When I get home from school I need to eat something. It’s been a few hours since lunch and I’m hungry. But deciding what to eat is the challenge. Too much and I will still be full come dinner hour, too little and I’ll still be hungry wondering why I even bothered. My snack choices usually include something like hummus and cut vegetables, maybe a couple dolmathes and some almonds, or sometimes just a hardboiled egg. But, I can’t lie, what I really want is crackers and cheese. I’m not saying I have it, but that’s what I am usually craving.
There are certain things that go with holidays. Sunburns, gin and tonics, tired feet, sand in your shorts, and tacky souvenirs. It’s true. Admit it. Hidden around most of our homes we can probably find little mementoes that meant something then, but now are just dust collectors. Chackas as my Jewish friends would say. And because holidays bring out the best in most of us we don’t just bring stuff back for ourselves. Oh no. We bring them back for others too. Everything from t-shirts, to snow globes, to shot glasses (Hi Sis!). Now if the souvenir merchandise of a place reveals a bit about who a culture is, heaven help us all. However, thankfully, the food of a culture often is more revealing and says much, much more.
Probably my favourite part of travel is discovering what the locals eat. Trying new fruits and vegetables and overeating delicious things I can’t get at home. So it makes me happy that lately I’ve been noticing that I, and others, have been bringing back food stuffs from holidays as souvenirs and gifts. Pasta from Italy, olive oils from Israel, vanilla from Mexico, and spices from all over. Especially spices.
I tend to use a lot of spices. They are an integral part of my kitchen. Aside from bumping up the taste of food without the addition of fats and sugars many have highly beneficial health properties. And, while I haven’t figured out how to grow my own vanilla or cinnamon you often don’t even need to go to the store to get them. Herbs are easy to grow and you don’t need much room to do it.
So I decided, for fun and because I’m a bit of a geek, to keep a list of what spices I used over a two week period. I realized that, not including condiments, vinegars and oils, my spice usage seemed to have three levels. Daily, weekly and occasionally.
My tier one spices are the spices that I use on almost a daily basis. Garlic (mostly fresh but sometimes dried) with pretty much every meal but breakfast; freshly ground black pepper on everything; sea salt, sparingly but when needed to enhance taste; chili flakes (and powder) on everything including even eggs for breakfast; and cinnamon daily in my coffee.
Tier two spices usually make an appearance at least once a week. Fresh rosemary; basil; curry powder; ginger (mostly fresh); oregano; dried mustard for salad dressings; fresh sage; and cumin.
Tier three spices don’t get loved often, but when they do they add amazing flavour to meals. I would include spices such as chinese 5 spice powder, thyme, cilantro, lovage, nutmeg, parsley, paprika, summer savoury, star anise, and cardamom on this list.
The trick with spices is knowing when to keep it simple and when to tart it up a bit. Sometimes it’s nice to mix things up and get a more complex flavour. For those moments, here are a couple of my most used, make ahead, spice mixes.
A versatile mix. It can be used on fajita’s, devilled eggs, as part of a salad dressing, or as a marinade for chicken or fish.
1 Tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/3 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tsp cane sugar (regular would work too)
Middle Eastern Spice Mix
Try this on a sweet potato, with grilled vegetables, mixed into yogurt for a cooling balance to a spicy main course, or as the base for a meat marinade.
1 Tbsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp turmeric
1 Tbsp black pepper
3/4 Tbsp ground coriander
1/3 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp cardamon (optional)
Note: if you don’t have ground spices , just toss them into a coffee grinder and blend them together.
Next up I’m going to track my condiment, vinegars, oils, and other kitchen essentials. What are yours?
It seems hard to believe but it has been two months since I last wrote about one of my favourite things – the Foodie Pen Pal program. I came home one horrible rainy day to discover the hiatus was over. Because there, like a bit of sunshine, was a package from my new Pen Pal, Mo. Happy day! As you all know, to me one of the most exciting things about being a foodie pen pal is the opportunity to meet other like minded people. Mo is no exception. I’ve been having a great time reading through her blog, Not a Coupon Queen, and I’m sure you will too. Make sure you check it out.
