31 January, 2012

Simple Bread... No I Promise, It IS Simple....

Ever watch Top Chef or Iron Chef and wonder how in the WORLD they just whip that junk up out of thin air when they are using a "surprise ingredient"?  I used to as well, but then all the wonder was dashed when I found out they find out the day before what the ingredient is and they actually are allowed a test run the day before.  Lame!  

Us REAL at home cooks don't always have that option, and more than anything else our "surprise" ingredient ends up being whatever we have in the house because we were out of what we THOUGHT we had.  But ONE thing that most people can think of and whip up out of thin air is a standard loaf of bread.  I have my grandmother's bread recipe memorized but that takes even MORE time than the one I am about to share....  This requires no "proofing" just a 30 minute rest for the dough, if you aren't vegan, you can use honey rather than sugar but the most crucial thing you need to be sure of is that you always have good yeast in the house and you're golden.  This makes a HUGE beautiful 1.5 lb loaf of bread.  Let's get started!

Vegan Standard Loaf
4 c. organic all purpose flour
1 c. organic spelt flour
1 3/4 c. water (110 degrees)
2 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. quick rise/bread machine yeast
2 T. organic fair trade cane sugar
vegan shortening or butter to grease bread pan 
1.5 lb bread pan

Preheat oven to 200 degrees

Pour warm water, sugar and yeast into a standing mixer with dough hook attachment on.  Toss in 3 cups of your AP flour, your salt and the cup of spelt flour.  Turn the mixer on the lowest setting and let it go until it looks like it is all thoroughly mixed together.  Toss in the remaining cup of flour and let it go until no dough is sticking to the side of the bowl.  Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.  

When the "rest" is over TURN OFF YOUR OVEN!!  Form your dough into a loaf shape, toss it into the loaf pan and put it in the oven to rise.  Allow the bread to rise 45 minutes or until it doubles in size.  Turn the oven on to 350 degrees while the loaf is still in there and after it hits 350 allow to bake another 30 minutes OR until the bread sounds "hollow" when you tap the top with your finger.

Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes before removing to cooling rack.  Serve warm or allow to cool completely before using for sandwiches.

Toss in your choice of herbs with the flour before mixing.  (I use rosemary and sliced Kalamata olives in this recipe sometimes and form it into long baguette looking loaves and slice slashes in the top for an extra bit of "flare".

14 January, 2012


Merriam Webster's dictionary defines resilience as:
1: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
2: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

I haven't really spoken at all about my faith.  I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Some people call us "Mormons", some call us "Latter-Day Saints" or even just "LDS".  Either way, it is the foundation to WHO I am.  I don't know if you notice that I write about praying before we eat...even in public.  This is just a part of who I am.  In our church we believe a lot of things but the center of our religion is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  We believe that the power of the Priesthood has been restored to the Earth.  We believe that worthy men can use this power to bless and heal the sick and afflicted.  The faith of the person receiving the blessing has MORE to do with the outcome of the blessing than anything else.  These are things I believe and know to be true in my heart.

For a long time I have been feeling as though I should tell you that I am going to have some hard times ahead....they are gaining on me quickly.  I had laparoscopic pelvic surgery yesterday to remove a dermoid cyst from my right ovary; which resulted in them taking the ovary and the fallopian tube.  I was a little disappointed, but I still have my left ovary.  My grandmother went through the same thing in the 50's.  They told her she'd never have another child...then she had 3 more.  While I was lying in the second recovery room the nurse asked me how I felt.  That's a LOADED question with me, no matter WHAT.  Even if I hadn't been laying there recovering from a surgery, on any normal day she would have gotten an earful.  But the only thing that came to my mind was the ache and emptiness I felt.  I said, just above a whisper...  "I just keep thinking about how if we hadn't lost our baby girl in June, she'd be due tomorrow.  She was due on January 14th."  I started to cry...she had no reaction.  I can't blame her, she doesn't know me from Adam.  But, as "common" as I know this is, as much as I know it could happen to me again in my lifetime, I still haven't been able to get over it.

