December 31, 2010

Attention, Attention: 2010 is Now Leaving the Building!

Here it is, the last day of 2010. The holidays are wrapping up and soon it will be back to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Like others, I’ve been reflecting on the past year. I do this every year to the Honey’s chagrin with my Christmas newsletter. Some years are better than others and some years have many moments to be proud of. For 2010 I’m pleased with what I’ve encountered and experienced, and happy with where the year has taken me.

The month of December has flown by as I’ve been busy with lessons, meetings, and doing lots of baking. Normally I have my Christmas shopping done by October or early November (yes, I’m a freak in that respect), but this year most of it hadn’t been done by mid-December. Stress had begun to set in. My mom and sister were coming from out of town for the holidays and that meant a little more stress. I love them dearly, but my sister has a tendency to fly off the handle at the drop of a pin. As she’s matured, my sister has been better at managing her anger, but with her new stressful job she has been letting loose a little too frequently. Nonetheless, it was time to unwind and unwind I did.

Cooking relaxes and de-stresses me. When I’m in the kitchen the tension disappears. I’m lost in my thoughts or a recipe, or bopping along to a song on the radio. Since moving to our house I’ve found myself singing more and more while in the kitchen. I used to quietly hum along or mouth the words. Recently I’ve caught myself belting out the lyrics along with the radio, and while I’m far from being on Broadway, I’ve come a long way.

In the last month I’ve learnt how to make pastry; something I had always been terrified to try. As a result I’ve been making my nana’s mincemeat tarts like crazy. In past years I would just use the frozen pastry tarts at the grocery store and endure the pain the wheat protein would put on my body. But this year, I put fear to the side and went for it. Homemade pastry makes the tarts even better; just like my nana’s.



I also made my first plum pudding. In the Honey’s family Christmas is not Christmas without plum pudding. This was new to me. Although my nana was as English as they come, she made mincemeat and trifle at Christmas. The Honey’s family was all about the pudding, and being Irish, it packed a punch. I kept this in mind as I made mine, an easier recipe than soaking it in booze for weeks and steaming it on the stovetop all day. The honey and a cousin were the first to try as they had many years of tasting practice. Happily it passed. It’s not grandma’s, but it’s still excellent.


As Christmas drew closer so did some sadness. While the holiday is about happiness and enjoying family and friends, it’s also a time when we remember those who are no longer with us. As we put up our tree for the first time in years we remembered the Honey’s mom, who loved this time of year. Christmas was her favourite holiday and we remembered how she had decorated the house every year. While every Christmas is difficult, this year was even more so as see had passed away ten years ago at Christmas. And as the New Year comes around, we’re also reminded of her birthday and the death of my nana, who passed away a few weeks later. Remembering my nana is usually easier as we bring up situations that make us laugh or are followed by ‘That’s so nana!’. Remembering my mother-in-law is harder because she was so wonderful in every way.

It’s times like these that remind me to enjoy the moments and take time to enjoy the things that give me pleasure. It also reminds me to surround myself with those I care about (and care about me) and spend time with them (including my sister and her temper tantrums). Moments are created, no matter how small they may be, to be remembered.


December 18, 2010

TESL Ontario Conference 2010

Well, the TESL Ontario Conference was well over a month ago now and my bag of books and notes have finally been unpacked (better late than never).


I had taken a few out to use with my students with positive outcomes, and two arrived by courier a month ago and the last one (the one I’ve been dying to receive) arrived a few weeks ago.


The majority of my classes are private and so this One-to-One book looks wonderful. The units are very short (2 pages) and have everything you need.


Of course, supplementing the lessons is a given and you could adjust them for the student’s needs and goals. One of my students is very advanced and I couldn’t wait to try this with him.

While at the conference I saw/participated in some really great workshops. I may have mentioned before, if the session blurb says ‘paper’ or ‘presentation’, I take a pass as that means ‘LECTURE’ and from experience they are really dry and boring. I have yet to attend one that hasn’t been like that. I also take a pass at many publisher sessions. I used to think ‘Oh awesome, a chance for a free book’, but often I was disappointed in the presentation and materials. It ended up being a waste of my time. The title has to be pretty catchy and sound very interesting if I’m going to attend any of those three.


Some advice I have for those wanting to go to conferences: 1) Choose sessions that you will find interesting and benefit from. If work is paying for you to go and they want you to attend a particular session or two, you might as well as it’s their money; 2) Make time for breaks. You’ll need to visit the washroom, grab something to eat or drink, or need a breather; 3) Take something small to eat. Depending on when the session is, you may get the munchies or your tummy begins grumbling. Have something with you that can tie you over and is somewhat healthy. I discourage noisy snacks; it’s disrespectful to the presenter and those around you; 4) Take advantage of the tea breaks and water stations. You’ll need to keep hydrated and possibly need the caffeine, especially for those early morning or late afternoon sessions. And don’t worry about chugging them down quickly; you can take them into the session with you; 5) Didn’t get into the session you wanted? Stand in line at the session door and if there’s room, you’ll get a spot; 6) Talk to those around you. I don’t mean tell them your life story, but chat and talk about the sessions you’ve been to; 7) Take paper and a pen; 8) Wander through the exhibitors and check out the materials. If you’re like me, you’re never sure what to order because you don’t know what the book is really like. This is the perfect opportunity. Even if you don’t buy anything, write down the titles and authors or circle them in the catalogue. Chat to the reps as they may be able to recommend something or help you decide. The materials are usually discounted for the conference and by chatting to the reps, you may be able to obtain the discount if you decide to order a week or so later. An additional bonus of chatting with the reps: If you buy many books, they may be able to give you an even bigger discount (when one rep found out I was paying for my own materials he gave me two books free – so appreciative when they are normally $50 each).


