March 31, 2012

Do you still feel the love?



My job hasn’t appeared here much in the last year, which may seem a little odd given how much I’ve said I love it. Throughout the years teaching has inspired and energized me. It seems the more energy I exude, the more energy I get in return from my students and the laws of nature. I’ve always worked hard in finding activities and tasks for my students so they can practice and improve. I’ve been so keen on professional development and learning new things, including materials and theories. Most often than not, I’ve woken up in the morning looking forward to class. Even on those odd days when I didn’t want to get out of bed, upon walking into my classroom and seeing a smiling face 9or faces) my mood changed. That is until last year.


Last year I was growing weary of trudging through the snow and cold from office building to office building. My wheely bag proved to be a disadvantage in the snow as it began acting like a snowplow and strained my arms in pulling it around. I thought I’d be happier with a set classroom, but when March appeared and I got a full-time student my happiness didn’t return.


My student was a lovely woman who was so keen, motivated, outgoing and intelligent. She would do anything I asked her and she not only did it quickly, she did it very well too. She was improving rapidly, which is normally a wonderful experience, but she was going through 2 days of materials in 1 day. Not only was I exhausted from 40 hours of teaching, but the additional prep time took up any free time I had. My weekly plan lasted only a few days and each evening I found myself doing a new lesson plan and digging around for more activities for the following day. My emotions were in conflict. I was excited and happy for my student for picking up details and parts of speech so quickly and with such accuracy; however, I was frustrated because lessons were constantly being rewritten because the work and activities were no longer needed – she didn’t need the additional practice like other students do.


So here I was, exhausted and unhappy. Often I would feel very guilty. Here, I had this wonderful person across from me and I could only think ‘Why am I here?’, ‘I don’t want to be here; Anywhere but here.’, ‘I just want to be back in bed.’. Thankfully my student was too busy learning to notice that her teacher wasn’t always happy. Once summer came along I took a bit of a break and worked for the summer program again. I was lucky enough to work at a school where they were understanding of my other commitments (I had committed to the summer program in the new year) and it allowed another English teacher to have full time hours in a period that is normally slow. But again, being a Pedagogical Advisor for the summer didn’t help. Instead I became increasingly frustrated with teachers who didn’t listen, others who didn’t want to be part of a team (Hey, there’s no ‘i’ in team!!), and a boss who was out to lunch most of the time (literally and metaphorically). When I returned to my smiling and cheerful student I felt even more despondent instead of feeling refreshed. When the contract came to an end in November I was relieved.


I was looking forward to having two weeks of free time to do whatever I wanted. I could do some painting and finally finish up the trim around the doors. I could do some baking and cook The Honey some nice meals. I could get out and get some exercise, finally. Those plans went up in smoke, unfortunately. I got a really bad cold and wound up on the couch. Two weeks later when I visited my doctor I learned half of the problem was my asthma returned with a vengeance. After being inhaler-free for close to 7 years I was now sucking on two types of puffers and lying on the couch due to my poor health. Ironically, I was even more exhausted than before, but this time from lack of oxygen in my body and not from lack of time. If my energy was up one day and I did something (like go to the grocery store or do a few errands) I was exhausted a few hours later and had to have a nap for a few hours. Even last month I went for a walk with my sisters and the next morning I was dragging myself around. My asthma seems to be on the mend though. The Honey noticed on the weekend that I was hardly coughing anymore, finally. He had been growing weary of it as well.


Throughout the winter I continued feeling like a fraud, teaching a few hours here and there without feeling much of anything other than the new usual. I always had a smile on my face, but inside it was the opposite. Often I would cry when I got home, sometimes even on the walk home I would burst into tears because I no longer knew what to do (slightly embarrassing, but at least there were few people out and about in the cold temperatures). My degree was set to lead me into teaching and for the last 15 years that’s what I’ve done; and I’ve loved it. But what would I do? In a sense my options are wide open, but they aren’t that open. My health has been a bit of a crap-shoot these last 12 months and I’m not sure I can handle the intensity of some jobs (my arthritis has also been acting up). And a desk job? Not unless I have to. I did that for a few years and I was worse off then than I am now (thank goodness for Yoga).