I also had a bevy if misdiagnoses last year with some pain I had in my upper back.  For DECADES I had been told I had fibromyalgia, then....no, no you have chronic fatigue.  Then...back to fibromyalgia.  All resulting in the same thing, no cure and no treatment that really could make a difference.  When my son was 6 months old and I went to pick him up out of his crib after a nap and I put my hands just under his armpits to lift if out, my hands went up, so did his arms.  I had no grip in my hands.  Then a day later, under an extremely stressful moment in my day the right side of my mouth went numb.  I didn't know it until I could feel saliva starting to hit the skin outside the edges of my lip.  I was horrified.  The days that followed introduced new symptoms that scared me enough to FORCE my military base doctor to order some REAL tests.  Having been trained and certified as a medical coder and then going back to school for medical transcription I had 4 years of pathology knowledge kicking in and going NUTS in my head.  I had contracted Lyme disease the year before, I wondered if they caught it too late and now I had late stage Lyme.  Some of the other symptoms matched MS; I thought I was too young for that, turns out I am not.  When I went to the doctor for the last desperate time telling him what I thought I might have he looked me in the eyes and asked me if I ever thought that what was happening might be psychosomatic...in other words a mental condition that is manifesting itself in symptoms only I can find.  I was furious and exhausted.  Finally I said to him I wanted him to order a MRI scan of my head and C-Spine, if they find NOTHING, I will pay for it.  I knew they'd find late stage Lyme or MS that way, but I never heard of the condition they DID find.

Syrinx.  That's what the report came back with.  It was THERE, it was REAL and it explained EVERY single symptom I had been having, even down to the low grade asymptomatic fevers.  I thought I WAS going crazy, but SOMETHING kept telling me to push.  Not give up...there was something wrong.  Two doctors saw the MRI report and BOTH misdiagnosed me.  There are 2 ways to develop a syrinx in your spinal cord.  One form is congenital in the form of Chiari malformation I.  The second is from a traumatic spinal cord injury.  That can be inflicted in many ways; falling off of a ladder, falling down a flight of stairs, car accidents, falling while skiiing.  ALL of which I did the year I was 15.  When both doctors learned of these instances they felt it was an open and shut case.  The cure for a syrinx from traumatic spinal cord injury is...nothing.  There is NO way to get rid of it.  The treatment for it would be traction, steroid injections at the site of swelling in the spinal column and a drug called diamox that reduce the amount of fluid retention in the head.  I refused the shots, could never get an appointment for traction and after trying the diamox for 30 days quit.  I felt like I was in a constant mental fog on those meds.  I had a 9 month old to take care of by then...and a deployed active duty husband.

STILL...something told me this all was NOT right.

Fast forward a couple months to us finding out the Air Force was moving us from Oklahoma to Canada.  Yay!  Snow!  That's ALL I could think.  You can take the girl outta Minnesota but you can't take the Minnesota outta the girl!  Right around that same time was when we found out we were going to have a baby.  We prayed about it and talked it over before we even tried.  When it happened in less than a calendar month of being off of birth control, we knew we were headed in the right direction.

Packing up and moving went a little slow.  I was pregnant and my husband was working...and there was the 14 month old factor.  But we made it...we always do, we always will.

The day after we got to Ottawa I started to miscarry our baby.  I was heartsick.  I've already spoken about this and the horrible healthcare I received that resulted in an emergency surgery.  During this time we were still looking for a home.  We finally found a wonderful place and got to unpacking.  Something was nagging in the back of my mind every time I was in pain...  Those doctors in Oklahoma said it was a traumatic spinal cord injury.  What else could there POSSIBLY be?  Why was something telling me to KEEP digging?

