Thursday, July 31, 2008

a week of eating simply

Just as I mused that I eat out without snapping, obviously the same thing happens at home. There is a seasonal dip in my blogging of recipes. Not because I cook less in winter but because natural light is not abundant when I am in the kitchen. I probably eat at home more in these cold months but rely heavily on old favourites.

With much talk of simplicity, frugality, SOLE food and the like in our Antipodean corner of the blogoshpere, I thought I’d share some of the simple meals I have been cooking lately.

Last week it was a return to chilli (chile/chili – take your pick) beans. As much as I prefer legumes home cooked I have taken to buying Bio Nature organic kidney beans, chickpeas and crushed tomatoes by the slab. Grated parsnip has become the latest addition to the mix, imparting a subtle sweetness. Along with some carrot, masses of onion and green herbs it makes getting the minimum 5 serves a day of vegetable a cinch. A double batch lasted a couple of days and served with brown rice it made us all healthy and happy at Chez Foodnazi (except the cats who’d really love it if I turned carnivore).

Curry in a hurry is one of my ‘no brainer’ meals. Some Mae Ploy red curry paste, a little extra onion and ginger bubbling away with a tin of coconut milk and an equal quantity of vegetable stock (forget “lite” coconut milk which is the same price as full strength, just use half as much and water or stock). Made on an end of the shopping week night, it featured sweet potato, a can of chickpeas, the sad remains of a cauliflower and a small block of tofu. This really was pulling together the refrigerator scraps and padding them out with a trusty tin of beans. With a squeeze of lemon, a little palm sugar and fish sauce, it jazzes up almost any combination of veggies.

There was one bought meal. On Saturday the sick on called for chicken soup. If I’d been creative I may have searched the freezer for some of the wings we buy for the cats to chew on but I’d forgotten about that and anyway, cooking with meat is a much neglected skill of mine these days. The best I could rustle up at short notice was a hot and spicy number from the local Thai restaurant. I got a Tom Yum and Pad Thai for myself and enjoyed every mouthful.

The pumpkin soup was also a double batcher, providing lunch on a work from home day. The second day the garlic was stronger but so too was the lemongrass, which balanced each other out nicely.

Monday I got waylaid so it was another meal in a hurry. This time some gluten-free pasta and a ‘sauce’ of onion, garlic, anchovy, cauliflower and a tin of tuna. Easy, tasty and satisfying.

On Tuesday I got the urge to make a non-coconut curry. Googling "vegetable + tomato + curry", up came a reprint of one of Stephanie Alexander’s recipes written for children. It is worth reading it just to appreciate the way she is teaching a new generation about mise en place. “Desley’s mum’s silverbeet, potato and tomato curry” is just that. I had no fresh coriander and I played around with quantities but in essence it is an easy, roast and grind your own spice base with potatoes simmered in a Indian influenced, tomato sauce. The silverbeet came from my garden - adding that extra bit of virtue.

After cooking for a week, the SE resurfaced last night. It was the end of the shopping cycle once more and when asked what I wanted for dinner, all I said was “use up what is in the fridge”. What ended up on the plate was a tray of roasted vegetables (sweet potato, carrot, cauliflower and zucchini) and some sautéed onion and garlic, with more silverbeet and rocket from the garden stirred through buckwheat pasta. The slightly caramelised, roasted veggies with the fresh greens made a great combo.

I love these meals made out of necessity, that call for a little imagination.

My past week or so of simple eating wasn’t planned but I think some synergy is afoot. Kathryn is doing the same thing at the moment. Whether it is thriftiness, necessity or creativity that spurs you on, how do you find putting together meals with only what is at hand?

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Monday, July 28, 2008

new/old fashioned pumpkin soup

On the weekend, post blog meet, I spent some time in Florence Nightingale mode. I sent the patient off to have a bath, remade the bed, plumped the pillows and provided warm, medicinal beverages. For breakfast there was porridge, slow cooked with sultanas and freshly ground nutmeg. Lunch was an omelette featuring bright yellow, organic eggs, vibrant green silverbeet and red tomatoes. By the time dinner came around I figured soup would be in order for the sick one. But what soup, there are so many to choose from?

