Friday, January 17, 2014

Cashew Craze

We're doing a food experiment in our house. We've long suspected that Big Sister has some allergies (or, at least, intolerances - these are not life threatening). But we've been too tired and lazy to change much, other than limiting the amount of cow's milk that she drinks. She still consumes most other dairy products.

We recently embarked on a strict diet with her, cutting out all dairy and any trace dairy in other foods (including casein). Lo and behold, we saw an improvement (but perhaps a future post on some ongoing issues we're seeing, and our decision to seek allergy testing).

Despite the positive changes, I was finding the new diet a struggle. Big Sister's favourite foods include: cheese (all types), yogurt, sour cream and butter. She eats fruit, veggies and protein as well, but not with the same gusto :)

So, my challenge has been to find some alternatives that are both tasty and don't break the bank. So far our one success has been fake butter. And no, I'm not talking about chemically-laden margarine laced with milk products; I mean this stuff - Earth Balance. Dairy-free AND soy-free, and given the thumbs up by picky kiddos everywhere!

Other products have been a giant failure. She hates Daiya "cheese," although we haven't tried to make pizza with the shredded variety yet. Another score for the garbage was coconut "yogurt." Blech!! It was jelly-like, a weird pale grey colour and FULL of sugar and additives. She also shunned my homemade almond milk, and still prefers the store-bought variety.

Soon, the holiday season arrived. We gave up for a couple of weeks and let her eat whatever she wanted, because food was everywhere, and I was tired of having nothing to offer her for snacks and/or lunch. There's only so much fruit, nuts and vegetable with hummus you can offer a kid before they ask for cheese and crackers.

Christmas day came, and Santa surprised me by leaving a big wrapped box under the tree. Inside I found a Blendtec blender, a kitchen gadget I've been swooning over for a while now. Other people spend hundreds of dollars on hair treatments, gym memberships, Ipads, Iphones and giant TVs. My weakness is kitchen gadgets.

Can I just say, this blender has truly changed my culinary life. Things that I've always dreamed of doing, I can now do in a matter of minutes!! I can make amazingly healthy smoothies, without all the floating chunkies that my hand-held blender used to leave. I can make all my own coconut milk and almond milk, and I can even blend up my favourite drinks (mmmm pina colada!!)

I've also discovered CASHEWS!! Almond milk is totally yummy, but a bit of a pain to make because you have to squeeze it through a nut bag (no, I'm not making this up). But cashews don't take any time at all. You soak them overnight, whiz them up with water, and voila!! Yummy, creamy, awesome milk. And the more digging I did, the more I discovered what I could make out of cashew milk.

In this post I'd like to share my successful Cashew Yogurt, adapted from this recipe at The Spunky Coconut.

First Step

Make the cashew milk! Soak nuts in water overnight, and then drain and rinse. Put them in your food processor or blender. Add 4 cups of water, 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1tsp honey. Blend until smooth and frothy.

Second Step

Bring the 4 cups of cashew milk to a simmer in a saucepan.

Third Step

Whisk in 2 tsp of Gelatin dissolved in boiling water (one packet of Knox Gelatin worked for me). The instructions of how to dissolve the gelatin are on the packet. The Spunky Coconut mentions a substitute for vegetarians, but I haven't tried it, so not sure if it would work.

Fourth Step

Let the milk cool until it reaches about 90-92 degrees F (having a good book nearby to wait while it's cooling is a good idea, or just put the whole pot in the sink with cold water)

Fifth Step

Whisk in 3.5 tsps non-dairy probiotic. I used Inno-Vite DDS Original powdered probiotics. Basically, you need about 30 billion colony forming units, so just read the label on your favourite probiotics.

Sixth Step

Put the yogurt into a yogurt maker, oven with the oven light on (I have a "proof" setting on my oven), or in a cooler with something to keep it warm in water bottles etc. I've heard the yogurt maker is the easiest, but it's one gadget I don't own. Leave the yogurt overnight.

Seventh Step

In the morning, pour the yogurt (it will still be quite runny) into a container and refrigerate. When it is completely cool, it should have set and be thick and yummy. Sweeten with maple syrup, add fruit, vanilla, whatever!! Enjoy!

Stay tuned for blog posts on Cashew Sour Cream and Cashew Cream Cheese!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Becoming a Better Person

I follow many great people on Facebook, but one of my favourites is Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild. Her most recent post read:

"Is there ever an end to the daily struggle to be a better person? I'm not asking this rhetorically. I'm wondering if there's a time when you reach it, when you say "I can no longer think of any way to be a better person." (Or maybe there are people who do not ponder every day how they can be a better person?) When I say "better person" I don't mean that I constantly tell myself how awful I am but rather I'm very aware of the ways in which I could've done better as a friend, as a mom, as a spouse, as a sister, as a writer, as a woman with some serious aspirations for this thing called "balance" (ie: time for exercise, lounging, sex, thrift-store shopping, voracious reading). On a pretty much daily basis I think of how I've failed in many of these areas. It's not a self-hate thing, but rather a deep desire I have to someday fall asleep thinking, "Well done, Strayed. You've got it down." I'm reflecting on this as the first day of 2014 comes to an end here on the west coast of America. Not thinking "Well done, Strayed" but thinking instead, "Maybe next year. Maybe tomorrow. Keep going. Keep walking. Just try to do better in every action, intention, thought and deed." Happy new year, my friends. I hope 2014 is a revelation and a firecracker for you." 

I'm one of those people who ponder every day how I can be a better person. I reflect a lot on my words, actions and emotions (sometimes this gets me into trouble, as I fall into rumination when I think I've been less than stellar). I'm always striving to better myself, and I'm always making resolutions - New Year or not.

But in reflecting on Cheryl's post, I've come to a realization. When I think about myself as a "better" person, I see someone in the future - someone more organized, less flighty, in shape, eating well and taking time for herself.  But this future version of myself is not really me. 

The only me that exists is here, right now. Sipping on black tea (dammit, I'm supposed to be drinking green), eating a muffin (it's homemade, so all good), perusing my financial statements (all bad, VERY BAD), reflecting on the friends I forgot to call over the holidays (I'm so sorry), and trying to gather the energy to go for a nice walk - given that it's my lunch break, and I resolved to do more exercise on my lunch breaks!

And yet I also have...

- travelled the world
- overcome personal challenges
- born two children
- received a graduate education
- become (if I may toot my own horn) a pretty darn good chef; in my own kitchen, that is!
- purchased a home that keeps us warm
- landed a solid job that supports my family
- married a man who is also supporting our family by being at home
- time and money to stay healthy and grounded

Maybe 2014 is the year that I say goodbye to the woman I see up ahead in the distance - the me I always imagined I could be. Because the person I've become is pretty darn amazing.

Happy New Year!