26 Days of Home

T is for…

I can guarantee you at this moment somewhere in the world someone is brewing or steeping some right now. Maybe even you have one sitting by your elbow as you read this. I just finished one and am contemplating making another; the rain is hitting the window and there is a damp chill in the air, it is just the thing needed in those circumstances. I’ll just take a moment to put the kettle on, shall I?


T is for tea. I never drank tea until a few years ago. I was visiting with another mother and she brewed me this enormous cup of black tea without asking. Not wanting to be rude, I drank it, and it wasn’t too bad. My mother had always drank tea, my father not so much, he preferred coffee. I remember trying weak tea as a child when I had been ill, but it wasn’t to my taste. As I grew older (and wiser) my taste buds matured and I found I didn’t mind black tea if it was weak (only introduce the teabag to the water kind of weak) and I discovered lemon juice really made it more palatable.

Later, I discovered green tea, then white tea and finally oolong tea. It is rare for me to have a cup of black tea (usually when I have a headache I’ll sip some), but I drink pots of green tea. Now I start my day with white tea (no lemon required), green tea for lunch and snack (with a squeeze of lemon) and perhaps an herbal “tea” after supper.

Tea is a “drink made from infusing the dried leaves of an Asian bush in boiling water; (or the) leaves used to make this drink.” Like so many great discoveries, tea was discovered completely by accident and under a tree. In 2737 BC, Chinese emperor Shen Nung, sat under a tree with a cup of boiled water. Some leaves fell from the tree and landed in his cup. He tried it and the drink was born. The tree was Camellia sinensis and remains the source of all tea.

Tea, as a commodity, has shaped history, rebellions have steeped, unfair taxation has boiled over into dissent, and oaths were taken to drink only tea. Now, the health benefits of tea are being studied.

The colourful names of tea, refers to the fermentation process and how much oxidation has taken place. Less oxidation results in a gentle and light taste, the most oxidation results in the deepest colour.

Green tea is unoxidized, which allows the leaves to keep their green colour. These leaves are heat processed or pan-fried to prevent oxidation. The tea’s colour is not a true green, rather more of a straw colour. Green tea should be brewed in water around 175F.

White tea is the least processed tea. It is harvested when there is a “white down” on the tender shoots. The shoots are then allowed to wither before being dried. Having no oxidation ensures the white tea has the most delicate flavour. It should be brewed at 185F.

Oolong tea, meaning “Black Dragon” is a semi-oxidized tea. The mature leaves are oxidized and then fired. Oolong tea has the widest variety of flavour, and using the same tea to steep multiple cups delivers different flavours with each steep (around 190F).

Black tea is fully oxidized and is the most common tea. In China, black tea is called red tea. This tea has different names indicating the region it was grown in, for example Darjeeling. Black teas are often blended to ensure a specific flavour profile and can be brewed at boiling.

Finally, there are herbal teas, which of course are not really teas, as they do not originate from the Camellia sinensis plant. These are actually infusions or a tisane, created by brewing a herb or plant in boiled water. Rooibos tea is an infusion. And herbal teas tend to be caffeine free with specific benefits, chamomile, for instance, to help with relaxation.

Tea-time comes at our house between 2:30 and 3:00 in the afternoon. The cat even partakes, having a snack at the same time. We brew a pot of tea and enjoy muffins, cheese, crackers, fruit, nuts and sit around the table until it is time to start preparing the evening meal. It is a chance to catch up on the day or investigate the answer to a query. But most importantly it is an opportunity to enjoy a cup of tea with good company.

Simplee

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26 Days of Home · Gluten-Free Food

S is for…

Before there was a name, ingenious eaters around the world were making their own versions. Imagine, being so engrossed in your card game you haven’t wanted to leave the table, even though your meal is ready and you are starving. Forever after, your name will be associated with your solution.

Eggplant parmesan sandwich, waiting for focaccia topper.

