Saturday, May 28, 2011

I gots a bezoar, do you gots a bezoar?

Don't worry if you don't. Despite sounding like it came out of a Harry Potter novel (which it did, Harry saves Ron in the Half Blood Prince by stuffing a bezoar down his throat) it's not actually a good thing.

Bezoars are lumps of undigested foods that just sit obstinately in your stomach, causing trouble. Bezoars can be caused by gastroparesis. I realized after reading the symptoms that I probably had a whole gang of bezoars chilling out in my stomach (if only they did something cool like be antidotes to poison). Recently, every time I pooped I felt like I hadn't completely emptied (I know, I know, too much info). Which makes sense if there's a ruddy bezoar in the way.

Well the only dietary cures for bezoars is to go on a low-fibre diet. A what, you say? Well fibre is harder to digest and contribute to bezoar formation like packing snow does to a snow ball. So the best thing to do is to go on a low fibre diet just so that bezoars stop forming and you can cleanse your stomach.

This just goes to prove a point that I've learned a thousand times over since these tummy troubles began: everyone is different. On paper, it looks like I was doing everything right - eating high fibre foods, exercising lots, etc.

But I guess the nutritionist didn't know about bezoars.

Oh well, I forgive her. We can't all know everything. In any case, eating low-fibre doesn't have to mean unhealthy. It just means cooking things well so that the fibre breaks down and makes it easier to digest. That just means more yummy soups for me!

Apparently dairy is ok for a low-fibre diet. If it's ok for you, then go ahead, but for me, it's not. And cold things aren't either (I know, I'm weird.) Plus, we're on a 21-day cleanse, remember?

Of course, once those bezoars are gone, try introducing a little fibre back into your diet. Fibre is good for you, but just like everything else, balance is the key.

I can't tell you how much of a relief it is to finally figure out what is wrong with me. I'm not imagining things. And there is hope. And I don't have colon cancer (fingers crossed). It's just silly bezoars.

Makes you wonder how J.K. Rowling found out about them.

Bezoar Busting Blind Rice AKA Spanish Veggie Paella
This yummy one pot rice dish is called blind rice because the vegetables are cut into microscopic sizes and melts wonderfully into the rice, creating a concoction that even a blind person could eat (as in, no bones to pick). The original recipe called for saffron, but as I am a poor college student and saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, I experimented. And it turned out pretty damn tasty. And filled with goodness. If this is what I have to eat to kick some bezoar booty, I'll gladly eat it every day!
1 onion
a handful of cashews
2 tblsp. olive oil
1 bell pepper
1 zucchini
1 eggplant
2 tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
1 1/3 cups of rice
salt and black pepper to taste (you'll need more than you think because of the rice)
1 tsp. of smoked paprika
4 cups of water
1/2 tsp. of thyme
1/2 tsp. of rosemary
To Cook:
1. Saute your onion in olive oil over low heat until it turns translucent. Toss in the cashews and saute for another couple of minutes.
2. Meanwhile, dice your pepper, zucchini, and eggplant as teeny tiny as you can. Add to the onions and cashews.
3. When vegetables are soft, add diced tomatoes and garlic. Cook for another 5 minutes.
4. Add rice and half of the water, stir fry for about 5 minutes on high heat.
5. Add all your seasonings. and stir well. Then add the rest of the water and cover to cook on low heat. Don't stir.
6. After about 10 minutes, or when the rice starts crackling, check to see if it is done. Pick up a kernel of rice and see if it's soft. If not, add some more water and let to cook longer. (Add water a little at a time to allow the rice to soak it up.) Serve hot. Yum!

Serves 4-6

Memo from Stomach to Brain

Dear Brain,
I know that you're supposed to be the most highly evolved part of the body, but sometimes I can't help but wonder how things would be if I ran the show. I mean, hello? Who's idea was it to down a handful of chocolates (or two or three handfuls...I know that it was Lindt and I know that is was free...but come on!)so that the next thing you know, poor Jenny has enough gas to send her to Pluto and her blood sugar levels are along for the ride?!

