Sunday, December 15, 2013

Vegan Moroccan Tagine with Prunes and Preserved Lemons

This is made traditionally with lamb or goat meat and chicken stock.  Here is a vegan alternative

¼ cup olive oil
3 medium onions, finely chopped
½ tsp turmeric
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated or chopped fine
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp cayenne pepper or ground chilli pepper
1/8 tsp saffron threads, crushed

4 cups of stock or water with 2-3 vegetable bouillon cubes.  (I use 2 salt free and 1 regular bouillon cube)
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs parsley
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch slices
6 small carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
½ butternut squash cut into 2 inch pieces
8 - 12 preserved lemon sections – rinse, remove pulp and cut into thin strips

*Meatless Beef Strips or any good vegetarian meat substitute

In a large pot heat the olive oil and sautĂ© the onions until they begin to give up their juices.  Add the ground spices and saffron and cook for another 3 minutes or until the onions a soft.  Stir occasionally and can add 1 tsp of water if it looks like it is sticking.
Add the stock and bring to a boil.  Add the bay leaves and parsley, and reduce the heat to s simmer.  Cover lightly and cook for 10 minutes.

(If you are using a slow cooker, this is the time to transfer your broth over and add your vegetables)

Add the potatoes, carrots and squash and simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are almost tender.
Taste and top with more stock if needed.

Prepare the couscous. While the couscous is cooking, drain the prunes, and add them along with the preserved lemon to the tagine.  Cook an additional 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Preserved Lemons
1 wide jar with a lid – about 1 quart size
A glass or ceramic ‘something’ to push the lemons down into the juice.  I use a shot glass or a glass lid from an antique mason jar that fits down in
8 – 10 organic lemons
Coarse salt
Put a tablespoon of salt into bottom of jar
Cut the lemons into quarters, but don’t cut them all the way through so you can spread them open
Remove any obvious pits
Put each lemon into the jar a put another sprinkle of salt on it
Push it down firmly
Continue to layer until almost full

Press down until the juice covers all the slices – if not, juice another lemon and pour juice to cover
Use the glass ‘something’ to hold the lemons down into the juice and put on the lid – Marinate in fridge for 3 to 6 weeks

Moroccan Spiced Preserved Lemons

Tlbs black peppercorns, crushed
Olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
3 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
Vegetable oil

This recipe calls for the lemons to be quartered, de-pitted and rubbed with Kosher salt and set aside for 24 hours become soft and limp

Pat the lemon pieces with a clean cloth and arrange in layers in a sterilized glass jar.  Lightly sprinkle each layer with a little paprika, crushed pepper and olive oil.  Add the garlic clove and a bay leaf at every third level and the cinnamon stick in the middle.  Cover the lemon with a combination of half olive and half vegetable oil.  Seal and refrigerate.
Marinate 3 weeks and will keep up to 6 more weeks
Serve in Tagine, grilled fish or curry dishes.

Side sauce – optional
½ cup hot broth with 1 Tlbs virgin olive oil melted into it (or butter)
1 Tlbs. lemon/lime juice
1 Tlbs chopped cilantro
A dash of hot stuff (optional)  I like PC Fiery Thai Dipping Sauce

1 ½ cup instant cous cous
A little salt and a little olive oil
2 cups boiling water

In a medium saucepan bring water to a boil, add salt and oil and then stir.  Add couscous and stir again.  Cover and take off the heat.  Let sit for 10 minutes until all the water is absorbed and fluff up the grains with a fork. 
On a large serving platter make an outer ring the couscous and place the tagine in the centre.
Garnish with sprigs of parsley or cilantro.  Serve the sauce in a gravy boat on the side
Serve with a side of spinach salad that is dressed with a light citrus dressing and Lebanese style pita bread wedges

Serves 6

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Love of Small Spaces

I love small spaces.  I love the challenges.  I love to see the possibilities come to form.  I love organization.  I love to create aesthetic.  I am a minimalist by nature.

