Life & Chinese Cooking

Can I let you in on a secret?

I’ve been putting together an experiment.

No really, I’m serious. For the past three weeks, I have been coordinating and communicating with students, professors, and a board member to submit a research team proposal.

We are talking seriously nerdy here. Behavioral economics, wuurrrrd.

Haha. Yeah. Too cool.

This is why my posting has dwindled below the point of New Year’s resolve. Much too busy to do the fun food stuff I did have plans for. For instance, using the coolest cookbook I found a few weeks ago!

This is what I hinted at in a tweet before the experiment proposing took priority. I have reasons for thinking this book is so special…

1. As far as I can tell, this book is authentic. Let me qualify more (before you quit reading): I lived for a few months in Hong Kong and visited mainland China. I made tang yuan (say it: “tone-g you-ehn”) with HK friends. I love certain traditional dishes, and this book includes recipes for many of them. Therefore, since I can only work with deductive reasoning, I’m convinced this is legit. Phew. Lots of explaining.

2. Chinese traditional cooking is rice based (gluten free. BOOM.) and does not use milk products (dairy free. BOOM.). Non-western yummy. Now to raid my favorite place for Lee Kum Kee sauces (many of which are gluten free).

3. The greatness that is Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket! Have you been? If not, I am making a YouTube video guided tour in the near future. If you simply cannot wait for that, go! Your inner snack affectionado will discover at least one heading… “Japanese SNACKS.” *swoon*

Basically, half of the thrill purchasing this giant Chinese cookbook was so that I could learn new ways to make delicious food… the other half was having an absolute need to be raiding Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket on a regular basis. 🙂 I love local business.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, I have been working on an experiment! Starting next week, I will have a chance to plot some Chinese cooking. Until then, you are at the mercy of my idea of  stir fry for the allergy free crowd. Coming sometime this weekend.

Q: Where do you like to shop for special foods? Have you been to Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket?

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Tough Week Inspiration & Snack Olympics Recap

So much has gone on this week, would you not agree? Between SOPA, PIPA, and ASU getting hacked, the internet has been a crazy place.

Instead of venturing into my growing collection of allergy friendly office lunches, I thought it would be nice to recap the results of the gluten free dairy free snack Olympics and highlight some other strong contenders…

1. Roasted Seaweed (crunchy salty) 2.Bumble Bar (chewy savory) 3. Fruit bar 4. Fruit in a Jar 5. Blueberry Muffin Larabar (chewy sweet) 6. Sunflower seeds (chewy protein filler) 7. Chocolate Chip Cherry Torte (chewy chocolate chip) 8. Baked Snap Peas (chip-crispy veg) 9. Dark Sweet Cherries (chewy sweet)

Bumble Bar is a new addition, but one I luckily discovered. When you lose staple snacks, branching out is no longer an option. It is necessary. Though I thought I would completely hate a sesame-based product, Bumble Bars changed my mind. Cherry Chocolate is my favorite, with the Original flavor a close second. Do try this bar at least once.

The two fruit snacks I added were to jazz up a usual snack. I love bringing in raw fruit, but you can get bored (and unmotivated) with an apple. Instead, bring in a frozen version like frozen grapes or icicle pops made from local fruit. Another idea is to re-use an empty jar and fill it with chopped up favorites. Mix in dried fruits for a texture combo. Just be sure to keep it local and get quality produce on the cheap at your farmer’s market. 😉

There is the recap for you. I am always interested in suggestions though, so twitter me!

Q: Share the top 4 items in your internship or office food stash!

PS- I also thought I might share a really neat idea I found browsing the web. I’ve had free time since the ASU network is still unavailable and I cannot access half of my classwork. (Hooray?)

Washi Tape your keyboard! For anyone with white keys at home or at the office, it is removable, simple, and fun. There is even a local AZ Etsy Store to get cheap deco tape from!

Q & A Update

Hello lovely readers!

Q: Where have I been????

A: I have not entirely removed myself from the blogging world (check those tweets!). However, I have been reflecting on how difficult it is to find local restaurants which can accurately cater to those with allergies as well as those without. To be honest, I almost felt like giving up. Lame sauce. (That picture? Slushes on winter vacation with Jessica!)

Q: Well… what now?