And who has to deal with the stomach churning and the bloating and the goddamn feeling of incompetence as I rush to process all that chocolate? Me. For once, I'm going to stand up for myself. I demand a 21 day detox. If you don't take care of me, I quit (where's the stomach union anyhow? I'd like vacation and pension too, please.)
Yours affectionately,

Ok, so now that you all know about my naughty day and the aforementioned trip to the solar system, it's time to get serious. I realized after a hangover day of horrible headaches, tummy bloating, and blood sugar levels like a Six Flags roller coaster ride, that I really had better start taking care of my stomach before it bails on me. So tummy, you win - 21 day detox it is.

Actually the idea came to me when I was reading The Kitchen Shrink, by Natalie Savona, which is really a good book and I recommend that you check it out. There's a bunch of interesting chapters that I might react to in later blog posts if I have the time, written by a Cambridge educated ex-journalist and recovering depression-holic (is that a word?) She suggested a 21 day detox to give your stomach time to recover and start on a clean slate. My plan for the detox is going to be a little different from hers because a) I don't think some of her suggestions will work for my stomach and b) I need some meat protein to maintain my weight.

I've already made my lemon and ginger juice concoction and stuck it in the refrigerator, ready for me to heat up tomorrow morning in the true Ayurvedic fashion (I gave up drinking this a while ago because I couldn't be bothered to make it very morning, I don't know why I didn't think to make a whole batch beforehand).

She also says to have plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, and fibre (which I need to work on). She also says to avoid alcohol, coffee, dairy products, processed and sugary foods, and limit intake of gluten to once every two days. Aside from her suggestion to eat soy for main protein source (because in reality, soy isn't that easy to digest), and snacking on raw veggies (because I can't digest those either) I think this is the way we should be eating all the time. Although I'll pass on her "liver flush" (grapefruit juice, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and ginger).

I'm excited to finally start feeling better and not be in limbo. I think it's time to stop pining after the foods I can't take anymore and give big hugs to the foods I can! I guess this means I'm going to have to be a little more creative with my cooking - good thing I found an awesome Indian cornbread recipe for that pancake batter sitting in the fridge at the moment. And this might mean that I'll be posting more often - which is fab!

Tonight I had buckwheat noodles with miso soup - it was good but not quite right so I'll post the recipe once I've perfected it.

Here's to healthy guts!

Thought for Food: Who wants to join me on this detox? It'll make me feel less lonely...!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Tale of Two Pancakes

Shortly after I moved from my horrendous first house at University of York, I had a craving for cornbread. So I bought a 5 kg bag of cornflour, convinced that cornbread was soon going to be my speciality. Unfortunately, after 3 tries, I had to concede defeat. I just don't think I'm a baking type of person. I'm too tempted to substitute and add random ingredients, and baking is a strict, by the book type of thing; not like cooking. My cornbreads would turn out really soggy or really sour or moist, or collapsed...So in a desperate attempt to use up the massive surplus of cornflour I now had on my hands, I started making pancakes. And now, I think I'm in love. Crisp and golden, I have them for breakfast and snack and love to experiment with fillings. The first batch I made was too egg-y for my taste so I upped the flour ante and accidentally added too much water. But it ended up being just right. Now I just make a huge batch of batter and then whenever I feel the munchies coming on, I whip out my skillet, heat up some oil and enjoy some yummy pancakes in less than 10 minutes. In the end, you use about the same amount of oil that you would if you were to bake the whole thing. Plus, frying lends itself to gluten free flours better because it doesn't cause the stuff to fall apart.

My favorite pancake is the spring onion pancake - a savory pancake with just a little sweetness to it from browning the onions. I also like to add little blueberries sometimes and next week I'm going to experiment with orange juice, green tea, and red bean paste!


Thought for food: Ever wanted to get rid of something that turned out to be wonderful?


