Texan in Norwich


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Back in Texas

Well, here we are! Texas! The weather when we arrived was beautiful (70F / 20C) and sunny. It was like transporting into another season.

Grapevine Lake

The first thing we did when we got here was throw our coats, hats, gloves, and scarves in the closet not to be used for about 2 weeks! We did need them eventually, but really enjoyed a little warm break.

For the past three Christmases, my mom, sister, grandma, and I have all tried to get together for a Christmas baking day. We’ve never actually done it. The first year I couldn’t come, the 2nd year it was just me and my mom, and this year we thought my grandma wouldn’t make it. She ended up being able to drop by for a little bit with my 8 year old cousin, and we had a really nice (and messy) time. We make lots of sweet treats and pack them up to give as gifts to friends and coworkers.

Sister and I baking

Sister and I baking

P1020422My grandma and cousin, Payson on baking day! Also a little cameo from our dog, Cleo, and my sister peeking in the background.

Christmas BuckeyesThese were the big hit of baking day. The recipe is here, and they are gluten free and vegan (I left out the bacon in the recipe). These were SO good! I’m making some more for a party tonight.

I have to say, baking day was a big success this year. We had a few people who received boxes ask for more, and then for the recipes. And it was a lot of fun being silly with the ladies in the family (and James), and making a huge mess of the kitchen.

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The Best (Allergy Friendly) Chicken Curry

We love a curry. Warm, spicy, cozy, and rich, but off limits to me usually. Not anymore! James and I have created a curry recipe that is not just delicious, but is also friendly to my delicate, allergy-ridden system. We usually make too much curry for dinner then save some for lunch the next day because this is a meal that is even better leftover.

James and I have tried to make curries many different ways, but this is by far the best. The inspiration comes from a simplebites.net recipe, but naturally I have tweaked it quite a bit. The original recipe is for a slow cooker, which I have tried and it worked very nicely, but on a day to day basis I find it easier to make it on the hob.

So here’s what you do!

Ingredients (makes 2-3 servings)

1 red onion

1 clove garlic (we leave this out, but if you can have garlic, go for it!)

1 red chili pepper

1in piece of ginger

1tsp turmeric

1tsp cumin

1tsp black pepper

1tsp salt

1/2tsp dried chili flakes (more or less depending on how spicy you want it–you can add this in at the end if you want)

2 chicken breasts, cut into cubes

1 can full fat coconut milk

1 or 2 bell peppers (or veggie of your choice)

1 zucchini/corgette (or veggie of your choice)

Directions

Roughly chop the onion, ginger, garlic, and red chili. Put half of the onion, along with all of the ginger, garlic, and red chili in a food processor or blender.

Process until it’s almost like a paste. Put some oil in a pan, warm it up, and mix the paste in, as well as all of the spices. You can also sub in a ready made curry paste here, but I can’t have those and this recipe could save you a special trip to the store as all the ingredients in this paste could already be in your kitchen.

*Warning: your pan will be yellow after this meal

As the pan gets hot, cut up the chicken into the pan and coat with your onion/chili/ginger/garlic/spices mixture. Then cook on medium-high heat until the chicken is sealed.

While the chicken is sealing, roughly chop your veggies. I love zucchini/corgettes and bell peppers in curries because they soak up lots of flavor, but you could also use baby corn, snap peas, or really any kind of vegetable you want/have. Once the chicken is sealed, pour in a can of full fat coconut milk and add your chopped veggies, including the rest of the onion you chopped at the beginning.

Let this simmer away for a little while until the vegetables get as soft as you want them. When it’s done it will look like this:

Give it a taste and see if it needs any more spices. It it’s a bit bland, I like to add some more cumin and chili flakes. Serve with basmati or jasmine rice and you’re set! Cooking the chicken in the spices this way makes it really tasty and spicy compared with other curry recipes I’ve tried. Also, putting the veggies in after the coconut milk ensures that as they cook they soak up all the flavor in the pan.