Here’s a run-down of the sessions I attended (I tried to keep it brief). If you’re interested in one of the sessions, contact me and I may be able to send you a copy of my notes or the handout we were given:
Tania Iverson – Success with English for Specific Academic Studies As always, Tania put on a great session. Although it was based on a textbook series, she had loads of practical ideas and points that could be used with any business or technical material.
James McMullan – Developing Focused Non-Comprehension Strategies to Improve Communication I’d never heard the word ‘Muddlygump’ before, and now it’s ingrained in my mind. This was a fun and interactive workshop looking at what your students say to show their lack of understanding and strategies they can use that mimic how native-speakers really speak.
Andrew Taylor – I Can’t Believe I Learned Grammar His energy filled the room as he presented communicative oral tasks and activities to use with students to teach, practice and improve their grammar. While teachers may use communicative tasks in their lessons, not many may use the excitement and energy needed to get their students interested and excited about it. Weeks later, I still picture him Jazz Chanting ‘going to’ sentences while snapping his fingers in keeping time.
Mike Simpson – Websites and Blogs Although I often use websites for my lessons, blogs was a new one. I blog, but don’t often use them with my students. There was a new idea or two here relating to blogs, but I’m not sure if I’ll use them. However, for someone who doesn’t use either one for their lessons or with their students, they are missing a great tool. The possibilities are endless for material, activities, topics and themes, and the dreaded grammar.
Radmila Rakas – Teaching About and Appreciating Nature It was nice to see a thematic workshop showing people that one can use the usual tasks and activities for vocabulary, listening, etc with a specific topic.
Angelica Galante – Reducing Learner’s Language Anxiety This workshop discussed some of the ways anxiety occurs with our students and ways to minimize it in the classroom. It was interesting because many teachers do these things already (I assume), but minimizing anxiety may not be the goal, it’s using the suggestions for communicative practice, skills practice, grammar, etc. I found the connection with this just awesome.
Teresa McGill and Jayne Edmonds – Crucial Lessons Learned in Corporate ESL This workshop was more like a story-sharing moment for the presenters. From an administrative position it may have been great, but from a teaching point of view, not so much. The gist was not to put all your eggs in one basket: if all your contracts are with one company/department and the contract dries up or goes somewhere else, you’re screwed. It seemed like common sense, but maybe that’s because I’ve encountered that situation before at a school I worked for.
Tim Westhead – Picture That! Great Writing Prompts for Students There were great ideas presented (sadly I use them all already so didn’t learn anything new) in using pictures and visuals with your students for writing prompts, advertisements, guiding with headlines and ideas. From experience, these really work well and if your students are hesitant to write, try them out. A word of warning: Tim Westhead likes to make comments about how little teachers are paid, the school should pay for your materials, etc, etc; and if you’re like me and work in the private sector (unlike Tim who worked for a school board), this can be really annoying. I’m sure Tim would be shocked to learn the salary I survive on. So my advice, try to ignore it as the other stuff he says is pretty interesting and helpful.
Marijke Wertheim – Activities for Teaching Listening Strategies I’d heard positive things from a peer about this one – and it was really great. I took so much away with me on using listening material other ways. Tables worked together discussing strategies and ideas, and luckily, there was time for some Q and A at the end. Although I had tried things suggested before (yea me!), I hadn’t realized the benefits and outcome for the students. Here, you’re getting away from the typical textbook listening tasks. You know the ones. They just test your students on the right/wrong answers. Instead you can use them for teaching strategies, use for critical thought, the type of language used, discussion, making predictions beforehand, having students write questions to answer themselves, do note-taking, and analyze language, tone or emotion. However, to do this you have to give the students a very specific purpose (like any of those just listed) and build up to it like you would with any other task.

December 6, 2010

Mistakes

Blogs and websites can be amazing. Seeing what people are making, hearing about what’s going on, learning about certain things. Personally, I’ve come to really enjoy them. But the one thing that is missing from blogs and websites are mistakes. We all make them. No one, and I mean no one, is perfect; including Martha [Stewart] and my step-mother despite what they may think.

Last month Karina, at Gluten-Free Goddess, apologized to her readers because she hadn’t taken any pictures of her latest creations. They didn’t look good enough was her reasoning. It got me thinking: Must everything be perfect to post? Are people afraid to post their mistakes?

As an ESL teacher I urge my students to make mistakes and not be concerned with them as that helps their learning and improvement (believe it or not). I also see things I do or mistakes that happen as ways to learn. I keep a simple gardening journal to help me with this for our garden. I don’t want to repeat my mistakes in the garden as they can be costly. Mistakes help us learn either for our improvement or not to repeat what we’ve done.

There have been many fiascos in my kitchen, first as I learned to cook as a university student and now as I experiment with gluten-free baking and cooking meat. Sometimes the results are humorous (Frisbee shortbread cookies anyone?).


And sometimes they can be downright frustrating (It rose perfectly. What happened?!)



What I’m trying to say is: Don’t feel like you’re alone. Mistakes happen and everyone makes them. Especially those who you don’t think encounter them.

December 4, 2010

Have You Got The Time?

This week has been much of a write-off. Besides having my usual students, I had two government French tests to do on Friday – reading and writing.

