Vegan Pesto

“Hey Jen?  Why is this photo so terrible?”

Good question, self!  I started this blog to encourage myself to cook more, bake more, and work on my food photography.  I’m a fairly lazy person, and when I went gluten-free in May I realized I couldn’t eat Kraft Dinner anymore.  I have to actually prepare meals.  And if I want to be healthy, I need to learn about proper nutrition, both in general and for my specific health issues.  What better place to learn than among passionate people who write about this stuff every day?

I do photography for a living, but with all of my chronic health issues I’ve barely been able to work for most of this year.  My body cannot currently take 16-hour film shoots outdoors in below zero weather where the only thing on the craft table is bagels and Tim Hortons donuts.  I can’t handle being on my feet all day when I currently need a nap after loading the dishwasher.  If I had a normal job, I would be on disability.  But I don’t.  Instead, I’ve been focusing on stock photography so I can maintain a passive income stream on the days where I don’t feel well enough to work.

Food photography always seemed super easy to me.  I’ve got to eat at least 3 times a day, right?  That’s easily 3 stock photos right there!  Except… no.  I’ve realized that I hate setting up food photoshoots.  When something is ready to eat, I want to shove it in my face.  Patience is not my best quality.  I have a lot of respect for food bloggers who take amazing photographs, like Angela, Elana, Deb, everyone who shows up on FoodBuzz’s top 9, etc.

When I made this pesto,  I already started stirring it into my corn pasta before I thought to myself, “maaaaybe I should snap a quick picture for my blog.”  I’m glad I did, because THIS IS THE BEST PESTO I’VE EVER HAD.  It was delicious.  For the next few days, I put pesto on everything.  Pasta, wraps, pizza, cupcakes.  (Okay, maybe not cupcakes.)

Vegan Pesto

1 1/2 cups fresh basil
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup pine nuts
5 cloves garlic
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor until nuts are ground. Pesto should still have texture and not be completely smooth. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

YUM.  The stupid thing is, I haven’t been able to find any basil at the grocery store since I made this.  Not even Whole Foods had fresh basil.  HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO FUEL MY PESTO ADDICTION WHEN I CAN’T FIND ANY BASIL?

I’m off to Vegas for the weekend with my mom and aunts.  Don’t eat all the pesto while I’m gone.

Gluten-Free Profiteroles with Cream Filling & Chocolate Sauce

OVERDUE UPDATE!

I didn’t quite solve my profiterole dilemma, but I did spend all day last Sunday making profiteroles for my mom’s birthday dinner, and they were a huge hit!

My brother:  “I thought they would suck!  But they were awesome!”  I also heard the words “better than the ones in Italy”.  You hear that, gluten-free naysayers?  BETTER THAN THE ONES IN ITALY MADE BY A LEGIT ITALIAN CHEF WITH AN OLD FAMILY RECIPE.

My mom went back for thirds, yelled “DON’T JUDGE ME”, and declared profiteroles to be her new birthday tradition.  So I’d say they were well worth the effort!

Everyone said they liked the gluten-free shells because they were thicker than the ones in Italy.  I was worried that not being light & fluffy was going to be a problem, but apparently it was a bonus.

I ended up going with a modified version of this recipe for the choux pastry, and the Italian chef’s recipe for the cream.  The cream recipe made WAY TOO MUCH.  Way, way too much.  I tripled the pastry recipe, and I still had a buttload of cream leftover.  But I’m going to post the full recipe in all its glory (mostly because it calls for 5 egg yolks) – modify it as you wish.

Choux Pastry

1/2 cup all purpose flour (I used Silvana‘s Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour Blend, which you can find here.)
1/2 teaspoon granulated white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Egg Wash Glaze

1 large egg
1/8 teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Set aside.
  3. Place the butter and water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and, with a wooden spoon or spatula, quickly add the flour mixture. Return to heat and stir constantly until the dough comes away from the sides of the pan and forms a thick smooth ball (about a minute or two).
  4. Transfer the dough to your electric mixer, or use a hand mixer, and beat on low speed for 1 or 2 minutes to release the steam from the dough. Once the dough is lukewarm slowly add the lightly beaten eggs and continue to mix until you have a smooth thick sticky paste.
  5. Spoon or pipe 12 mounds of dough onto the baking sheet, spacing them a couple of inches apart.
  6. Beat together the egg and salt for the glaze. With a pastry brush, gently brush the glaze on the tops of the dough.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C). Bake for a further 30 to 40 minutes or until the shells are a nice amber color and when split, are dry inside.  Poke a hole in each pastry with a skewer.  Turn the oven off and, with the oven door slightly ajar, let the shells dry out for a further 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.