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Guacamole Tuesday

Tuesday night is taco night in the Owen household. Taco Tuesday. James works in London on Tuesdays, so when he returns we go all out. Homemade tacos (no seasoning from a bag due to all my allergies), grated cheese, beer for James, cider for me, and the pièce de résistance: guacamole. The tacos are really just an excuse to eat guacamole so Taco Tuesday is kind of a misnomer. My taco recipe would help no one, since there are a lot better recipes for tacos that I can’t eat, so this post is all about the guacamole.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

I have a deep and profound love for guacamole. Being from Texas, Tex-Mex is a way of life. There’s not a lot I can eat anymore, but I could live on homemade guacamole. I can’t eat any from restaurants, because of the lime they add, but I wouldn’t really want to here anyways. Because here in the UK they put corn in their guacamole. CORN. No, sir! They also overdo it on the lime to where it just tastes like limey-mash with corn in it. No. No no no.

My guacamole has six ingredients. Avocados, red onion, chili pepper (or jalapeño if you can find it), salt, cilantro/coriander, and a dash of apple juice.

To start out, I chop half of a small onion, or about a third of a big one, very finely. Do the same to a chili pepper. I use about 2/3 of a chili pepper and then throw in a few seeds in the end if it’s not spicy enough. If you don’t like much spice, start out with 1/2 of a chili pepper and taste it as you go along. (Note: I prefer jalapeño peppers here, but they seem to be difficult to find in Norwich, so a red chili works okay)

This is a slightly misleading picture because this chopping board is about half the size of a normal chopping board. I like the onions and peppers chopped very finely. Each piece of onion is about 1cm thick. (The onions on the other chopping board were for our tacos, so were chopped thicker, ignore those!)

Then cut 2 avocados in half and remove the skin. I like to break them up into pieces as I put the avocados in a bowl so its easier to mash up. Pour in a dash of apple juice so to add some moisture. The apple juice is my substitute for lime. You don’t taste the apple juice at all, but it keeps the guac from getting brown right away and helps the texture.

Once you put in the apple juice, stir the avocados around with a fork to soften them up a bit. Then put in your onions and chilies.

Now just stir it up! I use a regular fork and just stir it for a while until it starts to get soft. There’s no need to seriously mash it or go crazy, it will start to get soft on its own with some vigorous stirring. Once it’s soft, add a bit of salt to taste and some chopped coriander/cilantro. This makes enough for two very hungry guacamole lovers.

Another technique is just to throw all your ingredients in a food processor and let it go. Just start with roughly chopped onion and chili, then when that’s blitzed to oblivion add the apple juice, avocado and a pinch of salt. I don’t like this as much because it creates almost a guacamole paste. I like my guac with different textures and some lumps of avocado here and there. But if you’re in a hurry or don’t want to make as much of a mess, the food processor works fine.

And this is what you get! (Vegan readers, I’m sorry, look away now)

Look at that beauty! And it’s ridiculously easy to make, so there’s really no excuse not to go make some right now!


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Gluten-free, Vegan Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

One of the most annoying things about gluten-free and vegan baking is the vast amount of ingredients necessary for each recipe. We’re not made of money over here, so one of the things I try to do is make tasty treats with the fewest amount of ingredients. It will always be more than if I could use wheat flour, but I do what I can.

One of the ways to save on buying lots of individual products is to use what you have to make what you don’t. Instead of searching for gluten and dairy free chocolate chips, I make my own with ingredients that most gluten-free bakers will have on hand.  Another way to save money is to find or create recipes that suit what you have. After buying fresh mint for a midweek dinner, we had some leftover so I decided I would try to make some mint chocolate chip cookies! I haven’t made these before, so it will be a bit of an experiment. Read all the way to the end before you try them in case they are a disaster…

The recipe I use for homemade chocolate chips comes from the Organic Matters blog. For the purposes of these cookies, however I have tweaked it a little, and the recipe I used is as follows:

Ingredients

Handful mint leaves

5 tablespoons coconut oil

5 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 teaspoon honey (or agave for vegans, I just happened to have honey instead)

Directions

Pulse fresh mint leaves in a food processor until shredded.

Melt coconut oil on stove, then take off heat.

Add cocoa powder and honey.

Add the processed mint leaves (I had to keep adding more until I could taste it in the chocolate).

Pour out the chocolate mixture onto a parchment paper covered pan or plate. I had to use a plate because our freezer is too small for a pan. A pan is ideal, though, because you can spread the chocolate out thinner and flatter. Put this in the freezer until the chocolate is frozen.