A: Luckily, my newest semester in school inspired me by accident! Instead of focusing on primarily restaurants, I am shifting my gaze a bit more broad. Here is the future as I see it:

1. Local food or food-based business reviews (per usual)
2. Reviews on products that are local (as defined >>here<<) and are CONVENIENT (read: frozen or workplace oriented)
3. Nifty recipes for home cooking or baking that I make or just want to share (per usual)
4. More life stories which pop into the picture

Q: Inspiration? Explain please.

A: My inspiration came from my internship. Basically, each hour I am not in school I will be interning from 9a-5pm during the week. My internship is near Scottsdale, which gives me reason (and funds!) to venture into local places there. It also means I need to be super UBER practical with how much time I have to cook and what conveniences are worth buying! I hope that as my life takes a little twist, you can enjoy the new look right along with me.

Q: What do you (lovely readers) think? Do you like the tweets via instagram?

A: Comments below!! 🙂

A Tale of the Little Vegan Gingerbread

This weekend, as announced, I went for it. Gluten free gingerbread house or bust baby! I even found the sacred sorghum flour. Never used the stuff before. I always used oat flour as a substitute because it was easier to find. Well not this season!

On Friday I planned to bake my little heart away and begin the serious academic studies on Saturday morning. Not so. Like most of my semester, I have had constant, fresh reasons to add more to my schedule. Boo. Friday multiplied into three student meetings, an additional paper, and more meetings scheduled for Christmas break. Lame sauce. I had no time to bake a thing.

rediculous. pugs.

Saturday morning, I realized I could procrastinate postpone study until Monday since final exams mean no classes. I also found out I had three interviews for positions next semester! Good vibes to work from.

Then my dough crumbled. And crackled. And miserably failed. I did not know what I would do. Like a two year old, I threw the dough in foil, chucked it into the refrigerator, and left it. Spitefully. Who needs gingerbread! …I am so going to lose any readers I have after this.

For some reason Monday, I got spunky. I dragged it out wishfully, then plotted. Why not just pour a bunch of almond milk in? It’s not like things could get any worse! Like magic, the vegan gingerbread dough did a complete 180… but went sticky. Luckily, adding the other half of the crumbly fridge dough fixed both the stick factor and the dry factor. Saved!

From this experience, I have a few practical tips…

1) Seriously, use a silpat sheet. For the love of humanity, use a silpat. You’ll go crazy otherwise getting the shapes onto a sheet or off of a sheet without destroying the shapes.

2) Do not remove the cookie cutter before you tear away excess dough. And use a butter knife for the tricky parts. Particularly if you find sick pleasure in cramming as many cutters as possible onto the sheet. Guilty as charged, but then again, I’m an economist. I’m prone to maximizing output. Hehehe.

3) Believe in the dough. Believe and watch out for sticky. Karina low-balls the amount of almond/coconut milk in the recipe as far as my experience goes, so pour on! (that way you get cute little poombahs in the oven!)

From Karina’s lovely recipe, I managed the following: 4 regular-sized ginger people, 1 mini, four 5.5″ walls, and 24 mini cutouts! What a generous stash. I found those cookie cutters (in such fun sizes and shapes) for $5 at Michael’s. Complete STEAL.

The time it took to do all this certainly ate into study time, but I was prepared. Management materials are not so hard to memorize when you’ve written multiple class papers. Later that night, I finished reviewing, but not before I churned out one more culinary feast

…which I will tell you about in the next post! Savory, local Arizona produce plus a few key seasonings made total vegan comfort food. Perfect for the rain!

But you have to wait til next time to find out the dish’s name. 🙂

Q: What is the best part about rainy days? I love falling to sleep listening to rain.

*image source: baking bookie, pugness

Local Treats: Frost

I wanted to share a little treasure I found this past weekend with you. Consider this local frosty treat…

I believe it is gluten free (removing the wafer) and it is certainly dairy free. I chose a strawberry-champagne sorbet with, as the employee put it, a “sample” of limoncello sorbet on top. Generous “sample” and generous staff!

Jessica’s mom actually recommended this location after hearing word of my poor reaction to Cold Stone. I need not describe all the details, but I do believe I am lactose intolerant. (Six hours of nausea and intense stomach pain. Thanksgivings started rather poorly in the early hours of Thursday morning.)

En liu, the Frost Gelato Shop offers a wonderful selection of flavors for the lactose intolerant and those who can enjoy dairy! I believe I could taste the bubbles from the champagne in my sorbet. Really amazing. The texture surprised me the most since it was so creamy. Sorbet? Creamy? What a top notch alternative since my dairy days are over!