There aren’t many things I am sure of in my life. Change is constant. There are a few though. Music, books, sunshine and that I adore pretty much all things Italian. Especially Italian food. ti adoro. The simplicity, the rich flavours, the seasonality. Closely related is the other thing I know for sure. That there is no way I could ever possibly grow enough basil to satisfy my love for it. So imagine my happiness when one of my greatest friends who is studying at The Richmond Farm School gave me a tour and showed me their basil greenhouse. What a deliciously happy and odiferous place.
The day kept getting better when I learned that they operated a farm stand with The Sharing Farm Society. I bought bunch after bunch. We’ve been eating it now, but most of it is being saved for later in the form of pesto. It might sounds cliche, but when the cold weather hits and summer is a very far off memory, having a stash of pesto made from high summer basil can be a sanity saver.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about pizza. Ruminating one might say.
Pizza. Is there a more perfect food? I’m hard pressed to think of one. Vegetarian, pescatarian, gluten free, dieting down, bulking up, lactose intolerant…. Seriously. No matter your dietary proclivities there is always a way to make pizza work for you.
There are days the sun is shining and you bound out of bed ready to scale mountains (or whatever your equivalent). There are other days when it is cold and gloomy out and it seems as if those mountains keep growing with every step you take. On those sort of days most people have their go-to comfort food. I am no exception. Not so surprisingly, mine includes noodles (with french fries being a very close second).
As a trainer and nutrition coach I shouldn’t admit this, but my absolute down in the depths meal is spaghetti noodles, with butter and sea salt (or truffle salt if I feel like splurging). I blame a high school friend with a ridiculously fast metabolism for introducing me to that. As an adult who knows a bit better I still go to pasta, but try to clean it up a bit.
I’ll be honest, the last few weeks the so called mountains have felt quite large. The butter and truffle salt are calling, but instead, this is what I had today. Buckwheat soba noodles with oven roasted onion, tomatoes and anchovies.
Sauce (for 2 people)
- 1 small sweet onion (vidalia), finely chopped
- a handful of small sweet cherry tomatoes cut in half
- a few glugs of olive oil
- 1 tbsp dried oregano or a few fresh sprigs
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 can oil packed anchovies, well drained and chopped (optional, but so tasty!)
- 2-3 tbsp white wine
- enough noodles (your choice) for 2
- shaved parmesan cheese and freshly torn basil leaves for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350degrees.
- Spread onions onto a rimmed baking sheet.
- Spread tomatoes in a layer on top of onions.
- Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and oregano.
- Place baking tray in oven for approximately 45minutes until tomatoes and onions are soft but not browned.
- While tomato and onion mixture is baking, place drained anchovies in a large bowl and add a glug of wine and some fresh cracked pepper.
- When tomato mixture is cooked, turn off and let rest in the oven. Meanwhile boil some well salted water and cook pasta as per package instructions.
- When noodles are cooked, drain and add noodles, tomatoes and onions to anchovy mixture.
- Toss well.
- Serve with fresh parmesan cheese, freshly ground pepper and torn basil. (a glass of red wine doesn’t hurt either)
Watermelon. Does anything say summer more?
Sometimes though the occasion calls for something a little less casual than a seed spitting contest. For those occasions, here’s a refreshing, grownup way to get your watermelon.
- 1 small organic watermelon
- 1 bunch organic radishes
- 2 large field cucumbers or 1 regular english (english are nice because you can leave on the skin, you may want to peel the field variety)
- handful of fresh mint & basil to taste
- Optional – Chopped jicama or fennel. For an extra bite serve on top of fresh arugula or watercress.
- 1/4c olive oil
- juice of 1 (organic) lemon
- sea salt and garlic powder (or minced fresh) to taste
- fresh ground pepper if desired
Chop the cucumber and watermelon into approx. the same size cubes. Thinly slice radishes (I use a mandolin). Chop/tear all herbs. Mix and pour dressing on top!