Spring Onion Pancake
2 tablespoon potato flour
enough white rice flour to make it up to 1/2 cup
2/3 cup of corn flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
1 egg
1 cup of milk (or water)
5 or 6 spring onions, washed and chopped
1 teaspoon xanthan gum OR guar gum OR pre-gel starch (optional)
To Cook:
1. Mix all the dry ingredients together.
2. Beat the egg in a separate bowl. Add the milk or water.
3. Add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture and stir well. If it is too dry, add a little more water. The mixture should be smooth but thick. If you can, let it sit for a while so that the corn flour soaks up the liquid.
4. Heat a little bit of oil in a pan at medium heat. Pour in the batter - the perfect size is somewhere around 3-4 inches in diameter.
5. When the sides start stiffening, sprinkle in the spring onions, poking them so that they sink into the batter.
6. When bubbles start appearing on the surface of the pancake (about 3 minutes), flip it over and cook the other side for the same amount of time.
Makes 6 pancakes

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bitter Sweet

It's a well-worn cliche; the saying that it's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. It all sounds nice and romantic and idealist, but I always had my doubts. I mean, when it comes to the prospect of pain, I'm an absolute wimp. So the thought of having my heart wrenched out and stomped on? Enough to make me sign up for a convent.

Similarly, every time I'm ecstatically happy and jumping around on my bed, there is a dark cloud that passes over in my mind and a voice that sounds like God on Judgment Day says, "It won't last forever..." Call me bleak. Or call me Charlie Brown, who said "Everytime you get too happy, something bad happens."

I posed this question to my brother - would he rather enjoy moments so much that it makes leaving all the harder? Because if there's one thing I've learned from growing up, it's that nothing lasts forever. He looked at me like I was dumb and said that of course he would rather have the moments.

Which reminded me of hiking in Wales. As we were walking around the quaint little town of Llangollen, dodging cars that seemed to have no moral conscious whatsoever, I spotted what looked like a horse shaped bush at the top of a large hill in the distance. Upon discovering later that this horse-shaped bush was actually castle ruins, we proceeded to climb to it.

Of course, the builders of the castle were smart, and we were dumb in that they purposely built the castle up a very, very high steep mountain and if any invaders dressed in jeans and carrying cameras, but foolishly forgot to bring provisions (ie. water and food), would perish and have no hope of invading.

We passed by a family bickering about how much longer the hike would take. We passed another couple of people who had presumably passed out by the wayside. And still, we kept going. I'd always wondered if hikers ever got bored of just climbing up to see a beautiful view that they'd seen several times before, only to climb back down again.

When we got to the top though, it was all worth it. Collapsing on the grass, it was just as well that there was no castle walls to penetrate or guards to fight off. No, it was just us, some tourists, and the breathtaking Welsh countryside, stretched out in front of us like an undulating ocean of green, cottages, and sheep. Something like pride rose in my chest with the cool wind as it wicked the sweat off our faces.

My legs were incredibly sore the next day, which unfortunately, made dodging morally questionable cars more difficult. Bitter, yes. But sweet as well. Oh so sweet.

Maybe my brother was right. Even the pain makes us remember that we're alive. and that is all that matters. That we're alive - and that we can feel.

Plus, with every tear, the smile is sweeter, with every winter, the spring is more lovely, with every night, the sunrise is all the more breathtaking. And of course, the steeper the climb, the better the view.

I remember this as many of my friends are graduating from university and some are leaving home forever. I might never see them again. But it's a bitter sweet time: bitter because of the good-byes, sweet because of the times we remember. I'll gladly suffer the pain so that I can cherish the memories of laughter.


Thought for food: What's your best bitter sweet memory?


Bitter Melon with Eggs
I hated eating bitter melon when I was growing up - but then I found this marvelous recipe that added a hint of sweetness. The secret is in caramelizing the onions, so make sure that the onions are nice and golden before you add the bitter melon.
1/2 onion, chopped
1 bitter melon, chopped and deseeded
2 eggs, beaten
To Cook:
1. Heat a tablespoon of oil and add the onions. Saute for about 3-5 minutes until the onions are nice and brown, but not burnt.
2. Add the bitter melon and cook on medium until soft.
3. Add the eggs and salt. Pour in a tiny bit of water if it sticks to the bottom of the pan. Cook until done. Serve with rice.
Serves 1.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Is it Possible to Love Something to Death?