My Facebook friends notice that I frequently post design ideas and 'tiny homes' articles.  I love it when people think outside the box.

Here are some pictures from my former down town office.  I really wanted to put French doors here, but unfortunately this was a weight bearing wall.  In fact this was the original brick exterior wall, before an addition was put on.  The compromise was to create a long window and to have a glass panel put in.  Landlord Kurt Halmer and Phil Sommer of Sommer Design Studio both helped me here.

The window was limited to the height of the textured glass available.  Hence the small window on top of the side panel.  We took out the wood insets in the old doors and replaced them with the textured textured glass.

Inside my office was a door leading to the outside.  We added inserts of the glass there too, as well as replacing the glass on the long side window that opened to allow ventilation.

This textured wall was done by taking long pieces of grass and painting over them like mad, using a roller.  The trick was to start in one corner and continue around the room so it would look like the wind was blowing from the same direction.

Here is a 'Sommer Design' indoor water fountain.

The Ikea baskets house my hanging file frames.  Much nicer than a metal file cabinet and more compact as well. With the help of a couple of skilled friends and a free weekend we created built in furniture and a framework around the whole room.

This was my version of a Japanese garden.   The bamboo frame gave the plants a place to live and because the frame was free standing  eight inches from the wall, it made the room feel airy and larger. I bought lengths of bamboo in bulk, wired the joins together through drilled holes and covered the wire with rattan ribbon.

Wood from old utility shelving was salvaged to create cheap custom made furniture to fit the space.  Having shelves mounted on the wall left uncluttered floor space and still allowed that everything I needed was at hand.

The whole idea is that if I have to spend eight working hours a day in a small 8' by 10' room without going bonkers, I need natural light, beauty, and a feeling of open space. The challenge with small spaces is to create visual space.  No clutter, no excessive furniture or knick knacks.

I presently work and live in the same building; a century old  Victorian that my landlords duplexed.  I love it.  This is the room where I work.

The biggest challenge was how to downsize my personal living space to 250 square feet. The rest of the studio flat is a spacious uncluttered open reception area and my office itself. My landlords blessed me by installing natural bamboo flooring. The continuous natural floor gives the eye the impression of more space.

You can get a sense of how narrow my kitchen is by this photo.

The fridge on the right is the kitchen boundary and beyond is the sitting area.  When this was a single family home, this room was a child's bedroom, probably the nursery, with no closets.

Underneath the counter is the washing machine.  I have since replaced this appliance with an apartment sized front loading model that fits the counter top exactly. The kitchen cabinets and counter are on the left against the wall.

The advantage here is triangulation; there is only three steps from the sink to the fridge.  Only about three steps anywhere really.

Here is the view of the sink and cabinets.  I took off the upper doors to enjoy seeing my beautiful pottery.  The great thing about organizing small spaces is that if you don't see it, you probably don't have it.

The pantry cabinet in the photo below occupies the 'dead space' behind the door.  Broom and mop hide behind here too.  A clothes rack is also attached to the back of the door. Pots and pans are hung on a rack on the wall above.

When you have tall ceilings, shelving and cupboards can be mounted on the walls.

 The kitchen island is actually two 'assembly required' dressers from Canadian Tire.  I bolted them together and created an impervious work surface by tacking a piece of robust fake-wood flooring on top.

The wicker drawers provide great storage when every inch counts.  The only caution is to be careful of the weight.  Great for spices, Tupperware, pasta, linens, cooking tools, bits and hand blender.  Everything is at hand.

I chose not to make space for a range.  Instead I have two counter top induction cookers, a hot plate and a smaller wall mounted oven.  I have a rice cooker, a slow cooker, a counter top grill, and a warming plate.  These appliances can move around depending on what I am doing.  I can morph what space I need free and how my work is going to flow.

Here you can see the fridge and the sitting room beyond.  I used a canvas and frame screen taped to the right of the fridge to create a 'room' divider. I painted it to match the walls.

