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Kim has arthritis in her hands. As a musician, that’s not a great thing but the good news is that she has found a way to keep flare ups under control – by avoiding nightshades.

Nightshades contain alkaloids, which have been shown to cause issues for some people with arthritis. Nightshades  include potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant & peppers. Not a great thing when you’re someone like Kim who loves Mexican, Thai and Indian food.

While there’s no way she’s going to give up curry (made with hot peppers) we don’t have it as much as we used to. Potatoes are not a huge loss. Tomatoes are more of an issue, but she’s found that pesto pizza, creamy pasta and white chili (a recipe for another day) are all acceptable substitutes.

What has been a problem is salsa. Tonight, we are having tongue tacos (another day as well) and a taco without salsa just isn’t right.

With a few ingredients in my fridge I think I’ve come up with a salsa substitute that is really good. So good that it’s worthy of the “not because it’s free of, just because it’s good” label.

Cucumber Salsa

1/2 cup finely diced cucumber
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1 tsp white vinegar
pinch salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp coarse ground black pepper*
1/2 tsp lemon juice 
Finely chopped cilantro to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and let sit for at least an hour.

To make the salsa hotter add more pepper.

*black pepper is actually a dried fruit (!!) and is not a nightshade.

This recipe was prompted by Anthony Bourdain (with apologies to Asian readers who may say “well duh, this isn’t news”). Every time he is in a Southeast Asian country like Thailand, Laos, Vietnam or Cambodia he’s always eating some form of spicy soup for breakfast – and raving about it. For me this always seemed a bit weird growing up with coffee, bacon & eggs, pancakes, cereal & toast for breakfast. (not generally at the same meal mind you) Last Saturday, I decided I was absolutely , utterly bored with breakfast and thought OK, Bourdain, lets see if you’re right. Soup for breakfast.

I always have red & green Thai curry paste in the fridge as I use it a lot. I thought I’d use the red as a base for the soup as it has a little sharper bite to it than the green – something to give us a good kickstart.

Step 1

Boil 4  c water in a wok.

Remove from heat.

Add 1/4 pkg of brown rice asian noodles (not rice pasta) You can use the white noodles but the brown are better for you and make this dish more nutritious.

Stir noodles until soft about 2-3 minutes. (You don’t want to boil these noodles –  You’ll just turn them into a ball of mush.) Drain and set aside.

Step 2

Dry wok with paper towel to remove traces of water (so the oil you’re about to add to the wok won’t spatter)

1 tblsp toasted sesame oil

1 tblsp olive oil

1 small yellow or green zucchini sliced into thin strips

1/2 portabella or button mushrooms sliced in thin strips

Heat oil in wok

Add zucchini and mushrooms stir fry until just soft

Step 3

Add

4 cups water

1 tblsp red Thai curry paste

1/2 c cooked chicken, pork, beef, tofu – whatever you have. Leftovers work well.

3/4 c greens (spinach, kale, bok choy, cabbage or red chard). I really recommend the chard. It adds a fantastic earthy flavour.

2 tblsp ish Fresh Ginger sliced into strips (if you use powdered ginger, stop reading now and never come back.)

4-10 dashes fish sauce

2 tblsp soy sauce

Juice of 1/2 fresh lime

Bring to boil then reduce heat to medium.

Simmer 5-10 minutes

Step 4

While soup is simmering, fry 2 eggs until whites are barely cooked and yolks are still runny. (Runny is part of the experience. If you don’t normally like runny, try this anyways. Trust me)

Place  cooked noodles from step 1 in 2 deep bowls

Cover with soup

Add a fried egg to each bowl

Top with 2 tblsp chopped green onion

Serve with optional condiments crushed peanuts, chopped fresh chilis, chili sauce, dried shrimp or fish flakes

Break egg yolk and stir into soup.

Eat with chopsticks and slurp the broth from the bowl.

Serves 2 very well fed morning people. Prep to finish time  about 20 minutes

Verdict? I am an absolute convert. Bourdain (and more accurately, a good chunk of Southeast Asia) was right. Soup for breakfast is awesome. I’d make it everyday if I had the time. I may make the time once a week and get up at 5am just to make this. I like it -that much-.

Heavenly Wings

Let me begin by saying that while I did come up with this recipe, I did not name it. That distinction goes to Kim. She’s a chicken fanatic and this has recently become her favourite recipe.

“Heavenly Wings” is a very simple dish, with just a few ingredients.

24 pieces split chicken wings or 12 drumsticks

For best results use disassembled chicken wings (drumettes and the part that isn’t drumettes which-i-don’t-know-what-they-are-called wingettes?) You can use drumsticks as we did for the pictures here but Heavenly Drumsticks doesn’t have quite the same ring.