I used to love bread. Absolutely love it. And I wasn't discriminating towards any kind of bread either - challah, raisin bread, whole wheat, white, French, soda, garlic, you name it - I loved it. There were few foods in my life that could compare with my love of bread - there was just something so simple and yet good about it. It was fluffy, warm, and smelled wonderful. With butter, jam, honey, or by itself, it was amazing. I could go through a whole loaf if no one stopped me. And when college rolled around, I proceeded to do just that.

And then came the terrible day when eating bread made me sick. It gave me tummy-aches and made me fart. How could such a wonderful thing do such horrible things to my body? I felt so betrayed.

I had a conversation with my flatmate today about how food intolerances develop. He said that he had a friend who ate 4 eggs every day developed an egg allergy. He himself once ate oranges for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, because they were so cheap, that he developed rashes all the way up his arms until he stopped eating them. Could it be possible that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing?

Yes, indeed, it is possible. While food allergies generally develop from a young age because it has to do with the immune system, food intolerances have to do with the gastrointestinal system and therefore can develop when your body gets an overdose of something. The differences in symptoms are very slight and so to make sure, you should go to a doctor and get checked out. I did a test for gluten allergy last year (since my brother is allergic to gluten) and tested negative. The only way you can test for a food intolerance is through an elimination diet. So if you try to eliminate something from your diet and you feel a lot better but don't test positive for an allergy, then chances are, you developed a food intolerance.

It's funny how when you love something so much, it actually turns against you. I thought I was expressing my love for bread to its fullest when I ate so much of it, but ironically, now I can't eat any of it at all. The upside is that now I actually get to say that I have overdosed on bread.

It's been a hard lesson to learn for me. For someone who loves to overdose on everything (except drugs of course!) sometimes it's hard for me to take things in moderation. I like to think of myself as someone who just likes to live big, but of course, getting tummyaches and feeling nauseous and irritable etc. prevents me from living big the way I want to. Because after all, how can I go backpacking when I feel dizzy with weakness every time I go for a run? How can I run a summer camp for underpriveleged kids if I have to run to the bathroom all the time?


Thought for food: What's your favorite food ever? Celebrate it by taking eating just a little bit of today and saving more for later.


Image: chopstock

Friday, April 29, 2011

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

In honor of the Royal Wedding today, I decided to post my very own sketchy York encounter...

Two days ago, I was coming off the train from London, exhausted and walking like a zombie. I figured that since I was in the city anyway, I would do some shopping. It was good - I bought a pair of shoes (for £18! a bargain if I do say so myself) and a ton of groceries. Thus laden with bags and my travelling backpack, I proceeded to look for the bus stop home.

As my friends at Uni will attest, the bus stops for the number 44 are notoriously inconvenient and difficult to find and I always get lost looking for it. So as I was wandering the streets, squinting at bus stop signs, cursing under my breath, and feeling like my arms were going to snap off (I must have looked like a raving homeleses person) some guy stops me. He was in his late mid 30's and I was not pleased to be interrupted, especially since he most likely was a tourist looking for directions (York is swarming with tourists this time of year).

"Excuse me, I'm sorry to bother you but I was just wondering where you were from."
"The United States."
"Oh really? What are you doing in York?"
"I'm taking a term here."
"What are you studying?"
"English literature"
"Right...because the Americans need to learn English too, right? Hahah..."
Not funny, mister. I want to go home.
"Listen, I know you probably get this all the time, but I think you're incredibly beautiful."
Yeah? Save the pick-up lines for some other miserable soul who doesn't feel like her arms are being dragged to the pits of the earth.
"Do you - do you mind if I kiss you on the cheek?"
What? What the heck did he say? Before I could react, I received a whiskery kiss.
"I know you probably get this all the time, but I was wondering...would you like to go out for coffee sometime?"
"I just think you're so beautiful and I just had to ask."
Ok, if you hadn't said the word beautiful twenty times already I might actually believe that this. I sputtered something lame like, "I'm really busy."
He looked crestfallen. "It's only a cup of coffee..."
"Yeah, well I'm really busy, I'm really sorry" I said, rambling with gusto. "I'm sure there are other more beautiful girls in the future you can take to coffee."
"Well beauty is in the eye of the beholder isn't it, and I think that you're - "
I shook my head vigorously before he would say the word "beautiful" again for the umpteenth time.
"Alright, well have a good day," he said and waved cheerily.

