Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pear Custard

Pear CustardIt's been a while, but this is my final recipe from the Allergy and Candida Cooking Made Easy cookbook. The new diet I'm on is even more strict than this cookbook so it's harder to find recipes I can use, especially in the dessert category as the only sweetener I'm allowed to have is green leaf stevia powder.  Pears have a lower sugar content than most fruits so I thought this would be a good recipe to try.

I used my juicer which I haven't used for quite a while to make the pear juice for the custard.  The juicer strips out the pulp so what comes out should be pure juice.  The juice seemed to separate though, leaving a  clear liquid on the bottom and a layer of cloudy, foamy juice on top.  I suppose I could have tried filtering it to get rid of that but decided to just leave it in.

There isn't much to the recipe just pear juice, eggs, homemade almond milk and a few spices.  It tastes similar to my morning egg drink which I sometimes put a little pear in.  I thought it turned out pretty well compared to most of the recipes from the cookbook.  This weekend I may try sprinkling some sugar on one of them and torching it to make a brulee.  Not for me of course since I can't have the sugar, it'll be for Mark.

D'Anjou Pears
Pear Juice Uncooked Pear Custard

Monday, November 21, 2011

Capture Thanksgiving Memories

Thanksgiving is almost here! Do you spend yours with family, friends or stay at home by yourself? I've spent my Thanksgivings over the years in many different ways. Most of them have been with family but there have been years where it was spent with friends and other times have just had a quiet day at home. Whether with family or friends one thing you can usually count on is an obscene amount of food.

Last year I had the privilege of having two Thanksgiving feasts. I took part in a pottery/cooking class with Chef Robin Leventhal and one of the classes centered around Thanksgiving dishes. The class assisted as Chef Robin showed us how to make everything for a Thanksgiving feast including turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy, salad, salad dressing and even brussel sprouts.  How we were able to make all of this in one class session I have no idea.  I enjoyed photographing this unique way of celebrating the holiday. The photos at the end of the blog post were all taken during that class using an Olympus E-P1 and no flash.

One thing to keep in mind when photographing the holiday is to capture not only the food but the people too.  Try getting some photos of the cook in action.  Take photos of the turkey being basted, potatoes being mashed, the table being set and most importantly the carving of the turkey.

If you have any control over the food presentation, make the turkey platter the star and really stand out by dressing it up with fresh herbs and vegetables.  Sage, rosemary and/or thyme are great herbs to use as a garnish. Grapes and/or cherry tomatoes, fresh or roasted, also make good garnishes that contrast well with turkey and photograph well.

I like to like shooting Thanksgiving food from over head, however the most important thing to remember is to shoot at different angles.  A lot of people tend to shoot things at the same angle all the time. Don't be afraid to try shooting different angles.  From above, at a 45 degrees and at eye level are the three main angles.  You might be pleasantly surprised with what you get when you experiment with angles.

After the table is set with food, you'll want to get some photos of the dining table with your family/friends in the shot. This shot should be done with a wide angle lens to fit everything and everyone in the frame. Set the turkey platter close to you, on one end of the table and make that the main focus with everyone sitting beyond it.  To get everyone in the frame you will need to shoot just above the turkey.  If you don't use a flash it will be difficult to get both the turkey and everyone at the table in focus since you will probably need to shoot at a large aperture (low F-Stop value) if there is not a lot of available light. Using a flash is recommended for this shot, ideally an external flash on your hot shoe, bounced off the ceiling at close to full power.  This will allow you to use a small aperture to make more of the scene in focus.  If you don't have a flash, try taking a few different photos focusing some on the turkey and some on the people behind the turkey.  Also, the further away you are from the subjects the more in focus they will be. So you can try that and then do some cropping in post processing.  Try taking some photos standing up for a higher perspective.  Take one or two with everyone looking at you and some candids of people in conversation, smiling and laughing.

Most people serve Thanksgiving family style and pass around plates of food for you to dish onto your own plate.  Try to capture some close up photos of people passing food to each other or dishing food onto their plates. Don't forget to serve some food for yourself!  You'll want to get a photo of your plate full of food. Try to get at least a little bit of everything on your plate.  Think of it as a family photo, you don't want any food left out of the shot.  This is the one I like most to photograph from above so you can see everything on the plate easily.  Between bites of food, take a few photos of people enjoying themselves.

Lastly, try to get everyone together for a group shot after dinner.  Use a tripod and bring a remote or use your camera's timer so you can be in the shot too.


Chef Robin Starching the Turkey Chef Robin Preparing Turkey Platter Golden Raisin Apple Herb Pumpernickel Stuffing and Turkey Gravy Cranberry Walnut Chutney Turkey Platter Thanksgiving Plate

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

SpiceCare by Table Fare

Spices and SpiceCare ContainersI do a lot of restaurant and recipe reviews but it's not very often I do a product review. No one asked me to do one and I didn't get any freebies either. I've been thinking about getting some new containers for my spices for a while now but have been pushing it off. A couple of people mentioned the SpiceCare system via Facebook comments to a post I made many months ago and I have kept those in mind since then.

