese restaurants only serve regular soya sauce which contains gluten. Hoisin sauce – which I would bathe in, if I could – has gluten too. So, when I eat sushi in restaurants that do not serve gluten free soya sauce, I eat it plain; without wasabi or soya sauce. It’s not bad, but it’s not the same. I’m also a huge fan of Vietnamese fresh spring rolls which are always served with Hoisin sauce as a dip. Man, I’m going to miss Hoisin sauce so very much.
  6. Nothing tastes the same anymore. My taste buds seem to have changed. I’ve always wondered if I had super taste buds but these days I can taste everything and the food just doesn’t taste the same. Some days, food tastes bland. Other days, it’s too spicy. In some ways, some dishes feel as if there’s something missing. There are dishes that taste really good, but generally I no longer enjoy food as much as I used to. Having to analyze everything you eat, having to write a detailed food journal for a good 3 months, having to dissect ingredient lists constantly really changes how you perceive food.
  7. I’ve actually lost weight. To date I have lost almost 11 kg by eating clean and working out. Previously I had a mostly stagnant weight for 4.5 years and it was so hard to lose anything. I built muscles and gained strength. I burned a lot of calories during workouts but my weight remained mostly the same. It was so frustrating until I started the elimination diet. Halfway through my elimination diet, the weight started to melt away. It was a surprise – one that I’m still learning how to accept as I don’t look like I used to look anymore. I feel like the same person, but also different.
  8. People are not always supportive when you do something they don’t really believe in or understand. I kind of expected this and it usually doesn’t bother me but sometimes I get a bit sad when some people around me are insensitive of my dietary restrictions or health choices. But I guess this is my journey and I cannot expect other people to understand it. They have their own journeys.
  9. My skin can heal. I’ve been blessed to be able to travel and purchase all the wonderful skincare items people rave about. Most of them are not easily available in Norway but I have recently traveled to Washington for business and Berlin for leisure so I’ve stocked up on all the skincare saviours that seem to help my skin heal.Skincare saviours The Pai Rosehip Biogenerate Oil is the best facial oil I have ever used. It’s been healing my scars slowly but surely and it makes my skin feel alive again. REN’s Vita Mineral Omega 3 Optimum Skin Serum Oil is a soothing, anti-inflammatory serum that reduces the swelling around pimples and clogged pores. I use it everyday underneath my makeup. Clarins Cleansing Milk with Gentian is possibly the most soothing cleanser I have ever used. It cleans my skin without stripping off the natural oils and always makes my skin feel soft and clean. I do have to work this in properly into my skin and massage it for best results. Clarins Gentle Exfoliator Brightening Toner is an exfoliating toner that removes dead cells. I use this once a day to make sure my skin is thoroughly clean before apply serum. Perricone MD Citrus Facial Wash is what I use when I want to wash my face quickly especially in the morning or before heading to the gym. I never wear makeup when I’m at the gym as I’m afraid I will clog my pores even more. The down side is that I sometimes bump into people I know (Oslo is a tiny city) and I always feel a bit embarrassed about my appearance. If you see me around the city and I’m uncomfortable, it’s because I’m bare faced without my game face. The wash is really good and it always removes the last traces of makeup and grime left after I’ve used an oil based cleanser to remove my makeup. SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense is a newly acquired serum that I’m still learning how to use optimally. So far, I do like it as it seems to be reducing the amount of bumps I get on my face. Smooth, blemish free skin is still all I dream about. I know it sounds weird, but I can’t help it. Korres Pomegranate Moisturizing Creme Gel is a no nonsense moisturizer that works very well for my combination skin. I was lucky that a good friend’s Mom got this for me in Greece where it’s a lot more reasonably priced. Lastly, the Kate Sommerville Daily Nourish and Goat Milk moisturisers are very soothing and calming for my skin. They don’t cause any breakouts so far for which I’m very, very glad.

In a way, you can say I’m learning how to be me again and I’m just getting started.