I found a hospital in Colorado that specializes in traumatic spinal cord injuries.  I wasn't sure what I was going to ask the doc, but I knew I needed to send him my MRI and the written interpretation.  I did.  He looked at it in his spare time, for FREE....what a guy!  While I was waiting to hear back from this Dr. Falci (that was his name) I became horribly ill.  No one else was ill in the house, just me.  After 4 days of high fevers and exhaustion that would come and go I asked my husband for a Priesthood blessing.  In that blessing my husband related to me many things that the Spirit directed him to say; things that Heavenly Father (God) would have me know.  One of the things he told me I couldn't forget was that my "pain would be removed from me".  It made me catch my breath and then I didn't hear another SINGLE word my husband said.  My mind was reeling....  How could it be removed?  Was I going to die?  Was it physical pain he was talking about?  Or mental pain?  Emotional pain?  Anyone that suffers from chronic pain knows how your being is totally clobbered on ALL of those fronts.  The very next afternoon I got a phone call from Dr. Falci's office.  What he said changed my life.

The syrinx in my spinal cord was NOT caused by a traumatic spinal cord injury.  There was no evidence of injury to the spinal column.  No bone fragments or chips...nothing.  Nothing except the syrinx pushing the discs out because of swelling in the cord.  There WAS evidence, however mild, that I had Chiari malformation I.  I had low lying cerebellar tonsils, fused C2/C3 discs and a syrinx.  These are all markers of the condition.  He "respectfully, totally and utterly disagreed" with the 2 previous diagnoses in Oklahoma and wondered if I was in contact with a neurosurgeon in Canada yet.  It was taking me some time to get it all together in my mind.  In one 5 minute conversation I went from no hope to...I was going to have a LIFE again.  A life with NO pain.  I have NO idea what that is like.  I have been in pain like this since I was a teenager.

I found a neurosurgeon here, showed him my MRI films without disclosing any of the previous 3 diagnoses.  He came back with the same diagnosis as the specialist in Colorado.  Mild Chiari malformation I....and "When do you want to have the surgery?"  *most relieved sigh you've ever heard in your life*  He explained that there were no guarantees with the surgery but given my age, no smoking, no drinking and organic lifestyle I had next to 100% chance of ZERO pain and more than likely a surety of the syrinx resolving within 3 months.  Most of the time the prognosis is about 70% of patients come out with zero pain and a full recovery.  But being young and healthy was seriously helping my case.  In that moment, my blessing played through my mind..."your pain will be removed from you".

I am sure I don't need to tell you that God is good, do I?

But between the miscarriage last June, all the horrible medical treatment of the miscarriage, the brain surgery coming up, the jaw surgery I'm supposed to have....I am starting to feel...stretched, strained and more often than not, exhausted.  Sometimes I wonder how I get out of bed in the morning, but then, when I hear my husband ask in a whisper if I am ready to say morning family prayer and shortly after starting we hear a booming "Momma?!  Dada?!"  on the baby monitor.  I remember, people need me.  I lay in bed some mornings and wonder how many more things like these I can go through in my life before I am overcome physically...my body just won't be able to bounce back.  How much more can I go through emotionally before I just break into a million pieces?

The answer??? As much as the Lord wills me to.

By nature and need I am a deeply spiritual woman and I believe that Heavenly Father will NEVER give me a challenge in this life that I can't meet.  Strong words, but never more true as I am finding it is these days.  It is amazing when you discover your capacity, your abilities and your strengths.  In the places you least expected them to be and much stronger than you ever dreamed possible.  I know for myself that as it states in Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."  In my human moments I am not certain that I will come out of my brain surgery and still have all my mental faculties, remember who I am, what my life was or why I even had brain surgery.  But I have had SO many moments of confirmation leading up to now, asserting this is my path, that this surgery is the answer.  I have lost my fear.  I feel ready.

I want to thank all of my followers and readers that have joined me.  It has been a wild year for me and the fun is JUST beginning with this year.  I have NO idea how often I am going to be able to cook or write or eat out.  Right now I am on bed rest and lifting restrictions, but I didn't want to leave my people hanging.  I still love food, I still love to cook, I still try new things...I just won't be able to do as much as you're used to seeing in the coming year.  I am not sure if I'll be able to write at all until June.  The recovery from Chiari decompression surgery is 3-6 months.  Three is ideal, 6 is a possibility if there are complications of any kind.  My surgical date is sometime in February or early March.  For now, I am recovering from the surgery yesterday.  I was told this most likely would be until February 9th before I am feeling like my "old self" again.