In February my mood began to change. I had come to a decision. I’m leaving my job and teaching and am on the search for something that I will enjoy and in turn make me a little happier, even if it is for a short time. And when I find the right job for me, I’ll stick with it for a while. Who knows, maybe another 15 years in a new career.


March 29, 2012

Balsamic Roast Chicken with Onions, Olives, and Tomatoes

While flipping through the last issue of Style at Home I found a delicious chicken recipe. The picture was enticing and it just sounded divine. While I had made something similar (last winter maybe?) this one was different as it called for the addition of balsamic vinegar and pearl onions. My mom was here at the time and so I could share the olives with her and The Honey enjoyed the pronounced flavours (for a change).


A change that I always make is to use the chicken pieces that I like. We’re partial to chicken breasts or thighs and so instead of cutting apart a whole chicken, I’ll buy the pieces we prefer. A tip I learnt from Laura Calder (on French Food at Home) to make bacon really easy to slice is to pop it into the freezer for a bit. It firms up the bacon and is so much easier to slice. This is a delicious chicken dish that is relatively easy; once the chicken is seared everything is mixed in and put into the oven to cook away.


Balsamic Roast Chicken with Onions, Olives, and Tomatoes (Style at Home March 2012)
3 lbs of chicken, but into manageable pieces (ie, breasts, thighs, legs, etc)
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp pepper
2 tbs olive oil
4 oz of sliced bacon, cut into cubes
1 cup pearl onions, peeled and halved
1 tbs each chopped rosemary and thyme
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
½ cup white wine
½ cup small green olives
½ pint grape tomatoes
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil over high heat in a dutch oven and sear the chicken until browned all over. Remove chicken from the pan and reduce heat to medium and add the bacon and onions and cook until the onions are caramelized. Drain the oil from the pan, leaving 1 tbs, and return chicken to the pan. Add the herbs, vinegar and wine and bring to a boil. Add the olives and tomatoes and bake covered, for 45 mins (or until chicken is cooked through) at 350°.

March 20, 2012

Procrastination

With the title you can tell that I’m procrastinating today, and not just with one thing, but with many. In one sense I’m not really procrastinating because I got some work done for the summer program, even if it meant meeting a friend/former colleague for coffee and chitchat. I also did an errand or two for an upcoming craft fair I’m in (I have a problem with plastic bags). And I had lunch. Unfortunately the maple nut tart I wanted to try is getting pushed back to tomorrow and same with the maple raisin pound cake. I’m experimenting with maple syrup since I love it so much. When it comes to maple syrup, you go real or go home.


A cousin makes his own on the family farm and I always buy a box. Well, I can’t say ‘always’ because he sells out quickly and sometimes I’m not fast enough. It reminds me that with a big family you have to be quick.


I’m also putting off writing a letter to my family overseas. Easter is coming up and I need to get their cards out soon.


Maybe that’s why I’m not that great in languages; I need to feel like using it in order for it to come out. For the last week I’ve sat down with a pad and pen and nothing comes. Maybe my life just isn’t that interesting. Urgh.

One interesting thing is a spiced beer cake I made on the weekend. It was delicious and before you say ‘What?!? Beer?!?’, it was Nicklebrook’s gluten-free beer. I chose it because it’s a nice strong beer and it would be ideal in a cake (no watered down stuff for me thank you). The occasion was my and brother-in-law’s birthday, hence the shamrock and beer (we’re fans of both).


Happily everyone loved it, enough for seconds. It was moist and delicious, but I would have preferred more spice and beer flavour; it was quite muted. I made a simple plain buttercream icing and used sugar sprinkles for the shamrock, bringing out the artist in me. Maybe procrastinating isn’t such a bad thing.

Here is the recipe in its original form from Food & Drink. I changed the cider for the gf beer and next time, I’m going to double the spices and add a whole can of gf beer. If you decide to make a 9” cake instead of cupcakes, the baking time is around 30 minutes.