S is for sandwich. The above scenario is said to have taken place in 1762, when John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, told his servant to place his roast beef between two pieces of bread. Others at the table (reportedly) said “I’ll have the same as Sandwich!” Soon enough, the name and the food item came together and made its first appearance in a 1773 cookbook. It then crossed the ocean, and recipes for sandwiches debut in an 1816 American cookbook.

Sandwich is defined as “two slices of bread with a layer of food in between.” (There is a debate whether a sandwich can be open-faced, or without the second piece of bread, but I’ll leave that for now.) Hungry people have been sandwiching food between two edibles for millennia.

A Passover custom from the 1st Century BC, introduced by Hillel the Elder, qualifies as a sandwich based on the above definition. This sandwich consisted of a filling of nuts, apples, spices and bitter herbs sandwiched between two matzoh. Fast forward centuries, to see rural farm labourers in France eating meat between two pieces of bread.

Is a sandwich still a sandwich if you have to use a fork?

One more trip in the time-machine, brings us to more recent history. In the 1920s sliced and packaged bread became readily available. Suddenly, anyone could reach into a bag and pull out a slice of bread, no knife required, so children could now make their own sandwiches. Lunch pails everywhere were filled with sandwiches.

Today, sandwiches are still popular choices for work lunches, fancy teas (with the crusts cut off), in school lunch bags and for bedtime snacks. One can’t avoid the sandwich, it is on every menu, but when you have a diagnosis of Celiac disease the sandwich’s ubiquity can be a “tough sandwich to swallow.” Gluten-free eating requires a rethinking of the humble sandwich, this convenience food isn’t always convenient.

Finding a gluten-free bread can be a challenge. Commercial gluten-free loaves are small, one sandwich just doesn’t satisfy a teen’s hunger. Generally we bake our own, but even having a loaf in the freezer doesn’t always make a sandwich a quick option.

We have redefined the sandwich at our home. Waffle-wiches are substantial and the holes really hold onto the filling. Focaccia has become a staple and it is relatively quick and easy to make. We eat far fewer peanut butter and honey sandwiches now, but we do eat more paninis with various aioli, roasted vegetables and different cheeses.

In our home, the status of the sandwich has gone from being common, to its more elevated aristocratic beginnings – but never with cards.

Simplee

26 Days of Home · Life

R is for…

Go take a look in the mirror, are your shoulders hugging your ears? What about your jaw, how tense is it right now?

R is for relax. It is one of the easiest things to say, and one of the most difficult to do. Do you have a pet? Observe your pet’s ability to let go of everything and just relax. Shadow seeks out the warm spots from the sun to lie in. She will lay on her back and let her hips just flop. No tension to be found in her at that moment. I bet your pet yawns and stretches a lot too. There’s a lot we can learn from our four-legged companions.

A quick way to relax is to breathe, with intention and attention. Take three sighs and you will notice the difference in your shoulders, your ears will have room to wiggle, your jaw, too, will soften. Taking an in-breath stretches and opens up the chest. The exhale cleans out the stale air and lengthens the distance between the shoulders and ears, right down the back. Wait with a pause before the next breath in. Do you notice anything in the pause? No? Good, that is the point. Try taking three sighs whenever you need to release some tension, maybe before changing activities. Make it a habit! Want to make it even better? Add a yawn between the two sighs, it gives the added benefit of relaxing the jaw and it removes you from the action, the body takes over for itself.

We all need to be reminded to relax, one way of reminding ourselves is to create a habit with an external reminder. When you have a moment –  maybe at a stop light, or while waiting in line, what about whenever you walk through a door – shrug those shoulders up towards your ears on an inhale and then roll them backwards all the way down to where they belong on the exhale.

Have a bit more time? Lay down where you have some space to stretch out. I used to do this stretch as part of the cooldown in my fitness classes. On your back, stretch your arms over your head, then reach and grow from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes. Hold it for a second or two. Let it go and flop, let the joints release. Do it again, adding a deep inhale as you stretch and grow; and exhale with the release. Repeat a couple of more times. Get up slowly, rolling onto your side first, then pushing your torso into an upright position with your arms, then onto your knees, before standing.