What finally pushed me to get these is my switch to all organic spices. I bought them in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs.  I don't know why I didn't do this before.  The prices for spices at Mountain Rose can't be beat.  Gone are the days of spending $5 for a little bottle of spices.  You can get 4 oz packages of just about any organic spice you can imagine and most of them are between $2 and $4 a bag.  One of these bags would probably fill up a grocery sized jar at least 4 times.  They also carry teas, oils and other goodies.

I bought a couple of 6 container SpiceCare starter kits and some singles.  I've managed to fill them all up with spices and could use a few more.  I also bought the label pack which has pre-printed spice labels.  There's only one spice I wasn't able to find a pre-printed label for and that is for the curry leaves.  The label fits behind a metal plate that slides over the front of the spice container.  The smallest sized ones are more difficult to slide on and off.  It's also hard to figure out which is the top and which is the bottom of the metal plate on the small ones.

The containers are three-sided and made of a hard plastic.  Two of the sides are clear so you can see the contents and one side has the metal plate with label on it.  All the containers can stack on top of each other and come with flip top lids. One of the things I like most about these contains is the lid which has a leveler built into it so you can use it to level off your measuring spoon.  You can also buy the optional shaker screens, which come in three different sizes, but I chose not to.  I prefer to be able to stick my measuring spoon in the container without having to fuss with removing the screen.

These containers are a real space saver.  My old spices were organized alphabetically in store bought glass containers of all different shapes and sizes in my cupboard.  Now I have them organized more conveniently by types of spices in the SpiceCare containers.  I have all my whole seed type spices in one column, two columns of powdered spices, two columns of leaf spices and I have one column with what I would categorize as pumpkin spices (allspice, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg).

If you're looking for a new way to organize your spices I would highly recommend these SpiceCare containers by Table Fare. They save space, look great and are convenient and easy to use. SpiceCare SpiceCare Lid Seeds

Monday, November 07, 2011

Cashew Mayo Cole Slaw

Cashew Cole SlawI was looking through my Allergy & Candida Cookbook trying to find what I should make next.  I ended up skipping a couple of the categories because I'm on a new candida diet that is more strict than my previous one.  So I skipped the beans and sandwich category and went on to the salads and dressings section. And honestly cashews or any nuts really aren't on my diet either.  Shh don't tell anyone. I looked through the rest of the cookbook but there isn't much else I can eat.  I may do just one more, from the dessert section.

I actually covered two different recipes tonight. I made a cashew mayo dressing which I used in the cole slaw.  The cookbook gives you so many different variations of mayo's the combinations are limitless.  You can choose from almonds, sunflower seeds, filberts, macdamia and cashews.  There's also a long list of optional herbs to choose from as well.  I went with a bit of dry mustard with the cashews.  The texture was surprisingly close to mayo but I don't think it tasted a lot like mayo.  It basically tasted like a thick almond milk.  It wasn't too bad mixed in with the cabbage and celery though.


Cashew Mayo Ingredients Cashew Mayo

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Ham, Cabbage and Squash Soup

Ham Cabbage and Squash SoupSummer is over and fall is here, it's the perfect time of the year for soup.  I usually make a squash soup every fall, typically a butternut squash soup.  I honestly was never very knowledgeable about winter squashes. Pumpkin and butternut are the only two I have any experience cooking with, but there are so many other good ones that I never thought about using.  I've used a couple of new ones this year and learning the names of some of the winter squashes that I've seen every year but never knew their names.  I used spaghetti squash for my fake pumpkin pie and used delicata, the long one with green stripes, for this soup recipe.

I'm on a low carb/low sugar diet which is why I have been trying out other squashes.  The two squashes I normally use, butternut and pumpkin, are both high in carbs while delicata and spaghetti squash are lower.  Some other popular winter squashes are acorn, ambercup, autumn cup, banana, buttercup, carnival, golden nugget, hubbard, kabocha, sweet dumpling and turban. In addition to all those there are over a dozen different varieties of pumpkins. Allaboutpumpkins.com has a pretty comprehensive list of the different varieties of winter squashes and pumpkins.  I haven't done my research yet to determine the ones that have the least amount of carbs.  In general winter squashes have more carbs than summer squash.

I found this recipe for ham hock and cabbage soup on Caveman Food's blog. There is also another version of it using potatoes instead of squash by Emeril Lagasse. I didn't stray too far away from the recipe he posted but I did alter it slightly:
  • made a bigger batch by adding some additional water 
  • used delicata rather than pumpkin
  • added 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • used 3 fresh sage leaves rather than 2
  • used 5 cloves of garlic rather than 3
  • used ham shanks rather than ham hocks
I'm pretty thrilled with how it turned out and it didn't take as long as I thought it would.  It took about 2 hours of cooking and the prep work took a while, especially for the squash.  I wasn't sure what the best way to peel a delicata squash was but I ended up using a potato peeler which seemed to work out pretty well. The squash was a lot harder inside than I thought it would be,  making spooning out the seeds a little more difficult.  The squash turned out pretty mushy, I was hoping for a little more texture in them so I might recommend adding the squash maybe 15 minutes later so it cooks for 45 mins instead of 60, I updated that in the recipe below.