In the first definition of "resilience" it speaks of the body's ability to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress.  At times I have certainly felt like life was closing in on me at ALL angles, like I couldn't breathe and there was no way out of the painful moments I was in.  In those moments I am forced to remember Christ suffered all for all mankind.  Even me.  This tells me that not only do I have the ability to recover, I can be BETTER than I was; physically and spiritually.

Am I resilient?  How resilient??  We're about to find out....

07 January, 2012


I had some stuff I had to do in Parkdale the other day and it was nearing lunch time.  I made for my "to eat" list in my purse and zeroed in on Hino Restaurant over on Wellington.  From all accounts they had some great Japanese that I "just have" to try.  I swear...Google this place and you'll find nothing but sunshiny comments with a few disappointments sprinkled in just for fun.  But, the majority of people love Hino or the people who didn't just didn't take the time to whine.  It is hard to know for certain.

The hype on this place is EPIC.  The people who consider themselves "regulars" are loyal beyond belief.  I have my favorites too, so I get that.  I read up on Hino before I went, owned and operated by Terry Hino; he's in it for the love of food, etc. etc.  Every review you read warns you not to "judge a book by its cover" because the front of house appearance isn't as decadent as you may be used to seeing in the greater Ottawa area.  I was really expecting to be wowed with the food and dislike the decor when we walked in.  And then the worst thing in the world happened....it ended up not hitting either one of those expectations.

We couldn't find a menu online to look at before we went, so it was kind of an ambush moment when she brought us the lunch menu and there were NO appetizers available except 2 soups.  I wanted to try the gyoza everyone had been raving about, but when I asked she told me they only make what is on the menu.  Bummer sauce...  (no that isn't on the menu, but I got a full helping of it anyhow...)

My "look around" time didn't take much time at all, with the open floor concept they had going on you can see everywhere in the place from any table.  But the true, sad thing about the interior is that I have seen worse...WAY worse.  In Ottawa.  So, it was easy for me to relax a bit as I looked around.

We sent in our orders, deciding that we'd just share what we got with the Sprout.  I was troubled a bit when I asked her what was popular off her menu and she said "The burgers."  In a Japanese place?  Was it Kobe beef??  I explained to her that I was a flogger and I was looking for more of an authentic Japanese experience, she recommended the Curry Shrimp with Singapore Noodles.  I wasn't going to challenge that, after all...people DO say "Japanese Fusion" when they talk about Hino.  The next thing that happened puzzled me to no end.  She brought us a basket of sliced white bread and 4 pats of butter...

I frequently bake bread....from all different cultures mind you.  This wasn't Japanese pan...lol...this was from Loblaws bakery section; the butter was obviously rancid.  I was very disappointed....and starving.  Usually for butter to get rancid the oils have to sit exposed to air for quite some time at room temperature, but our butter was solid and cold.  What the??  Man, I would have KILLED for some okazu pan right about then.  *sigh*  I whiled away my time waiting for my entree by looking around and trying to figure out why the place SO LOVED by all was completely empty except for me, my Mister and the Sprout.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw the door open.  I thought to myself "Oh, good...some action." because I like to watch how other customers are treated as well.  But alas, it was the post carrier; in and out like a flash.  

We could smell our food being prepared, being that we were the only ones there and only two dishes were being prepared it was easy to pick out the smell of my dish.  It smelled like curry all right.  It was to the table in a flash when it was done.

Curry Shrimp with Singapore Noodle

It turned out to be better than I thought it was going to be based on the bread and butter situation, but it was just "okay".  It didn't "wow" me, I wasn't impressed and it sure didn't endear the place to me.  Most of my shrimp were cooked correctly, luckily any that weren't ending up being overdone, not underdone.  But I sat there thinking I could have made that at home.  The noodles were not rice noodle.  This dish tasted like someone scrambled some eggs and tossed them in shrimp flavored ramen noodles with some curry dusted shrimp.  Period.  I wanted to love the place, but it didn't happen.