And if this is all too much to remember. Play or cuddle with your pet, go outside for a walk, read a book. Just remember to breathe, and yawn and sigh every once and awhile.

Simplee

26 Days of Home · Life

Q is for…

I had a quaint idea for a quilt in the shape of a quadrilateral. The quality of such a quilt was questionable, so I quashed the idea. Currently, the quartet playing in the background is making me queasy. I will join the queue to quench my thirst after eating my quiche. I do apologize for my querulous tone, and will not object if you decide to quibble, but I am on a quest.

Q is for quiet. I am a listener and I hear a lot. In the middle of the night I will hear a peculiar sound and lay awake until I identify it. The ticky tick sound is the cat walking across the kitchen floor. Someone isn’t breathing normally, is everything okay? If I lay on my arm a certain way, I can even hear my pulse. And the hum of voices in a room filled with people can be disorienting.

Reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain was the equivalent of shouting from the top of a building. Suddenly it all made sense; not only did I better understand myself, but learned I was not alone. “At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking…”

I do not dislike a chat, but I prefer something meaningful and one-on-one. Conversing in a room where conversation is going across my own, gives me a headache and I shut down, I hear too much, listen too much and crave quiet.

The quietest place on Earth is a room in South Minneapolis which is an anechoic chamber. It is so disorientingly quiet, one has to sit down in order to stay in it for any length of time. The record is 45 minutes. When there is no sound, you become the sound – your heart, your blood, your digestive noises. The pureness of the quiet (the room is 99.9% sound absorbent) can cause hallucinations.

The quiet I seek isn’t as extreme as an anechoic chamber, but it is a necessary respite. Ideas and inspiration come in those quiet moments, often in the shower or on walks; at times when I am alone and not required to listen to anything other than my own thoughts. It is the equivalent of recharging a low battery on a device. My family can sense it and accept there are times when I need to disappear into a book, or my sewing room.

I find the upcoming holiday season to be especially challenging. Line-ups get longer, the holiday tunes are blaring (how many remakes are really possible?), volume increases as do the number of people and well-meaning salespeople ask the same question, over and over (are you all ready for the holidays?) I wonder if they even listen for your answer before they are off to ask the next person through the door?

Cultivating quietism in these circumstances is challenging. I can’t help but ask, “where has all the quiet gone?” To be honest, I do know some quiet spots for a quick escape…forgive me for not sharing them with you.

Simplee

 

26 Days of Home · Gluten-Free Food

P is for…

It resembles a pinecone, is indigenous to South America and shows up on quilts, knockers, architecture and jelly moulds. It is a symbol of hospitality, friendship and warmth.

P is for pineapple. For years, those spiky looking skins scared me away from purchasing a fresh pineapple. They just looked too difficult to handle, dangerous even. The contraptions for coring and slicing did little to encourage confidence. My sister gave me the confidence – thank goodness for older sisters – which was a good thing since I love pineapple.

I do not like peaches (see Just Peachy post) but they are a mainstay of commercial fruit salads. Tropical fruit salad, our favourite, is made with pineapple and papaya, but it is quite difficult to find. There is a grocery store which carries it in a commercial-sized tin, but for a family of three, that’s just too much of a good thing!

Once you eat fresh pineapple, not the dry, fibrous wedge served at restaurants or on your pina-colada glass, you won’t want to eat canned again. The texture is “melt in your mouth” and the aroma is intoxicating. And it is a good source of Vitamin C, manganese, fibre and the enzyme bromelain; it is also reputed to have anti-inflammatory properties. And you can grow it at home. We are looking forward to harvesting our own pineapple in a few years time!?!?!