Ingredients:
4 Tbsp bacon grease
1.5-2 lbs ham shank or hock
1 medium onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
small head of green cabbage, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
4 cups chicken stock, homemade recommended
3-4 cups water
4 cups delicata or other winter squash

Directions:
  1. Heat bacon grease in a large stock pot over medium high heat.  Add celery and onions and cook about 10 minutes. Add the ham shank/hock.
  2. Add cabbage, garlic, bay leaves, pepper, salt and cayenne.  Stir and cook until cabbage is slightly wilted, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add chicken stock and desired amount of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.
  4. Add the squash, cover and simmer 45 more minutes.
  5. Remove the ham from the pot and let cool for a few minutes.  Remove bay leaves from the pot, if you can find them.  Remove the meat from the bone and chop into small bite sized pieces, add back to the pot and serve.
Soup Ingredients Chopped Ham

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fake Pumpkin Pie with Gluten Free Crust

Cauliflower and Leek SoupWhy spaghetti squash you ask? Spaghetti squash has a lot less carbs and sugar content than pumpkin so it's more healthy for you.  I made a few updates to the original recipe including making a gluten free crust.  The original recipe does not call for making a crust at all but I like my pie crust. This is the first time I've tried making a gluten free pie crust and I thought it turned out pretty well.  Be warned, if you don't get the texture of the dough just right it is very difficult to roll out.  Mine was a little too wet and I had to keep adding some flour to it while I rolled it out.

The pie recipe below makes enough for one pie while the crust recipe makes enough for two crusts.  One spaghetti squash should be enough for two pies so what I did was just made two batches of the pie filling.  While the first pie was cooking I rolled out the dough and kept it in the fridge until the first pie was done.  By the time I finished the second batch of pie filling and cleaned up the mess I made the first pie was done.  I took the crust out of the fridge, filled it and put it in the oven to bake.

Instead of topping it with whipped cream you can try this fake cream recipe made with eggs, beef gelatin, butter and sweetened with stevia.  It's much healthier than whipped cream.  It's not bad tasting either but the texture is a little weird.


Sugar Free Fake Pumpkin Pie (modified from Bee's Recipe)
Ingredients:
  • 2 cups spaghetti squash, cooked (see below)
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 2 tbsp melted unrefined coconut oil
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, or to taste
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon, or to taste
  • 1/8 tsp ground clove, or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp ground stevia leaf, or to taste
Directions:
  1. To cook spaghetti squash, cut in half, remove seeds and membrane with a spoon. Put cut side down on a cookie sheet and bake at 350°F for 45-60 minutes.  squash should be tender when poked with a fork. Let cool and shred out inside of squash with a fork.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F.

  3. Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and blend until thoroughly mixed.

  4. Add to prepared pie crust (see gf crust recipe below) or a greased glass pie pan.

  5. Put it in the preheated oven, and bake it for 30-40 minutes, or until it doesn't jiggle when you reach in and shake it.  Let cool on wire rack.

Gluten Free Pie Crust Recipe (modified from verybestbaking.com):
Ingredients:
  • 2 cups all purpose gluten free flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3-4 tbsp ice water
Directions:
  1. combine dry ingredients in medium bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives until mixture is crumbly. Form well in center. Add egg and vinegar; stir gently with a fork until just blended. Sprinkle with water; blend together with a fork and clean hands until mixture just holds together and forms a ball. (Don't add too much water as dough will be hard to roll).
  2. Shape dough into ball and divide in half. Cover one half with plastic wrap; set aside.  Place remaining half on lightly floured sheet of wax paper.  Flatten dough with hand and dust top with flour and cover with additional piece of wax paper.  Roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Remove top sheet of wax paper and invert dough into 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.  Slowly peel away wax paper.  Trim excess crust. Turn edge under; crimp as desired.

Spaghetti Squash Spaghetti Squash Insides Spaghetti Squash Cooked

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Breakfast Brunch Squares

This was another recipe in the Allergy & Candida Cooking Made Easy Cookbook from the Main Dishes - Egg Cookery section. I'm getting a little tired of the bland recipes in this cookbook so I decided to add a few things to the recipe for some flavor. I adde diced onions, a diced jalapeno and some fresh ground pepper. Even with the added onion and jalapeno it still seemed a little bland but the jalapeno did help. I served it with some crispy bacon which went pretty well together. Crumbling the bacon over the egg probably would have been even better.

Breakfast Brunch Squares Broccoli and Onion

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cauliflower and Leek Soup

Cauliflower and Leek SoupI've probably made this recipe 3 or 4 times in the last few months so I figure I should share it. It's my new favorite soup. I think I like it so much because it tastes a lot like potato soup and I can't eat potatoes on the diet that I'm on so this was a nice treat. The recipe is so simple and only has a couple of ingredients. The recipe I used is based on one I found on Earthbound Farm's site.  I left out several ingredients from the recipe and it was still tasty.  Below is my version of the soup.