Here is the cream recipe.  Remember, you will probably want to adjust it unless you want a huge container full of cream leftovers in your fridge (on second thought, that sounds pretty delicious).

Cream Filling

1 cup granulated white sugar
2/3 cup gluten-free all purpose flour
5 egg yolks
2 cups milk
1 3/4 cups whipping cream

  1. Whisk the sugar and flour together in a pot.  Stir in egg yolks.  Gradually whisk in milk.
  2. Put on low-medium heat.  Whisk constantly until thick.
  3. Transfer the custard to a large bowl and place in the fridge until it is cold (about 2 hours; you can also put it in the freezer to speed things up).
  4. Once it’s cold, beat with a hand mixer until smooth.
  5. In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream until it holds soft peaks.
  6. Add the whipped cream to the custard mixture.  Beat again until everything is smooth and creamy.

To fill the pastry:

  1. Poke a small hole in each pastry.  (Since my pastries didn’t dry out on the inside as much as they should have, I used a wooden skewer and kind of wiggled it around to pull out some of the insides.)
  2. Use a piping bag to fill each pastry with cream filling.

Melt chocolate of your choice over the profiteroles to serve.

The next day, since there was so much cream left over, my mom poured extra cream over the leftover profiteroles before adding the melted chocolate on top. It was amazing and delicious.

Gardening Obsession Starts Here

While my knowledge of gardening still doesn’t go much beyond “plants need water and sun”, it’s August 17th and my balcony garden is still alive!  This is a first.  Usually, my plants die by June or July from a mixture of me being lazy and forgetting to water them, and going away on summer vacation.  This year I’ve actually watered my plants and cut off the dead bits.  And most of them are still alive!  Brown thumb be damned!

I’ve had a few casualties.  I found out that the parsley problem I posted a picture of earlier was mildew, so I cut off all the affected bits and that left about… 3 leaves.  One of my margarita mint plants just outright died for no apparent reason.  The other one looks like this:

I’m kind of proud of this one because I ordered the plant from Richters, and it got stuck at a Canada Post facility during the postal strike this summer.  When it finally arrived, it was nearly dead, and now it looks like this.

I’m also proud of my pepper plant.  HEY EVERYBODY, I GREW HOT PEPPERS AND THEY GREW AND DIDN’T DIE.

Gardening is fun when your plants don’t die.  But there are a million things I still don’t know.  Like, when do I pick the peppers?  (Probably now, because they’re red?)  What do I do with my plants in the winter?  Which ones should I bring inside and which ones should I compost (and can I leave any outside)?  What the hell do I use sage for?

I have learned a lot though.  For instance, flipping through a container gardening book in the bookstore a few weeks ago taught me that you can grow carrots in containers.  Now I am obsessed with growing carrots in containers.

Yesterday I started googling plant-related things, and I now have about 40 Chrome tabs open with different websites and articles.  A particular favourite is You Grow Girl, because she’s also Toronto-based, and her amazing pictures make me want to hoard plants like a crazy person.   Like these.  And now I feel that I desperately need to grow 16 varieties of tomatoes.

This obsessive reading led me to researching indoor winter gardening, and the crazy idea that I’m going to operate some sort of indoor vegetable garden in my bedroom over the summer.  Yes, I’ve jumped from “I can keep an easy-to-grow plant more or less alive!” to “I’m going to grow veggies in -30 degree weather in a West-facing window”.

I also accidentally found Urban Harvest, and now I’m in danger of purchasing ALL THE SEEDS.

I think I need an intervention.

I’m Terrible at Blogging / I’m a Crazy Plant Lady

There’s a reason I haven’t posted in 42 days.  Actually, there are a few reasons, in backwards order:

1.  I’ve been sick for the last week.  My Annual Summer Cold™ (again! I told you, every 6 weeks).  Before that…
2. I was in Las Vegas!  And before that…
3. I was in Italy!  And before that…
4. I didn’t feel like it.