For a cold, I figure there are two ways to go. I love healing soup rich with shitake mushrooms and ginger in a nice, clear broth but there was no fish stock or mushrooms at hand. Plan B is the orange route, where the road to good health is paved with beta-carotene to strengthen the immune system.

Chopping up the pumpkin on a cold Sunday night felt comfortingly familiar. With how many pumpkins, in how many houses had I performed this simple action? Pumpkins were not a key feature of my childhood and there was more chicken noodle soup out of a packet than the homemade vegetable variety. Pumpkin soup came into my life as a student in shared houses. It has gone through many phases since– roasting or simmering, simple flavours or bold, blended with a creamy substance or on its own – and seen me leave dairy foods far behind.

There is no hard and fast recipe but this one works really well.

When feeding a sick companion it is always nice to stir in some extra love and well wishes for a speedy recovery. After all, you hope they will get well soon and tackle the growing pile of dishes by the end of the week!

Pumpkin soup 101

(3-6 serves depending on appetite)

1 tab vegetable oil
1 medium onion
3 cm knob, ginger (this gives the soup zing, if you don’t like ginger then leave out but for me this is one of the joys of the meal)
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tsp red curry paste
1/2 stick of lemongrass, bruised
1/2 medium sized pumpkin (a Jap in this case but variety is up to you)
1 large white potato
1 large carrot
vegetable bouillon (hot vegetable stock)
coconut milk (optional)

Get your favourite heavy bottomed pot onto the stove. For me it is my trusty cast iron number (the French one) that I have had for over 20 years. Bring to a low-medium heat and add the oil. The good thing about this soup is that it is blended, so the ingredients can be roughly chopped. Peel everything but you can go easy on the dicing.

Throw in the onions and ginger. Stir til the onions are becoming transparent then add the garlic, lemongrass and curry paste. One teaspoon of paste (I use Mae Ploy) is enough to give it a hint of warmth without dominating the flavour and making it a curried soup. Stir for another couple of minutes til the paste has released some of its aroma. Add the vegetables and coat well in the spices. Now cover with hot stock. The amount used depends on whether you prefer a thin or thick soup. I cover my vegetables with only a couple of centimetres of fluid. Simmer for at least 30 minutes. An hour if you really want. Stir from time to time and make sure the water hasn’t evaporated.

Remove the stick of lemongrass. You are welcome to put it back in once the soup is blended.

Take the soup off the heat, add a dash (only a tablespoon or two is needed) of coconut milk and use your trusty stick blender to give it a whirr. Be sensible. If the pot is really full take care so you don’t scald yourself with hot soup. Obviously you can let it cool or blend in batches in a food processor if you prefer.

Return to the heat and add salt if needed.

The artistes out there would garnish with a flourish of coconut milk, others might like to just let the flavours do the talking.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008


A quick thank you to all those wonderful Melbourne Bloggers who ventured out to the rather chilly Slow Food Market and Lentil As Anything for a lively gathering yesterday.

There was a massive turnout, I forgot to do a head count but we had commandeered 4 tables in the end. While I was a little disappointed the LAA had changed since my last visit, throwing away the fine little menu with tofu burgers and the like, replacing them with a selection of help yourself dishes – the vegan delights were deliciously warming. Conversation flowed easily and whenever I looked down the table I saw smiles and animated discussions.

Once the plates had been finished a dozen or more of us headed over to Handsome Steve’s for some fortification to ward of the chills. The amicable Steve provided much needed warmth and beverages, that kept some diehards entertained for a further couple of hours.

Good to see you all. Hope that it has broken down a few barriers and created further connections in this corner of the blogging world.

Slow Food Market at The Convent: Nettle season - nothing like a little rubifacient on a winter's day

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

the final Tassie treasures

A few last words on Hobart town.

My return flight to the mainland was ridiculously cheap but the price meant it was to be carry on luggage only. The weather necessitated some bulky clothing and there was only a little space left in my daypack.

Other than the cake, I managed to slip in a couple of tokens. The honey porter had meant to be sampled before leaving, however the lack of a bottle opener for the crown seal thwarted that one (my trusty Swiss army knife no longer travels the globe with me in the post September 11 world). I’m not a huge beer fan but thought this brewed in the bottle number from Taverner's sounded interesting. On tasting it reminded me of UK Real Ale. There was an odd, not entirely appetising nose but the flavour was a touch floral with a remnant of honey.