Ingredients:
1 head of cauliflower, cut into 1" pieces or less
1 small head of garlic
3 Tbsp olive oil
Course sea salt and black pepper to taste
1 leek, thinly sliced
4 cups chicken stock
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Put cauliflower pieces in a large bowl and drizzle with 2 Tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to evenly coat.    Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and put cauliflower on the sheet.

Cut top off of garlic, just enough to display the inside of the garlic.  Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on the open end of the garlic.  Wrap garlic in aluminum foil and put on baking sheet with the cauliflower.

Transfer baking sheet to the oven and bake for 25-35 minutes, turning cauliflower every 10 minutes until evenly browned.  Check more often after 25 minutes to make sure cauliflower doesn't burn. Remove baking sheet from oven and set aside.

While cauliflower and garlic are baking, heat remaining Tbsp of olive oil (I actually used coconut oil here) over medium heat in a large sauce pan.  Add leeks and saute for about 10 minutes, until leeks are softened but not brown.  Add cauliflower and chicken stock to the pan. Raise heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer.

Remove the foil from the garlic and squeeze the garlic cloves into the pot.  Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes.

Transfer soup to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. You may need to blend in two batches depending on the size of your blender.  Return puree to sauce pan and add thyme and additional chicken stock if too thick.  Reheat slowly until desired temperature.  Serve.

 Makes about 4 good sized servings. Leeks Cauliflower Leeks and Garlic Roasted Garlic

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe

Chaco Canyon Organic CafeI haven't been doing much eating out since I've been diagnosed with candidiasis.  It's important that I eat healthy which means avoiding eating out and eating processed foods so I've been doing a lot more cooking lately.   There are occasions when eating out is unavoidable so I try to find good healthy places to eat if I do need to go out.

Mark and I went to the Seattle Smug Meetup group to see Rod Mar's presentation on sports photography and needed to find a place to eat nearby.  I did a quick search for organic restaurants Seattle and came across Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe which is located in the University District.  That's less than a mile from where our meeting was so it worked out perfectly.  They also have a new location in West Seattle.

I walked in and had a seat near the counter to wait for Mark to arrive which was only a couple of minutes.  I looked at the online menu before picking the place so I already knew what I wanted to get but they have the menu displayed up on the wall behind the ordering counter.  They also have regular menus if you don't want to read the wall.  They have a wide range of sandwiches, soups, salads and drinks.  It's all vegetarian, serve breakfast all day and even have a happy hour.  Beer, wine, smoothies, juices and a couple of food items are on the happy hour menu.

I ended up ordering the green coconut curry and a green goddess juice (cucumber, celery, kale, fennel and ginger).  You can also make up your own juice combination using any of their many fruits and vegetables.  Most of their juices contained apple or pear as a base which I can't have right now because of the large amounts of sugar they contain.  Mark ordered the basic bowl and a beer.  After we ordered we got our colorful number and took a seat.  After 10 or so minutes our food came out but our drinks did not.  We looked around for a couple of minutes and Mark was just about to get up to see if they forgot the drinks and then our drinks arrived.  It would have been nice if they said be right back with your drinks or something after the food was served.  It would make more sense if they had brought the drinks out first.

The green goddess was pretty good though.  The green coconut curry wasn't bad. It was all raw vegetables so it takes a while to eat, lots of crunchy chewing involved.  I might have eaten half of it but got a box and had the rest for lunch the next day.  The basic bowl was as you might expect, basic. It was simply brown rice and beans.  I had a couple bites of it but not sure I could eat it as a meal, it seemed more something you would eat as a side dish.

Overall I thought it was a nice place for a healthy bite to eat and wouldn't mind going back again.


Order Menu 27 Green Coconut Curry Basic Bowl Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sugar Free and Natural Toothpaste Reviews

ToothpastesThis was going to be a review of natural toothpastes but one of the toothpastes is not natural as I first thought and probably the reason I liked it best since it seemed more like regular toothpaste than the others. So I've changed this to a sugar free and natural toothpaste review and will continue to update as I try different brands.

Most toothpastes contain toxic chemicals like sulfates, petroleum dyes and artificial flavors and sweeteners. I have been trying different mostly natural toothpastes to find one that I like the best. Some toothpastes also have the option of fluoride or not. I was getting fluoride at first until I read how that too can be harmful so I have avoided it with my last couple tubes of toothpaste.  There are reports that show an increase risk of bone cancer and other diseases and health issues related to fluoride.  Here's one good article I came across about the subject: http://www.viewzone.com/fluoride.html  The last couple times I've gone to the dentist they haven't given me fluoride treatments like they used to and I didn't bother to ask why. I figured they just forgot cuz I never liked getting them anyway.  Now if they try to give me one I will request they don't.


