Category Archives: Just for fun

Tasty freebies & amazing buys at the Gluten Free Expo

The aftermath of my visit to the Gluten Free Expo in Toronto. (Minus the kitty.)

The aftermath of my visit to the Gluten Free Expo in Toronto. (Minus the kitty. I had her already.)

Today I let my inner gluten free foodie run wild at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for this year’s Gluten Free Expo. (Full disclosure: I now work at the convention centre and was live-tweeting from the expo showroom.) This is the second g-free food event I have had the pleasure of attending, and it did not disappoint. An array of food was available for sampling, and while I normally make a beeline towards the sweet treats, today I gravitated towards the more savoury options. And was I ever glad I did. Sauces, sausage, pizza, lasagna, and ravioli graced my taste buds. I even had perogies for the first time in years. This might have been the highlight of my visit, and, yes, I bought some as well.

The expo was an exciting place to spend a few hours on what could have been a lazy Sunday. Vendors were busy catering to hungry crowds, who were eager to sample something new. At some booths, the samples couldn’t be prepared fast enough as expo-goers quickly seized bite-sized teasers of what could become bigger, future meals to come. When people were waiting for food, the delay did not spark any impatient irritation among them. Exhibitors came equipped with gluten free material and engaged in informative conversations. Yes, people were at the expo to learn, too. Leading experts in the industry delivered helpful presentations on the benefits of living gluten free lifestyles. Kathy Smart, author of “Live the Smart Way,” offered her expertise and spent time speaking with visitors of the expo further when she was done.

As you can see in the image above, I picked up quite a bit. Another shopping bag item that piques my interest is an organic pasta made entirely of beans. I’m excited to try this in the coming weeks and review it here on my blog. That’s my plan for most of the items I snatched up today, so stay tuned!

The busy showroom floor of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

The busy showroom floor of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

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The Paleo Diet: “More what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules”

Was Capt. Barbossa on the Paleo Diet?

Was Capt. Barbossa on the Paleo Diet?

This week I’m deviating from my gluten free theme and focusing on the Paleo Diet.

I work for one of the largest Canadian news organizations, and last week I penned a health article on the controversy surrounding the diet.

I really didn’t know much about it. While I had come across many a Paleo recipe in my never-ending online hunt for meal ideas, I didn’t really know what it was. I just knew that when I found a Paleo recipe, it was gluten free, too.

In my research, I stumbled upon numerous articles that either supported or criticized the lifestyle. After many hours of reading (it was hard to pull myself away from the debate, actually), all I had in my mind was a scene from the first Pirates of the Caribbean, where Captain Barbossa is giving Elizabeth Swann a good verbal smack-down of what the Pirate’s Code is all about.

“The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules,” he spits out with a smirk.

It’s a classic scene, and I tried oh-so hard to find a way to incorporate it into my article. I didn’t actually do it. Alas, there was no smooth way to pull it off. But I did allude to it. For those who read the article below, you’ll see how I wove it in.

Anyway, this scene was ringing in my mind when reading about the Paleo Diet because when it comes down to it, to eat like a caveman does not mean to eat exactly what he ate. Those who embody the lifestyle model their nutrition plan on our ancestors using the food available to them now.

There’s more I could say about the Paleo Diet, but why not let the article do the talking from here?

And for those who are now compelled to catch that Pirates of the Caribbean scene, here it is, in all its (blurry) glory.

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Making Macarons, part two: The ‘hey-I-think-I’ve-got-the-hand-of-this’ edition

The perfect French macaron, made by yours truly.

The perfect French macaron, made by yours truly.

See that macaron pictured in the photo right above this line? I did that.

Well, to be perfectly honest, my mom and I did that.

The second time I made macaron shells proved far more successful than the first, and I’m chalking this up to two reasons:

  • I made them with someone who made them before. Granted, my mom had only made them once, but once just so happened to be enough.
  • We had all the right tools. A food processor, a fine-holed strainer – you name it, it was there. And it made all the difference.

We followed this Martha Stewart recipe and combined it with tips my mom had transcribed from a ‘how-to’ baking session on the French treat. While both my mom and I embarked on this challenge together, there were many a few times when I took a step back and just watched. This isn’t a cake or batch of cookies. I consider macarons ‘advanced baking,’ and as such, sometimes the best way to learn is by shadowing someone who knows what they are doing.

Must-have tips when making macarons

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Making Macarons, part one: The ‘these-would-get-me-slapped-by-any-self-respecting-Parisian’ edition

French macarons, attempt #1

French macarons, attempt #1

Ok. Remember when I said I vowed I would one day become a French Macaron Connoisseur? In November I took some birthday money and bought myself this book. Upon flipping through ‘Les Petits Macarons’ in the store, I knew this purchase would be one of the better ‘fun’ buys I’ve made in a while. It seemed there were endless fillings, both of the sweet and savory variety, just waiting to be sandwiched between those delicate, colourful, little shells.

