Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gung HAGGIS Fat Choy

Yes, you read it right. Gung Haggis Fat Choy (GHFC) is the name of a fusion celebration of Robbie Burns' Birthday and Chinese New Year. I attended my first-ever GHFC banquet tonight in Chinatown and was it ever fun. There were men in kilts, women in cheongsams, bagpipes, poetry, songs, dancing, and of course, haggis - served in the traditional manner as well as in ways I've never seen before. This is multicultural Vancouver at its best. Thank you Ricepaper Magazine for giving me the chance to take part!

Appetizer plate: radish cake, jellyfish, barbecued pork, and haggis siomai

Haggis wontons

The haggis was piped in and the Address to the Haggis recited. Robbie Burns would have been proud.

Haggis lettuce wrap


Friday, January 28, 2011

Lime Pie with a Punch

My coworker - lucky woman - is off to Mexico for a week. The good news is that she's agreed to bring me back a bottle of sunshine, a.k.a. Jose Cuervo Especial tequila. The timing couldn't be more perfect, as I used the very last of my bottle of liquid gold in the lime pie I made the other week.

Pies are predicted to be the big thing in the culinary world this year. So why not kick off the Year of Pie with this pie that packs quite a punch. Enjoy!

adapted from The Artful Pie

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tbsps butter, cut into small cubes

Preheat the oven to 350.
Mix the crumbs and butter with your fingers and press into the bottom of a a 9-inch pie pan.
Bake for 8 minutes and set aside to cool.

For the filling:
1 14-oz (398 ml) can condensed milk
1 tbsp grated lime zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (you'll need about 3 medium or 2 large limes)
3 tbsp tequila
1/4 tsp salt

Beat together all the ingredients until smooth. Set aside for about 5 minutes, until slightly thickened.
Pour filling into the prepared crust and chill for at least 2 hours.

For the topping:
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
lime slices

Garnish the pie slices with cream and lime slices right before serving.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Flat Belly Pancakes

Pancakes have always been one of my very favourite things to eat. What's not to like? They're light, soft, fluffy, and super versatile: you can and add any sides or toppings that you want. Because they're so easy to cook up from scratch, pancakes were probably the first thing I ever learned how to make myself. Some of my best family memories are about Sunday morning breakfast, with my siblings eating pancakes faster than I could make them. Sometimes my dad would take over and make pancakes shaped like bears and dinosaurs.

I've tried many pancake recipes over the years and I was happy to find one in The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook. Not only is it the healthiest pancake recipe I've tried, it's also the yummiest. The book recommends serving them with banana slices, raspberries, walnuts, and honey, but you can have them with whatever you fancy or happen to have on hand.

adapted from The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook

For the pancake mix
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
6 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

To make one batch of 6 6-inch pancakes, you will need 1 1/3 cups of the mix. Store the rest in a jar in a cool, dry place.

For the pancakes
1 1/3 cups pancake mix
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup buttermilk*
1/4 cup water
1 egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*It's easy and cost-effective to make your own buttermilk. Place 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice in a 2-cup measuring cup and add enough milk to make 1 cup. Stir and leave for 5 minutes.

Add the water, egg, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract to the buttermilk and mix well with a fork.

Add the the pancake mix and cinnamon and stir with the fork until smooth.

Lightly coat a non-stick skillet with cooking spray and heat on medium. Pour in enough pancake batter to make a 6-inch pancake. Cook for about 2 minutes until the sides are puffy and the underside is lightly browned. Flip and cook for 2 minutes more. 


Friday, January 21, 2011

Bringing good manners back from the Twilight Zone

It was a dark and rainy night. This is the classic opening line for creepy stories, and I'm using it for this post because it's about a very strange bus ride I had the other night.

As I was saying, it was a dark and rainy night. (It really was.) Did I mention it was cold? Well, it was cold, and I was bone tired. The bus, when it finally arrived at my stop, was packed. I got on, resigned to standing all the way to the Skytrain station, about 20 minutes away.

Imagine my surprise when a nice young man got to his feet and offered me his seat. I sat down, a little bemused...then glimpsed the full moon through the bus window and thought, "Ah, that must be it."