My French isn’t too bad and I can usually pass as an intermediate, but it’s often a struggle. And don’t expect perfection. My French teacher often wondered how I could use conditionals with ease yet mess up my prepositions so badly. I take French courses here and there trying to keep it up and fresh, but ironically, I have little opportunity for practice. When I have the chance to speak with some colleagues it’s usually just the pleasantries, and there’s absolutely no chance of speaking French with my students. I’m being paid to speak with them in English, not just during class, but also before and after.

This week was cram week and it isn’t fun to cram with languages. Literature, environmental science, business, okay – doable. But languages, forget it. My teacher, who was also swamped this week, was nice enough to meet with me and give me some tips, notes, and some practice tests. I also borrowed some materials from school to help me out and dug out my notes. An advantage was that I know what the test was about, what ‘they’ are looking for, and tricks that get you (ie Anglicisms). I took the tips and tricks I give my students and applied them for myself. Doesn’t seem to bad, does it?


With a week of cramming things got a little neglected around the house. Pans from the previous weekend were left on the stove. Not as much laundry got washed, and if it did, it was on the drying rack a lot longer than usual. Papers were left on the dining room table instead of going into my students’ files, hence being left at home. And Zoba still wanted her scratches and playtime. Like a usual cat, these didn’t last too long before she got bored or tired (our critter is a little out of shape). Raspberry Roobios tea from David’s Tea helped keep my nose in the books.


Dinner was fast and easy this week. I picked up some tilapia and chicken breasts and made enough to last a few evenings. I put them on some foil, drizzled some lemon juice on the foil (not the meat), sprinkled some herbs de Provence on them all, and popped them into the oven. I had also picked up those big packaged salads, the ones in the container with all the veggies. With a homemade dressing we could still have a quick and healthy meal.

Some canned soup got me through the week too. Some of my students had cancelled due to meetings so I got to come home for lunch and get more studying done. We always have some cans or boxes in the cupboard and while I don’t usually like having them as a meal (homemade is my way to go), they are perfect for those days you forgot to put a lunch together.


With some crumbled feta cheese, fresh ground pepper, and a slice of gf bread it warms you up (and it was chilly earlier this week) and gets you going for another few hours. Or in my case, until the next study break.


And how did the tests go? Don’t ask. I’m purposely not thinking about them. We’ll see what happens with the results arrive in a week or two.


BTW, Campbells’s is introducing gluten-free labelling on their products
http://www.campbellsoup.ca/en/products/health.asp?label=glutenfree

November 26, 2010

Warmth

Waking up to a good layer of snow on the ground this morning signalled that winter is finally here. Even though winter doesn’t officially arrive until December 21st, many experience it much earlier than that. Exactly a month ago we drove home from Toronto and encountered the first snowfall almost as soon as we drove onto the 416 ramp. Today winter seems to have arrived as it is now past noon and the layer is still there and every once in a while I see a light snowfall.

While I have been retreating more and more inside as the weather gets cooler and cooler, I have been turning to foods that are simple, easy, and warm you up inside. While this is far from world-class nosh, it makes me happy. It uses ingredients that one has on hand. Pop it in the open, then it’s ready.

Salmon done simply is how it should be. No crazy sauces or reductions, and leave off the butter and cream. Lemon, herbs, or something little to add a little flavour is all that is needed. Fish shouldn’t be complex and I find it one of the easiest things to do. I began eating fish when I found out about my wheat allergy a decade ago and find it light, healthy, and rewarding to cook. You don’t have to do much to it and the flavours come out.

I often do the same with my vegetables. No heavy and overpowering sauces. I like vegetables and I want to taste them. There are a few exceptions, but more often than not I simply use some olive oil, some vinegar, some herbs, and a little salt and pepper. You can’t go wrong.

This week I chopped up some broccoli, peppers, and tomatoes, and spread them on a baking sheet. I drizzled over some olive oil, red wine vinegar, and herbs de Provence. You can use whatever kind of oil, vinegar, and herbs you like. The combinations are endless. I also laid down some salmon and topped it with some curry paste that was in the fridge. I don’t spread it on too thick, just enough so the flavours can seep into the fish. Salmon and curries are both flavourful on their own and together they are a nice balance. Again, use whatever you like for your fish and experiment with the kind of fish too. Sometimes I drizzle maple syrup, layer on some pesto, use lemon and dill, or serve with cranberry sauce on the side.


There are so many options that are naturally gluten-free. If there is something you miss from a jar or can that contains a gluten product, do an online search or check out a cookbook. You may be surprised to find a recipe for it and in its ‘natural form’ it may be gluten-free (if not, for the amount you could substitute a gluten-free flour or remove it altogether).

November 23, 2010

Surprises

It was a weekend of surprises, some good and some bad. Surprises can be fun and exciting and at other times frustrating.

I try my best to eat what’s in my fridge, but sometimes things get pushed to the back, forgotten about, or I just don’t feel like eating what’s there. On weekends I try to get rid of the stuff accumulated during the week. Some weekends there is hardly anything to go into the compost bin and I feel happy that very little has been wasted. But sometimes there’s a lot, and I do feel badly about it. This weekend I was surprised. At the back, behind a bunch of bottles of homemade salad dressing, a tetra pack of wine (not much in that either I might add), and a tub of yogurt was a bottle of HP Sauce. I loooovvvvve Hp Sauce. No wait…. I loved HP Sauce. It’s forbidden. After my eyes opened wide in awe, they became small and sad. I remembered pouring that over my vegetarian shepard’s pie or sometimes on my weekend eggs (don’t knock it till you try it – yes, I realize many of you can’t). The flavour is special and brings back many memories. A cook at one of the restaurants I worked in would tease me frequently because of the irony in a vegetarian loving a steak sauce.