I spun around on the spot a couple of times before picking a direction and going. Interestingly enough, it turned out to be the right way and I made it to the bus stop without any further incident. Thank god.


Thought for food: Tell someone they're beautiful today (without being sketchy about it). Be sincere and genuine. :)

Rice Cake Pizza
This has nothing to do with beauty except that it looks mighty beautiful to me when I'm hungry! I spent hours looking for a gluten free pizza dough recipe but when my brother came to visit me, we just whipped this up with whatever I had in my cupboard. And it tasted even better than real pizza.
4 rice cakes
2 vine ripe tomatoes
1/2 onion
1 tablespoon of oregano
1 tablespoon of thyme
black pepper
3 mushrooms
100g chevre blanc goat cheese
To Cook:
1. Slice tomatoes and onion to saute in olive oil. Add salt and allow to simmer on medium-low until tomatoes have turned mushy. Add oregano, thyme, and black pepper. Spoon into a bowl. Preheat oven to 350 degreees Fahrenheit.
2. Lightly saute mushrooms in a little salt until water has been released.
3. Using a butter knife, use the tomato sauce to cover the rice cakes. Then add thin layers of cheese. Top with mushrooms and more herbs to taste.
4. Pop everything into the oven and bake only until the cheese begins to melt - about 5-10 minutes.

Serves 2.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Forever Young

My brother and I just got back from a one week vacation in Wales and London. My favorite part about Wales is the sheep - they were everywhere and they made an awful racket (in a cute way that only sheep can). The rolling hills, the canals and the farmland, was absolutely beautiful.What's even better was their dairy products - I have never had better yogurt, ice cream, or milk in my life. They don't skimp on the good stuff - no low fat nonsense in Wales! Jack and I shared a Honeycomb ice cream tub; sweet with toffee and creamy richness with just a hint of salty-ness. Pure heaven.

London on the other hand, was a bit disappointing. We stayed in a really nice part of the city - Kensington - but I guess that I'm just a country mouse rather than a city mouse. The streets were busy, the double decker buses roared by, spewing exhaust every where, and I thought that a lot of the tourist attractions were a bit of a let down. To me, they were just man made buildings, like the "Round Pond" in Kensington Gardens and all the loot from the British empire in the British Museum. It was nice to visit, but definitely not where I would live.

We stayed at a hostel that looked very beautiful from the outside, but the inside was another story entirely. There were 21 beds in one room, three bunks stacked on top of each other so that if you were on the bottom, you'd feel like you were in a coffin. There was a spider hanging from my bed and the bathroom was leaking. I had to be moved from my original room because it was flooding. Jack and I were making lunch and the stove short-circuited and exploded on us.

On the train ride back to York though, I hummed happily to myself as I watched the fields of daffodils speeding past me. There's something about being in an army bunker and surviving it that is exhilirating. Isn't this the stuff that life is made of?

Travelling makes you realize that the little things like waking up with a bad hair day really doesn't matter so much now that you've spent a week making your tiny travel bottle of shampoo last and having trying to saw at carrots with bread knives. At the Frankfurt hostel in Germany, when I was feeling sorry for myself for having to cook for myself while my friends went around Germany eating schnitzel and bread and other gluten-ous things, I met a guy from Miami who had missed his plane and was stranded with no cash at all. He had to sleep on park benches and ask for food from places like the hostel until his friends were able to get him another flight due out half a week later. And yet he seemed unfazed. He cheerfully bit into the sandwhich that the hostel receptionist had provided for him and told me that he wished he had taken his education more seriously when he was in high school. He said that he would skip classes all the time back then, but recently he had gotten really interested in quantam physics and wished he had an opportunity to study that now. We chatted about global warming and other cheerful topics. Then we said goodbye.