I appreciate that I am able to cook and visit with my friends at the same time.I am a vegan cook and on occasion I cater from this tiny kitchen.  I don't entertain chaos, so sometimes I really need to think through my battle-plan before I start.  Still, the space works.

I am not formally trained in design, however I have consulted for businesses and residential homes. I specialize in how to make something out of nothing, in little space and on a shoe string budget.

For this service, I charge my usual hourly rate.

Take time to enjoy your nests and have a wonderful holiday season
_ Nelda

Fresh Spring Rolls with the Ultimate Easy Dipping Sauce


Fresh Spring Rolls

These spring rolls are my all time favourite food.  They are like salad and finger food at the same time.  I serve by putting sauce in the bottom of a bowl, and fan the spring rolls in the bowl.

Making Spring Rolls 
8 large rice paper wrappers
8 ounce package rice vermicelli noodles or bean thread noodle, soften with boiling water and cool enough to handle
4 green onions cut in thin strips
2 carrots cut in julienne strips, lightly steamed and flash cooled
1 red pepper cut in thin julienne strips
3 Tbs fresh Thai Basil cut in thin strips
3 Tbs fresh mint leaves cut in thin strips
3 Tbs fresh cilantro leaves cut in thin strips
1 cup of lettuce cut in thin strips
8 ounces cooked shrimp cut lengthwise in half or tofu cut in thin strips or ……
Use sliced crabmeat; pre grilled chicken, smoked salmon or Spicy Dry Tofu

Prep all your veggies and ingredients in advance
Soften the paper by dipping the rice papers one at a time in a large flat bottomed dish of cool water for about 1 minute.  Hold it by one edge and let the water drain off it.  Lay on a the counter or a cutting board  and let them soften.  Re moisten if necessary.

On the side nearest you, place the meat, tofu, a small handful of noodle, the greens, carrots, pepper, herbs etc and roll the paper around the filling like a jelly roll.   Keep your mass rather long and narrow.  Be careful not to over fill.  Flip in each end and continue to roll trying to keep the roll tight around the filling.

Place on serving dish, seam side down.  To keep them from drying out, cover with waxed paper placed over the top. You can also soak a rice paper and place that on top.  Discard before serving.

Get creative
Anything that doesn’t squeal can be made into a rice wrap.  Some examples are: chicken or mock chicken salad or green salad with a yogurt/fruit dressing.  Dress the salad lightly before you roll.  Don’t have it dripping with dressing, just enough to flavour.

For dressings to dip your spring rolls into: 

Mix about a ¼ cup of lightly ground Gomasio into the basic balsamic vinaigrette,
or mix equal parts of peanut sauce with the balsamic dressing. 

Balsamic Vinaigrette Basic
2 parts oil to one part vinegar - If you find dressings have too much bite, add 1 tablespoon of water. 
Balsamic Vinegar is strong tasting – so add a little less than the full part
Crush 1 garlic clove and add to oil
Add 1Tbs of Dijon mustard (emulsifier)
Herbamere to taste
This is better made ahead and left to marinate a bit.

Japanese Gomasio
Rinse 1 cup of brown sesame seeds in sieve under tepid running water
Let drain
Use dry cast iron skillet –medium heat 
Cut dulse into small bits
Toast in pan until dulse is crisp
Add 1 tsp Celtic salt –ground fine
Up end sieve and dump in sesame seeds all at once
Spread over bottom of skillet and leave it to dry for a bit
Stir gently and fairly constantly (you may need to reduce heat)
This is ready when seeds are fragrant, slightly golden and hollow
Cool slightly and store in an airtight jar.
Grind about ¼ cup of the seeds using a mortar and pestle, or small coffee grinder and add to the basic Balsamic Vinaigrette. 