Note: whatever you use it -must- still have the skin. Chicken skin is where the flavour lives.

Mix together
1/2 c white rice flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture making sure it is completely coated. Dredging in rice flour won’t seem like there’s even remotely enough coating but trust me, it will be perfect. You don’t need egg or oil or batter, the chicken itself has enough moisture to get the appropriate amount of coating. Deep fry the chicken in a wok (if you don’t have fire insurance use a deep fryer) for 10-15 minutes until the chicken is done and the coating is golden brown.

While that’s happening, mix together:
1/2 c scallions (foodie for green onions)
1/4 c chili garlic sauce
3/4 c maple syrup
2 tbsp soy sauce

When done, set the chicken to drain on a paper towel. Drain oil from wok into a heat safe container for disposal, keeping 2 tbsp in the wok. If you used a deep fryer, add the oil to a large fry pan. Heat oil until very hot (but not smoking) add chicken to wok.

Add chili sauce to wok and stir quickly to evenly coat the chicken. Stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately.

The rice flour stays crispy and the sauce is sweet and spicy awesome. A wing night winner.

Spirit End Of Mission

[end hibernation]

Wow. My last post was August 12, 2010. We were just getting ready for a trip to Hawaii. Hawaii has been a place of regeneration and renewal for Kim & I since our first trip in 2005. For the last several years we have been struggling with various seemingly inexplicable health issues. Kim in particular has had great difficulties with no real answers to her fatigue and strange symptoms like constant ringing in the ears and dizziness. I’ve had issues with chronic sinusitis, insomnia and at one point last spring a trip to the ER for what turned out to be “exhaustion”. Even our dog had respiratory problems.

So Hawaii. We rent a condo half way between Kona and Kailua, ocean 25ft from our balcony, green sea turtles basking in the tidal pools, a pod of spinner dolphins swimming by at precisely 9:22am every morning. Fish tacos made from yesterday’s caught Ahi and papaya for breakfast every day. Snorkeling, hikes to Kilauea, playing music at open stages and hanging out with some great friends. 2 weeks of this – of course you’re going to feel renewed. First day we arrived, Kim was barely able to make it up the 4 flights of stairs to our condo. By the end of the trip, she was jogging up them. Pele is good to us. We return home with a sense of purpose and energy we haven’t felt in ages.

It was not 5 days after returning home that things began to fall apart. Kim’s problems with her ears became extreme. She described it as having owls in her ears. A constant, frustrating and eventually scary hooting presence. Her dizziness became so bad that she could hardly get out of bed let alone teach. Kim is a violin teacher and has a studio in our basement. My issues which had pretty much disappeared in Hawaii, returned, but mostly to the level they were before. One night we had a revelation. (ok to be honest, Kim was sure there had been something wrong in the house for quite some time. I wasn’t listening) Something in our house was making us sick. A quick web search shows a few things for sick house syndrome, many of them relating to outgassing of chemicals in newer houses. Our condo is 30 years old. That probably wasn’t the issue. Then one giant red flag, Well, perhaps a black flag showed up. Mold. Black mold. [cue scary music]

I started poking around in the basement and sure enough, we had mold under the floor (probably from a water heater that flooded the basement about 5 years before. We also had an indoor pond/fishtank feature that had leaked at some point. Not just a dusting of mold. A carpet. I thought I had dealt with these problems when they happened. (I’m sure that’s dry enough…) I hadn’t.

Everything started to make sense. Kim was sicker because she was teaching from home. Teaching in the basement. Everyday. We had some suspicions that something was not quite right in the basement just before summer break last year. Kim could teach for a while in the basement, but became utterly exhausted by mid afternoon. She actually taught in the living room for most of last part of the spring session, without really knowing why.

Less than 2 weeks after returning from our holiday, I was tearing out a large chunk of our basement. Floors, walls..everything. We decided that if we could get the basement cleaned, we’d take our time and build the basement we wanted. We’d talked about putting in a bathroom down there so now seemed to be the time to do it. At a leisurely pace. Once the mold is out of the basements things should be ok right? Not so much. Kim did not get any better. We thought perhaps it was just going to take some time. After several weeks with no improvement, and maybe even a decline, we were at a loss, and at this point Kim was afraid she would be unable to recover.

Then one day, I was speaking with a coworker and we got to talking about the reno’s I’d been doing. He said he had an issue with mold in his upper bathroom. Sitting on the couch in our living room that night talking to Kim about this, we looked at each other, looked at the water stain on the living room ceiling that I’d been meaning to fix for several years and thought oh no not there too.

