Costume and Graphic Design

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Healthy Choices

Like many people, I have an on-again-off-again relationship with healthy eating. I am only slightly into the “overweight” category, according to my Body Mass Index, and my doctor has advised that I try to lose a few pounds… really, about 10 would bring me within my healthy BMI. Most of us don’t have chefs and personal trainers on call 24/7 (I’m looking at you, Oprah), so any weight loss can be a challenge. In the first year I was doing well, only to have Thanksgiving/Christmas/All-Inclusive Vacation/New Years foil that in one fell swoop. While I didn’t go all the way back up to my Wedding Weight (I was actually my absolute heaviest around that time, just what every bride wants!) I had almost undone everything I worked that year to achieve.

I have been coming up with every excuse in the book… We are moving, we are unpacking, I just started a new job, we are still adjusting to our schedules, I have a sewing project and don’t have time to work out today. 
My latest challenge has come in the form of allergies…. I found out several years ago that raw peas made my mouth itch. So, with sadness, I had to say goodbye to that summer snack. The next summer, watermelon and most other melons joined the raw peas. 
Last year, after my doctor gave me the orders to lower my blood pressure and cholesterol, I found almonds (good for lowering cholesterol) caused an itch in my mouth too. My daily crunchies had to leave. 
Last week, in another attempt to find something to fill that need to munch all day, raw carrots decided to wage war on my tongue. This reminded me of the time last summer when my in-laws gave me some fresh carrots from their garden, and one bite of this super fresh picked yesterday goodness set my mouth on fire. 
Cooked versions of these vegetables cause no issue, only the raw kind, and the fresher they are the worse it is. This latest occurrence with the carrots had my mouth tingling for several hours. I only seem to get a local reaction, isolated to my lips and tongue.
This prompted me to do a little searching, and I found something called Oral Allergy Syndrome. This is found in people who are allergic to pollen and suffer from hay fever. These people will suffer from itchy mouths when they eat certain raw fruits and vegetables, but the cooked versions are fine. This is because the allergen is destroyed by heat. The body recognises the allergen in the food as looking very similar to the allergen in the pollen, and gets confused. This causes a histamine reaction. In severe cases it can cause hives and last for hours. Occasionally, it can cause the throat to swell, but usually it is just a discomfort issue rather than a dangerous health issue.
I have plans to see the doctor to find out if this is the case with me, and what I should do about it. Should I be avoiding the foods, or just limiting how much I eat?
For now, I am avoiding them. I signed into my Spark People account for the first time in months. Today, I filled out my daily food, and updated my measurements. This website is a great way to track what you are doing, for good or bad, and doesn’t cost anything like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig. It has resources for cooking healthy foods, recipes shared by members and staff, forums to share stories and tips. There are daily articles that offer helpful advice, and you can customise them to your specific health needs. I often get updates on blood pressure, heart health, and cholesterol, and tips on how to control them. The only drawback is that you do have to put in the effort to log in and do these things. I guess that is no different that the paid ones, because you would otherwise have to drive to your Weight Watchers meetings… but there, you have to face your peers next time, so I guess there is the added accountability there. I have fallen off the wagon several times! 
So here I am, officially starting year 2 of my challenge.
This year, I vow to not postpone doctors appointments because I didn’t do as I was told.

I vow to fit exercise in once a week, then twice a week, then three times a week, until I am doing it all the time.

I vow to find healthy non-allergy foods to fill my snacking habits with.

I vow to take my heart and health seriously.

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Punk Cupcakes

My sister just turned 26, and I decided to make a sweet treat for her. I found some adorable cupcake papers, and they were just perfect for her! When she was in high school, she was very much into the punk thing, and wore pink plaid, had a huge (I mean huge, it was over 18″ tall) mohawk in various colours. These papers were the inspiration for the cupcakes I would make for her birthday!

The colourful animal prints in hot pink and black were perfect!

Last year I made some fantastic cupcakes using a white cake recipe, and they were the best cupcakes I have ever tasted. They took me the whole day to make, between mixing my own batter and buttercream icing. This year, I didn’t have the luxury of time, so I had a little help from Betty Crocker.

I used all the different papers, and filled them with the batter. This was the first time I had tried baking in my new oven, so I set the timer for the shortest time listed on the package, and kept a careful eye on them.