If you want to check it out, a Frost Gelato Shop can be found in Tucson or in Gilbert at SanTan Mall (where I went). The original store opened in Arizona, even though it has out of state locations. Please let me know if you go and try other flavors. I love recommendations and am curious about their sorbettinis and (hopefully dark!) hot chocolate and… well, I need to make a few more trips. 🙂

Q: What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Do you have seasonal favorites?

*For those who may have noted: Yes, I am allergic to citrus (strawberry, lemon) and so I did pay for that sorbet later, but sometimes you eat the bad stuff. Particularly when you know the reaction isn’t as bad as a dairy or peanut reaction. Particularly when you are lamenting the loss of ice cream. C’est la vie. I live to tell.

Gracious, the Season!

Hold. the. phone. What has happened to the winter season? I feel invaded by the world of commercial living! Since when do you begin posing Christmas materials before the end of Halloween? Since when do you post frosted cookie recipes before the start of Thanksgiving? I love the decor, the frosted cookies, the whole nine yards. I really, really do.

This year just feels so different. I almost feel pushed shoved into one of my favorite experiences. The Christmas season. For others, the Diwali or Chanukah or general giving season. Does anyone else feel this way too? It is rushed. Impersonal, even. I almost want to sit back and just soak up the outdoors for a few moments and forget certain holiday activities. Present as opposed to pressed in the world around me. Winter months are a wonderful time for remembrance, thankfulness, and overall generosity. I want to experience those things with the people I love.

A kind of grounding method for me is sipping hot liquids. It unwinds the mind. To me, this acts against the go-go-go push I keep feeling, and replaces it with a comforting ahhh moment. Of course, my preferred drinks are in harmony with the season. Fabulous for one or a multitude!

Hot apple cider is my current favorite and great for those with any food allergies. It’s easy to make at home, and hits the sweet and spicy notes just right. And did I mention it provides great nutrition? Perfect!

For any college students out there, the thing you simply must have is RAW, unfiltered apple juice. Not Motts, Juicy Juice, or any other brand. You want the real stuff from a local source because it makes or breaks any recipe you use. Adults (haha, with real jobs) can buy the cinnamon sticks and actual cloves. To save a few bucks, spend it all on the raw apple juice you’ll need and then dash the pot (filled with however many servings – I base mine on my mug by pouring from it) with a serious amount of ground cinnamon, a little ground cloves, and boil it for a minute or so. If you like, add a few orange slices too. Those are generally cheap to get. I think you’ll love it.

Now, for those with real jobs, you too need to make sure you buy literal raw apple juice to use. It should have murky stuff swirling around the bottom of the container. It makes the difference, I swear. If you can purchase local, Arizona apple juice you may have liquid gold on your hands. Delicious. Unfortunately, my favorite cider recipe disappeared from the face of the internet due to a downed food blog. None of the recipes come up anymore. Boo. I do have one which reminds me of it though, so here it is!* Enjoy.

*Note: Neglect the need for a cheesecloth. That is completely unnecessary. Just strain it.

Q: Do you have a particular seasonal recipe for a quick fix? How do you feel about the push, push, push of this season?

24 Carrot Gold (with cookies!)

May I present the bff holding the perfect example of our topic this post. Cookies. Throughout this week, I have inhaled delicious wafts of baked, glutinous treats, drizzled with chocolate, sprinkled with bright crystals of sugar. I wanted some. So badly.

Lucky for me, I got my wish, but by complete surprise. How did my best friend manage to come across such a tantalizing cookie (and one which we both could eat)? Well, it started with an impromptu adventure Friday morning. I say adventure, because Jessica had no clue that the breakfast location I chose happened to be completely vegetarian, somewhat vegan, and partially raw vegan in its menu. If you have not already guessed, she eats meat.

Walking in, I noticed 24 Carrots‘ eclectic looks with clusters of tables, chairs, and comfy spots to lounge around. It took us a while, but we finally made up our minds and ordered off of the chalked up menu.

As we sat down near the glass windows to catch up on conversation, other guests filtered in, and picked up carry out orders. Eventually our choices arrived. I completely caved when I discovered gluten free, vegan french toast on the menu.

A yummy choice. My fork got a little cinnamony because I needed to scrape off the beautiful strawberries. Jessica unknowingly ordered a more exotic breakfast.