There wasn’t much left in the bottle and it had been turned upside down. It had been there a while, a long, long while. At least it wasn’t a potato or an apple that would have gone all gross and stinky. But then maybe I would have found it earlier and not been so sad. Down the drain the last little squirt went (literally it was one little squirt – why did I put that back in the fridge?!) and rinsed the bottle, and out in the blue box it went. It got me wondering if a gluten-free HP Sauce exists.


Unfortunately my second surprise of the weekend wasn’t the same. The Honey and I met some family to celebrate his dad’s 70th birthday. They had chosen an Italian restaurant they all enjoyed in Gatineau. I grew anxious after my mother-in law raved about their bread and how you could toast your own. I checked out the website to see what they had. It was your typical Italian fare. I’d eaten at some Italian restaurants in the last year and had success, plus a wonderful meal, with the help of understanding wait and kitchen staff. On Friday I call Pancini and was assured I wouldn’t have any problems. I only needed to make my waiter aware and I’d be fine. Relieved I began looking forward to it.

My happiness continued as greetings and conversation flowed around the table. The frigid temperatures couldn’t waver anyone’s jovial mood. Decision time came and I informed our waitress of my allergy so asked for salmon, plain, and some salad on the side. After repeating that I didn’t want pasta she realized what I wanted and why.

The Honey was unable to move from his spot at the table (or so he says) and was unable to get himself some bread. After some prodding (aka begging) I relented and went to the bread station, buttered two slices of bread and put them on the BBQ. After some searching our waitress finally found me and I hoped she believed me when I told the bread wasn’t for me (I have no idea why I felt guilty if I wasn’t eating it). There was a problem and she had the allergy booklet with her. So we took a look through the booklet to see if there was something else I could have. Every single item in that booklet (and the corresponding menu) had wheat. EVERYTHING! Everything from the salad dressing to the cheese contained wheat. It wasn’t possible to get something plain because it still contained wheat. Wait, I forgot! The fries didn’t have any wheat in them. It was my second worst nightmare; the first being accidently eating it and finding out afterwards.

I was sad. Then I became frustrated. Then I became angry. And the hungrier I became the angrier I got. Had the person I spoke to been honest, I would have eaten at home first. I didn’t since I thought I was able to have a nice meal. I tried my best to be nice and polite to our waitress, after all it wasn’t her fault. She did her best and brought me an appetizer salad (aka plain lettuce). She probably had no idea that there was a crouton lurking at the bottom of the bowl. My main salad looked a bit nicer, with some tomatoes and artichokes. But given the track record, the sliced ham on top probably had wheat in it as well, so off to the side of the bowl it went.

The bright side: I had a nice glass of wine at hand all evening and the company was thoroughly enjoyable.

A morning in Arnprior was where we decided to spend some of our Sunday. We did go for other reasons but my third surprise made up for the fiasco the night before. We parked the car and began our stroll downtown. We’d never been and so didn’t know what to expect. It seemed like a nice little place. We rounded the corner and saw a sign – something, something, gluten-free. Both of us thought the same thing: ‘Get out! Here?!?’. It was late in the morning and our tummies were beginning to rumble a bit. Our tiny breakfast wasn’t satisfactory enough. We walked in tempted by what we might encounter.

The Cupboard is a restaurant where everyone seems to gather for their weekend breakfast. Friends met for coffee, other friends chatted as they passed on their way out, and many couples were there for breakfast. Our waitress was a happy woman who gladly answered my questions. They had gluten-free toast, cereal and pancakes. The pancakes were tempting, but I really wanted to dip some nice gf toast into my runny yolks. I wasn’t disappointed. The toast was just like regular toast; a crisp crust and soft interior. She was happy to chat and answer questions about the demand in Arnprior. We were shocked when she told us how much bread she goes through in a week as people request the gluten-free bread for any kind of sandwich. The demand is there in Arnprior.

If you happen to be ‘in the Prior’, pop into The Cupboard at the corner of John and Elgin. Have a great inexpensive breakie or a nice sandwich. Or if there is a nice sunny day and you have nothing to do, take the time and decide if it’s worth the trip. I think it just might be.

November 15, 2010

Comfort Food

Everyone has their idea of comfort food. For some it’s soup that sticks to your ribs, for others its crispy salty potato chips, and possibly mom’s cooking. I have many depending on my mood and last week it was peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I didn’t eat these all the time as a child, but I did eat them often. They were one of my favourites. I have fond memories of the peanut butter sticking to the roof of my mouth or being the sticky contrast to the soft banana. They also got me through university and have become a quick no-fail sandwich in my ‘real world’ life. With my hectic (read erratic and quasi-crazy) schedule of late they are perfect for a filling lunch while packing a protein punch.


These tortillas make wrapping the pb & banana a sinch (found them at Metro in Barrhaven).


Friends have mentioned how much their tea consumption has gone up in the last month or so; mostly due to the cooler weather rolling in and the dreary skies. Tea, no matter the type, flavour, and caffeine level, has a way of making everything alright. It makes you feel warm inside and the cool weather outside seems to disappear.

Last week I put tea aside for my chocolate cravings. I needed hot chocolate. Luckily there was a box of chocolate almond milk in the cupboard. After a few minutes in the microwave (or on the stove if you must) you have a nice cup of hot chocolate.