While the cupcakes were baking, I took that opportunity to mix my icing. I started with a premade icing (thanks again, Mrs. Crocker!). This was too soft to hold peaks, so I added confectioners sugar until the icing was the consistency I needed. Once this was done, I began to add the colour. Food colouring can be quite potent, so I started with just a few drops.

I would mix the colour in, and add one or two more drops at a time, until I reached the colour I wanted, a nice hot pink!

Meanwhile, I cupcakes were cooling on the rack near the window. Once they were cooled through, I prepared my piping bag.

I chose the spirally tip (I don’t know what it is called) that makes nice rosettes. After a couple of failed attempts at making nice tall spikes, I had to settle on cute little spikes!

I had a small tube of black gel and added the little dots for interest.

I had a lovely collection of spiky punk cupcakes for us to enjoy! The handful that didn’t fit into the case were placed on a plate with plastic wrap, and ultimately ended up all over the seat and floor of my car! But of the surviving cupcakes… She loved them! Her kids thought they were the best thing ever, and all her friends had a good chuckle.
Happy Baking!

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Spicy Ginger Stirfry

Welcome to my first cooking post! I love to cook, and try new things. Over the years, I have attempted many different dishes from all over the world, with mixed success. Even the failures have taught me valuable lessons about combining flavours, and balance. The dish featured today was a moderate success, even though it was completely made up on the spot. There are things I would fix for next time, but overall the stirfry was tasty and the leftovers made for a great lunch the next day!

Starting with cubed chicken, and lots of finely chopped ginger, two small hot peppers, and some star anise, I kept them moving in the wok with just a touch of olive oil until the chicken was cooked through. The change I would make next time would be to marinate the chicken overnight in the ginger/pepper/anise mixture. The flavours were good, but too mild in spite of the tremendous amount of ginger!

I used my typical blend of fresh veggies: carrots, celery, onion, bell peppers, and my husband’s personal favourite (note the sarcasm!) broccoli. I also added some snow pea pods, something I don’t usually keep on hand, but had purchased that week for another dinner and had half the packet left. Fresh vegetables always seem to work better than frozen (and most certainly better than canned!) in a stirfry, because they stay bright and colourful, and still have a slight crispness to them. In my personal experience, frozen veggies go limp and soggy too quickly. Not to be all “high and mighty”! I do have bags of various veg in my freezer, I just believe there are certain times when they just won’t do! So, once the chicken was cooked through, I added those chopped up veggies.

After a taste test, I found that the anise and peppers had completely disappeared! Not visually, I could still see them, but the flavour was missing. To remedy this, I would let the chicken sit overnight in the anise/pepper/ginger.

In an attempt to recover their flavour, I boiled a hot pepper and some anise in a separate pot to make a kind of stock… I now believe that something like this takes time and cannot be rushed… my hope is to not have to do this next time if I have had the chicken absorb all the flavours ahead of time!

When we have had store bought sauces, they are always nice and thick and coat the food nicely. I used some cornstarch, added to my “spicy anise stock”, that was to be added to the meat/veg. I remember helping my Grandma with gravy and adding flour slowly to the turkey fat, stirring and stirring and stirring. According to the box, the cornstarch would be used very much the same way. Boy, was I surprised when suddenly, my water went from, well… watery to a thick paste in the blink of an eye!

It was all I could do to snap this picture before I had to do SOMETHING with it! After removing the star anise and pepper, I poured it over my meat/veg mix, and stirred it in. A quick taste of this latest stage said something was still missing. My veggies were cooking quickly, and I didn’t want limp dull broccoli! I tossed in just a dash of low sodium soy sauce and a splash of sesame oil, and had another taste. This was better! You couldn’t taste the latest additions, but they did add something, and that was the goal. I have made the mistake before of adding way too much soy sauce and that is all you can taste! A little goes a long way where that condiment is concerned!

After a final toss over the heat, I served the stirfry over rice.

Overall, it was a success! It tasted good, even if it wasn’t what I had originally intended. Rich in colour and flavour, this is something I would make again. Another bonus: because I made my sauce from scratch, used low sodium soy sauce in small quantities, and skinless lean chicken breast, this is a very healthy dish, low in fat and salt, with lots of the good things a variety of vegetables provides.

A quick rundown on ingredients (quantities are rough and to taste)

2″ chunk of ginger, finely chopped
2 small hot peppers, finely chopped
snow peas
bell peppers
star anise (whole so you can remove it)
about 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
about 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
2 chicken breast, cubed

I will likely make this again, with the changes, and will share an update!