My travelling companion had sought out the unheated honey that she’d seen featured in an SBS program. Made by a French apiarist in the authentic style of his homeland, the honey is thick and white. At first glance it appeared like creamed honey. The texture is slightly granular and dense. With a few flavours on offeri the Prickly Box stood out as the most distinctive. You can read more about Miellerie Honey and it’s maker in this recent piece from The Mercury.

Time to head out to the Slow Food Market and meet up with some fellow bloggers. See you there!

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

why words sometimes have to paint a thousand pictures

I was eating a meal somewhere recently, the dim lighting struck me as not so much a mood statement but one to deter pesky bloggers from snapping the food. Really, that was the first thought to enter my head.

The place was Seamstress. Despite it being lunchtime, being a converted warehouse windows were scarce, hence the aforementioned subtle lighting. Though my camera sat in my bag and I was eating with someone who had a greater handle on using the manual settings than I, silently I had a little internal dialogue that went along the lines of this:

AOF – What a great place, I wonder if I can take a good photo of the lovely fabric swathed on the ceiling?

Me – Are you here for a romantic special meal with your partner or would you rather be an observer annotating the experience?

At that point I made my decision. Camera stayed in bag and full attention spent on the experience of being in the moment.

Nor do I think it is entirely fair to ‘review’ a restaurant on one sitting, so hence forth unless it is a multi-visit affair I consider any mention of these experiences merely a snippet of my experiences, like the précis of my Tasmanian trip.

But back to Seamstress – what struck me most was not just the elegant flavours of the Asian inspired food on offer but also the art of waiting.

At lunchtime the place was rather quiet. None the less the waiter first established his credentials offering us a seat on an unpopulated side of the room rather than the comfy banquet. Why? Because, there was a large group of ladies who lunch with a booking and he didn’t know about us but if it were him, he’d like a little space from them to enjoy our meal.


Now the SE is a hard-pressed student, doing lunch (or dinner) anywhere flash is a rare treat. This makes it something to be treasured and enjoyed, rather than just another place to tick off the list. Feeling like we were in good hands and with a dry sherry in front of us, we shared our food preferences with our accomplished waiter and let him create an impromptu degustation with paired wines. What arrived were wines that I would never have picked but were of course perfect with the flavours in front of us. My appetiser cup of broth was mushroom rather than the standard carnivorous variety. While the SE chowed down on the oxtail dumpling of the day (I seem to remember he groaned on tasting them, a good groan that is), I had a lovely dish of stuffed shitake mushrooms. While he had quails (boned, exquisite offering that they were) I opted for a small crab dish. Next we shared a treasure chest beancurd with many different mushrooms and another seafood delight (featuring smoked prawn meat on skewers wrapped in rice noodles and fried– ah smoky fish, my favourite!) with rice.

With each course our trusty server bought us separate wines to match our palates and choices, even with the shared dishes.

By now I was one sherry and 3 wines down and you can see why the food details may have become a little sketchy (and their website features a different menu to the one we sampled last week). This is not my usual weekday lunching habit I can assure you.

In this state we were coaxed into dessert with a promise to customise it to be dairy free and the next thing we knew a sticky, ambrosial wine was placed before us and another deep fried offering, a kind of banana spring roll paired with a pineapple (rather than blue cheese) sorbet and an aniseed infused sauce.

With our lovely waiter about to go on a break (we’d been there over 3 hours at this point) he farewelled up with a sweet sherry with his compliments to bookend our meal.

So what I am left with is a memory of a thoroughly enjoyable dinning experience, one of the best conversations I have had with the SE for months and an appreciation of the waiting profession. Because outside of the industry this is a skill that is under appreciated. We are quick to get grumpy when waiters don’t do their job well. From the staff who have mastered the art of not making eye contact, to the over eager ones who can wreck everything with their neediness to be assured that everything is going ok, every five minutes.