While this is freezing, start making the cookies! I got this recipe from Cinnamon Quill, but as I mentioned before, I try to cut down the number of ingredients so I’ve made a few changes. This is the first time I’m making this, so bear with me.

Ingredients

1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup palm sugar (or any kind of sugar, palm is just my favorite)

1/4 cup sunflower oil, grapeseed or safflower oil (generous 1/4 cup; more like 1/4 cup + 1 teaspoon)
1/3 cup honey, agave or pure maple syrup (the original recipe recommended maple, but I had honey already, so that’s what I used)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

(The original recipe called for 1/4 cup tapioca starch and 3 tablespoons-1/4 cup potato starch. I used 1/2 cup tapioca starch to save on ingredients and I’m sensitive to potatoes. I’m also sensitive to sorghum, which is included in the original recipe, so I just used 1/2 cup brown rice flour instead. This will alter the taste, as sorghum is quite nice and brown rice flour can be gritty, but what can you do?! Check out the original if you have sorghum.)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F or 180C.

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. The electric mixer is not really necessary with this recipe, but I have one so I’m sure as hell gonna use it. Then add the wet ingredients and let it hang out while you deal with the chocolate chips.

Once your chocolate is frozen, take it out of the freezer and chop it up using a large knife. I transferred my parchment paper from the plate to a worktop saver so I didn’t mess up a dinner plate. Cutting your chocolate into chips will be very messy because the coconut oil melts at the temperature of your hands, so be sure to wear an apron or clothes that can stand a bit of chocolate on them. It’s not recommended to do this right after your dutiful husband has cleaned the kitchen and right before your leasing agent is coming to inspect your flat, like I am doing. Oh well.

Add 1/2 cup of your homemade mint chocolate chips to the cookie mixture. You’ll have chocolate chips left over, but I like to put these back in the freezer and have some ready-made for next time. If you don’t, then you can halve the chocolate chip recipe above. I also added some more of the processed mint into the cookie batter here because it didn’t taste minty enough.

Now, spoon it out onto a baking sheet. My batch made 11 cookies, which isn’t an ideal number, but it just happened that way.

Put in the preheated oven for 10min. Like the original recipe says, they will firm up after you take them out, so really 10min is all they need.

Now. Now now now. These didn’t turn out quite like I was hoping.

I think perhaps the addition of coconut oil in the chocolate chips stretched the recipe a bit far. As you can see, there was nothing to hold the coconut oil chocolate chips in place. They just melted out the bottom. An easy solution to this is just buy chocolate chips, but I think maybe if we added in a binding egg substitute it might make these cookies a bit more hardy. Or just put in less chocolate chips (I’ve gone back and changed the amount of chocolate chips in the recipe). Or possibly just add more dry ingredients to soak up the excess oil. I’ll keep experimenting. But in the meantime, once I cut around the melted coconut chocolate mess, the cookies actually were fine, and delicious!

*Note: the cookies aren’t burnt. When you add in your homemade chocolate chips, they do melt a little bit and turn the batter a bit brown and chocolatey.

Well my first try with the recipe could have gone better, but it could have gone worse, too. The taste and texture of what was left of the cookies was pretty perfect. I didn’t miss the sorghum and the cookies were lovely and soft. If I hadn’t seen what the pan looked like when it came out of the oven, I would have been completely satisfied with them. I’ll keep fiddling with this recipe, and give you some updates when I figure it out!


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Rainbow Wholefoods

When I was in Texas, I relied heavily on the Sprouts in Southlake. Sprouts is a grocery store which emphasizes health. They stock all the normal grocery store goods, like fruits, vegetables, meat, cereals, etc, but focuses on the organic and natural. They sell vitamins and supplements, and also have a wide array of gluten and dairy alternatives. I could find any kind of gluten-free flour I could wish there, as well as dairy free chocolate chips, almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and so on. It was the best. My favorite. And it was half way between my house and my doctor’s office, which made it seem even more magical.

I haven’t found anything quite like the one-stop shop Sprouts here, but the closest I’ve come is Rainbow Wholefoods. It’s like Holland and Barrett with more food and without all the confusion. Rainbow is a lovely little store in the amusingly named Labour In Vain Yard, up the hill from Tesco’s. 