The Honey and I have spent many evenings curled up on the couch with a cup of warm, thick, velvety chocolate drink. Even he doesn’t miss the milk.

November 14, 2010

Frustrations

Life has been quite busy lately and as a result, my posts haven’t been as frequent. Two weeks ago I got a pile of new students so I’ve been busy getting used to them and all the lesson planning that comes with it. A friend and I have been busy baking and trying out new recipes plus the ones we love. To top it off, my body has been adjusting to the time change; always an ordeal that takes days, possibly a week.

With all this busy-ness dinners have been quick, calls and emails with friends and family have been sparse or brief, and I have been left very, very tired. Sometimes I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. I’m not young anymore and my body can no longer handle a lot of the additional stress (mental and physical). Don’t think I’m wussy, because I’m not. In fact I’m far from it. But I do see a difference in me, my present with my past.

To top it off, today was a horrible day. We participated in a craft fair with some gluten-free baking and we were left disheartened and angry. There were many reasons that contributed and we should have known what lay ahead when our morning started out badly. Our table spot was in a corner, and it was dark. There also wasn’t a lot of traffic so our hopes of selling much lowered as time went on.

Throughout the day my friend and I reminisced of our days of working in pubs and restaurants. Of times when you could tell customers how rude and ridiculous they were behaving. Sometimes I miss those moments, and today we both missed it. We couldn’t get over how rude some people are, and we’re sure that if their children had behaved that way, they would have been smacked on the bum. And this behaviour is quite the opposite of what we encountered last week. There was only encouragement and pleasure, from people who knew a celiac and gluten-eaters alike. We received so many positive comments on how our goodies tasted like ‘the real thing’. As you can imagine, we were very happy and pleased. But today, nothing but snide comments, an ‘ew yuck’ here and there (and they hadn’t even tasted it!!), and scrunched up noses. Needless to say we were frustrated, both with peoples’ closed-mindness and their disregard for behaving like a human being.

Although I’m one for speaking one’s mind, there’s also a place and time for it. The expression ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’ as been around for a long time for a reason. Why say something if your only goal is to be hurtful? Would they like to be told something like that in turn? I was so tempted, but no. I was trying to market something and needed to be nice. Damn, I hated being nice sometimes!

After many hours of torturing ourselves I returned home. I needed one of these.


I don’t drown my sorrows in this stuff, but sometimes it helps loosen those knots and twisted muscles that have accumulated over the course of sometimes stressful moments. Massage therapy helps too, but it isn’t as cheap.

Luckily I have a wonderful man. The Honey knows that sometimes I need to get it out. ‘Bitch’ as he calls it. An old colleague called it ‘A Rick Mercer rant’. I get it out and then I’m all better. Even if he pretends he’s listening it helps. We had planned to go out for dinner tonight knowing that I’d be too tired to cook, and after today I wanted something safe. I wanted something guaranteed to be good. It would help me get over the day. It was decided. The Foolish Chicken it was.

(from www.foolishchicken.ca)

The Foolish Chicken never disappoints as the chicken is tender and moist. The dipping sauce has a nice smoky flavour and isn’t overpowering. The sweet potato fries are always good and crispy. A bottle of gluten-free beer or cider is always nice on the side. The atmosphere is always great -- good music, lighting at the perfect level, and a menu and staff that is gluten-free aware.

To cap it off, dessert was waiting for me at home. A leftover square – chocolate, coconut, crazy sweetness. The day was officially over and I’ve moved on.


Yes, in my family food can always comfort you

November 9, 2010

Gluten-Free Day at Westboro Natural Pantry


November 7, 2010

TESL Ontario Conference 2010

Recently I spent a few days in Toronto for the annual TESL Ontario Conference. It’s a great opportunity for some professional development and spend time with your peers from across the province. The Honey made the trip with me and he hung out doing whatever he wanted while I attended workshops and seminars.


One of the keys to this TESL conference is to register early. If registration opens on the 15th, register on the 15th, and as early as you can. In past years I’ve always left it late and been disappointed with what I experienced so this year I registered by noon. And believe it or not, I still had trouble getting into some. Oh well, a Friday morning to sleep an extra hour or so and have breakfast out with the Honey; can’t complain too much about that.

Whenever we’re in T.O we try to get to Wayne Gretzky’s down on Blue Jay Way. We’ve been doing this since the restaurant opened oh so many years ago and we’ve always enjoyed ourselves. The Honey is an Oiler’s and Gretzky fan, and that’s the only time I saw hockey growing up (Mom: ‘Come on girls! Wayne’s on T.V!’ supporting the boy from next-door Brantford). As a vegetarian I always found something to eat and at Gretzky’s, the pierogies tasted homemade. This was the first time making the trip since going gluten-free.


First things first: The wait staff was very patient and helpful in making decisions and happily asked the kitchen questions if needed. It was very much appreciated; especially after realizing finding something wasn’t going to be easy. My first two choices (I always pick two things because I figure one of them is bound to be safe) were ixnayed – the bison burger (with breadcrumbs) and the Thai chicken stir-fry (flour in the sauce). One of the sympathetic waiters went through the menu with me and I finally reluctantly decided on a salad (It was October; who wants a salad?!) with seared flank steak. It seemed the most filling, substantial, and warmest salad. The salad dressing was out; there was flour in it (again, appreciated the update). The suggested plain-old oil and balsamic vinegar ended up being what the salad needed. With the nice roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, cheese, and steak the lighter dressing allowed me to taste the salad for what it was. I was happy. Like old times at Gretzky’s, we had good service and food and that made the evening enjoyable (the company was good too Honey!). We realized though, our return trips may be for drinks instead since the menu is quite limiting. Drinks at Gretzky’s… that’s still not half-bad.