At our home, we have two favourite says of serving fresh pineapple, and although upside-down cake is a favourite dessert, the cake isn’t necessary. First, grill or saute the slices in a skillet, with butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar. The juices will carmelize and it is just like the topping of the upside-down cake. Next, the easiest way, is in a fruit salad of our own making. Oranges, mandarins, grapes, kiwi, dried cranberries, pears, or whatever fruit you have at hand mixed in with the pineapple wedges makes a nice side dish to waffles, or an afternoon snack with a handful of nuts or seeds.

Don’t let its spiny looks fool you, pineapple really is a softy inside. No wonder it has become the symbol of hospitality.

Simplee

26 Days of Home · Gluten-Free Food · Gluten-Free Recipe

O is for…

A question arose over breakfast with my sister a few weeks ago: “What came first the colour or the fruit?”

O is for Orange Drizzle Cake. A quick search and we knew the answer, the colour was named after the fruit; before the colour orange there was the very true descriptive “red-yellow.”

This orange drizzle cake is inspired by the fruit too, and Mary Barry’s recipe in the cookbook Everyday Recipes. Her recipe is not gluten-free, mine is. She describes the cake as a cross between a drizzle cake and a Victoria sponge.

Gluten-Free Orange Drizzle Cake

makes 9″ layer cake

Gather (for cake):

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • zest from 1 orange (about 2 tsp)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups white rice flour
  • 6 tbsn tapioca starch
  • 6 tbsn potato starch
  • 1/2 cup sweet rice flour (also called glutinous rice flour)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 scant tsp xanthan gum
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup orange juice (juice one orange and top up with water to make 3/4 cup)

Method (for cake):

  • Prep two 9 ” cake pans and line with parchment paper. (8″ cake pans may be used, adjust baking time)
  • In large bowl combine white rice flour, starches, sweet rice flour, baking powder, baking soda and xanthan gum. Whisk to fully combine.
  • Put sugar in separate mixing bowl, add the orange zest to the sugar and blend well with mixer.
  • To orange/sugar mixture add oil and mix until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Add vanilla.
  • Scrape bowl before adding 1/3 of flour mixture, blend. Add buttermilk. Blend.
  • Add another 1/3 of flour mixture, blend. Add orange juice and blend.
  • Scrape bowl and add final 1/3 of flour mixture. Mix until combined.
  • Divide batter between two prepared pans. Tap on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake in preheated 350F oven for 25 – 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool for few minutes in pan, then remove to rack, removing parchment paper.

Meanwhile prepare drizzle, which you want to pour over one layer (this will be top layer) while still warm. Place cake on rack over baking sheet to collect excess glaze.

Gather (for drizzle):

  • juice of 1/2 orange
  • zest of 1/2 orange
  • scant 1 cup icing sugar

Method (for drizzle):

  • Whisk together juice, zest and icing sugar. Pour over one cake layer, using offset spatula to spread to edges if necessary.

Allow the cakes to cool completely before final assembly. Once cooled, place unglazed cake on platter, top with orange buttercream, carefully place glazed cake layer on top of buttercream (glazed side up).

Gather (for buttercream):

  • 2 tbsn unsalted butter, softened
  • zest from 1/2 orange (about 1 tsp)
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 2 tbsn orange juice (more or less to reach desired consistency)

Method (for buttercream):

  • Cream together butter and orange zest until light and fluffy. Add icing sugar, adding orange juice as needed a bit at a time, until it reaches an easily spreadable consistency.

Enjoy.

Simplee

 

 

26 Days of Home · Life · Nature

N is for…

My breakfast on the window sill above the sink.

The reason dawned on me the other day as to why I enjoy spending so much time in my kitchen, working at the counter. My work area is mostly window, which looks out to our backyard; we have an unusually long backyard for a city. There are mature trees along the fence line, a garden splitting the yard in two, my favourite tree, a crabapple and at the very back, two more gardens. I doubt I would be so willing (and happy) to spend so much time in this room if there was wall instead of glass, or if there was concrete instead of yard on the other side.