On our last day in London, we met a 50-something woman who had been all over Europe and still planned on going until she dropped. She worked as a nurse and still traipsed across the globe after her shifts were over. And I thought to myself: that's what I want to be like years from now, forever young, forever free and always in awe of the world around me.

Thought for food: If you could go anywhere, where would you go and why?

On-the-Go Rice Pudding

Jack and I made this over and over again while we were on the road until we perfected it. It's a very healthy way to start an exciting day without any added sugar! If you don't have much time, add a little more water and turn up the heat.
2/3 cups of jasmine rice
3 dried figs (or dates or raisins, or whatever you have handy)
1 cup of whole milk or soy milk (It's very important to use whole milk, otherwise your pudding will taste very watery)
1 banana
To cook:
1. Rinse out the rice. Cover with water and let simmer gently on stove top for about 30 minutes (turn it lower if it starts drying out too quickly). Roughly chop figs and add.
2. Add milk and let simmer and milk has been all soaked up.
3. Chop up bananas and add. Turn off stove and let steam for about 10 minutes. Yum!

Serves 2

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Trust and Sweet Potatoes

A couple of days ago, alarming graffiti started appearing in our kitchen.
The likes of "Dirty Pole Bastard", "F***ing Jew", "Whore, "Dirty Welsh F***" and others I cannot bear to repeat, decorated the cupboards of the residents in my hall.

This prompted a flurry of investigation from the inept British police officers who seem more intent on keeping their shiny uniforms clean than doing any real investigation. Sensationalized school press only encouraged the vandalism.

The next day, unpreturbed by the extra lock placed on our kitchen door, more graffiti decorated the halls:

"R+L Will Burn in Hell"
"Die, die, die"

A hangman was drawn in the showers and cross eyed men stared out at us from the mirrors. One of my friends happened to be visiting this past weekend and nearly got smashed over the head with a broom when she went upstairs to make tea.

The worst part of this whole thing is that the vandalizer is someone who lives among us. He (or she) knows whose locker is whose (even though they don't have any identifying personal effects) and times the vandalism just right. I went in to the kitchen to put my sweet potato to bake at 4:30pm and at 5:00pm, the words had appeared on the cupboards.

Rumours started flying about who the "Midnight Scrawler" could be. I was convinced that it was the guy who lived across the hall from me. Someone else said it was the guy who lived next to me. You can be sure I locked my door at night!

Among the people accused was a 3rd year archaeology student. They all thought that he was so annoyed by the lack of interest the college had in the food theft that was going on in the kitchen that he decided to up the ante. Furthermore, he was the one who discovered the graffiti everytime fresh ones appeared.

The trouble was, if there was anyone I didn't want to suspect, it was him. He was from Bristol, a bit brash and proud, but otherwise very nice. I could tell that the other students were prejudiced against him because he was an outsider, not a first year student who was into clubbing like they were (a bit like me, really). They made snide remarks about his girlfriend just because she was shy. We always had interesting conversations in the kitchen and he would inform me of the complicated nature of British politics.

But as I thought about it more and more, it seemed possible that he was the guilty one. The handwriting certainly seemed similar and the logic made sense. Plus, he lived on the third floor and so would have a lot of opportunity to sneak out and decorate the kitchen. And I hated to admit it, but I could tell that he had a sense of humor that might find the ridiculousness of it all somewhat funny.

Apparently, the police thought the same thing because they questioned him rather harshly, asking him how his record would look to graduate schools if it had an arrest on it. He came into the kitchen in tears and I was shocked.

Yesterday, he came into the kitchen and gave me a bag of sweet potatoes, which he knows I eat like candy.

"I might not be coming back tomorrow," he said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Well my advisor told me that anything more happens, I won't get any extensions on my final thesis. So he recommended that I move out."

I gave him a hug and said good-bye. I still didn't know whether or not this was his way of backing out of a situation that had gone out of control or whether he genuinely didn't feel safe here anymore. It doesn't matter. Sometimes, you just have to trust someone on their word.

Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew
2 chicken breasts
2 sweet potatoes
1 large onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
6 white button mushrooms, chopped
1 cup sweet peas
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp of ground black pepper

To Cook:
1. Place chicken, mushrooms, onion, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper in a pot; stir to combine. Put the lid on and cook on medium for about an hour.
2. Add sweet potatoes and cook for another hour.
3. Add in sweet peas and cook until peas are done.