One chilly day leading up to Christmas, my cousin came over to help me make macarons for the first time. These were to be my contribution to a family Christmas get-together.  We’re Italian, so I was pretty sure we wouldn’t be seeing macarons on the dessert table. Cannoli and biscotti would be plentiful, but a French sweet? Unlikely. My platter will impress all, I thought, confidently.

Here’s the thing. I didn’t exactly plan well. And there’s no excuses, really. I had the book at my fingertips for at least a week leading up to the big baking day. But like a four-year-old with a picture book, I was too busy marveling at the photos. I was immediately caught off guard. I had four methods to choose from for the shells alone. Would I make them French-style? Swiss? Italian? All these looked pretty advanced to me. Something akin to sweet relief is what I felt when I saw my fourth option, the ‘easiest French macaron method.’ Done.

When my cousin and I got to work, I realized I didn’t have a couple must-have kitchen items. I was missing a food processor and a fine-holed strainer. All I had was a pasta strainer, and this wouldn’t work well when sifting the almond flour and icing sugar. We whisked these ingredients together along with cocoa (because we were making chocolate shells), until they looked well-mixed. And they did, but it wasn’t a fine mixture like it was supposed to be. We continued on preparing this so-called ‘easiest’ shell concoction for far longer than I’m sure it was supposed to take. But hey, we had questions.

Did we already add the sugar? No.

Confectioners sugar. Is that the coarse kind? No.

Why don’t they just say icing sugar? I’m still wondering, actually.

What on earth is a ‘soft peak’? Nota bene: When egg whites are beaten till peaks form.

We finally finished the shells and popped them in the oven. What came in the middle was next. In the spirit of Christmas, I had selected a candy cane filling. It was basically a vanilla filling featured in my book, only I had replaced the vanilla extract with peppermint and added crushed candy canes. Sounds good, right? Wrong.

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(Mostly) gluten free Thanksgiving treats: How I glutened myself

Cute mini gluten free pies. Except for the ones on the left. Those are cute, but deadly.

Cute mini gluten free pies. Except for the ones on the left. Those are cute, but deadly.

This year, I decided it had been far too long since I had pumpkin pie, so I set out to make that. A few days before I hit the kitchen to whip it up, I visited an apple orchard. Before I knew it my fridge was bursting with apples. Ok, looks like I’m making some apple pie, too, I thought.

Since I had never made pie crust before (and my only experience with it was — occasionally — watching my mom release a string of expletives because the dough wouldn’t hold together — sorry mom!), I did some heavy duty googling.  In my search for the easiest of pie crusts, I came across images of charming little pies baked in cupcake pans. Well, I certainly had a couple of those! Just like that my pie baking feat morphed into a mini pie baking feat. And, if I do say so myself, they came out pretty darn cute!

For the crust, I used Bob’s Red Mill gluten free ‘easy as pie crust’ recipe. I doubled the recipe and added 1 tbsp of sugar, as the pie crusts I’ve always had had a hint of sweetness to them.

For the apple filling, I used Chef Michael Smith’s recipe (only I, of course, substituted the flour with all-purpose gluten free flour).

For the pumpkin filling, I used E.D. Smith’s pumpkin pie filling.

And this is how I glutened myself.

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A lovely gluten free wedding cake just for me, part deux

It's hard to believe it's been two years since we got engaged!

It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since we got engaged!

Well, I can’t believe I’m writing this as it really doesn’t feel like it’s been 365 days, but this weekend my husband and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary. In the morning he surprised me with a beautiful bouquet, and then we took to our car and journeyed three hours away to Algonquin Park, which was were he had proposed to me two years ago. There, on bended knee, he asked me to marry him. On a ‘lookout point’ cliff top. In front of dozens of tourists. The ‘oooohs’ and ‘ahhhhs’ coming from our sudden audience made me tongue-tied, to say the least. So much so that I left the poor guy suspended on bended knee for far longer than I had intended. When I heard one person not too far away whisper, ‘oh my God, is she going to say no?!’ I finally snapped out of my stage fright and said, ‘Yes!’

One year after that we were walking down the aisle, and now one year after that we are marveling at the fact that it’s been a year. It almost feels funny ringing in ‘one year,’ as we’ve been together for almost a decade, but it’s fun having another milestone to celebrate.

After a year of staring at wrapped up leftover wedding cake sitting in our freezer, we finally put it in the fridge yesterday to defrost. Will it taste good? Who knows; we’re about to find out. His might taste a better, as it looks like it was wrapped up with a bit more care. Yes, we do have a ‘his and hers’ wedding cake. As I told in one of my earlier posts, he had surprised me with a maple gluten free wedding cake just for me, as I had recently discovered my gluten intolerance. So whether the cake tastes fresh or stale, this is a fun wedding tradition we’ve both been looking forward to for the past year, and it’s the perfect way to end a spectacular weekend down memory lane 🙂

Blast from the past meets present day: A piece of cake from our wedding day, one year ago today, and a bouquet to celebrate our one year.