My favourite view when in bloom.

N is for nature. There is a new vitamin in town which costs nothing, is easy to take, there’s no fear of messing up the dosage, and it is 100% natural! Welcome Vitamin N (nature).

Studies have shown that green spaces are good for both mental and physical well-being. Those who live in communities with green spaces tend to be more generous, optimistic, sociable, calm and trusting, irregardless of economic conditions. Surgery recovery is faster and the immune system is stronger when parks are frequented.

The biggest benefit, all of us could use, is the reduction in our levels of stress. A walk in the woods has a calming effect on our bodies (lowering blood pressure and regulating blood sugar) and on our minds improving our cognitive skills. We have long known the benefits of houseplants on our well-being, now we can amplify those benefits by stepping out the door and finding some green space.

Don’t live near a wooded area open for hikes? Weather has you shut indoors? Just can’t get away to stroll in the park? Get a plant, or two. Look at images of woods, green fields, meadows – change the screen saver to show a beautiful landscape. Get a coffee-table book filled with photos of green spaces to flip through. Even better, make your own album filled with photos of parks and green areas which you have visited (double benefit here, first having gone there, and then remembering the visit).

A walk through the pumpkin patch.

There are countless ways to make life more green and get the daily Vitamin N, all you need is your imagination, a pair of shoes and some grass. And if you need even more convincing, listen to the birdsong, if that isn’t enough to convince you of the positive effects of nature, I don’t know what is.

Simplee

 

26 Days of Home · Gluten-Free Food

M is for…

On January 15, 1919 in the north end of Boston, 21 were killed and 150 injured in an industrial disaster. In September 2013, the same substance leaked into the water off the coast of Hawaii causing the death of thousands of fish, eels and sea-life.

M is for molasses. The only warning was a “dull, muffled roar” for The Great Molasses Flood (aka the Boston Molasses Disaster) in January 1919. A tank containing over 2 million gallons of hot, thick molasses exploded. Although initially blamed on anarchists, the final verdict for the cause of the explosion was the tank’s poor construction and maintenance, in addition to the fermentation and the unseasonably warm weather. The contents of the molasses filled tank at the Purity Distilling Company flooded the surrounding area, destroying buildings, overturning carts and vehicles, and derailing an elevated train. Eyewitnesses said there was a 30 foot tall wave of molasses, travelling at 35 mph. Rescue efforts were hampered by the sticky goo; it took four days to find all the victims and over two weeks to clean up the  mess.

Almost 100 years later, another molasses disaster happened off the coast of Hawaii. In September 2013, 233 000 gallons of molasses leaked from a faulty pipe into the water. The molasses sank, essentially suffocating the fish and sea-life in the area. In both of these disasters, the molasses was not a product for consumption.

Molasses is the leftover syrup after boiling sugar and removing the crystals. There are differing varieties depending on the stage of processing the syrup is left over from. Light molasses is the result of the first boiling; it is the lightest in colour and sweetest in taste. Full or dark molasses follows the second boiling; this is darker in colour, thicker and less sweet, making it ideal for gingerbread. The third boil leaves blackstrap molasses; it is the darkest in colour, has the strongest taste and is more bitter. Since it is concentrated, blackstrap molasses contains more vitamins and minerals than the other varieties. The minerals include: iron, calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, selenium and potassium, causing some to take a daily tablespoon as “medicine,” but it is an acquired taste – like black liquorice, one either likes it or hates it!

Fancy molasses is the lightest and sweetest molasses. It tastes good spread on buttered toast. Cooking molasses is a blend of fancy and blackstrap and as its name suggests, is best for cooking. Molasses may also be sulphured or unsulphured. Sulphur dioxide can be added to molasses to act as a preservative, it makes the molasses less sweet and changes the flavour slightly. Unsulphured molasses maintains the true molasses taste and is most often called for in recipes. Sugar cane or sugar beet are not the only sources for molasses; sorghum, pomegranate, carob and dates may also be used.

