Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pineapple Gojju

I have a real treat for you today - a guest post by my friend's 17-year old daughter Molly. She is one of those uber-talented teens who is sweet and thoughtful, studies hard, can do yoga like nobody's business ... and is an amazing cook. She teaches the exercise/yoga class I attend every week and does a wonderful job of tailoring the moves to my aging body. Molly traveled around the world two years ago and fell in love with South Asian cooking. I've invited her to share one of her favourite recipes with us today - Pineapple Gojju - which I can't wait to try.


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It is Saturday morning and as I’m enjoying my pocket of warmth in my bed, safe from the frigid winter air outside, I am already planning what to eat for breakfast (the only motivation for leaving at all). I could opt for my usual meal - oatmeal with some chia seeds or berries on top - but today I have no plans, just a craving for some extra spicy-savoury-deliciousness.

I took a trip to India two years ago with a close family friend of mine and of all the incredible dishes we tried; my absolute favourite was the coconut pineapple curry *mouth waters*… it’s the perfect balance of heat and if you love coconut as much as I do, this is bound to become your new ‘fav’ as well.

The majority of our trip was within the state of Karnataka, home to the small town of Hampi, and a few hours from the main city of Bangalore. There was one particular restaurant that holds a fond place in my memory, obviously for the food, but also for the breathtaking scenery.


This was the view from my bamboo mat on the floor

After weaving through a banana plantation for about a kilometer you’d come to a quaint little cafe - The Mango Tree Restaurant (even though there were in fact no mango trees nearby). It looked out on a beautiful green marsh with water buffalo passing by nonchalantly every half hour and monkeys climbing up in the trees… surreal I know.



Once our shoes were off and we were comfortably seated cross-legged on the floor mats the waiter would come around with fresh watermelon juice and our menus.




To the left is me (Molly) - we are very grateful to be under the shade of a big tree and about to eat!

A special bond was formed that day between the curry and me. Since returning home I’ve been trying to recreate the recipe on my own with the help of the Internet and cookbooks. I came up with this version, inspired by a recipe found on food.com, with my own twist.


Pineapple Gojju

Now its quite possible that this dish seems so magical to me because when I ordered it I hadn’t eaten in hours and was so hungry anything would’ve tasted like a five star meal, but I’m putting the recipe out there anyway and I hope you find it’s as comforting and homey on a cold winters day as I do.

So here goes!

PINEAPPLE GOJJU (Serves: 4-8)

INGREDIENTS:
1 tablespoon canola or grape seed oil (I use grape seed) 
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped 
1 garlic clove, finely chopped 
1 cinnamon stick 
3 clove hearts 
2 cardamom pods, capsules crushed
3 teaspoons ground coriander 
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (more or less depending on how spicy you want it) 
1 pineapple peeled and cut into small squares 
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup coconut milk (I used the Thai Kitchen brand, from a can)
*if you prefer a sweeter tasting curry, add 1 tablespoon of sugar

Optional:
1/4 cup dried currants or golden raisins (I use currants)
Sprinkle of desiccated coconut flakes and/or extra cinnamon when serving.

DIRECTIONS:
1. Prepare all your ingredients.
2. In a frying pan heat oil and fry onion, garlic and whole spices until onions are soft.
3. Add ground spices and stir for one more minute.
4. Add pineapple and stir until well coated.
5. Add salt, coconut milk, and sugar if using.
6. Cook uncovered 5 minutes or until soft.
7. Serve with steamed white or brown rice.
8. Enjoy!

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Fabulous World of The Grand Budapest Hotel


The husband and I recently watched 
The Grand Budapest Hotel. Have you seen it yet? For me the interest lay not in the plot, but in the absolutely fabulous visual designThe plot was interesting, but nothing remarkable ... it is about a conceirge who, with the help of one of his employees, works to prove his innocence when he is wrongly framed for murder. Pretty simple really. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel is set primarily in the 1930s and is bookended by portions in the 1960s and 1980s - a double flashback. Each time period has its own colour palatte, but since most of the movie is in the 1930s that is what made the biggest impact on me. 


Wes Anderson, the director and writer of The Grand Budapest Hotel, is known for his meticulous attention to detail in his films (reportedly he even specified the hook the stolen painting was to hang from).
Anderson's use of unique composition and distinctive colour choices make you feel like you have entered a self-contained world. A world that is similar to ours, but different - more controlled, more intense, and quirkier.

I was drawn into The Grand Budapest Hotel's world and was completely intrigued by the visual design. It felt somehow familiar. At first I couldn't put my finger on what made it seem so familiar and then I realized that watching The Grand Budapest Hotel felt like I was stepping into some of my favourite blogs. The forced symmetry, the rich saturated colours, the pastels, the monochromatic look, and the moody lighting are all things that anyone familiar with blog photography would recognize.  