Cider Spice Cupcakes with Penuche Fudge Icing
Holiday 2005 (Marilyn Bentz-Crowley)
 
2 cups (500 mL) cake and pastry flour (replace with a gluten-free flour mix)
2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder
1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon
½ tsp (2 mL) allspice
¼ tsp (1 mL) freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp (1 mL) salt
1 cup (250 mL) brown sugar
½ cup (125 mL) butter, softened
¾ cup (175 mL) cider
2 eggs
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla)

Penuche Icing
¼ cup (50 mL) butter
½ cup (125 mL) brown sugar
¼ cup (50 mL) whipping cream
½ tsp (2 mL) vanilla
1¼ cups (300 mL) icing sugar
1. To measure flour, stir, then spoon into measuring cup before leveling with a knife.
2. Preheat oven to 375º F (190ºC).
3. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly stir flour with baking powder, spices and salt. Add sugar, butter, cider, eggs and vanilla.
4. Using an electric mixer, mix ingredients until flour is moistened, then whip at high speed for 1 minute. Stop and scrape sides of bowl; beat on high for another minute or until batter is lighter in colour and fluffy.
5. Dividing equally, spoon batter into cups. Bake in centre of preheated oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the centre of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool cupcakes, still in muffin tin, on a rack.
6. To make icing, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat; add brown sugar and cream. Stirring occasionally, bring to a boil; boil 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Cool 15 minutes in pan on a rack without stirring. Then stir in icing sugar until smooth. Immediately ice cooled cupcakes, as frosting sets into fudge within minutes. Covered, cupcakes keep well for 2 to 3 days at room temperature.
Makes 12 cupcakes

March 19, 2012

Delicious Gluten-Free Sandwiches


Between Christmas and New Year’s The Honey took some time off to relax. Work had been a little busy and rough for him and he deserved some time to himself. The Honey is an avid guitar player and so spent a great deal trying some new songs. Unfortunately he doesn’t always get the effect he desires as we have a small house and his powerful amp rarely makes it past ‘2’.


During this time of relaxation The Honey saw a guitar he liked posted on a classified site. It was a brand he liked and the guitar looked to be in great shape. The owner was looking to trade for a specific guitar and The Honey just happened to have one. After some emails they both agreed to meet and we decided to drive down to Cobourg.


It was a nice day for a drive – it wasn’t snowing, the roads were clear, and the clouds kept the sun hidden. We were making great time and I thought it would be great to stop at the Silly Yak in Kingston for lunch on our way back. But of course things never work out as planned. Closer to Belleville we hit a snarl and it took us 1 ½ hrs to get to the nearest ramp. 11am turned into 12 and the minutes kept ticking by. Finally by 1:30 we reached our destination and we were growing hungry. The Honey did his meet, greet, trade then we were on our way. Luckily for us we were a few blocks from downtown so we drove through keeping an eye out for restaurants. That’s where we came upon the Buttermilk Café. It looked like a nice place and possibly have something gf friendly. How right I was. On the front desk was a small sign that read “We have gluten-free bread and desserts”. Awesome!!!


On a Friday afternoon the Buttermilk Café was busy full of couples or friends having lunch or coffee. The restaurant is a nice cozy place that is welcoming and comfortable. The menu has a variety to suit everyone and the soup of the day was intriguing, mushroom with brandy. Too bad I didn’t like mushrooms. While The Honey enjoyed his chicken fingers and pile of fries I kept ‘mmm-ing’ over my Tuscan Tartine. This sandwich was served open-faced on tasty gluten-free bread layered with aioli, greens, sliced turkey, tomatoes and feta cheese. A small Waldorf salad came on the side and it was perfect. Our lunch was satisfying without feeling like we had to roll out the door.

After lunch we took a short stroll through downtown popping into a shop here and there. I even went into the British store hoping they knew something about a gluten-free HP sauce (I miss that the most). Not wanting to arrive home too late we got back in the car and started our way back.

Now we know that if we are ever in Cobourg, we can stop in at the Buttermilk Café for some me-friendly food.