This is where I go for my cereal, baking ingredients, snacks, and the occasional tub of Booja Booja ice cream. The staff is friendly and they remember me when I come in. (Although I am slightly filled with jealousy towards them as I unsuccessfully applied for a job there a few months ago…) All of their products are organic, vegetarian, and GM-free. They don’t have the same array of gluten free flours that Sprouts does, but I can usually just about manage with what they do have. The staff are willing to order new products if I ask them to, as long as I can find a UK supplier.

I think the main difference is what I’m used to isn’t as common here in the UK. Being allergic to potato, I rely on other starches like tapioca, which just seems impossible to find here in stores. I have to order tapioca starch from websites such as healthysupplies.co.uk. It also seems impossible to find almond flour. Ground almonds is quite common, but it doesn’t work in my recipes for almond flour. It is too heavy and adds too much moisture. Frustration!

While Sprouts was great for allergy-free alternatives, Rainbow Wholefoods is great for those looking for vegetarian and vegan alternatives. There is even a vegan restaurant above the store. I am not a vegetarian or vegan (except in baking due to my egg and milk allergy) because I am allergic to so many vegetables, but I do love Rainbow.


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Birthday cake from Biddy’s!

One of the drags of having so many food sensitivities is having to make your own birthday cake. It takes a bit of the magic out of it, and once you have made it, no one else seems to want to share it because no one else really likes gluten free/vegan cakes compared to regular ones. This year I was going to make brownies for my birthday, because they are easier and I was feeling lazy. A few days before, I went to the grocery store to get cocoa and apple sauce and all I found instead was this:  Get it together Britain.
Resigned to no birthday treat this year, I started home. On my way I passed Biddy’s Tea Room on Lower Goat Lane, a lovely vintage shop for afternoon tea and cakes.

On a whim, I stopped in to see if they made gluten free and vegan cakes. I was greeted by Charlie, who immediately offered to create a cake catered to my many food allergies for my birthday. I went home, emailed her my allergy list, and two days later returned to Biddy’s to pick up my cake. Charlie and Amy were there to wish me a happy birthday and gave me my cake for free! It wasn’t just a gluten-free/vegan cake, it was also vanilla free, lemon free, and free of many other things that tend to appear in cakes. They went to the trouble of making a new recipe just for me, then gave it to me for free. It was a wonderful birthday present. And quite delicious!!!


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Sensitivities/Allergies

I should clarify something. I say I have many food allergies, but this is not entirely correct. I have many food sensitivities. This means that potentially they could all go away, whereas allergies are permanent. Some of my sensitivities could turn out to be permanent allergies, but at this point I just don’t know. I tend to use the words interchangeably, so please forgive me.

My allergies/sensitivities are sorted into different categories based on the strength of my reaction to them. My 1’s are foods that I can eat every once and a while and should soon be able to take them off my allergy list completely. Some of my 1’s I can’t wait to add back in are potatoes and garlic. Three’s are allergies that may turn out to be permanent, especially if they have been 3’s the entire time I’ve been sick. These include things like broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and tomato. Gluten/wheat and milk are 1’s, but eggs are a 3.

I started being tested for food allergies a few months after I returned home from UEA. I had been given loads of antibiotics when I had mono/glandular fever, and this led to an overgrowth of yeast in my intestines, leading to my becoming sensitive to most of the foods I ate regularly during this time. That’s why so much of what I’m allergic to seems so healthy. I was sick, so I was trying to eat a lot of vegetables, and now I’m allergic to so many vegetables. This is what I looked like at the height of my illness:

Once I cut out my sensitive foods and started taking some supplements, I started getting better. I’ve been tested a few times for allergies since then and my list changes slightly each time. My current food allergy list is: wheat, milk, eggs, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant (aubergine), garlic, grape, lemon, lettuce, pineapple, potato, rye, sesame, spinach, black tea, tomato, walnut, watermelon, yeast, blackberry, brazil nuts, brussel sprouts, buckwheat, carob, cherry, cloves, cottonseed, cranberry, flaxseed, hazelnut, horseradish, lime, paprika, parsley, pecan, red pepper, pumpkin, radish, sorghum, turnip, and vanilla bean.

This is what I look like now (with my lovely husband):

See the difference?!