Let's have a look.


RIGID CENTERING AND SYMMETRY:

Most of The Grand Budapest Hotel is shot so you are looking straight at, straight down, or straight up at something. Everything is carefully centred in the middle of the frame - everything from people to buildings to pastries. The style of architecture is classic and symmetrical. It kind of does this symmetrical-loving girl's heart good to see everything lined up and organized like that. Symmetry gives the film a formality (although it is awkwardly formal at times because of the quirky characters and their antics). The rigid symmetry and centering also looks artificial and even a bit child-like which helps reinforce the appearance of this being another world. The symmetry also serves to make you aware of the composition which in turn serves to make you feel like you are looking at another world.



If you have read blogs for any length of time, you will be familiar with the same composition style. Centering the subject and tight symmetrical or semi-symmetrical composition are favourite tools that many bloggers use to take interesting and modern-looking photos of rooms, crafts, travel shots, people, or almost anything really.



Oh Happy Day

SF Girl by Bay

This Heart of Mine

Bright Bazaar

STRONG HORIZONTALS:
One of the other composition techniques Wes Anderson employs is the use of strong horizontal lines. I found this most evident in distance shots, like the one of Gustave and Zero running through the snow in the upper right in the collage below. Of course, horizontal lines happen naturally when you shoot your pictures at a 90 degree angle, but it is emphasized by having people or vehicles move straight across the scene and often at a distance so they appear almost as silhouettes.




Prior to reading blogs, I had never seen family and wedding photographs taken with the subjects standing stiffly side-by-side facing the camera. Now I see this style frequently and have grown to love its quirky composition. One of my favourite variations of this composition style is the photo below of Gabrielle Blair's family (author of Design Mom). The same strong horizontal lines can also be seen in pictures of food, craft items, or travel photos.


Design Mom

Martha Stewart

Design Mom

The House that Lars Built

Brooklyn Limestone


RICH SATURATED COLOURS:

Wes Anderson is also known for the distinctive colour palettes that he creates for each of his films. In The Grand Budapest Hotel he used cheerful reds and pinks and purples in the hotel scenes. The exterior of the hotel was painted a range of intense pinks, the interior had red walls in the concierge and elevator, blush pink walls in the lobby, red patterned carpets throughout, and the staff wore royal purple uniforms. It is a strong and distinctive colour choice, but it also makes the movie.




I see lots of saturated colours on blogs, although not usually as intense as in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Saturated colours appear more in craft projects, flowers, food, and even fashion photographs, than in interior decorating. Most people decorate with more livable neutral colours, although there are a few bright and beautiful rooms out there in blogland.


Young House Love


Real Simple

Decor Sponge



Bright Bazaar


House and Home

PLENTY OF PASTELS:

Many of the scenes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, especially ones that involve Agatha and the bake shop have lots of pink, yellow, and blue pastel colours. 




Pastel colours are a favouite in blogland. Pastels are very livable so are used for pretty much everything from food to fashion to flowers to decor.  The tone of pastels can vary though, from more serious greyed pastels to bright and happy pure-toned pastels.


Martha Stewart


Martha Stewart via Home Depot

Style at Home


Real Simple


West Elm

THE MONOCHROMATIC LOOK:

All the outdoor shots were snowy and overcast creating a monochromatic muted feel to them. The shots even appeared to be black-and-white at times.




The monochromatic look is popular in blogland. It is a calm look, often used in interiors and fashion.




Design Mom

Martha Stewart


MOODY LIGHTING:

The lighting in The Grand Budapest Hotel ranges from bright and intense to dark and moody. I found the dark lighting especially interesting. The background in these shots was dark with the light focused on the character's faces giving them the look of an old master painting.






Woman Writing a Letter by Gerrit ter Borch (source)





Portrait of a Man Holding Gloves, Rembrandt (source)
While dark and moody lighting is found in blogland, it seems to be used selectively. I see lots of moody table settings, food photography, flower arrangements, and even sometimes in photographs of people. What I don't see as much are dark and moody homes - for the most part light and bright is where it's at when it comes to decorating.


Style at Home


Real Simple


Making it Lovely

Martha Stewart

Although many of the blogs I admire remind me of Wes Anderson's design style, I have to give a shout out to Will Taylor, the blogger behind Bright Bazaar, because his blog is the one that most distinctly fits this style. I love Will's photography and composition and when I read Bright Bazaar I get something of the same feel as The Grand Budapest Hotel.

If you want to get a taste of what I'm talking about, here's the trailer to The Grand Budapest Hotel.  The movie is a feast for the eyes and especially if you are a blogger. 