I immediately went and looked. I started pulling away lino, a layer of particle board and 2 more layers of lino. The mother load of mold. Right next to our bedroom. The particle board had turned into a moldy black soup. The bathtub sealant had been leaking and the toilet had never even been properly attached. A complete disaster. Everything had to come out. Even the subfloor. And that wasn’t the only thing that left. In November, Kim went and stayed with a friend for a month while I demo’d our only bathroom with a tub. Oh and I had to remove a good chunk of the living room ceiling and one wall as well.

So… You might guess that I haven’t had much time and more importantly energy for blogging, tweeting and going out to dinner. But I’m getting to the end of it. The downstairs now has a brand new jetted tub and a heated floor in the bathroom, the living room has a new ceiling, paint and new laminate flooring (cause why not at this point) the upstairs bathroom should be ready for paint this weekend. Kim returned just before Christmas and while she still has her bad days, she is getting stronger and feeling better every day, with the help of meditation and some fantastic chinese medicine/acupuncture from Dr. Aung and one of his students, Barb.

I can’t be sure how much I’ll be writing again, but I guess I’m wanting to, so that’s something. I’m hoping to get back at yoga, which I had to give up in the fall.

It does feel good to write again (hell, it feels good to anything that doesn’t involve home renovation)

I do feel pretty crappy for taking so long to figure this thing out but I am glad to have it mostly behind us.

One ironic twist on this. I’ve renovated this condo to be our dream condo. It’s really going to be great when it’s done. But Kim and I have found a house near the river valley that we really want to buy. We know who is selling it and it looks like it will be available right about the time the last coat of paint dries. Oh well, Pele put us on an interesting path.

But -I- Like It…

Funny thing happened last weekend. I was feeling a bit creative and we had some watermelon we had to use up so I thought I’d try making a savoury salad out of it. Kim was pretty much “sure, sounds interesting” which she most often is unless chocolate and chicken are involved (that’s another post I think).

The recipe was pretty simple:

2 cups cubed, seeded watermelon

2-3 leaves fresh mint, finely chopped

some sea salt & quite a bit of freshly ground black pepper

1/3-1/2 cup soft goat cheese in small teaspoon sized pieces

1/3 cup fig flavoured balsamic vinegar

I love the Presidents Choice Fig Balsamic. You could use any kind, or just plain, although the fig stuff has a really nice, sweet tone that really shines in a reduction, which is what I did.

Just prior to serving, mix all but the balsamic & cheese together. The salt really brings out the liquid in the watermelon so you want to leave it as late as you can before serving to avoid serving soup instead of salad.

Put the Balsamic in a sauce pan, bring to boil, turn down to medium high and reduce by half (should only take a few minutes). Plate your watermelon mixture, top with cheese and drizzle with balsamic reduction. Garnish with a mint leaf and serve immediately.

I absolutely loved this. The savoury salt, pepper (again with the fruit and pepper) and the sweet yet astringent balsamic works brilliantly with the creamy goat cheese and sweet watermelon.

Now here’s the thing.  Kim takes a bite and looks at me, looks at the dog and says it tastes like vomit. (I may be paraphrasing here). She went and made herself a green salad. It worked out for me as I got to eat her portion as well. Now I wasn’t really offended as it -is- kind of out there (but not too far) but it was pretty unusual for us to have that differing of an opinion on something I’ve made.

It’s probably not too surprising that I liked it. To this day, my 93 year old grandmother won’t eat watermelon without salt. Maybe it’s a genetic thing.

Anyone have any stories about things you’ve made that you loved your spouse/family hated? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Santa Fe Quinoa

Santa Fe Quinoa, grilled Mahi Mahi & Fresh Farmers Market Salad

If you’ve read this post, you’ll know I’m a pretty big fan of quinoa. A couple of weeks ago, I created a new recipe using quinoa which I had the opportunity to make again tonight (and actually figure out how I made it). It’s a simple, tasty side dish that’s gluten free and high in protein and most importantly, taste.

2 cups water

1 cup quinoa

1/2 dehydrated corn (I used NOW Corn Off the Cob. There’s no reason you couldn’t use canned corn or even fresh corn cut from a cob)

1 tblsp Sun Dried tomatoes, finely chopped

1/4 to 1 tsp cayenne pepper or chipotle pepper powder (depending on your tolerance for heat)

1/2 tsp dried chili flakes

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp ground cumin

Salt & fresh ground pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a pot, stir, bring to boil, turn down to medium low, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until all water is evaporated.

Serve hot with butter or cold as a salad

makes 4-6 servings

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