But there was more strangeness to come. As we approached the next stop, the bus driver announced over the PA system, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is Heather Street. Please watch your step getting off the bus. Have a good night."

Now I've encountered polite bus drivers, helpful bus drivers, cheerful bus drivers...but never one that was as simultaneously polite, helpful, and cheerful as this one. He sounded more like a flight attendant than a bus driver.

"Maybe he used to be a flight attendant," I decided, then thought no more about it...

...until the next announcement.

"Welcome aboard, ladies and gentlemen. If you are standing, please make sure you are holding on...and please note that the use of profanity is not allowed on board this bus."

My jaw dropped. This might be the most surreal bus ride I'd ever had, but the flight-attendant-bus-driver was fast becoming my hero.

The clincher came when we got to the Skytrain station at Broadway.

"We are approaching our final destination," came the announcement. "Please make sure you have all your belongings before you leave. It's been a pleasure having you on board. Have a lovely evening."

In case you're wondering, let me assure you there was nothing even remotely tongue-in-cheek about this bus driver. His tone was unfailingly courteous, pleasant, and sincere. His announcements provoked the occasional snicker, but also a lot of smiles and a palpable lightening of mood as the ride progressed. By the time we got off at our "final destination," there was a wave of easy laughter, and a chorus of "Thank yous" as we left the bus.

And then I remembered the young man who had given me his seat and wondered if maybe the bus driver hadn't had more than a little to do with that small act of kindness...maybe not in any direct way, but more likely through the gentle influence of the courtesy and care he had shown to his passengers.

And it got me to thinking of how each of us could exercise that same influence on our own surroundings, if we would only choose to.

Bring good manners out of the Twilight Zone? Why not?

Stranger things have happened, after all.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

bLIMEy, this stuff is good!

In the middle of a rainy, occasionally snowy, frequently gray Vancouver winter, I find myself longing for summer. So the other day I bought a bag of limes - I couldn't resist the bargain price of $2.00 for 7 - and today I went on a Caribbean kitchen vacation. As I sit eating the fruits of my labour, the sun has obligingly come out. So enjoy... as always, these recipes are minimim-fuss and maximum-delicious.

adapted from The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook
Serves 2

1 small pork roast, about 1.5 lbs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

For the spice rub:
3 scallions, minced (separate the white parts from the green parts)
1 canned chipotle pepper, minced (reserve 2 tbsp of the sauce from the can)
You can use any kind of hot pepper and put in as much or as little as you want. I like the smokey sweet flavour of chipotles and add just enough for a nice amount of heat.
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ginger powder
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground thyme
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Rinse the roast and pat dry with paper towels. Rub with salt and pepper.

Combine the white parts of the scallions and all the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl.

Mix well and rub all over the roast.

Cook for 45 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in the middle registers 155 degrees.

Let it rest 5-10 minutes and slice before serving with the salad.

For the salad:
4 cups arugula
1 cup mango, diced
1 avocado, diced
green parts of the scallions

1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp honey
salt and pepper to taste

Toss together right before serving.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Chinese mothers, Jewish mothers, Filipino mothers

There’s a lot of discussion going round about Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which she relates raising her two daughters using methods which Barbara Kay says “would have gladdened the heart of Simon Legree.”

After reading this review of Ms. Chua’s book and Barbara Kay’s comment, all I can say is, there are Chinese mothers and Jewish mothers, and then there are Filipino mothers. I often joke that my childhood was the original Fear Factor, without the prize money. My mom didn’t hesitate to pour alcohol on my scraped knees, made me eat whatever she put on the table, and yes, spanked me when not even a certain look in her eye could stop me from misbehaving. I had a curfew well into my teens, and when I didn’t do well at school, she would demand to know the reason why.

But there were fun times, too. She would read to me on drowsy hot afternoons in her big bed, buy me treats like chocolate milk and crayons, and let me watch cartoons on Saturday mornings. As we grew older, my sisters and I would pile onto her bed with her and talk for hours.