In-house made “eggs” and “bacon” along with kamut toast and real jam.

When the plate touched the table, everything was fine. We welcomed the arrival of brunch. However, she suddenly gave me and the “eggs” quizzical looks. Jessica could tell something was up. I explained, “it’s vegan…(another look)…no dairy, no meat.” The discovery of tofu “eggs” came at her complete surprise.

She eyed the “bacon” and tried to figure out the next mystery. “What is this then?” We believed it to be seasoned firm tofu, and I was shocked when she proclaimed it to taste just like meat. Success. She thought the Indian twist on the “eggs” tasted good and offered me a bite. A house specialty? Yes please!

I continued on, drowning my french toast treat in maple syrup while Jessica moved on to her toast. She pronounced the kamut delicious, especially with the jam. As for my french toast, I loved that it tasted just like a tangy sourdough: a strong bite of chewy flavor. Good beginnings. BUT we started this discussion with a focus on cookies, right? What about the cookies…?

Well, when I wrote to 24 Carrots, I actually mentioned my cookie craving. Yes, cookies can be a legitimate, consuming priority. To be fair, I did discover 24 Carrots searching for something healthy. I only realized after looking at the 24 Carrots website that the “raw” vegan options might actually be food allergy friendly… including ‘treats.’

So… cookies! Sasha, the owner, graciously wrote me back and offered to make something special. I was floored. It was not until I arrived with my best friend Jessica that I realized how much consideration for food allergies 24 Carrots has to offer… as well as how delicious their cookies are!

You might guess that this is a special kind of cookie, and it is. Both Jessica and I could enjoy it, because it contains no dairy, no gluten, no corn, soy, or peanuts. Dark chocolate, raw cocoa, and freshly ground almonds combine into a blissful brownie-like cookie. Noms to the delicious!

Sasha’s specially made cookie reflects more than just a kind gesture, however. It shows how she treats all her customers, including those with literal lists of allergies. Making confectioner’s sugar from scratch, corn-free, is just how far Sasha will go. Her dedication comes from personal experience.

Sasha grew up vegetarian, and in the state of Kentucky, this was no small feat. One particular school field trip left Sasha eating a bowl of tomatoes for lunch because no alternatives could be found. From that point on, Sasha decided that no one else should go through her experience, including those with food allergies. This experience and personal compassion certainly shape 24 Carrots today.

A little history: 24 Carrots opened as a juice bar, but customer demands led Sasha to offer a rotating menu. Her devotion to fresh, local food and the customers still keep her working well into late nights. Rising bread does not pound itself, you know. But that is the farm to table atmosphere and quality Sasha has served from day one and I must agree that the taste proves it. The competition for certain treats on twitter and facebook is quite amazing. Apparently, I am not the only one who has found this diamond.

I will let you know there are rumors that Sasha is working on a dark chocolate orange granola this winter. When I come back with Jessica, it’s on. Sasha focuses on making nutrition dense recipes, lower in fats, using healthy sources, with as little sugar as possible. Even more reason to take the granola and run! …but maybe back to grab a cookie first.

For more about 24 Carrots’ whereabouts or their vegan granola or story, click the blue words!

Q: What kind of breakfast do YOU like to eat? Would you ever try tofu eggs or bacon?

granola image sources: dark chocolate, pumpkin pie spice

These Things Called Allergies

Blast these allergies. I cannot deny them. My reactions to peanut butter have driven me away from the stuff for good. A former favorite, but no more. I began to commiserate this past week as I realized that my favorite foods actually caused the issues I found in elementary school. Constant upset stomach? Yes. Feeling overfull all of the time? Yes. I could not tell when hunger was supposed to happen. Everything made me feel the same expanded, slightly painful belly. After a few years, I learned to ignore the symptoms. I stopped going to the nurse’s office because I felt stupid. I could not explain my problem and I thought I must be just wrong about my feelings somehow.

You realize, of course, that I must have had a reason to look into food allergies since that time. This reason came as a swift surprise. My joints started aching painfully this time last year. I thought my physical activity might be to blame or a number of other logical reasons might explain the pain. After three months, I realized the persistence of the issue. Only a few months later did I bother to get it checked out, because honestly, who has the time? It was then I found I had rheumatoid arthritis and that my joints really were in a bad place.