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Gnocchi with Garlic Cream Sauce

The bf and I normally don’t cook much with cream sauce as I’m somewhat lactose intolerant. Somewhat meaning that it doesn’t always annoy me; there’s a mysterious quota that I don’t know about, but my tummy does.

However, the bf and I love garlic so we just had to cook this. The best part about this recipe is that it takes 20 minutes to make this delicious dish, provided that you have all the ingredients and they’ve been chopped/prepared.

This is what our final dish looked like:

Gnocchi with Garlic Cream Sauce

This is the original recipe. We skipped the garlic powder, replaced cooking sherry with red wine vinegar and added some basil plus Italian spices.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s what you need:

  1. 1 medium onion sliced into thin strips
  2. 3 cloves of garlic chopped finely
  3. 14 champignon mushrooms chopped into thin slices – the size of mushrooms is tricky to gauge so just enough mushrooms
  4. 2 tablespoons salted butter – I used unsalted French butter as I added salt later (I also added some olive oil to prevent the butter from burning)
  5. 1 quart heavy cream – I didn’t feel like measuring how much a quart was (lazy) so I guestimated
  6. Salt and pepper as needed
  7. Some chopped basil and Italian spices (optional)

Here’s what you do:

  • Cook your gnocchi as per instructions on the packet.
  • In a frying pan, fry mushrooms, onions, butter and minced garlic. Add in red wine vinegar.
  • Cook until the ingredients are soft and the liquid is reduced by half.
  • Add in basil and Italian spices.
  • Add in enough cream according to your taste and let it simmer. (Cream must not boil as it may separate.)
  • Serve gnocchi with the sauce.

 

Dishes I Have Cooked Lately

Fried Behoon with Chicken and Tofu

This is a quick recipe of regular beehoon fried with chicken and tofu. It takes barely 30 minutes to make and is delicious even for lunch the next day. The bf usually gets a doggy bag of the remaining food as his canteen at work does not serve food as good as my canteen at work.

Sweet Potato and Fennel Soup

I have written about this soup before. It’s a delicious soup for days when you feel like eating a delicious soup that is not too creamy and not too light. The mix of parmesan and sweet potato as well as fennel gives this soup a round taste. I served it with sesame crackers.

Salmon with Asparagus and Bulgur

This recipe is actually from one of the Real Simple magazine issues. It takes about 30 minutes to make. Here’s what I remember: In a baking dish, simply place bulgur at the bottom, with asparagus in the middle and finally salmon fillets on top. Pour enough stock (I used chicken stock) to cover the bulgur and squeeze some lime juice on the salmon along with some ground black pepper. Cover the whole backing dish with foil and bake for 20-30 minutes. This is the only tricky part as you have to keep removing the foil wrapping to check if the salmon is done or not.

Thai Style Prawn Curry

Regular Thai curry made with Panang curry paste, prawns and some vegetables. Served with Jasmin rice.

Oatmeal Porridge with Fresh Strawberries and Maple Syrup

This was for breakfast last Sunday. I made oatmeal porridge with a dash of maple syrup and threw in a handful of sliced fresh strawberries.

Ah sweet potato fries. *DROOL* I’m also a big fan of Heidi Swanson. If she tells me brussels sprouts are good, I will eat them. Of course it helps that she has some wonderful recipes on her blog. The brussels sprouts in this photo are cooked based on her Golden-Crusted Brussels Sprouts recipe. The salmon is seasoned with lemon juice and pepper and baked alongside the sweet potato fries, that are seasoned with paprika, olive oil and some Italian spices.

Baked Salmon with Honey, Olive Oil and Lemon served on a bed of Salad

I tossed fresh salmon fillets with a bit of olive oil, lemon juice, pepper and honey. I then baked the fillets and served them on top a salad made with tomatoes, lettuce, some spinach and pine nuts. Served with fat free Mango and Chilli vinaigrette.