So, here I am.   I have a bit of energy back and a million things to write about.  Whether or not I get around to it is another story, but for now, I am going to write about plants.

I am turning into a crazy plant lady.  Let’s look at May 27th versus today (also, professional camera vs. crappy point & shoot):

Due to the excuses listed above, I haven’t done very much work on my balcony, and my plants have suffered.  (Although, my friend Chan watered everything while I was away, making this the first summer where my plants haven’t died by July.)

I suck at herbs.  These are the best ones.  My Thai basil (bottom) is finally growing, though the rosemary (top left) has basically done nothing in 2 months, the lemon thyme (right) is dying, and the sage (top right) is turning brown.  Though that could be because of a HUGE FREAKING WEED I pulled from between them today:

I swear it wasn’t there before I left for Vegas, but when I pulled it out it was like 3 feet tall.

This is the second herb container on June 6th versus today:

HAY WOULD YOU LIKE SOME PARSLEY?  This container used to contain:  parsley, catnip, chives, and oregano.  The catnip was moved to its own container after I found out it’s a member of the mint family and would take over everything.  The oregano was brutally slaughtered in an over-excited trimming exercise.  The chives are hidden somewhere behind the parsley, and the parsley has taken over the entire container and appears to have some sort of disease:

The internet tells me this might be some sort of fungus?  I don’t know if I should pull the whole thing out or try to fix it somehow.  Either way, I sure as hell don’t want to eat it.  Here’s a picture of the oregano (or loloregano):

So now I have:  sad-looking half-dead chives, an oregano stump, and a huge parsley AIDS plant.   YUMMY.

On the other side of my balcony, I have: a bunch of chocolate mint plants, 2 margarita mint plants, more basil that isn’t growing, cayenne peppers that aren’t growing, and a bunch of flowers.  Including this bad boy:

The same friend, Chan, brought this over about a month ago.  If you can’t tell, it used to be a sunflower.  “I didn’t know you could grow sunflowers on a balcony!” I exclaimed.

Turns out, you can’t.  Or I can’t.  Sad face. :(

Last but not least, lavender.  Spanish on the left and French on the right.  I keep buying lavender plants from Richters, because I LOVE the smell, and I am determined to have one that lasts longer than 3 weeks.  So far I’m 1/3 of the way there.

I should have taken a picture of that flower plant behind the lavender, because a few weeks ago it was blooming like crazy.  I think it’s kind of done now.  The plant in the white container looks so green and healthy because it belongs to Chan, not me.  It’s wilting because it’s under my care.

So there you go.  Brown Thumb Crazy Plant Lady.

Gluten-Free Baked Sprinkle Donuts

I have stuff to cross off my list, and today I picked donuts.

I actually made donuts last weekend, and they were delicious, but I didn’t have enough time to take any pictures before I brought them over to my parents’ house, and they got eaten in about 30 seconds.

This is based on Angela’s Baked Doughnuts that will Change Your World, which is based on Lolo’s Mini Baked Donuts.

You can get donut pans on Amazon!  I used regular size donut pans for this, but you could try mini donut pans as well.  This recipe makes 10 regular sized donuts.

Gluten-Free Baked Sprinkle Donuts

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour (I used Silvana’s)
1/2 cup golden cane sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup milk or milk substitute
1 egg
4 Tbsp margarine
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

  1. 1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. 2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
  3. 3. In a small pot on low heat, whisk together milk, egg, margarine, vinegar, and vanilla. Mix until it is well blended and feels warm to the touch (do not overheat).
  4. 4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix just until combined.
  5. 5. Put the batter into donut pans.
  6. 6. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out dry and just before the donuts start browning.
  7. 7. Cool and decorate!

Topping

1/2 cup icing sugar
1 Tbsp milk
Sprinkles

  1. 1. Mix icing sugar and milk.  Dip donuts in glaze.  Cover with sprinkles.

Yeah… these are delicious.  Take that, Tim Hortons.

Smoothie Time

Last weekend, I bought a bunch of plants, and then spent about 3 hours cleaning my balcony and planting things.