Peanut Sauce
¼ cup of crunchy organic peanut butter
Add boiling hot water and mix, a little at a time, just until you get a smooth consistency
2 Tbs rice vinegar
2 Tbs Braggs Aminos or Tamari sauce
1 tsp or more Thai red pepper sauce
1 inch or more ginger root, pealed and grated
1 clove of garlic minced fine
Adjust flavourings to taste
(I mix this with equal parts balsamic vinaigrette)

Oriental Dressing
¼ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup warm brown rice syrup or agave syrup
1 Tbs water
1 Tbs sesame or canola oil
1 clove garlic minced
1 tsp grated ginger root
¼ tsp toasted sesame oil
A little hot stuff

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Slow Cooker Glazed Pecans

I always like to make something stupendous for the holiday season.  This is my one time of year to break out of my usual 'healthy' food style.

I had a brain wave that I wanted to make glazed pecans and was catapulted into action when I found a no work-no brain recipe.  I made a few batches and was really happy with the results.

This week I met up with a friend and we had our annual Christmas exchange of gifts.  She gave me glazed pecans!  Go figure!

If this is a brain wave that is crossing the nation, I thought I had better share the lazy person's version of this classic.

3 Cups raw pecans
1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon organic coconut oil

Throw everything into your slow cooker and turn on low.  Cook for anywhere from one to three hours (no slow cooker is alike), stirring often with a paddle .  At first you will see that the syrup is dripping from your spoon.  As time goes on, it will be stickier and thicker.  At the end, there won't be any residue on spoon.  It will all be on the pecans.

Pull the plug and let cool.  When you are ready to move your treats to an airtight container, go down the side with a sturdy butter or dinner knife and wiggle to loosen the pecans.  Mine just kind of blasted apart with little effort.  That's it.  No muss and no fuss.

These treats are fabulous additions to yoghurt or ice cream deserts, or in salads.

Spinach Salad with Glazed Pecans and Pomegranates
3 tablespoons 'elite' olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar or maple balsamic
Herbamere/sea salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 or 4 rings of paper thin red onion
4 tablespoons of glazed pecans
1/2 bin washed baby spinach
pomegranate seeds 1/4 to 12 of the fruit

Put the oil, vinegar, mustard and salt all into the bottom of a salad bowl.  Whisk these together thoroughly.
Add the spinach and toss lightly but pay special attention that all the leaves have a light coating of dressing
Place the red onion rings, glazed pecans and pomegranates on top and serve.

I wish you all the best of homey things this Christmas Season and blessings in abundance for this coming New Year.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Gluten free is a big deal right now.  Thankfully, a new breed of medical doctors are emerging who are putting together the chronic illness/diet relationship.  The question is, have we as a species always had a problem with cultivated grains, or is this an across-the-board weakness that has come about for another reason?

The food I was offered was cow’s dairy which I do not tolerate.  Within the first three months of my life, gluten grains (which are very complicated and hard to digest) in the form of boxed Pablum were pushed.  Realize it takes humans a full eight years to develop a fully functioning digestive engine.  Some adults still have an underdeveloped or damaged gut, and are limping through life struggling to be well.

Baby Boomers are the Pablum generation
Baby Boomers are also the front line generation of test subjects in the consumption of genetically manipulated food.  This started with the hybridization of grains to create more disease resistant crops.  As a result, my generation has had ‘Franken-food in our diets for decades starting with hybridization and moving on to more complex and evil manipulation of genetics.

We are part of a wacky experiment
When we eat meat that has been genetically altered, this is a different creature than ‘cow’ or ‘chicken’. These new creatures change us physically in unpredictable ways.  How we individually and collectively respond to genetically altered foods is at best, a very wacky experiment, where nobody is particular is paying attention to the results.

My adventures into the diet revolution began in 1984.  My daughter was suffering from repeated ear infections and had been treated with repeated antibiotics.  When I was told she needed a surgical procedure to put tubes in her ears, I freaked out!  At this point I took my daughter to see a herbal/nutritional practitioner.