Today, whenever I’m faced with something difficult that I need to do, I just imagine my mom standing over me with her look that meant do or die, and I take a deep breath and go for it. My mom never shamed me into doing anything, but I knew that giving something my best shot would always make her proud. To her, it wasn’t the result that mattered, it was the effort. I’m no prodigy and my mom will be the first to say she never wanted me to be one. All she ever wanted was for me to do the best I could and to be happy.

I think there’s much, much more to being a mother than finding your child’s inner prodigy and horsewhipping it into shape. I’d say the best kind of mothering is that special blend of tough love and tenderness that my mom lavished on me. 


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Feed the hungry

In India, Narayanan Krishnan quit his job as a chef in a swanky city hotel to feed the poor of his own hometown.

The sight of a fellow human being, starving and suffering, made him wonder what he was really put on earth for. Now he believes he has found his true purpose in life.

He isn't content with simply providing food. That would be a lot already - but Narayanan goes even further than that. He bathes them, cuts their hair, shaves them, talks to them, embraces them.

Not only does he feed people's bodies, he also feeds their souls by showing them love.

There is no greater joy than feeding someone who is really hungry - whether it's bodily hunger, or soul hunger. We all have the capacity to answer these needs in the people around us.

Maybe for most of us it won't require something as drastic as quitting our jobs to devote ourselves to charitable work. But each of us can certainly share a meal, a cup of coffee, a smile, a kind word.

Each of us can think, "There is someone out there who needs me right now," and it would be true.

Give today.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Exercising the Right to Write

Julia Cameron, author of The Right to Write, says,

“We should write because it is human nature to write…because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance as well...

“We should write, above all, because we are writers whether we call ourselves writers or not. The Right to Write is a birthright, a spiritual dowry that gives us the keys of the kingdom. Higher forces speak to us through writing. Call them inspiration, the Muses, Angels, God, Hunches, Intuition, Guidance, or simply a good story – whatever you call them, they connect us to something larger than ourselves that allows us to live with greater vigor and optimism.”

This is a whole new way of looking at something that I’ve done all my life. For me, writing was not particularly spiritual or enlightening, but infinitely more basic, and not especially glamorous – like scratching an itch, or letting a pet out to do its business in the garden. It was something I did to appease an impulse, a soundless voice, that woke up now and then inside of me, insisting on being let out. If I tried to ignore it, it resorted to begging and then to torture.

I’ve been scribbling ever since I was a small child but selfishly, for most of my life I kept my writing to myself. Secretly I thought that some of it was actually quite good, but I wasn’t so sure that others would feel the same way, and I didn’t want to risk criticism, ridicule, or even worse, smiling tolerance and a pat on the head.

As I grew older, writing went from something I hid to something I outright denied. Writing was all very well when you wanted to lose yourself in another world, exorcise a demon, or bring a fantasy to life, but it didn’t do much to pay the bills or put food on the table. And so for a while I stopped writing altogether.

Thankfully, I think the line that’s my writing life is starting to curve back on itself to come full circle. I’ve found a genre I’m comfortable in – narrative journalism – and which I'm becoming quite passionate about, because it enables me to tell stories but at the same time remain grounded in reality, and because it brings together everything I love: words and people.

So here’s to writing, living with greater vigor and optimism, and never being selfish again.


Monday, January 03, 2011

Give your day - and your year - a healthy start

I've decided that I'm going to cook my way systematically through The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook this year, and I just couldn't wait for the summer to try the Mango Surprise Smoothie.

The surprise is avocado - one of the MUFAs (monounsaturated fats)* which add such delicious, healthy, satisfying flavour and texture to all the recipes in this book.

The avocado adds luxurious creaminess to the smoothie, balanced out and brightened by a shot of lime juice. Have it for breakfast with scrambled eggs or lean turkey bacon.

adapted from The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook
Serves one

1/2 cup frozen mango cubes, or 1/4 cup fresh cubed mango and 6 ice cubes
1/4 of a medium avocado, diced
1/2 cup mango nectar
4 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon honey

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Whizz until smooth.

Pour into a glass and garnish with a fresh lime or mango slice, if desired.

*Other MUFAs are vegetable oils, nuts, olives, and dark chocolate.

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