But the ones who do their job well are not only the masters of timing (not too slow, not too fast – paced at the patron’s own rhythm) but are given the opportunity when invited, to share their knowledge of the menu and wine list and create a holistic dinning experience. These are the people who effortlessly earn their tips and take pride in their profession rather than see it as something to do while they wait for their big break. They make you feel like you’ve been the most enjoyable customers they have ever had the privilege of serving and not in a sucky kind of way. These are artisans, not amateurs.

So I raise my glass (one of many) to the professionals who make or break a great breakfast, lunch or dinner. And out of a mark of respect, you won’t see me taking furtive snaps of the food, jotting notes in my moleskin or making pointed comments about the décor to my companion. I’ll be the one lapping it all up and having a fine old time.

Thank you.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

country women Hobart style

Just a block down the hill from the delicious Royal Thai restaurant in Elizabeth Street is the CWA shop. We’d trudged past it 4 times at night before we could see inside during the opening hours. The window display featured homemade cakes and hand knits. It was a taste of op shops (thrift stores) like they used to be – except everything was handmade and brand new. Except the recycled coffee jar which go for a premium.

It was with great delight to finally walk through the doors to find Doris (number 98, which could well have been her age) with a spry but rather shy number 19. Almost half the shop is devoted to knitting, mostly old fashioned layettes and other baby attire. Many of the goods were priced at the cost of the wool. Seriously, if you want some woollies for a little one, or the most gorgeous green knitted elephant (for a mere $10), this is the place to shop. It puts new wave crafters to shame!

But the food, oh the food. Preserves like tomato chutney, passion curd butter and every jam and marmalade under the sun, sat with their plain labels and cellophane hats. The cakes and biscuits were all duly marked with their ingredients, date made and the number of the maker. You must remember pride is not a quality valued by the Country Women’s Association, so when I purchased a fruit cake (a late entry for the solstice event I reckon) there was a little blush from number 19 and Doris let the cat out of the bag that she’d made it. But I still couldn’t pry her name out of her.

On leaving, a woman barely 20 unloaded 3 boxes of yoyo biscuits and other goodies from a car – no not doing a delivery from her gran, a new generation of CWA bakers. So you can be sure as long as they keep their shop, baking like your mother might never have made is still to be had in Hobart town.

Country Women’s Association Gift Shop
165 Elizabeth Street

Shop hours:
9.00 am - 4.00pm Monday – Friday
10.00am - 1.00pm Saturday

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

eating Hobart

The Apple Isle

With so many great suggestions in hand, our trip to Hobart was one, long picnic (albeit in slightly Arctic weather).

The first meal was on waking bright and early. We’d planned to get up at a decent hour and head off to the Salamanca market. Just after opening the place was buzzing already and we dived into the first café with a name I recognised and fortified ourselves with caffeine and sustenance.

Retro Café, reminded me of something out of Brunswick Street in the ‘80s. Fortunately I’m fond of Fitzroy boho so I warmed to it immediately. As promised, the coffee was excellent. In fact it was the pick of the crop in my time in town. Food included the usual hot and cold breakfasts on the menu but the specials board had a number of enticing options. My friend went for a veggie stack of roasted tomatoes, other vegetable offerings, poached eggs and pesto while I opted for some local smoked salmon served with eggs, spinach and hollandaise. Serving sizes were decent and though the most expensive of the three cooked breakfasts I had in town (still reasonably prized in the teens) it was the largest and left us feeling satisfied.

Stepping out the door of the cosy café and back into the market I wished we were staying somewhere we could cook, as the fresh produce looked great. The next few hours were spent wandering and grazing. Taking in Battery Point, scoping out Jackmas and McRoss, looking at the scenery and making a final market sweep (and sampling some tempura mushrooms from a market vendor that we just had to try) before entering Knopwoods for some mulled wine by the fire.

Berries in winter - Salamanca market

Though we’d been eating all day, there was still dinner to look forward to. Orizuru a modest Japanese restaurant on the water came highly recommended and despite the weather sushi was just about all we were able to fit into our stomachs. Sharing a dinner platter for two ($47) – the sushi, sashimi and nori rolls were fresh and certainly up to standard. Being Tasmania this also came with oysters that I am told were excellent. Considering the location, the restaurant was surprisingly understated.