We stayed at the Renaissance Hotel at the Roger’s Centre and were lucky enough to have a room overlooking the stadium. Thursday night we went to bed after seeing workers putting lines on the field below. We opened up the curtains Friday morning to this:


It was the perfect vantage point to see my first CFL game.


The Honey had picked me up some cider and we ordered some gluten-free pizza from Magic Oven on Jefferson St. It was fabulous. It’s how thin crust pizza should be done!

  

About the conference itself: I attended some great workshops and seminars; met some really nice people, had some good laughs, and of course, picked up some awesome materials. The publishers always attend and it’s a great way to flip through books (textbooks, resource material, audio guides, whatever) and decide what you like and don’t like. You can visit their websites to see what they have in their catalogues, but to hold them and flip through the pages gives you a better idea of what you like and if the material is worth it or not. The reps are pretty helpful too, making suggestions or steering you towards something more practical. Of course, the publisher’s have seminars too, but I find they are always pumping up a certain book, and often it’s not what I’m looking for or need. I’d rather spend my time elsewhere.

Another key to the conference is to take some snacks with you. If you’re going from room to room, there may not be time to grab a bite somewhere or the lines may be too long. And if you’re gluten-free, good luck. I had cinnamon raisin bagels from Natural Pantry in my bag so I ate those whenever the munchies hit. There are water stations throughout the conference and it’s nice to stay hydrated. Always take a drink into the room with you; you never know when you’ll get thirsty and if you leave you might miss something. There’s a tea/coffee service mid-morning so take advantage of it. Having something warm (with or without caffeine) is a nice pick-me-up mid-morning. Also, by day three you may really need that boost.

Since I pay for this conference myself (unlike a friend who receives funding because she teaches LINC) I try and squeeze in as much as possible. This is never recommended because it’s a sure-fire way to tire yourself out. However, I want to get my money’s worth and learn/experience as much as I can. To balance it out I go to seminars that interest me and benefit me and my teaching. If the session blurb says ‘lecture’ or ‘paper’, I take a pass. I find them exhausting. I also take breaks here and there. Often there will be ½ to 1 hour between sessions so I relax in the many chairs throughout the conference or in the hotel lobby. I’ll have a book or magazine to shift my mind to something else. Or I’ll wander through the exhibitors; flipping through the materials relaxes my mind a bit while putting ideas in there. Lastly, if you can’t get into a seminar, don’t fret. Every seminar has a last-minute-line so if there is room, you can get a seat. Sometimes if there are only a few people in the secondary line, they can all be squeezed in. However, don’t use this to get into every seminar as it can be frustrating if you can’t get in.

The weather was nice. You know, the typical warm Toronto; the urban heat island effect under full swing. Even though we would have liked to spend a few more hours out and about, we decided to head back to Ottawa. It was a good thing too because this is what we came home to:


The first snowfall of the season (and it wasn’t pretty on the roads).

Stay tuned to Part 2 where I’ll post some thoughts on the seminars I attended.

October 26, 2010

Dinner Changes

The other night I had a craving for some Pad Thai. There was some peanut sauce in the freezer and thought it would be nice to have the following evening. The rain had returned and it would be perfect to warm me up from the inside. I put it into the fridge to thaw during the day and thought about the veggies covered in that spicy peanut flavour. I was really looking forward to it.

I returned home after work, puttered around the house then decided to put on some dinner. I pulled that little plastic container with that light brown mass inside and opened it up. It was refried beans. The two things I hadn’t been bothered to label and of course, as luck would have it, I pulled out the wrong one.


What to do with it?


I stuck my head back in the fridge and took a look around. No. No. Ah tortilla shells. I thought they were all gone!


Lucky for me the pack of brown rice tortillas got pushed to the back of the fridge. Even better, some pre-sliced/chopped veggies from a few days prior. Cheese – check. Salsa – check. Fajita seasoning – check. Quesadillas!


In the pan went the veggies to sauté with some herbs and some PC Fajita seasoning (gluten-free). Next, tortillas were placed on a cookie sheet, then the beans were spread on top, followed by the sautéed veggies.


The cheese was shredded and sprinkled on top. Lastly, another tortilla was placed on top. In the oven it went until they had browned.

Dolloped some salsa and plain yogurt on the side and enjoyed with a New Grist beer. Nice and healthy, and hit the spot.


The peanut sauce? It’s still in the freezer for another time.

October 24, 2010

AC & NYC part 2

A while back I wrote that the Honey and I had taken a trip to Atlantic City and New York City. I also wrote that I would post some of our discoveries. Well, I’m finally doing it.

Travelling with a gluten allergy is not only tolerable, but do-able. Do some research, but don’t be afraid to wander from your pre-made list. Leave the anxieties at home.

Our trip is divided for the two cities for the sake of reference.