** Tom's of Maine (clean & gentle) - Most of the Tom's of Maine toothpastes contain SLS. The Clean & Gentle one doesn't. Be sure to always read the ingredient listings of things you buy. Even if it's something you've bought before. Companies have been known to change their recipes. This one seemed to have pretty good reviews but it was my least favorite. I'm used to having a tooth paste that has some body but it just got flat when brushing with it. It was like brushing with water. The taste wasn't bad though.

*** Burt's Bees (Multicare Peppermint) - This one was a little better than Tom's. My problem with this one is that it was messy. Every time you put it on your brush it leaves a stringy trail of toothpaste when you pull away from the brush. The taste was good though and it provided good body during brushing. Also it seemed like the there wasn't a lot of toothpaste in the tube, it ran out faster than I thought it should. Burt's claims to be 99.2% natural so it isn't 100%.

*** Jason (Powerful Peppermint) - The texture of this one is similar to Burt's Bees and it's hard to spread on a toothbrush.  The tip of the tube is small unlike the Burt's Bees so this one is easier to keep the tip clean.  There is a bit of a weird slimy kind of texture coating my teeth and tongue after using it.

**** Spry (Cool Mint) - It has pretty good body, the taste is good and it easily spreads on a toothbrush without making a mess. I didn't have any complaints with this one other than it not being natural like the others.  It contains several chemicals that most likely aren't good for you. However it doesn't contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate like so many others do.  But it does contain the following: Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate, Calcium Glycerophosphate, Calcium Lactate Gluconate, Carum Petroselinate, Sodium Benzoate and Titanium Dioxide. So if you're trying to avoid possible harmful chemicals this probably wouldn't be a good choice.

**** Kiss My Face (Triple Action) - This one is probably the best tasting one of those I've tried. The lather is better than most of the natural toothpastes too.  However, it does contain Xylitol, an artificial sweetener and quite a few additional ingredients I've never heard of.

** Tea Tree Therapy (Whitening) - I didn't care for this one much at all. The lather was not good and neither was the taste.

***** Nature's Gate (Anise) - This one is my favorite so far. It has great lather. However the taste of the anise takes a little bit of getting used to. They do have other flavors so will be trying the mint one too.  I tried the paste but they also have 4 flavors of gel. It contains baking soda which is great for getting your teeth clean. The flavor is strong enough that you can't really taste or smell the baking soda. EDIT: I've given the mint gel a try and I do like the mint flavor better than the anise but I prefer the paste. The gel is harder to get out of the tube, it's very thick and doesn't seem to lather up as well.

**** Desert Essence (Fennel) - This one has baking soda in it and you can tell by the smell when you brush your teeth. Baking soda is great for cleaning your teeth and some people only clean their teeth with it.  The lather is very good and it is also available in ginger, mint and wintergreen.  The fennel wasn't too bad but I'd probably like a more traditional mint flavored toothpaste.

**** auromere (Licorice) - This one uses fine chalk to gently cleanse your teeth rather than the baking soda that most natural toothpastes have.  The texture is nice but I'm not sold on the licorice flavor.  The licorice flavor is not SLS free but they do make an SLS free cardamon-fennel that I would love to try.  There's also a mint flavored one which is my preferred flavor for toothpaste.  The color is a little off-putting, a light brownish tan color.

* Himalayan (Neem & Pomegranate) - This toothpaste had a different consistency than any of the others. It was very soft, like a thick lotion. Even a little water pressure makes a dent in the toothpaste.  It doesn't seem to contain any abrasive things like baking soda or chalk even though my teeth felt pretty clean maybe even more clean than other toothpastes.  However there is one big red flag.  Every time I use it I get the smell of cigarettes/nicotine.  After a few weeks of using it I finally decided to do a google search to see if I was crazy.  Sure enough there is an article that claims several toothpastes were tested to contain nicotine and Himalayan was one of them even though they say that they don't.  So be aware.  I do not want to brush my teeth with nicotine so I will not be buying this brand again.

**** Earthpaste (Wintergreen) - This is about as natural of a toothpaste you will find. If you've ever looked at the ingredients of toothpaste there is usually a laundry list of them but this one only has 7 (purified water, food grade Redmond Clay, Xylitol, Wintergreen Essential Oil, Menthol, Redmond Real Salt and tea tree oil.  They claim that the toothpaste is so natural that it is safe to eat. It says "Rinse or swallow at your discretion - either would be fine".  Seems like the perfect toothpaste for camping!  I however have chosen to not swallow it because it just seems wrong. The taste is great but the bad news is there is pretty much no lather so if you like a lot of lather you're not going to like this toothpaste. It doesn't bother me much because my teeth still feel clean after using it and it has a nice minty flavor. It comes out of the tube from a very small hole compared to other toothpastes which is a little weird but it seems to stay on the brush well and the top stays clean. It's also a brown color which I don't mind. I'd rather have brown toothpaste than have it artificially colored white. It's also available in cinnamon, lemon and peppermint.



Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tuna Rice Casserole

This is another one from the Allergy and Candida Cooking Made Easy cookbook.  It's been a few weeks since I've made a recipe from the cookbook.  I haven't been too impressed so far with the main dishes section of the cookbook.  Most of the recipes don't have much flavor. The recipes don't have any spices other than salt and pepper so they are a little bland ok maybe a lot bland including this tuna rice casserole.