Blast from the past meets present day: A piece of cake from our wedding day, one year ago today, and a bouquet to celebrate our one year.

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Bye, Bitch! My gluten free farewell to ‘Breaking Bad’

The definitive 'Breaking Bad' menu for the Gluten Intolerant

The definitive ‘Breaking Bad’ menu for the Gluten Intolerant

Warning: While there aren’t any specific spoilers in this post, some juicy tidbits are alluded to.

Like almost all my favourite shows, I got into ‘Breaking Bad’ late. How late, you ask? I started watching a month ago. Yes, just one month was all it took for it to rank up there on my list of favourite shows. My brother had been trying to get me to watch from season one, but he never said anything about the show that made it appealing. Did he say the show explored the epic, torturous downward spiral of a teacher-turned-drug kingpin? Not really.

Did he say it had the perfect blend of comedy and drama? Nope.

What did he focus on exactly? All the stuff that would make this squeamish gal not at all interested in tuning in, that’s what. How many times had I heard about ‘this person melting’ and ‘that person’s face exploding off,’ I’ll never know. And to his credit, he did insist ‘Breaking Bad’ was so much more than that, but I was too chicken to give it a shot. (Los Pollos, anyone?)

That was the case, anyway, till last month’s dinner guests saw we had Netflix and ‘wanted to see what this ‘Breaking Bad’ was all about.’ Our friends eagerly sat and watched the first couple of episodes with wide eyes as I sat there, oftentimes with my eyes shielded behind my hands, waiting for bodies to melt and faces to explode.

Fans of the show won’t be surprised to read I didn’t have to wait too long to see someone melt. Ah, that famous bathtub scene happened in episode two, I believe. And as much as that graphic portrayal of body decomposition turned my stomach, I got hooked onto the show. Indeed, there is so much more to it.

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Gluten free Thanksgiving prep

Jon and I, a couple years back, after making our own Thanksgiving cornucopias.

Jon and I, a couple years back, after making our own Thanksgiving cornucopias.

My favourite time of year has always been ‘holiday season,’ and by that, I’m not being politically correct. ‘Holiday season’ is an exhilarating eight-month deal for me, as I consider September (the kick-start to fall and harvest and all that good stuff) to April (spring-time flowers and Easter) book-ending this. Do I show favouritism towards any specific holidays within this eight-month span? Of course. Christmas tops my top-3-favourite-times-of-year list, and Thanksgiving and Halloween follow.

So naturally, being September and all, I started thinking about the first event slated in the (Canadian) calendar: Thanksgiving, which this year falls in two weeks.

I’m especially excited for it this year, as I didn’t celebrate it last year. Why? I was busy getting married! While my husband I made sure to infuse fall-themed meals and flavours into our day, we missed out on the turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. So, naturally, this year I plan on going all-out with as many gluten free equivalents as I can muster up. ‘Maybe I can even make those cornucopias again,’ I thought. This is where my excitement started to really percolate.

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Gluten free goodies at Tim Hortons? Finally!

Tim Hortons' answer to gluten free treats: the chocolate drizzled coconut macaroon

Tim Hortons’ answer to gluten free treats: the chocolate drizzled coconut macaroon

I keep a memo in my phone at all times so I can jot down blog ideas including, but not limited to, recipes, triumphs, and (of course) rants. And it wasn’t too long ago that I wrote, ‘Tim Hortons, make a G-free doughnut, dammit!!!’

I don’t remember when I wrote it, but it was probably after a coffee date with friends, where they happily nibbled on the sugary treat and left me to…drink my coffee. Oh woes me, right? Well hey. It was not every day that I used to have a doughnut, so it’s not like I’m really missing them, but I guarantee you it’s not fun to be the only one in a group not having one. Especially when your friends do the side-head-tilt and sadly ask, ‘if you have one just this one time, will it really hurt your stomach?’

Yes. Yes it will.

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G-free party food: My go-to dishes

It’s already August and looking back I can say with confidence that this was a summer of parties. From the exciting events leading to a couple of best friends’ wedding to toasting a new home, I had an unofficial part-time job as hostess this season.

The truth is, playing hostess is a fun pastime I don’t think I will ever tire from. But wow, can it get expensive. Especially if you’re planning a unique g-free menu.  I’ll admit for a couple gatherings I took the easy way out and opted to prepare solely ‘normal dishes’ (aka, gluten-filled) just for convenience sake, but munching on veggies while my guests indulged in mouthwatering appetizers always ended up being a regret.

I think I’ve found my footing now, and it’s fun discovering new ways to satisfy my guests’ taste buds, and mine. So what were some items I served?

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