New York City I had my list as I had gone through the web searching and cross referencing websites making sure the places were still up and running. It is NY. Its bad enough in Ottawa so I can only imagine in NY. We weren’t there solely to eat so weren’t planning our trip via my list of gluten-free restaurants, which is just as well since there were a number that disappeared by the time we got there. In restaurants it was pretty easy and wait-staff could answer questions or get the answers. Only once did I encounter a ‘dummy’, but I couldn’t get mad as the conversation was just ridiculous. It went like this:
Me: Excuse me, could you tell me if this macaroon is made with wheat or flour?
Her: Meat?!
Me: No wheat, like flour.
Her: No, there’s no wheat in it, but there’s flour. Do you want one? (and no she wasn’t kidding)
Me: Ah, no thanks (and I’m sure I gave her some kind of ‘are you an idiot?’ look)


There were many salad/sandwich shops around where you could customise your salads. It was great to see that they used a new bowl for every new salad. After the macaroon I was wondering what kind of response I would get requesting a new bowl for mine to be mixed in, but I didn’t have to. PAX Wholesome and Swich Wholesome Sandwich Co have locations throughout Manhattan.


Bloom’s Deli on Lexington and 40th was our breakfast place. They have a gluten-free menu and you would not believe the selection. I had gluten-free French toast for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long. It was delicious! The Honey was appalled that I put ketchup on it; always have done that and that’s the way I like it. Another day I had gluten-free pancakes. I had a regular breakfast on our last day so I could dip my gluten-free toast in my over-easy eggs. I haven’t had those in years.


Another night we got pizza at Slice, where they make it by the round or slice to order. It was great thin crust pizza and tasted good with New Grist beer (I’m starting to like that beer more and more). Ironically there were more Canadians in that little restaurant that night than locals (the cook, a family of ex-pats, a couple, and ourselves). Even more creepy was the fact that all of us, except the Honey, were originally from south-western Ontario. And of course we all, except for the Honey, ordered gluten-free crusts.


Other places included Sarabeth’s for delicious lunch (Central Park), Café del Mar (Greenwich Village) – both places had a nice patio for people watching; few and far between in NYC – and The Blind Tiger. What a great list of beers they had, all microbrews, and a cider; the only one I found.


Our last dinner was at Risotteria and it was great. We had gluten free pizzas and breadsticks; they were divine. I also had a St. Peter’s Sorghum Beer and it was delicious. I don’t know if I was more excited about the beer or the breadsticks or the pizza. It is my mission to find this beer. It tastes like beer!!!! No funky taste, no yeasty flavour. They also had baked goods and sweets, but I saw the prices and thought I’d stick to the beer. It was way too good to say ‘no’ to.

October 23, 2010

AC & NYC

A while back I wrote that the Honey and I had taken a trip to Atlantic City and New York City. I also wrote that I would post some of our discoveries. Well, I’m finally doing it.

Travelling with a gluten allergy is not only tolerable, but do-able. Do some research, but don’t be afraid to wander from your pre-made list. Leave the anxieties at home.


Our trip is divided for the two cities for the sake of reference.


Atlantic City The breakfast buffet at our hotel, the Trump Marina, had the usual stuff plus an omelette station, some fruit salad (out of a jar mind you) and smoked salmon. I tried to stay healthy and had an omelette with some veggies and cheese. Back at the table I smiled at the smoked salmon on my plate – yeah, weird I know – and draped it on my omelette. Mmmmm.


Lunch was a bit more challenging as it was the typical big American buffets with batters and sauces. The restaurants we saw along the boardwalk seemed to be fast food (pizza and burgers), and others just seemed way expensive. Surprisingly many were closed until dinner. We settled on the buffet at the Showboat Casino/Hotel. It’s based on New Orleans and Mardi Gras and so the décor was really cool. The buffet was huge and I did find a few things I could eat. Being lunch time I didn’t want to ask any questions – the long line of people behind me deterred me – so I stuck to the very obvious safe bets. One would still find ample choices. There was also a big salad bar and some fresh fruit. When time came round for dessert I took a peek. Some looked like they may be possible. I asked the woman behind the table and she thought one or two would be fine, but she wanted to check to be on the safe side. I was really pleased to hear that, unfortunately the news wasn’t good as every one had flour in it one way or another. At least the fresh fruit tasted nice and fresh.


Dinner was at Melting Pot. I found it online and they could do things for celiac. It was a fondue restaurant and seemed so cool. It was a little more than we had expected to spend (actually a lot more), but there was sooooo much food. We enjoyed every minute of it and many minutes there were. We were literally there for hours because we needed to take breaks here and there. It was worth it though and dinner was fabulous (luckily for us we won on a slot machine so it paid for dinner and then some!).

October 18, 2010

Nice buns, hun!

I wrote the other day that I had made buns/rolls for Thanksgiving. I had never made them before, but there was always a first time. Buns is what I was listed to bring. There wasn’t much of a choice as it was the only thing left. It wasn’t very exciting either. A cousin laughed and replied ‘That’s ok. I’m bring pickles; like that’s exciting!’. I love pickles so to me it was. You can get all kinds of pickles: dills, gherkins, onions, garlic, sweet mix. Buns are buns. So I made some.

And boy did word spread.


We got out of the car and a cousin asked ‘Are those the homemade ones?’ How did he know? ‘Oh, I heard about them’. I’m always taken by surprise when I realize how fast news travels through the Honey’s close-knit family. And it’s quite frequent. After 15 years I’m still not used to it.


Days before I tried out the dinner roll recipe from A. Roberts’ Gluten-Free Baking Classics (I think I love this book!) and it was successful. Sometimes it seems like a crap-shoot with new things. The item looks great and may even smell good, but with the first bite sometimes regret follows. A word of warning though: these buns need to be done in a muffin or bun tin as the dough is on the runny side and it’ll just spread out otherwise.



They are nice and fairly light. Inside looks like real bread. The first bite is…heavenly. It tastes like a real bun!! The Honey couldn’t stop eating them. These were going to the farm!