I would love to know what other bloggers think? Did you feel like you had fallen down the rabbit hole of the blog world too when you watched The Grand Budapest Hotel?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

How I Lost 10 Pounds and Kept It Off Even Over the Holidays



I've been trying to write this post for a few weeks now and it is proving difficult to pull together. The long and the short of it is that I have put on 5 pounds a year for the past few years and ended up in the overweight range on the BMI and all my clothes were starting to feel tight. It was time for a change.

I don't want to appear braggy in writing about my weight loss, but I also know that in all my 50-something years I have never accomplished what I did this past fall. I've never had a big weight problem, but I also have never been able to lose weight when I needed to or wanted to .. at all ... ever!  As I got older and went through menopause I was gradually putting on weight. I would find I would especially put on weight at Christmastime and I couldn't seem to do anything to lose those pounds afterward. I have tremendous admiration for people who lose weight and keep it off (both parts are equally difficult).

I am, and always have been a stellar super-healthy eater up until about 7:00 at night. Every day I would eat healthy high-fibre cereal with skim milk for breakfast, a sandwich and yogurt and fruit for lunch, and whole-grain pasta or rice with lean meat and lots of veggies for dinner. So what was my problem you ask? Well, my downfall was evenings, weekends, and holidays. I would finish dinner, clean up the kitchen, and sit down at the computer and immediately want some chocolate and then a cookie or two (or more), and then some cereal before bed. It didn't seem like too much to eat, but as I was getting older it was too much. I wasn't able to curb my sweet tooth and limit my snacking and I couldn't lose the weight I had put on. 

Last June, a friend from work and I were both feeling the need to lose weight so we made a pact to eat healthy fruits and vegetables and do lots of walking and swimming all summer. Well come the fall when we were back at work and compared notes, neither of us had lost weight and, in fact, we had both gone up a pound or two. So after a bit of discussion about what to do (like several weeks worth of discussion) we decided to try the Dr. Oz diet, but with modifications. It took a bit of time to get ready to try the new eating plan, both to gear ourselves up psychologically for the changes and to buy some foods we didn't ordinarily purchase so we were ready to begin. By the end of September we both were ready to start the new eating plan. 

For the next 10 weeks we ate the modified Dr. Oz diet during the week and our regular diet on the weekends and we both got down to our desired weight - my friend lost 8 pounds and I lost 10 pounds. 

Dr. Oz 2-week Diet

We decided to only follow the new eating plan on weekdays so that we wouldn't have to worry if we went out to eat at restaurants on the weekends. We also could indulge in chocolate or whatever was our most missed treat on the weekends and have that to look forward to all week. I found this very helpful and motivating as I would often say to myself that I only had to do eat like this for the next few days and then I could have chocolate. I was also concerned about not eating grains or drinking milk for a long period of time as I didn't want my GI system to lose the ability to digest them. So eating whole-grain bread and drinking skim milk on the weekends kept them in my diet. My friend had had lots of joint pain prior to the diet, which dramatically improved when she cut out grains so she is now limiting the amount of gluten she eats and is feeling much better.

Since we ate whatever we wanted (in moderation) on the weekends our weight went up a pound or so, but it came off at the beginning of the workweek when we resumed our new eating plan. Then as the week progressed and we continued to eat the Dr. Oz diet we would lose another pound or so by the end of the week.

One of the realizations I came to after following the new eating plan for awhile was that I had previously been trying to reduce my snacking through willpower alone and would always eventually lose the battle. I was successfully able to lose weight this time because I had a plan of what I could eat and I was never hungry so I was able to maintain the eating plan. It was more a change of habits than trying to exercise willpower alone.

The other key factor that helped me lose weight this time was that I did it with a friend who also wanted to lose some weight. Neither of us had much to lose, but we both had not been successful with anything else we had tried. Having a buddy alongside was key to our motivation and helped in providing tips and ideas to each other. We would check in with each other several times a week by email so that we kept each other accountable.

After about 5 or 6 weeks we both made some changes to the eating plan to increase the amount of calcium and iron we consumed as the diet seemed a bit low in it for long-term eating. Some of the changes included occasionally eating beef and whole-wheat pasta and we both added a glass of skim milk to our dinners. We also took multivitamins and probiotics daily to ensure we got adequate nutrition. 