Molasses is best known as an ingredient in gingerbread, but it can also be used in brownies, muffins, teriyaki sauce and in meat rubs. It is gluten-free and an excellent source of iron, so it is worth looking into recipes beyond gingerbread to incorporate this ingredient into your cooking.

Simplee

 

26 Days of Home · Life

L is for…

The eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month we bow our heads, divert our eyes and we remember. What about on the twelfth day, or the thirtieth day? Remembering takes more than the few minutes of silence on one day of the year, we should remember everyday.

L is for Lest We Forget.

Great Uncle Alf who served in both WW1 and WW2

The Great War, the war to end all wars, was neither great, nor the last one. In my own family, my Great Uncle Alf served in both wars and his influence would change the direction of my family heritage. His sister, Great Auntie Aileen, also served in the Women’s (later Queen Mary’s) Army Auxiliary Corps during WW1. Their younger brother, my Granddad, would join the army at the young age of 14, with the sponsorship of his brother, and would have the rank of “boy” until his 18th birthday. Granddad served in India from 1919 to 1924 and then he returned to England as a Reservist until 1931.

On October 24 of 1939 he enlisted again, in the Royal Pioneer Corps. He was at Dunkirk, and was charged with destroying the allied supplies and equipment to prevent it from falling into the hands of the opposing forces. Granddad never spoke of his experiences to his daughters, only his sons, and he told my uncle it broke his heart to destroy the ambulances.

Granddad after a special training course in WW2.

It wasn’t only the absence of my grandfather the women of the family had to cope with. In London, the younger children were evacuated to the “safer” countryside. The youngest child was sent to Wales where she remained for the duration of the war, she was only three and when she returned to her family, they were like strangers. Grandma and my eldest Aunt worked in a factory to support the war effort, painting what they called dope on the wings of planes.

My Aunt met and married an allied serviceman from away. After the end of the war she set sail for faraway shores. There wasn’t much left when my Granddad returned home and work was hard to find. The family missed their sister and circumstances pointed to immigration.

My mother’s family was lucky, all of them survived the war, and all of them immigrated to the same city. None of them were unaffected by the six years of war, however. My mother began talking about it to me when I was a child, trying to distract me from blisters on a long walk. My uncle is only now willing to talk about it with my mother. None of them have forgotten.

For my part, I collect the stories which are told to me, gather up photographs and war records and keep them in a binder. We speak of our history and my son knows what his grandmother’s family endured during WW2. I work in my kitchen, in my city, in my country because of war and I will not forget.

Simplee

 

 

26 Days of Home · Life

K is for…

It is free, doesn’t require a lot of effort, is available at all hours, and there is potentially an unending supply. To good to be true?

Monday, November 13th is World Kindness Day. Today, K is for kindness.

We are all encouraged to practice random acts of kindness, but I would argue that kindness shouldn’t need to be marketed, it should be second nature. It is very easy in the busyness of daily living to forget to be kind, at least that is the excuse we use. We are in a rush so we forget to hold the door, for example.

The great thing about kindness is that it works like a boomerang, it comes back to you. The action returned to you may not be the same one you gave, but isn’t feeling good about what you did a reward it itself?

Small acts can make a big difference to individuals, even strangers; holding a door open, reaching a top shelf in the grocery store, allowing someone into the flow of traffic, buying someone a tea or coffee, giving up your seat on the bus, being polite when being served, letting someone ahead of you in line. The list can go on endlessly.

The above acts of kindness are the easiest ones to perform. Being kind to a complete stranger can be easier than being kind to ourself, although it is just as important. This isn’t giving you free rein to go out and pamper yourself on Monday! I’m talking about our own negative self-talk which goes on within our heads. It needs to be more polite, so in order to be kind to yourself, you are going to tell it that if it has nothing nice to say, keep its opinions to itself. Then go out and spread the kindness!

Simplee