Quick Version of Jamie Oliver's Prawn and Pea Risotto

In Jamie Oliver’s Naked Chef book, he has this Pea and Prawn Risotto recipe which basically builds on top of his Risotto Bianco recipe. The bf is utterly in love with Jamie’s Risotto Bianco. Now the Pea and Prawn Risotto is a little bit more difficult to make than the Risotto Bianco and I was kind of hungry so I skimmed through the recipe, then played it by ear as I didn’t have any celery stalks at home. I made the Risotto Bianco without celery and then tossed in the peas, prawns, mint and basil towards the end. I did skip the parmesan that the Risotto Bianco uses as Jamie mentioned parmesan does not go well with seafood. ThinkingAboutFood.com has the full Pea and Prawn Risotto recipe here.

Chicken with Jamie Oliver's Rosemary, Chili and Garlic Herb Crust served on a bed of Salad

Jamie Oliver is really famous in Germany. He is so famous that even the bf’s mother talks about him. In German supermarkets (not in Norway, unfortunately), you can get these plastic jars of crust that taste delicious when pressed on to chicken and then baked for 15 to 20 minutes. I served the crusted chicken on a bed of salad made with chopped cubes of mango, cherry tomatoes, lettuce and capsicum. Served with French Vinaigrette.

Attempting to make the Momofuku Pork Buns

When we were in New York, the bf and I got a glimpse of heaven – food heaven, that is – when we visited the Momofuku Noodle bar and had an order of their famous pork buns.

What exactly is a Momofuku pork bun anyway? Well, it’s somewhat similar to a char siew bao except for three things:

  • The bao is not closed, it’s open like a burger.
  • The pork belly is not minced and cooked with char siu sauce but just roasted.
  • There’s added flavour with sugar pickled cucumber – don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

I’ll be honest. This recipe does take awhile, especially if you live in this tiny corner of the world where the white buns are not available pre-made. So, the bf was tasked with the dough kneading work since he’s got more dough kneading training than I have. (The bf’s Dad bakes bread every week, they don’t buy bread at all…unless a certain guest feels like having croissants for breakfast *cough* *clears throat*)

You might need some motivation before you embark on this culinary adventure so here’s a photograph of what I’m talking about:

My attempt at making Momofuku Pork Buns

So this is the only photograph I have as I misplaced my SD Card along with the Card reader and hunted high low, but alas…it was permanently gone. I have a feeling I threw it away by accident. I know! How could you do that Fieran? *facepalm*

There are three steps to making these extremely delicious buns.

  1. Marinate and roast your pork belly.
  2. Make the buns.
  3. Pickle the cucumber.

None of these recipes are mine. I used this recipe to make the bun and roast the pork; this recipe to pickle the cucumber.

Trust me, the effort is worth it. We spent about 4 hours trying to make this dish (the pork was marinated overnight) and it was definitely a success. We ate it as an evening pre-gym snack on Sunday, then dinner that Sunday and also dinner the next day, Monday. It was a dish that kept on feeding [..like a gift that keeps on giving] 🙂

Reference: Exerpt from the Momofuku Cookbook

The Weekend Diaries — 1

I’ve been meaning to write posts summing up what I did each weekend as that’s when I really live my life. LOL, I can’t help it 🙂 Most of my weekdays are spent at work or at the gym. Some days the bf and I barely have time to sit down and chat as we’re always rushing around getting things done.

So, here’s the first volume of my weekend diary!