 GF Dinner Rolls
For small buns – makes 12; For big buns – makes 6
½ cup millet flour
½ cup sorghum flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca flour
1 ½ tsp xanthan gum
½ tsp salt
2 tbs sugar
2 tsp active yeast
2 eggs (at room temperature)
1 egg white
3 tbs melted butter
¾ cup milk (or buttermilk)
Add ingredients according to the bread machine instructions. Set bread machine on the gluten-free cycle for the knead cycles only. Allow kneading to continue for 5-10 minutes (at least into the 2 kneading) then remove from machine and scoop into muffin tin. For large buns, fill cup half full; for smaller buns, fill cup until bottom is covered (maybe 1cm). Let rise in a warm place for 30-40 minutes. Bake at 375° for 20 minutes or until browned. Buns will sound hollow when tapped.

October 16, 2010

Another Evening of Girls and Baking

Thursday evening was another gluten-free baking workshop hosted by Alea at My Real Food Life, and it was another success. The agenda for that night was: gluten-free pumpkin waffles, gluten-free batter for chicken (or whatever), gluten-free tortillas, gluten-free chocolate cake, and lastly gluten-free rosemary crackers. I must say that the crackers were quite fragrant and could be smelled throughout the kitchen, even before being baked. The fresh rosemary was the prominent fragrance of the evening.


Like the first workshop, it was great to hang out with others with similar difficulties, frustrations, and moments of joy. People meshed really well chatting about family, work, the weather, and of course what they were making. Some returned from the first workshop and it was like seeing an old friend.

Even though hands were busy mixing, chopping, and flipping there was ample time to chat.

  

Lots of time when goodies were being baked.
 

There was a guest appearance by Peter from Judy’s Magic Mixes. It was great to hear him speak about their (him and his wife) learning, what works, what doesn’t, the demand of products out there. It was great to have him there and he was patient in answering many questions. He was my partner in making the pumpkin waffles so it was nice to pick his brain a bit on the subject of gluten-free flours.


Everything tasted so good and went quickly. Unlike last time there weren’t many leftovers to take home, but that’s a good thing. We couldn’t resist our handmade wares. It seemed at every bite you could hear ‘Mmmmmm’ or ‘Oh that is so good’.


October 13, 2010

Glebe Sauntering

Yesterday I needed to run to the Glebe for a few errands and decided, since I had the time, to pop into some old and new haunts while I was there. The weather was nice and sunny even though the wind put a chill in the air.

I popped into the usual places, like the Glebe Emporium, J.D Adams, and the Papery. I stopped in at Brio to get some wash liquid for delicates. I’ve never been one to treat my delicates very nicely and sometimes the work seemed like too much of a hassle. But they have a great product called ‘soak’ and all you literally have to do is soak your gear for 10 minutes then rinse. No shaking them around or wringing them out. It couldn’t get any easier than that. I’ve been converted.

I also popped into Nicastro’s and found some little pieces of cheese that was a nice treat for lunch. I have learnt in the last year that I need to limit the amount of cheese I consume. Too much and my body isn’t happy. Gone are the days of having three types of cheese in the fridge (along with the parm and cheddar). I got a raw goat’s milk hard cheese and a slice of camembert. They were perfect size for two slices of toast.

Whenever I’m in the Glebe I pop into The Wild Oat. I’ve always heard that they carry gluten-free goodies, but whenever I’m there I’m out of luck. They have their regular wheat laden stuff and many items made with spelt; fine when I was only wheat-free, but never gluten-free. It was my lucky day because on the shelf were gluten-free date squares and gluten-free chocolate peanut butter squares. I may have mentioned before that I love date squares, but don’t like making them (what a pain!) and so I had to get one. The chocolate peanut butter square had to be tried as well. Lunch was done!


It was hard, but I got them home. Well, at least most of it did. Half of the chocolate and peanut butter square had to be sacrificed for the sake of hunger panes. The date square was great - chewy and moist – and the pb square; it was just ok.

October 11, 2010

Farm = Family

Every year for Thanksgiving we go to the Honey’s ancestral farm just across the river in Quebec. For me this is interesting and fun; 1) because his family has pretty much worked off this land since they arrived after the potato famine, and 2) the family is huge. It’s always nice to see everyone and hang out.


There are new additions.


 There’s always a hayride up to the ‘camp’ (this year we filled that wagon with people);


kids awaiting to start off

Passing by the sugar shack and the cows



We walk around marvelling at the colour of the trees; and sometimes walking down to the Blanche River. But always on the lookout for Meadow Muffins (cow patties).


This year a few had to stay behind and guard the hay from the cows.
 

Some cousins even pick out their Christmas tree; an annual event for tradition

Afterwards there’s a football game, and catching up.


This year the barn cats are friendly. I was told it is due to the increase of grandchildren and their fondness for the cats.

Needless to say there’s a big feast put on by his aunt and uncle and their daughters and daughters-in-law. Even though it is potluck, it is a lot of work and their effort is more than appreciated. This year my contribution was homemade gluten- free buns and a gluten-free pumpkin pie (I can’t go and not have dessert!!)



Every year the meal is fabulous and everyone enjoys every minute of it. Sometimes a little too much.

After settling down and letting our food digest, the cards come out. This family loves Euchre and no get-together is free from a few hands. There’s no time for small talk as those cards need to be kept moving. And when you’re done your game, you need to either move on to another table or find a new partner (if a bathroom break is needed).



Before you know it, the night comes to an end and it’s time to head back to Ottawa.

It’s a day to be thankful for family.