I planted 8 herbs and 5 kinds of flowers.  I’m generally a plant killer, but I’m going to water them this time, I swear!  Plus it’s been really nice to sit out on my balcony on my days off and read A Feast for Crows.

Unrelated:  Being gluten-free for almost a month now, I’ve learned that I suck at preparing food for myself.  I’m way too lazy, and I basically have NO appetite now (what’s up with that?).  So, between laziness and hardly ever feeling hungry, I’ve been skipping breakfast a lot and that’s a Bad Thing.  So I decided I need to start making smoothies again for breakfast.

About 6-7 years ago, my brother and I saw an infomercial for a Magic Bullet blender and ordered one.  When you ordered one, you got a second one, FREE!!  INSTANT GUACAMOLE FOR EVERYONE!

My friends made fun of me for buying a “smaller, crappier blender” from a freaking infomercial, but I’ve actually used it on a regular basis since I got it and it has outlived two other “real” blenders.

Last week I whipped out the Magic Bullet, threw in some kale, a bunch of fruit, and some almond milk, and attempted to make a Green Monster.

I took the first sip, and… OH GOD THERE ARE CHUNKS OF KALE IN MY TEETH.  It was disgusting.  It didn’t blend at all.   I tried to re-blend it, but it just… slowly whirred to a stop.  R.I.P. Magic Bullet.  I ended up pouring the smoothie through a wire mesh strainer and filtering out all the kale.  GROSS.

Time to buy a grown up blender.  Check out this bad boy:

Yeah, that’s right.  I’m going to leave that “700 Watts of Power” sticker on it so everyone knows how awesome my blender is.  HEY HAVE YOU SEEN MY NEW BLENDER?  CHECK OUT HOW MANY WATTS IT HAS, IT’S RIGHT THERE ON THE STICKER.

Simple smoothie:  1 cup of milk, 1 heaping cup of frozen blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, and 1 Tbsp of almond butter.

I pressed the smoothie button, and 30 seconds later I had a perfect smoothie.  It was delicious and it fit perfectly into my favourite moustache glass.  Plus, now I can enjoy breakfast on my balcony while smelling herbs that I don’t know how to cook with.

Smoothies every day for breakfast from now on!

Pizza and Making Yourself Do Stuff

Check out this awesome misshapen pizza.  The recipe came from Silvana Nardone’s Cooking for Isaiah: Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Recipes for Easy Delicious Meals.  I found out about this book thanks to Lorenia’s post, which I saw the day I decided to be gluten-free.  I spent about an hour flipping through cookbooks at Chapters before deciding on Cooking for Isaiah.  It’s quickly becoming my favourite cookbook.  Ever.  This morning I made one of her waffle recipes and immediately considered changing my religion on Facebook from “Cadbury Creme Eggs” to “Silvana Nardone’s Cinnamon-Toasted Waffles”.

Anyway, pizza!

Firstly, you need a gluten-free flour.  I use Silvana’s.  So far it has been awesome in all recipes.

Silvana’s All-Purpose Flour Blend
6 cups white rice flour (preferably Bob’s Red Mill)
3 cups tapioca flour (preferably Shiloh Farms; I used Bob’s Red Mill since Shiloh Farms doesn’t supply to Canada)
1 ½ cups potato starch (preferably Bob’s Red Mill)
1 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp xanthum gum (preferably Bob’s Red Mill)

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, salt and xanthum gum. Transfer to an airtight storage container and store in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator.

Secondly, the pizza crust. I screwed mine up somehow. It didn’t get as fluffy as it did in other pictures, but it tasted alright. The one thing I’ve noticed about gluten-free pizza crust (from my vast sample size of 2) is that it’s denser and WAAAAY more filling than other pizza crusts.

Perfect Pizza Crusts
2 cups Silvana’s All-Purpose Flour, plus more for dusting
1 (¼ ounce/7.5g) package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
¾ cup warm water

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Add the egg whites, olive oil and water. Using a wooden spoon, beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  2. Divide the dough into two equal pieces; place each on a lightly floured, 12-inch (30cm)-long piece of parchment paper.  Lightly flour the top and, using your fingertips or a rolling-pin, press the dough out to make a round about ¼ inch (9.5cm) thick. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
  3. Position a rack in the bottom of the oven with a baking stone on the rack and preheat to 450ºF. Working with one piece of dough at a time, slide the dough with parchment paper onto the preheated baking stone and bake until puffy and crisp on the bottom, about 8 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining dough.