When we walked in and I saw the white board on the wall I was excited to eat, I asked the waitress if those were the specials for the day but they weren't.  They were the specials for the dinner hour only.  Had I been able to see the lunch menu I wouldn't have gone there for lunch.  I would have gone next door to the Alpha Soul Cafe and waited until the dinner hour some other night to go to Hino.  

It would seem like Hino only shines at night.  I'm not exactly sure that I'd go back to give it a second try though based solely on the butter situation.  Details are everything with me, when the smallest things are lacking it always makes me wonder what is being left out in the other elements of my experience of the meal.  They weren't too fast about making our meal either...and we were the only people there.  Our experience just does NOT match what everyone else has had.  I'd like to think the chef just had a bad day, but the lunch menu was so sparse on choice of authentic Japanese fare that I am leaning more towards the menu needing a revamp than anything else.  The prices were definitely reasonable, but that isn't enough to get me back in the door.  Did I "like it"...I didn't hate it; I just felt let down.

If you have had a different, better experience by all means, let me know.  Tell what you had, time of day you went...if you remember tell me the day of the week too.  I'm trying to figure out why the experiences were SO different between me and.....well, everyone else. 

Hino on Urbanspoon

04 January, 2012

Chicken 'n' Dumplins....? YES, Please!

I am a huge fan of soups once the snow flies...and really any time that it is below 40 degrees outside.  There are a few recipes my family leans on when Thanksgiving and Christmas have occurred and there is poultry and then some to rid ourselves of.  We usually end up with so much leftover Thanksgiving turkey that it gets frozen into "reasonably consumable amount" sized freezer bags and then it is used as quickly as it can be once thawed.  This recipe could be made with turkey, duck and goose just as easily as chicken; any bird you slap on the table for the holidays.  I had chicken to use, so that's how I rolled here.  This recipe calls for diced carrots and celery but I am NOT a fan of celery chunks so I ran mine through a food processor.  We do, however, LOVE carrots so I opted to use whole baby carrots rather than diced.  This recipe can be a bit involved so lets get started.

Dairy Free Chicken & Dumplings
3 lbs of chicken meat, shredded
6 c. unsalted chicken stock (do NOT use broth)
2 T. vegan buttery spread
1 T. oil
1 T. flour
1/2 c. diced carrots
1/2 c. diced celery
3 tsp. minced garlic (3 cloves)
2 bay leaves
1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. soy creamer
fresh cracked pepper

In a large pot, melt butter and heat oil over medium heat. Add carrot, celery, garlic, and bay leaves. Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour to make a roux (looks like a paste). Continue to stir and cook for 2 minutes to coat the flour and remove the starchy taste. Slowly pour in the chicken stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition.


 Let sauce simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Stir in soy creamer.   Fold the reserved shredded chicken into the sauce and bring up to a simmer.

How it looks at this stage....like soup

2 c. flour
2 eggs or 2 tsp. egg replacer
1 tsp. sea salt
1 T. aluminum free baking powder
1 c. soured unsweetened soy milk
1 T. dried parsley

Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs or egg replacer and milk together; pour the liquid in the dry ingredients and gently fold. Mix just until the dough comes together, the batter should be thick and cake-like. 
Using 2 spoons, carefully drop heaping tablespoonfuls I used my Pampered Chef medium scoop) of the dumpling batter into the hot mixture. The dumplings should cover the top of the sauce, but should not be touching or crowded. If there isn't enough room to cook them all in one shot, let as many fit as can without touching and do another batch after the first are done.  Let the dumplings poach for 10 to 15 minutes until they are firm and puffy. Season with freshly cracked black pepper before serving.

I probably don't need to tell you that this is awesome...do I?  My family and I loved it, I'll be making it again and again through the winter.  Hope you enjoy it!