Fortified by warm sake we headed off to the wilds of North Hobart in search of entertainment. But that’s another story!

Sunday started considerably later than the day before. With aching eyeballs we headed off for a bracing walk to Jackman & McRoss, the much talked about bakery in Battery Point. Scoring a table beside the window we finally managed to get the eye of the hesitant young waitress a to order some much needed coffee. My long black, though drinkable lacked substance and I’d rank it bottom of the three brews I had in town. While the hot breakfast specials were modestly priced my eggs and spinach with aioli on a chunk of white sourdough was more entrée sized. The aioli was a little sparse and appeared to have been grilled. Though tasty it left me wanting. Or at least that was the excuse I used to justify ordering a more jumbo sized chocolate croissant. My friend was seduced by the porridge, scented with orange and served with glazed figs. The little soufflé dish of cooked oats looked good but wasn’t quite as exciting as she’d have hoped. Sadly there were no carnivores with us to taste test the savoury pastry topped with a slice of black pudding, which was one of the most unusual ‘danishes’ I’ve ever seen on offer.

All the lovely bread for sale at Jackman and McRoss, Battery Point

Our final dinner was a stunner. It had taken a little coaxing to talk my companion into walking past the nearby Thai restaurant and trek up Elizabeth Street once more, in the gentle rain and darkness. But dinner at Royal Thai was definitely worth the journey. Recently relocated to flash new premises, this was some of the best Thai food I have eaten outside of Asia. I swear I have to go back to Hobart with a large group of people solely to sample a wider variety of dishes. We’d already decided that our bodies were craving vegetables and flipped to the vegetarian section at the back of the menu. There was a lot to choose from. Feeling a little tired and cold we opted for comfort choices of noodles and curry. What was delivered to our table by the friendly and efficient waitress was pad Thai and green curry at its best. The noodle dish was presented authentically with peanuts, chilli, bean shoots and lemon on the side to season ourselves, while the curry was freshly spiced with notable flavours of basil and chilli but balanced by a whole range of other notes. Not a huge fan of dessert, I couldn’t resist a combination of sticky rice, banana and black beans, wrapped and steamed, providing a satisfying and not too sweet way to finish the meal.

Our final meal of note was back at Salamanca place for breakfast at Zum. This sleek eatery would not have been out of place in Paddington or South Yarra and was buzzing at 9 o’clock on a Monday morning. There was even a local TV celebrity at the next table. Coffee was good and served promptly. Almost as enjoyable as Retro’s it made a close runner-up in my tally sheet. I succumbed to the delicious local smoked salmon once more, which was served on a well executed thick round of roesti with spinach and hollandaise. This was the winner, satisfying, well presented and a “potato pancake” cooked to perfection. We stayed awhile chatting and savouring both the food and the atmosphere.

With still so many unexplored food options, Hobart is a town I’d definitely return to. We filled three days easily, navigating the inner city on foot. With carry-on only luggage I was restricted in what I could bring back to the mainland but the market and nearby deli’s had so many treasures it was hard to restrain ourselves. I’ll give you a peak of those tomorrow!

Retro Café
31 Salamanca Pl
(03) 6223 3073

Knopwoods Retreat Tavern & Wine Bar
39 Salamanca Place
(03) 62235808

Orizuru Sushi Bar
Victoria Dock
(03) 6231 1790

Jackman & McRoss
59 Hampdon Rd.
Battery Point
(03) 6223 3186

Royal Thai
199 Elizabeth St
(03) 6234 1366

Zum Salamanca
29 Salamanca Place
(03) 6223 23239

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Friday, July 18, 2008

blog meet reminder

Just before I pop out for a long weekend on a wet windy island (thanks so much Rita and everyone who has contributed to our itinerary it is much appreciated), a timely reminder that the Meatless Blog meet draws ever closer. Just 8 days away in fact.

Date: Saturday 26th July
Time: 12.30
Place: Lentil as Anythings @ The Convent, Abbotsford and afterwards at Handsome Steve’s House of Refreshment.

If you have ever felt a little daunted by the idea of providing a dish for a group of people obsessed about food - this is the food bloggers meet up for you! Simple vegetarian fare as cheap as you'd like it to be, while supporting the refugee community at the same time.