Serves 2.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tapas Fit for a Dragon Slayer - Spanish Omelette Recipe

This past weekend my friend Lena, who is studying abroad at Saint Andrews University up in Scotland came to visit me. I didn't realize how much I missed her and everything that had to do with the United States until after she had come. The minute we sighted each other at the train station, we ran screaming to each other and into a humongous hug - one extremely tall Norwegian girl, and the other extremely short Asian girl. It was perfect.

The weather gods smiled upon us because I swear, it was the first time since I've been here that the sky was clear and sunny. York must have known that Lena was coming to town because it was also the weekend of the Viking celebration. We both dressed up in Viking garb and were dubbed the Wolf Hunter (Lena) and the Dragon Slayer (me).

On top of that, there was a continental farmer's market in the city, which is where merchants from all over Europe come and entice Yorkers with their nibbles. They had everything from fresh olives from Greece to Dutch pancakes made on the spot. It was heaven for a foodie (and anyone, really). I had a Spanish Paella for lunch which wasn't that great, but the Spanish Omelette I had for dinner was amazing. Plus, I got two slices for the price of one because the stall was closing down, and that made it taste even better!

The next day, when Lena and I said our good-byes, a wave of happiness intermingled with sadness hit me, like a sea breeze does. Her visit reminded me that we don't fully appreciate all the wonderful things in our life until we miss them.

Spanish Omelette Recipe
300ml olive oil
1 medium onion, finely sliced
2 large waxy potatoes such as Jersey Royals or Charlottes, peeled, halved and cut into thin slices
6 medium eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 bunches of spinach

To Cook:
1. Pour boiled water onto spinach slowly until wilted. Squeeze all water out of spinach and set aside.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium flame, add the onion and cook gently for 10 minutes until soft and brown.
3. Add the potatoes let the vegetables stew gently, partially covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are softened. Strain the potatoes and onions through a colander into a large bowl (set the strained oil aside). Stir in the spinach.
4. Add the potato and onion to the beaten eggs. Add salt and pepper to taste and leave to stand for 20 minutes.
5. Add olive oil to your frying pan on medium heat and tip the omelette mixture in. Felicity Cloake on Word of Mouth Blog suggests, "Cook until it comes away from the edge of the pan, and looks about two thirds set."
6. Put a large plate over your pan, and flip it over so that the cooked side is face up on the plate. Then slide the uncooked side back into the pan. Cook until it is springy to the touch, moist in the middle. Don't overcook it!
Serves 4.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Winter Vermicelli, a mung bean fiasco and a mystery...

I have a problem where my eyes are bigger than my tummy. Last week, I went grocery shopping and spent £40 in one go. Yes, £40. That's $60+. Most of the things were of the snack variety. One of them was a package of mung beans because I wanted to make honey mung bean soup for snack (recipe to come).

So per the instructions, I rinsed the beans three times and then let them soak. And soak. And soak. And I guess I forgot about them because everywhere I turned there was something else to eat before it went bad, so by the time I remembered those poor little mung beans again, they were emitting bubbles in the water.

Not a good sign when your mung beans start farting.

But I'm not one to waste things, so I optimistically put them in a pot and let them stew. When I got back to the kitchen, a smell of poop reached my nose. Oops.

So I had to dump them out the window. Lesson learned. Hopefully.

In other news, there's a thief on the loose in our kitchen. When I first arrived, the students of this dorm warned me to keep any yummy foods in my room (although given my mung bean fiasco I'm not sure this is a great idea either). One girl had bought 3 cheesecakes for a friend's going away party and put them in the refrigerator. When she got back, 2 of them were gone. Two whole cheesecakes. The chocolate she had bought in Switzerland was gone as well. Another girl had bought a carton of Ben and Jerry's...gone within a day. And she had apparently hidden it in a bag deep inside the freezer so someone has been pawing through our stuff regularly. Another guy found that one of this red peppers had been reduced to half a red pepper. Gone the way peoples' meatballs, bacon, cheese, etc. have gone.

