November 26, 2010


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


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


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.


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.