At the moment there are 12-14 people who've said they will turn up. We can't book but there are a variety of seating options we can pile around. Some of us will be very punctual.

Check back in next week for any other means we have to signal who we are.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

pretty purple vegetables

For no other reason, except acknowledging that you have been confronted by a lot of text here at Chez Nazi and too little pictorial prettiness, I give you...

turnips (Vic Market, June 2008).

There has been a paucity of recipes too, I know, though a rather lot of cooking. But do you really need a recipe for (gluten-free) pasta with baked cauliflower and anchovies?

But back to turnips. Is there anything wintery and exciting you can do with them that doesn't involve cheese or meat?

Just a thought.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

breakfast, lunch and dinner in Hobart?

Keeping with the theme of “Weekend getaways colder than Melbourne in winter”, I’m off in another week for three days in Hobart. While this will make a nice change from the frequent trips across the Tasman to do the family tour of duty, I have never been to Tasmania mainly because I kept getting told it is so like my hometown.

So what is a gal to do in Hobart? Where to eat and drink and wander? We will be staying in the city, a short walk from the Salamanca Market (which is the only thing on my to do list) and won’t have a car.

Ideas anyone?

Monday, July 07, 2008

the bad egg

It wasn’t so much an egg, though we will get to that, rather a nasty wedge of avocado.

I am very fussy at the best of times but avocadoes bring out the worst in me. I border on phobic when it comes to blighted fruit. A black bit on an avocado, stringiness or downright past its use by date in my book means it is not acceptable to end up on a customer’s plate. When you are paying for a side order, there is an expectation that every mouthful is edible. This was not.

The slim quarter of the avocado sat innocuously enough with its pit side down. There was a pesky spot a couple of centimetres wide which I considers cutting around. Turning the fruit over for a closer inspection I found the discolouration had riddled its way right through with a dark blemish engulfing at least a quarter of the slice. The flesh around the area was old, watery and unappealing.

I caught the waiter’s eye and pointed to it saying “any chance of another piece of avocado?” There was no hesitation on her part and though she didn’t whisk the fruit away, she did head off to the kitchen in search of a replacement. During those 4 minutes I made some decent headway through my breakfast. The hash brown tasted old and tired. A home made offering, not one of those dreaded processed bricks but pre-fried possibly days ago and on its last legs none the less. The eggs while poached sufficiently, had curious whites. One was scraggy like a sea creature and the other had been sliced off in chunks leaving a rhomboid shape of just a couple of centimetres of egg white around the yolk. I much prefer to eat the yolk so I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything but visually it didn’t look right and I wondered just how bad the offending parts had been for them to be removed in such a way.

This place is known for it’s homemade bread. After a wheat-free week I was looking forward to some good quality, crunchy toast. Yet even the amputated poached eggs carried enough water to rob the toast of its crispness. In fact it was so disappointing I may have well eaten a couple of slices of the tasteless gluten-free bread for all the flavour and texture it had to offer.

The coffee was drinkable but bland and not exactly what I’d ordered. I sipped it for a while none the less.

I dread writing a bad review of a neighbourhood restaurant. The last time I did the café closed shortly after. No not from the power of my words alone of course but we are a fickle bunch and move our loyalty elsewhere even from a favourite if it fails to perform. Just a couple of weeks ago I had a similar meal with a fellow blogger. We all enjoyed each mouthful of our different breakfasts but Black Ruby – you are officially on notice. We’ve put up with the vagaries of your odd flavour pairings in your savoury menu for years. You are a little quirky but the spirit of the place has kept pulling your though. But when breakfast goes bad – the locals start walking and as we know you have families to support we’d really like you get your act together and stay.

First the dried out black bean sausage. Now this. You can have an off day with the hash browns, the odd misshapened egg is allowable but soggy toast and a rotten avocado – come on you can do better than this.

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

reflections on the 1 week wheat-free challenge

The week long challenge is over and I started the first day beyond the wheat-free zone no differently, with my oaty breakfast. There were no cravings for pancakes or even real toast. So I ask myself just how different my diet was during the week and whether it was truly representative of my usual eating habits?