Following the appointment, I learned that the cause of rheumatoid arthritis might be related to food allergies. I completely disbelieved the argument from the start. How could one explain joint pain with food as the cause? Doubting heavily, I still took the advice to go on an Elimination Diet to identify my possible allergens. I think I was more willing to test for food allergies because my brother was diagnosed with celiac’s disease, and only by accident. I did not want to be a celiac and not know it.

Well, I had to quit the diet without complete results. Midterm week early on in the semester turned me in. My willpower broke. However, while on the diet, my joint pain disappeared. Completely. I obviously converted to the food allergy cause after that, as you might imagine. While following the diet, I also came to the realization that I could not handle gluten or strawberries. What I failed to realize was that, having successfully rid my body of inflaming foods, if I reintroduced them, I would feel every reaction more pronounced. This is where you find me now. Waiting for the right time to complete the diet process, and knowing I will not ignore my feelings. I will help myself by removing their cause.

On that note, I think the best way to overcome some lifelong diet changes is to admit the losses and celebrate the gains. Particularly in pictures. Particularly because this is a food blog.

So I admit to myself that I cannot eat the truffles drenched in milk chocolate or filled with a strawberry center…

source: chocolate reviews

However, I resolve to divulge in a dark chocolate truffle, au bon moment, and embrace the luscious notion of raspberry sauce!

source: bell'alimento

I also admit that gluten-laden crusty breads are out of the picture. Lovely delights that these are.

source: Simply So Good

However, I resolve to embrace a whole new world of nontraditional options. No neglect in flavor, no neglect in texture. Like exotic rice breads and oat flour graham crackers!

As for Arizona’s restaurants and food trucks and local eats, I am up for a challenge. I will find delicious foods which locals love and where allergies have no presence. In fact, I have my first location already picked out, and I am rather excited to go.

Perhaps you know someone, or many people, who happen to have dietary restrictions. I hope that you benefit from my personal adventures as I learn how to navigate local venues and allergen awareness. Who knows, I may throw in a few product reviews as well. Smores seem like a great place to start, now that I have a gluten-free graham cracker to work with… November weather calls!

Q&A: Would you ever consider testing yourself for food allergies? Have you ever tried gluten free stuff or been curious about it?

Cupcake Confession

This is my special advertised guest. The best friend from high school. She is Jessica.

Jessica & Me

I thought we would be sharing a fabulous cupcake-a-thon with you, but here starts the confession. Actually, this whole post is a confession. Let me start with the intentions. I completely and totally intended to go to the Cupcake Love-In this weekend. I was psyched.

source: Eater AZ

I bought a ticket weeks in advance and wrote it into my calendar. A few moments of thought later, and it dawned on me. Who does not like cupcakes?? I immediately messaged my best friend Jessica on Facebook. I told her she needed to drive up from the University of Arizona to come join me. After all, there were vegan vendors like 24 Carrots and Cruelty-Free Cupcakes. Lactose-intolerance? No problems. Vegans avoid all that stuff anyway. Score for cupcakes, score for the moo moos.

source: Vintage Vagrant

Well, the 2nd Annual Cupcake Love-In sold out. (YAY) …aaaand I ditched it.

Sunday morning I found out Jessica did not have a ticket and could not get in. This would not work. Instead of hiking it over to schmooze those cupcakes, I let the world know my Economics major actually means something has taken over my life. A charity ticket is a sunk cost. Quality time with Jessica? Economically speaking, priceless! (Confession: Attendee Fail and Nerd at Heart.)

source: we heart it

Do not worry though, we ate cupcakes anyway! Actually, we went all the way up to Scottsdale to enjoy some catch-up conversation over coffee and shopping. You may judge us, be we consider cupcakes and coffee to be the breakfast of weekends. This is, of course, why we are such good friends.

Final Confession: They were not local. Not by a long shot. And speaking of which, that is what topped my cupcake. A shot of frosting. There, the truth is known. I fess! I fess!

I want to make it up to you though. I need some local business inspiration. And for that, a vote is necessary.

Where should I go this weekend to photograph some scrumptious (cough *nutritious* cough) breakfast from local restaurants? Where do YOU go for a tasty morning meal?

Comment away!

Johnnycakes

When life gives you a morning to sleep in, what better way to go about it then making a delicious breakfast?

…these happen to be gluten free (with GF cornmeal)…

…these happen to be vegan….

And the best part?

The bottom pancake absorbs maple syrup.

Nom nom local delicious.