When I was told to eliminate dairy and wheat from both our diets, I didn't have the substitution choices that I see today in most grocery stores or health food stores.  What I did instead was to explore Asian recipes where dairy and wheat was not staple ingredients.  Later on I introduced moderate amounts of goat and sheep based cheeses as a treat item.

For some people, gluten may be at the root of many chronic health issues
For any kind of inflammatory conditions and degenerative conditions, eliminating gluten is a reasonable place to begin.  It isn't going to be easy because gluten will be hidden in to many things.  Any form of commercial thickeners including soup bases or corn starch may have gluten added.  Always look for ‘gluten free’.

I have a few clients who have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.  They avoid all gluten.  By sticking to a strict gluten free diet they have been able to reduce and avoid flare ups.  One person is on no medication, and the others on reduced medication.  In my world there are other factors with any auto-immune condition that have to do with modifiers and DNA.  There is more to change and heal rather than just a list of what one must avoid.

In my world, grains work well for some people and not for others. If you do well with organic grains, spelt or kamut may be a reasonable substitution if wheat is a problem, but again why push the same thing day after day. There are a variety of grains, oats, rye, barley, rice, wild rice, teff, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat.  Add spelt and kamut to that list and you have a working diet – Unless gluten sensitivity or  is an issue.  In this case avoid all gluten grains: wheat, spelt, kamut, rye, barley, buckwheat.

To many people, 'the staff of life' is the processed thing that comes out of a box.  This is a processed food. Many people also use bread as a constant in their diet.  Flour is a processed food that acts like glue in the gut.  Try cooking real grains opt for eco-friendly containers to tote instead of the never ending sandwiches.

For gluten free thickeners try making a roux (French style of cooking gravy).  Just cook a tablespoon of starch (tapioca, arrowroot is a good substitute for cornstarch or any flour) in 2 tablespoons of hot oil in a saucepan,  cook it for a minute, then add liquid; water, nut/seed milk, broth or leftover vegetable cooking water a little at a time and stir like crazy until you get the gravy thickness you are looking for.  I use this as a thickener for soups and sauces.

Soaked/sprouted grain breads may be a good choice for some people when consumed moderately, but again, the whole bread thing is overdone in people's diets generally.  You can freeze the loaf and take one out at a time as a treat.

Dairy Substitutes

I use all kinds of milk-like things.  Almond milk (soak nuts overnight, strain off soaking water, add filtered water in a blender and blend the be-jiggers out of it.  Strain and voilĂ !). Seeds take much less soaking time, but can be made into milks as well.  I also like coconut milk and cashew milk. Variety is the thing.  I like soy but use the commercial stuff very sparingly.  Rice or rice/almond may be good as a milk substitute.

Just a note that you can 'milk up' nut butters by adding hot water gradually in small amounts, and stir like crazy.  Add Braggs or tamari, dry mustard or Dijon mustard, parsley, garlic.  Flavour it up in any way that you prefer.  Consider making a sauce out of sesame seeds (Tahini sauce), peanuts (Satay) almonds, cashews, hazelnuts sunflower or really any nut or seed you like and tolerate well.

Red Star brand nutritional yeast has a cheesy taste and you may like this instead of the pricey cheese substitutes.  Is one of my favourite things for popcorn or as a Parmesean substitute or when I want to make a roux-cheese-like sauce.  You can try other brands of nutritional yeast, but Red Star so far anyway, has the best taste.

For anyone willing to make radical changes in the pursuit of better health, I would suggest to stay away from all dairy products and all gluten grains and the by-products of these staples.  Lactose free alone may not work.  Lactose free means that they have removed the milk sugars, but all other bits are still there.  For example I am fine with lactose, but don’t tolerate the beta-albumin proteins in cow’s milk.

If I am going to be part of an experiment I would prefer to be in control of it.  Eliminate gluten and dairy for 12 weeks and see what happens.  You just might feel better.  If you add it back in to your diet and you feel worse, you have just had the experience of a successful experiment.

As usual, these comments are not meant to prescribe or diagnose, but are offered as ‘food for thought’.