I already have dietary restrictions around most dairy and meat as most of you would are aware. I had some hesitation about taking on another potential limitation to my way of eating but I figured that I didn’t eat wheat for nutrition, just for convenience and variety. I had considered going gluten-free and it would have been if my oats were certified coeliac friendly (though a member of the grass family it is usually cross contamination from other gluten-rich grains in the manufacturing process that is problem with oats).

Another aspect that I wanted to incorporate into my challenge was to use produce already in the pantry and fridge and if I wanted any ‘special’ wheat-free requests I had to wait and see what the SE could get in his regular supermarket shopping trip. Although a short hop away are many specialist stores catering for all sorts of dietary restrictions, I wanted to see what it would be like for the ‘average’ person or family who for health reasons needed to live a wheat-free life. All the evening meals were communal so we would cook for each other as usual. The SE made no complaints. Well one. This wouldn’t be the week the solstice cake got it’s grand unveiling.

Of course it could be argued that we mightn’t be the most ‘average’ household in many respects. On the food front we’d already switched to wheat-free pasta 90% of the time and bread is not a daily part of our diets. But who wants to be normal anyway? In the average wheat worshiping home, a little preparation for the challenge is recommended to make the transition easier.

So just how normal was this week for us? These days we’d average 5-7 evening meals at home. The previous fortnight we’d eaten out 4-5 evenings a week but that was unusual as a result of family visits and trips away. Regardless of the challenge we both were hanging out for a week of home cooked food. But I did want to eat out at a place we’d normally choose just to see how it would go. This was only vetoed at the end of the week due to the large amount of uneaten food and leftovers still in the fridge, so I ate Thai food close to work on the last day for lunch instead.

After the end of semester madness, it was lovely to have the SE on duty in the kitchen again. I think he’d missed it as much as me. Consequently the cooking was evenly shared throughout the time. Neither of us made any dinners that were out of the ordinary. We tend to have a couple of fresh fish meals, tinned tuna for a backup, a legume dish or two, a curry, something with tofu and often a stir fry or a pasta dish. I had planned more grains dishes – a millet or quinoa pilaf at least but we made too many double-batch size meals to fit the extra ones in. There are always lots of vegetables. I was happy to see that quantity wise there was more than the recommended 5 serves (2.5 cups) of veggies and 2 serves of fruit in some form.

We did eat more sweet things than usual. The SE has become a chocolate fiend and I need absolutely no encouragement when it comes to the beloved bean. The ice cream had sat in the fridge for over 2 months and needed to be eaten. Tough job but someone’s got to do it. I’m sure I’d usually have more alcohol-free days (at least 3 or 4 a week). Though I imbibed more frequently the quantities were within those dreaded nutritional guidelines none the less.

Lunches were a bit annoying. Though on a workday I never have a sandwich, I often go Japanese for either nori rolls or ebi don. As both involved soy sauce I had to change my habits. If it is going to be a long day at work, I’ll often have a vegetarian combination of dhal, veggie curries, rice and condiments at Sheni’s Curries. However with the amount of chilli and rice in my evening meals as the week wore on, I decided to not double dose. I did however find an acceptable MSG-free Thai outlet in the city, where I will go back again to explore their few vegetarian options. But while workday lunches could be navigated, the weekend pull towards Babka or similar cafes was just too difficult to risk. Now that did peeve me somewhat. To read through a café menu and find nothing that suited all my food restrictions without ending up with just a plate of beans or an egg was quite disheartening.

On the whole the week wasn’t too much of a challenge. I was a little daunted about disclosing my eating and drinking habits for the world to judge but I think I came out pretty well.

Thanks for all the words of encouragement along the way. Glad my menus have been an inspiration to some. Maybe I will do a snapshot of my week again sometime in the future.

Some wheat-free friendly food tips

A good primer on where wheat lurks in common foods is on the food intolerance awareness site. There is also a reminder for carnivores that wheat is used as fillers and crumbs in many meaty delights.

Some beverages like beer, whiskey, soy milks and other such malt containing food contain wheat. (See link above for more details).

Tamari – unlike soy sauce and shoyu that are also fermented soy based sauces, tamari is wheat-free. I’ve always preferred the flavour and it is what I use at home anyway.