I did like that it gives you different options of vegetables to use.  I used brown rice with cauliflower and celery as my choice of vegetables.  Even though it was cooked i the oven for an hour the cauliflower stayed crunchy and gave the casserole a nice texture.  It would have been a good dish with a little extra seasonings.  Actually this recipe didn't even call for pepper, only salt but I added some pepper anyway.

Cauliflower Tuna Casserole Salad and Tuna Casserole

Thursday, September 22, 2011

More Allergies

Handful of BlueberriesI've been on the candida diet now for about 3 months and have had some improvements with my dermatitis. At first It would go away for a little while then slowly come back for a while then go away and come back. It did this a few times over the first month or two but the cycle seems to have stopped and now it's always there but is mild and you can't really see it unless you look really close. It's most noticeable when I get up in the morning. A little moisturizer helps to hide it.

So I've been drinking smoothies every morning and usually put some kind of berries in them. I've been alternating between blueberry, strawberry, blackberry and occasionally raspberry.  I don't usually mix the berries and try not to eat the same berry two days in a row and usually space them out 3 or 4 days.  My doc says eating the same things every day could develop allergies.  I know there are some that disagree with that theory.  I'd rather be safe than sorry.

Since my dermatitis hasn't been going away I was thinking there might be something else I've been eating that is causing it.  I suspected blueberries and citrus, specifically lemon, since I've been eating a more than usual amount of those recently.  I was previously tested for a bunch of food and other allergies which I posted the results to here.  I decided to make an appt with my allergist to get tested for those and sure enough I tested positive for orange, lemon and blueberries.  I reacted more to blueberries than any other allergy test I've had to date so my suspicions were right.  So now I have to avoid eating blueberries, lemons and oranges for the next three weeks and my food allergy antigens were modified to include those foods. We'll see if my dermatitis improves over the next 3 weeks and then start introducing those foods back into my diet and see if I have any reactions.

At least it is mild enough that I don't have to use any prescriptions anymore.  The diet isn't all that difficult and even though I'm eating a lot more than I used to I'm still losing weight.  I was about 115 lbs three months ago and am now down to 98.  Most of my clothes are too big and I had to do some shopping to get some smaller sizes.  I've also changed my diet a bit starting last week and am eating more good fats, mainly coconut oil and cod liver oil.  The cod liver oil is not very tasty and I may switch to cod liver oil gel caps instead.  Hopefully eating more fats will help me gain some weight.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Gluten Free Zucchini Muffins

Gluten Free Zucchini MuffinsJust like every year I have so much zucchini I don't know what to do with it all. I've already given some away to my neighbor and to Mark. I keep thinking I should keep track of how many I get in a year but always forget.  This year I planted one yellow and one green zucchini along with some pattypan squash.  For some reason the green zucchini isn't doing as well and I have only picked a couple off of it but the yellow on is going gang busters and I'm sure I've picked at least 20 and there's more on the way.

I hadn't made any zucchini bread this year yet so I figured it was about time I make some.  I searched for a gluten free and sugar free recipe and came across this one on mindoverbooty.com.  It took me a while to find one that I had all the ingredients for. I have some garbonzo bean flour that I haven't tried yet so I searched for a recipe that uses it and that's how I came across this recipe.

I pretty much followed the recipe as written but instead of making two loaves of bread I made one loaf of bread and a dozen muffins.  I added walnuts to the bread but not to the muffins.  It called for agave nectar or honey but I used both. For the past three months, I've been avoiding all forms of sugar including agave and honey.  I recently bought some to try out thinking it may be ok to start introducing a little sweetness back into my diet.  Maybe it will help me gain some of my weight back.  The recipe also gave a choice between chia and flax seeds which I had both.  I decided instead of using the whole seeds to use ground flax seeds.  It's supposed to be easier to digest than the whole seeds so I try to always use them ground.

I've made some pretty awesome zucchini breads over the years, but this one just might be my new fav.  Hard to believe a gluten free, sugar free bread could be so good but it is.  I had to stop myself from eating more than two muffins.  The batter was pretty tasty too.  Yes, I'm guilty of licking the spatula clean.  Here's the version of the recipe I made.


Ingredients:
  • 1 + 1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour
  • 1 + 1/2 cup oat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbs. ground flax seeds
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 3 egg whites at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar 
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 cups shredded zucchini (about 1 medium zuc)
  • 1 cup walnuts (optional)
1. Grease two loaf pans or two muffin pans and preheat oven to 350 F or 325 F if using convection. Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside.

2. Mix all wet ingredients, except shredded zucchini until texture is consistent. Add the zucchini, followed by the dry mixture, one third at a time. Add walnuts and stir lightly just until uniform.

3. Split batter evenly between two loaf pans or two muffin tins and place in the oven. If using muffin tins you should have enough batter left over for another two muffin tins or one loaf.  Make muffins first since they cook faster.  Muffins should take 15-20 minutes and bread should take 40-50 minutes.  Check with a toothpick for doneness.  May take slightly longer if not using convection.

4. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Then remove from pan and cool on a drying rack for at least an additional 30 minutes.  If making muffins, use remaining batter to fill another two muffin tins or a loaf pan and bake as instructed above.  Recipe makes 2 loaves, 24 muffins or 1 loaf and 12 muffins.

Gluten Free Zucchini Bread


Inside a Muffin

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Green Chile (Chile Verde) Recipe

I recently saw a show on Food Network called All American Festivals. This episode featured the Hatch Chile Festival in New Mexico.  They are pretty famous chiles, so famous that they showed up recently at Whole Foods.  They had a big chile roaster set up and everything.  They were selling for $2.99/lb roasted when I got them a few weeks ago. I was just in a Whole Foods in downtown Seattle over the weekend and they had them on sale for $1.99/lb.  I was tempted to get more but didn't.  I bought a couple containers of them a few weeks back and used one in a batch of green chile and the other is hiding away in my freezer. I'm not sure if I will make more green chile or find something else to do with them.

Hatch Chile Peppers
Chile Roaster at Whole Foods in Redmond, WA
Surprisingly, I had never made green chile before which I'm sure my family is thinking "it's about time". My mom makes it every year and sometimes sends me some from Montana. I even got her a chile roaster for her birthday this year because I know she's been wanting one. She has a decent sized garden and plants lots of chiles. She has already used it a few times and loves it.

I did some searching online for a recipe and found this Colorado Green Chile one on my favorite recipe site, allrecipes. It got 4.5 star review and sounded pretty good. I did make a few changes to the recipe. I modified a couple of the measurements and used beef instead of pork. I had planned on getting pork but accidentally bought beef stew meat instead but either one is fine to use for green chile, but I usually prefer pork to beef in my soups and stews. I added extra jalapenos and a few chiles I had growing in my garden that I thought were jalapenos but look more like serranos to the Roasted Tomatillo and Garlic Salsa that I also made from scratch using another recipe from allrecipes.  I won't post that recipe here since the only modification I made was adding more chiles. I like my chile spicy and the green chiles are pretty mild. Here is my modified recipe.

Ingredients:
* 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
* 1 pound cubed pork or beef stew meat
* salt and pepper to taste
* 1 large yellow onion, diced
* 5 cloves garlic, minced
* 3 cups chopped, roasted green chiles (Anaheim/New Mexico)
* 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
* 1 1/2 cups tomatillo salsa (store bought or homemade)
* 3 cups chicken broth
* 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
* 1 pinch ground cloves
* cilantro for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Season the meat with salt and pepper to taste, then place into the hot oil. Cook until golden brown on all sides, about 7 minutes. Once browned, remove the meat and set aside. Reduce heat to medium, and stir in the onion and garlic. Cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Return the meat to the pot, and stir in the green chiles, diced tomatoes with juice, tomatillo salsa, and chicken broth. Season with oregano and clove. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes.
3. After 20 minutes, remove 2 cups of the soup (ensure there is no meat in it), and pour into a blender. Hold down the lid of the blender with a folded kitchen towel, and carefully start the blender, using a few quick pulses to get the soup moving before leaving it on to puree. Puree until smooth, then pour back into the cooking pot. This will create a thicker texture for your chili and will eliminate some of the chunky bits of chiles. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally until the meat is very tender, at least 40 minutes more.
4. Serve as a soup in a bowl garnished with a few cilantro leaves or it can be used as a sauce over enchiladas, tamales or burritos. It's even better on the second day but if you don't plan on eating within a few days it freezes well.

Roasted Hatch Chile Peppers
Roasted Hatch (New Mexico) Chiles
Green Salsa Ingredients
Peeled Tomatillos, jalapenos and cilantro
Green Salsa
Tomatillo Salsa and a Garlic Braid
Green Chile
Green Chile (Chile Verde)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Olympus E-PL2


Olympus E-PL2 + 75-300mm + EVF-2

I was recently given the opportunity to try out some Olympus gear for a couple of weeks. The Olympus PEN E-PL2, 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 and the VF-2 all pictured above.  I'm no stranger to the Olympus PEN, I have the E-P1 and use it quite often however I haven't used many of the micro four thirds lenses since I have a four thirds adapter so I can use all my other lenses on it.  I only have the kit zoom and the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 pancake in the micro four thirds line. The cameras are pretty similar so it didn't take much time to get used to.