March 15, 2012

Speedy Salmon Fajitas

One of the downsides of always trying something new is that you often forget to have the things you enjoy. I have a huge binder full of recipes I enjoy (seriously, this thing is huge). Some come from family and friends, some come from recipe books, and some come from magazines and websites. Some recipes I can no longer have and they are gradually being crossed out while others can be converted into gf options. One of my goals this year is to go through my cookbook and try out the dishes I miss. It is a wonderful opportunity to fall in love again.

One of these recipes is salmon fajitas that are quite easy and quick to make. Now that there are gluten-free tortillas available, having burritos and fajitas can become a regular thing. Here in Ottawa many stores (health food and major chains) carry La Tortilla Factory or Food for Life rice or corn tortillas. I tend to use whatever I come across as they can sometimes be hard to find. I also find they can be a little finicky and fall apart easily (so have them while they’re ‘fresh’).


And if you’re not a fan of fish, other meat or a combination of vegetables could be used instead. It’s a nice healthy meal that can be quickly put together after getting home from work.

Speedy Salmon Fajitas     (makes 4)
4 portions of salmon fillet
2 tsp each cumin & oregano
1 ½ tsp chili powder
½ tsp salt & pepper
1 cup corn
½ cup each avocado & tomato, diced
¼ cup each green onion & cilantro, chopped
2 limes, cut into halves
1 tbs olive oil
4 large tortillas
Shredded lettuce
Cut salmon into cubes and toss in the spices. Set aside. Toss corn with avocado, tomato, onion, and cilantro. Squeeze one lime over top and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil over medium heat and stir fry the salmon until browned and pink. Squeeze one lime over the salmon. Serve with remaining ingredients in tortillas.

March 12, 2012

Waffles, Waffles, Everywhere



It seems as though spring has arrived. The rain late last week washed away much of the snow in our yard, including my bunny’s footprints. The days are getting longer and the mornings are getting brighter.


Soon we’ll have beautiful sunsets and a few funky ones too (like this one last fall).


Our little girl is even feeling the change. Not only is she shedding more and more with each passing day (and one of us saying ‘I thought you vacuumed?’), but she is spending more time pacing the house instead of sleeping most of the day away.


I’m also feeling a bit of a change and needing a bit of a break from cereal. As much as I love my Mesa Sunrise Maple stuff, I needed a break. I had some delicious Liberté yogurt with cherries and another with blackberries, but my tummy started rebelling. I started thinking about easy breakfasts and some berries in the fridge. Waffles were in order. Now before you get all excited about homemade waffles, don’t. I keep it simple and these guys come from the freezer section.

My favourites are Van’s and seem to be available wherever a gluten-free freezer may lurk. With some sliced up strawberries and covered in maple syrup I was good to go for the morning.


I had also picked up some waffles by Kinnikinnick. They aren’t as easy to find, but the Metro in Barhaven usually has a nice variety of gluten-free foods in their freezer section. I mashed up some raspberries and again poured on the maple syrup. There’s nothing like real maple syrup (especially when it comes from the family farm!). These are a bit finickier in the toaster, needing a little more than the usual toaster time - but not too much otherwise they’ll burn.


Maybe I’ll see how long I can go before I encounter waffle-burnout.

March 5, 2012

Jamestown Mills


Depending on where you live, the only gluten-free flour you may see is El-Peto, Glutino and Bob’s Redmill. And while they are great flours and it’s wonderful they are available almost everywhere, there are others popping up. It seems that the more prevalent gluten intolerance or celiac disease is the more variety there is becoming available. This can only be considered a big bonus for the consumer.

One of these producers that have appeared is Jamestown Mills from Alymer Ontario. They had a booth at the Celiac Conference here in Ottawa in May and they were promoting their sweet potato flour. I’m not adventurous enough to try sweet potato flour, but they had others available that I picked up. Given that I’m writing about them here, tells you that I was very happy with their sorghum and rice flours.


Jamestown Mills is a gluten-free flour mill run by John and Joe Weninger. While their products are not available in stores around here, their great prices are worth ordering online.