You can see in the list above what was recommended by Dr. Oz, but we did make changes to the eating plan to suit our lives. Here are a list of the modifications that I made:
1. I always have bran in the morning and really needed to continue eating it. Since milk was not part of the plan, I had my bran with plain greek yogurt. Frankly, the plain greek yogurt and bran tasted awful so after about a month I added half a banana to the mix and that was enough sweetness to get me through.
2. I used hemp hearts in my morning smoothie instead of flax seeds and protein powder.
3. Dr. Oz lists the veggies he recommends (low GI veggies), but I didn't want to make the eating plan difficult to follow, so my motto was - any veg would do! Any vegetable, even one that wasn't low GI, was certainly better than eating a cookie or chocolate or more pasta and they are all full of vitamins and minerals and fibre.
4. I always have an apple after school because I'm so hungry then that I could probably eat your arm if you held it in front of me. So every day I eat an apple and 20 almonds on the way home in the car. This was my routine before starting the new eating plan so it wasn't a change, but apples aren't on the Dr. Oz approved list (fruit is limited to try and keep the intake of sugar low).
5. Dr. Oz recommends not drinking any tea or coffee (only green tea and hot water with lemon in the morning), however his reason was that you associate drinking tea and coffee with having a cookie or muffin so you want to break that habit. However, I don't associate the two and love having a cup of tea in the morning so I skipped the water and lemon and had tea instead.
6. I skipped the detox broth as I couldn't figure out when to drink it and it seemed like a waste of veggies to make a broth and chuck the veggies.
7. I'm always hungry in the evening and overnight so I had some greek yogurt every evening. I added unsweetened applesauce or applesauce-berry-carrot mix to the greek yogurt so it was palatable. I also sometimes added cinnamon to change up the snack.
8. I was open-minded with the flavourings I used to make dinner as I figured you don't use much of them, but they add a lot to the meal. I included things like soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, mustard, and tzatziki (I used it on the chicken burgers and as a salad dressing).
9. I wasn't sure how much 6 ozs of protein was, so I just ate lots of meat, tofu, beans, eggs, and nuts so I wouldn't get hungry, but if you are a huge meat or nut eater you might need to be more accurate.
10. I sometimes used brown rice vermicelli in place of plain brown rice. I checked the ingredient list for vermicelli and it only listed brown rice so I decided it was a good substitute and it added a nice variety to our dinners.


So what exactly did I eat? Well, here's what I eat on a typical workday:

7:00
Breakfast: 1/3 cup Bran Buds with 1/3 cup plain greek yogurt and 1/2 banana

9:00
Smoothie: 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk, 1/2 banana, 3 rounded tablespoons Hemp Hearts, generous 1/2 cup frozen berries

12:00-1:00
Lunch: leftovers that included a protein and vegetables or salad with protein (usually a boiled egg and sunflower seeds and walnuts)


4:00
Snack: apple and 20 unsalted almonds

6:00-7:00
Dinner: 1/2 cup brown rice or brown rice vermicelli with protein and vegetables, glass of skim milk

8:30-9:00
Snack: 1/3 cup plain greek yogurt with small container of unsweetened applesauce or applesauce mix

Apart from losing weight so my clothes fit better (and gaining the confidence to be able to tuck my shirt into my pants or skirt - thankfully, as that seems to be the style now), one of the most surprising benefits was that I lost my sugar cravings. I used to sit down at my desk in the evening and just pine for chocolate. Now I don't even think about it. I can sit through a meeting with a plate of cookies on the table and not be thinking the whole time about eating one. I have read about people losing their craving for sweets and I thought they were crazy and it could never happen to me, but sure enough it did and relatively quickly too. After a few weeks on the new eating plan, I actually found that some things tasted too sweet (I'm talking about you Kit Kat bars) which was a little disconcerting.  

I have often heard people remark that when they go off sugar and eat healthier they have so much more energy. I wouldn't say I noticed a huge difference apart from how I felt after parent-teacher interviews in the fall. I am usually very tired on the day after parent-teacher interviews, but this past fall I sailed through the next day as if I had had a regular work day the day before, instead of an extended day. 

I seem to be able to tolerate being slightly hungry now, whereas before I would get the shakes and a headache and ... well "hangry" (you know ... so hungry you easily get angry). I also seem to be able to eat sweets with moderation now. I think both of these factors helped me keep the weight under control over the holidays.

Surprisingly, I only gained one pound over the holidays. I had given up trying to stick to the new eating plan over Christmas and New Year's and wasn't weighing myself every morning as was my habit. So I was very surprised to find out I had only gained one pound when I weighed myself when I went back to work in January.The new eating habits were difficult to stick with when everyone was around, without the structure of work, and with all the special foods that Christmas brings. However, this year I had far fewer cravings than before and was able to eat in moderation. I also continued to have the smoothie every morning throughout the holidays so I wasn't very hungry during the day. 

I'm still working out the kinks in a long-term version of this eating plan and trying to incorporate more exercise into life. The husband and I got Fitbits for Christmas to track our activity (or lack thereof) and hopefully improve our fitness habits. 

So there you have my grand eating adventure of 2014. It's definitely not that I have all the answers, but I thought I would share my experience in the hope that someone finds it useful. I love reading other people's success stories as I find them very inspiring and I hope mine is motivating for someone reading this. Let me know if you have any questions and I'll do my best to answer them.