Last weekend we were invited to a friend’s 30th birthday on Saturday. It was not an adult party but a small gathering of some friends together with couples who have children. It did feel a little bit like a daycare, but in a good way. Some kids are so well behaved, you don’t even realize they are there. I was a bit of a brat as a child, so I’m always in awe when I come across well behaved kids 🙂

I baked an orange butter cake for the event. It’s always nice to arrive at a friend’s place with something to give. I really feel very uncomfortable if I arrive with nothing to contribute. It’s not really a rule per se, just that it’s how Malaysian people visit each other. We always bring what is known as “buah tangan” (which literally translates to ‘hand fruits’…but no, that’s not what I mean). I used this recipe but doubled it up and then added the juice and zest of one whole orange along with 3 extra tablespoons of flour. The cake was awesome. So awesome I have no photographs of it. Heh 😉

On Sunday we went to the gym. I’ve been trying to start running again – treadmill only – and I am happy to say it’s been going well. I love that exhilaration I get when I’m running in a particular rhythm and my mind is clear and I have a slight smile on my face thanks to the endorphins. *Happy sigh* At that moment, there is nothing else I could ask for.

I always love making noodle stir fries but I usually mess up a bit when it comes to cooking the noodles “al-dente”. This time I was trying to make Chicken Chow Mein for dinner on Sunday and went all tyrant at the kitchen. I insisted that we cut every ingredient properly before hand and like a quartet (if we include the frying pan and little bowls as two other members who worked with us) we managed to make a yummy Chicken Chow Mein. The recipe is from BBC (they make wonderful TV Series like Sherlock, but they also have some really good recipes on their site) and the noodles are organic but very flavourful.

Chicken Chow Mein with Organic Egg Noodles

Seeing Red.. Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I love sugar. It’s a known fact. Friends who have dined with me are always tickled as I usually check out the dessert portion of the menu first, before I choose my meal. This is just so I know how much space I need to leave in my tummy. If I really like the description of the dessert, I order a smaller main course and skip the appetizer to justify to my conscience.

That said, burning calories is difficult. Hence I cannot always bake sweet stuff. So these days I bake and eat a little bit; then I share the rest with our colleagues (half for the bf’s team and half for mine).

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Last weekend it was snowing a lot and I didn’t feel like going out so I hid in my apartment making these cupcakes instead.

According to the blog from which I got this recipe, it’s supposed to be similar to the Red Velvet Cupcakes that are sold at Magnolia Bakery. I think it’s quite true as the taste is definitely there (and the recipe is adapted from a video that epicurious posted of a chef baking the cupcakes and making the frosting). Magnolia Bakery does not use cream cheese frosting, but a creamy vanilla one instead.

I don’t think it’s nice of me to re-post the recipe so you’d have to go to the original blogger’s page for that.

Swirling frosting is not one of my skills so my frosting looks a bit…sad. I also made a minor error by stirring in the flour and milk paste into the butter, sugar and vanilla mixture a little too early. In hindsight I probably should have let the paste cool awhile more.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

That said, these were delicious and the colleagues who ate them were very, very happy :).

French Toast with French Butter

I’m not sure if you’ve heard but the city I live in was having a butter shortage recently. Now, don’t laugh 🙂 It is funny in a way, but it’s actually been hard. I love baking and I had grand plans of baking a chocolate cake for my office cake party (that I had to skip in the end); I had also planned on baking biscotti and taking them to Germany for the bf’s parents.

It is true when they say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Yesterday I almost danced in the supermarket – almost – because I saw that they had a small pile of French butter. After a few weeks of empty butter shelves, I’ll take anything. Not margarine though, I don’t think that’s a good substitute for butter.

So this morning, since I’m on leave half of December, I thought I’ll make some French Toast and ask the bf to stop by for breakfast on his way to work.

French Toast with French Butter

I was mildly inspired by this recipe but here’s what I did (for 7 slices of white bread):

  • Heat a skillet on medium heat.
  • In a wide bowl, mix 3 eggs, 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and approxiamately 1 3/4 cup of milk. The mixture’s consistency should be slightly runny.
  • Add butter to the skillet; as the butter melts, swirl the skillet so the surface is evenly coated.
  • Dip a slice of bread into your mixture, ensuring it’s coated evenly.
  • Place the slice of bread onto the skillet and fry it. Flipping the bread will require a bit of patience as it might be a bit soggy.
  • Repeat for the remaining slices.
  • Serve with fresh fruit and maple syrup. Powdered sugar is optional.