I think I may have screwed up with the yeast.  It calls for 1 7.5g package of active dry yeast, but all the packages I found were 8 grams.

Thirdly, the pizza.  I don’t have a recipe for this.  Just get a bunch of pizza toppings (sauce, tomatoes, veggies, cheese, etc) and slap ‘em on the crusts.  Then cook on a pizza stone at 450ºF for about 8 minutes.  Terrible, I know.

They were pretty good!  Messed up crusts and all.

—–

I’ve been meaning to write about something I’ve been struggling with: forcing myself to do stuff.  With chronic illness, it’s so easy to just give up; to decide you don’t feel well so you’re going to stay in bed.  I’ve quit school (twice) and jobs, skipped events with friends, and lost relationships.  I’ve gone weeks without leaving my apartment; days without leaving my bedroom.

It becomes a cycle, because staying at home certainly doesn’t help me feel better, and the worse I feel, the harder it is to push myself to do the things that might make my situation improve.  So, I’m trying to force myself to do stuff.  I tell myself, you just have to go, and if you get there and you don’t feel any better, then you can leave.  But it’s hard to know where to draw the line.

I recently signed up for a soccer team, even though I haven’t played in over 8 years and I haven’t been keeping up with my exercise routine.  I mentioned that I fell down the stairs on the way to soccer practice last week.  I had already tried to force myself to go – to get out of bed, to put on my soccer gear, to leave my apartment – and then I just lay there on the staircase feeling like a (bruised) failure.  I didn’t go.  But I did reschedule for Saturday, and even though my brother had to pick me up at my apartment and escort me to the field, I made myself play and it felt really great.

We had our first game on Monday, and in the first 2 minutes, I thought my heart was going to explode in my chest.  So out of shape, I literally thought I was going to throw up and then pass out on the field in my own vomit.  But I made myself play right until the end, and I felt AMAZING afterwards.  If I had just done what I wanted (stayed at home watching Netflix) I wouldn’t have felt so much better and I would have continued being miserable.

Then there are bad days.  On Thursday, I forced myself to go to BodyPump class.  But I felt “off”.  I kept pushing through, hoping the endorphins would kick in, but I eventually got to the point where I had to stop.  There were only 3 songs left in the class, but it took every ounce of energy I had to just put my equipment away and then walk home.  I was shaking so much I dropped my bench on someone’s leg.  I had no energy for the rest of the day.

It’s hard to know when things are going to make me feel better, and when they’re going to make me feel worse.  I’m trying learn when to listen to what my body is telling me, and when to override those feelings because I know I’m just being lazy or scared.

Mostly I just want to feel better already.  I need my life back.  I need to get back to work and I need a social life.  I have decided that it’s time to find a proper doctor who wants to work with me to figure this out, and stop trying to do everything on my own.  I need help.  But the thought of having to find someone new is making me want to dig a big hole and hide in there forever.

7 Days of Quinoa: Day 2

Day 2. I decided to make breakfast and chose the very first recipe in Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood.  I adapted it a bit.  Their recipe calls for diced dried apple slices but I didn’t bother with the drying.

Apple Strudel Breakfast Cereal
1/4 cup sliced or slivered almonds
1 cup quinoa
2 1/2 cups water
1 apple, sliced
1/4 cup raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp brown sugar

1. Place almonds in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir frequently until the almonds are toasted (about 3-4 minutes).  Set aside in a bowl.
2. Combine quinoa, water, apple, raisins, and cinnamon in the same saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 17 minutes.
3. Stir in the vanilla and brown sugar.
4. Divide into bowls and sprinkle with toasted almonds.

It makes a LOT of leftovers.  Next time I would use less quinoa, and I wonder if it would work with milk instead of water?  I would also eat it with vanilla yogurt as suggested in the book.  I bet it would be really good with almond butter or something too.

This was delicious, but I only ate about 1/3 of my bowl and I felt really awful afterwards – sleepy and lethargic.   I’ve felt pretty bad all day and my thyroid feels really sore.

I keep having to remind myself that it is going to take longer than THREE DAYS to see an improvement.