I've never used an electronic viewfinder before and was curious how well it worked.  Everyone I know that has tried it swears by it and they seem to not be able to live without it.  I've used my E-P1 just fine without one so I wasn't sure what I was missing.  Now that I've seen it I want one too.  It fits into the hotshoe on top of the camera and also plugs into an accessory port just below the hot shoe.  Unfortunately the E-P1 doesn't have this accessory port so the VF-2 can't be used on it but there is a VF-1 but I doubt it would be as good as the VF-2.  You get a digital display in the viewfinder which is basically a copy of what you would see on the LCD screen.  So you're not just seeing what you are shooting but you also view the menu system, settings and it even flashes the photo you capture after hitting the shutter.  I love that because you can chimp your photos without people knowing you're chimping.  I have a bad habit of chimping my photos and it took me a long time to stop looking at the back of the LCD when using the viewfinder after taking a picture. Another neat thing it does is you can tilt the viewfinder. You might wonder why you would ever want to do that. I found it very helpful when shooting directly above a subject, like a plate of food, shown below.  If you have a PEN camera that can use the Olympus VF-2 I would highly recommend it. The only downfall is that it is a pretty expensive accessory, currently $226 on Amazon.  There's also a slightly cheaper VF-3 that was just recently released and is priced at $180.
 
Cactus Grilled Skirt Steak Salad 
20mm ~ F4.5 ~ 1/60 ~ ISO 640

 The 75-300mm is an amazingly wonderful range and is only the size of a pop can.  I don't know of any other camera manufacturer that can produce something that small in that range.  The down side is the lens has a very slow F Stop range of only 4.8-6.7.  So if you want to take a photo at 300mm the fastest you can shoot at is going to be F6.7.  I found that to be too slow for my liking. The majority of photos I took with this lens ended up being at 1600 ISO when shooting in Aperature priority and Auto ISO.  I took the camera/lens combo on a couple of photostrolls with the Seattle Flickr Meetup group. 

The first stroll I went on was at Alki Beach on a nice, bright sunny day so using the 75-300 was no problem since there was plenty of available light and I was able to get close up people shots without them even knowing I was there.  I shot people having fun in the sun. I even captured a few action shots of a beach volleyball match. The lens was surprisingly sharp and had good depth of field.
 
Back Atcha 75mm ~ F4.8 ~ 1/2500 ~ ISO 200
 
Kayaking by the Beach 117mm ~ F5.3 ~ 1/1600 ~ ISO 200
 
Beach Reading - On Your Stomach 300mm ~ F6.7 ~ 1/1250 ~ ISO 200
 
Missile Radar Vessel Departs 75mm ~ F4.8 ~ 1/2000 ~ ISO 200
 
The following weekend I brought both the E-PL2 and my E-5 to Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. This was my second time to the park and decided to bring two camera bodies this time so I could keep the 75-300mm telephoto on the E-PL2 and a wider lens, the 12-60mm on my E-5 so I wouldn't have to switch lenses which I remember doing a lot of last time I went. Since the E-PL2 and 75-300mm are so light it was no problem to carry around both camera systems. I kept the E-PL2 mounted to my tripod and kept the E-5 around my neck. Even though it was a bright sunny day, most of the animals were out of the sun and in the shade which meant almost all of my photos were shot at 1600mm. I admit I did do a bit of noise reduction in post processing on some of the photos since it was too much noise for my liking. Below is a photo of my E-PL2 set up and a few photos and a series of videos shot with the E-PL2 in less than ideal conditions.

Olympus E-PL2 E-5 ~ 12-60mm
21mm ~ F4.5 ~ 1600 ISO

 
Angry Bald Eagle 300mm ~ F6.7 ~ 1/40 ~ ISO 1600
 
Buffalo 75mm ~ F5.0 ~ 1/160 ~ ISO 1000
 
Lazy Coyote 252mm ~ F6.5 ~ 1/60 ~ ISO 1600 


Even at such high ISO the shots are pretty reasonable. The 75-300mm is an amazing lens and I think worth the $750 price.  If you are wanting to shoot weddings or indoor events you best look for a different lens.  You need a decent amount of light in order to get good shots from it.  I didn't take too many photos at full 300mm. I found it to be a little too close and most of my shots were 200mm or less.  Panasonic also offers a similar ranged lens, 100-300mm F4.0-5.6.  I would be curious to see how it compares.  It is slightly faster but I'm willing to bet the photos aren't as sharp.  The only other micro four thirds telephoto option at this time for Olympus is a 40-150mm F4.0-5.6 however Panasonic has a slightly longer lens, a 45-200mm F4-5.6 that is priced at only $265. My longest Four Thirds lens is a 50-200mm and if I really need the length I will use that with the adapter but having one of the lighter micro four thirds telephotos is pretty tempting.  It would be great to take on hikes or while traveling.

If you don't already own an Olympus PEN, I would definitely recommend the E-PL2.  If you already own a PEN I don't know if the additional features are enough to switch.  There are a few additional art filters but I honestly rarely ever use them. Being able to use the VF-2 is the only real big advantage to me.  The E-PL2 has a built in flash that the E-P1 doesn't have but I never use the on camera flash anyway. If I use a flash I will use my external flash in the hot shoe or trigger it off camera. I'm still waiting for Olympus to come out with a splash proof PEN then maybe I will consider getting a newer model. For now, the E-P1 is good enough for me.

More of my photos from these two photo strolls along with a few other photos I've taken with the E-PL2 can be found in my E-PL2 Flickr set.  I also put together a how to video on removing cilantro leaves from the stems using the 14-42mm kit lens which can be viewed on Youtube.