I haven't head anything stolen yet because all my stuff is usually raw, but I'm sitting on pins and needles. I want to buy some nice things to eat once in a while, but if they're going to get stolen...we're going to have to do some Home Alone style kitchen thief napping.

Winter Vermicelli (guaranteed to warm you up!)
1 bunch of baby bok choy, chopped
1 tablespoon of ginger, minced
3 shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp of sesame oil
2 stalks of spring onion
100 grams of vermicelli
Salt and Pepper to taste

To Cook:
1. Add mushrooms, ginger, and garlic to 1 liter of water and bring to boil.
2. Meanwhile, soak vermicelli in freshly boiled water for 5 minutes.
3. Add bok choy and salt to vegetables. Let simmer until vegetables have softened.
4. Drain vermicelli and add to pot of vegetables. Let simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Add spring onion.
Serves 1-2.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Flirty Lamb Stew

When I first moved in to my room at the University of York, I was exhausted. I hadn't gotten any sleep for 42 hours, had to sit next to and talk to a guy who justified the actions of the Virginia Tech killer on the plane, and had to drag my two suitcases across town (a walk that took about 45 minutes).

So when I open the door, I was hoping for home sweet home. Or at least home sorta home. What greeted me was a tenement style house, with a kitchen where clean dishes were extinct and a window that was covered in greasy fat.
Welcome to England!

Of course, I soon learned that England is NOT all like this at all. Apparently, the guy who used to live in my room was teased so badly that he had to move out. The other kids in the house, in wild partying mood no doubt, threw food at his window. (Incidentally, I learned that this was not an anomaly in this house. Apparently the boys subscribed to a "If it sticks to the wall, it's done" rule for cooking. So there are noodles on the walls of the kitchen as well.)

Then one day, I walked in and found my chopping board out of its cupboard in the middle of the kitchen, with a knife through it. The handiwork of one Mike who carried around a huge beer mug bearing the image of Mr. Grumpy. Needless to say, I was freaked. I went straight to the college administrator and begged her to move me out. I went back to my room and triple locked my door.

So in this harrowing experience, as most harrowing experiences do, a romance began to blossom. Ok, so maybe not blossom. Maybe not even feebly poke its head out of the ground. But I like to pretend it did.

He was always smiling. When I walked in, he'd say "Hiya!" as if it were the first time I saw him. When I walked out, he'd say "See ya!" with a smile that would charm the paws off a cat.

One weekend, when everyone else had either gone home or were sleeping, he and I talked in the kitchen for a long time. He was from the Lake District, the beautiful English countryside famed for inspiring poets and writers. He had an older sister and he played the guitar. He loved slack-lining and rock climbing and had a boyish charm. And when I confided in him that I was going to move out because Mike was freaking me out, he shook his head and said "Do you want me to have a go at him?" That did it for me. I fell for him hard.

And when I bought some organic lamb to make some lamb stew and he happened to be hanging around the kitchen, I offered him some. He was properly amazed and grateful and said that it was the best meal he had eaten since he had arrived at college. Not surprising, given how full of frozen foods the refrigerator seemed to be.
Alas, I moved out of that room to a much bigger and safer one elsewhere in the college. Now I have my own bathroom and shower and don't have to deal with knife wielding Mr. Grumpies.

As for my fling? I like to think that the taste of my lamb stew still lingers upon his tongue and that on lonely weekends, he still thinks of me.

Flirty Lamb Stew Recipe
2 lb lamb chops
3-4 cups of water
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 vine ripe tomato
1 tablespoon of ginger, finely minced
1 spring onion, chopped

To cook:
1. Bring water to bubble in a dutch oven and let lamb chops simmer for 2-3 minutes. Drain, and refill the pot with water, lamb chops, and ginger. Let stew for half an hour.
2. Add onions, celery, carrots, tomato, salt and pepper to taste. Let stew for another half an hour on low-medium heat.
3. Add spring onions and let it simmer for 10 minutes.
Serves 4

(Photos to come, as soon as I can find out how to upload photos on British computers!)