Grains – corn, rice, oats, quinoa, amaranth, millet, rye, buckwheat and barley all fit the wheat-free category. (contain gluten)

Spelt is a member of the wheat family yet I am amazed at how many retailers claim it is both wheat and gluten-free. I know at least one local pizza place that makes a spelt pizza base claiming it is gluten-free (the chef told me this is that this is what all the gluten-free products in Italy is made from, I haven’t verified that). Even some esteemed food writers seem to have confused this fact. There are a lot of reasons why spelt may be better tolerated by people with a wheat intolerance but over use of any alternative grain usually brings on the symptoms after a while.

Beans are great and versatile, though if you are carnivore meat and vegetables make an obvious wheat-free combination. Casseroles thicken up nicely with cornflour.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

The 1 week wheat-free challenge: Day 7

2 x boiled eggs on pretend gluten-free toast.

Pad Thai with prawns (rice noodles, prawns and minimal other ingredients – egg, tofu, veg plus fish sauce and peanuts).

Seared tuna (medium rare) with leftover Sri Lankan curry (a surprisingly good combo).

2 x mandarins.

Dagoba chocolate

Fluids: 1 espresso, 1 brandy and soda, 1 peppermint and liquorice herbal tea, water.

Notes: I’d planned to eat out at my local Thai restaurant for the final night of the challenge but the SE vetoed this due to the amount of leftovers we were accumulating. So the Pad Thai for lunch, not my usual choice, was an attempt to find a half decent Thai meal and choose what I’d usually have.

The GF bread still tasted crap and I struggled to finish an otherwise enjoyable breakfast.

So you want another pussy pic?

So the challenge is over. There were no breaches that I was aware of. Tomorrow I'll post about what I learnt from the experience. Thanks for your support over this week.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

The 1 week wheat-free challenge: Day 6

Oats soaked in rice milk, dried cranberries, golden kiwi fruit, hazelnuts and crumbled corn thins.

Masala Dosa (fermented lentil and rice flour crispy ‘pancake’ with potato and spice stuffing, served with dahl, veg curry and sambals).


Sri Lankan chickpea curry (with broccoli, cauliflower and onion) plus brown rice.

Mototo ‘ice cream’ with warm cherries.

Fluid: 1 espresso, water, 1 brandy and soda.

Notes: I’ve always loved dosas but amidst the wheat-free week the lovely crispy texture at the edges was particularly delicious. The SE cooked again – yippee!

What no pretty food pic? Here's a kitty instead.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The 1 week wheat-free challenge: Day 5

Porridge with rhubarb and apple compote.

2 x rice crackers.

Gluten-free pasta with onion, silverbeet, garlic, sun dried tomatoes and tuna.


Chilli beans (kidney beans, onion, parsnip, carrot, tomatoes and lots of delicious spices) with brown rice

1 piece of gluten free (Country Life) toast with vegemite.

Fluid: 1 espresso, 1 elder flower cordial, water

Note: had a business meeting scheduled in a café before (rather than at) lunch. I noticed that it would have been easier to eat vegan than wheat-free with what was on offer. Needed something starchy for lunch so hit the GF pasta.

The NB came back with a supermarket bought GF loaf so had to try it. What can I say? It looked promising but tasted of nothing. A bit like the soy cheese, I find it hard to get excited by the “pretend” foods, though these days I actually prefer GF pasta over regular.

Could a cup a day keep the undertaker away?

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The 1 week wheat-free challenge: Day 4

Fruit salad with raw pistachios.

Salad: mixed greens (rocket, beetroot leaves, parsley), leftover roast potato, tuna, real mayonnaise.

Dried apricots.

Pelecing style sambal of mixed Asian greens (lots!) and tofu, with rice.

Fluid: fresh orange and lemon juice, 1 espresso, water, 1 glass of wine (well the bottle was still open).

Notes: Turned down the chance to go to Babka for lunch. I just couldn’t risk the temptations of one of my favourite bakeries.

Here's a pic is of yesterday's ice cream. Made from rice starch and egg yolk, with coeliac friendly other bits it tastes surprisingly good.

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