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The Food and Wine Show

… Or, The Day of the Amazing Expandable Stomach

Have you ever started packing for a trip, only to realize that you had way too  many clothes for your suitcase and not enough time to make the hard decisions that were required AND make your flight, but then discover that your suitcase had an extra zipper that expanded it to *just* the right size?

That’s a little bit how I felt at the Ottawa Food & Wine Show this Saturday.

We started the day with a couple of glasses of wine and a demonstration of pulled sugar art by Chef Faure from Le Cordon Bleu.

Which, by the way, is kind of amazing to watch.

The demonstration came with pastries. This chocolate tart was actually a little bit savoury – it was very good.

I am not going to torture you guys with photos of every delicious thing I ate, but here are some highlights:

… I had to try the fried sushi pizza from Kinki even though I am not generally a huge fan of deep-fried rice (which is what the patty was made of).

I look perhaps a bit suspicious in this photo, but it turned out to be delicious!

Of course, chocolate was involved …

… and cannolis. A small but growing part of me wants to try making cannolis, even though the prep time on cannoli recipes is listed at two hours (and we can pretty much add 50% to that for a first attempt).

Toward the end of the afternoon, when I was already starting to waddle rather than walk, I discovered these crème brulée with caramelized smoked salmon from the Wakefield Mill Inn.

It sounded … well, it sounded like something I had to try and it was a surprising melt-in-your-mouth mixture of sweet and savoury.

I know what you are wondering and yes, I did try the tartare.

I had seen some crab cakes earlier that I really wanted to try, but at this point there was just no chance I could eat any more.

We must practice Intuitive Eating, no?

So we left, even though I confess I kept talking about the crab-cakes-that-were-not-to-be all the way home.

However, about three hours after we got home, we went to Ryan’s parents’ house for dinner. They were having a roast leg of lamb (with vegetable sides I didn’t photograph).

And homemade chocolate truffle cake.


Of course, I couldn’t finish the cake after everything I’d eaten that day.

Kidding!!! I almost had you guys there, right?

Obviously, I ate that bite after the picture was taken. Homemade truffle cake, people.

… I also ate the vegetables that came with dinner, I promise.

November 9, 2010   1 Comment

Eleven Things

I love lists, so I thought you might enjoy a list of eleven kind-of-related things about me. Why eleven? I like the number eleven. It has an elegance to it that the number twelve completely lacks.

1. I was born in Russia and lived there till I was ten. I am fluent in English, Russian, and French and speak some Spanish too.

2. During my teenage years, I struggled with bulimia, and have also practiced food restriction at various times. Now I consider myself to have a very healthy and fun relationship with food. However, continuing to have a healthy relationship with food means that I am very serious about not taking food too seriously. That’s the reason for the “duty-free” in my blog title.

3. I love research, so staying away from rules is a challenge. The research on some ingredients is pretty damning, but avoiding all unhealthy ingredients would actually be unhealthy in my case (see #2). So I practice awareness to maintain the right balance.

4. That reference to “practicing awareness?” Yes, I am kind of woo-woo. Also, yoga is my favourite form of exercise.

5. I was a vegetarian for two years in high school, but it ultimately wasn’t for me.

6. Not only do I eat a lot of fat, but I am always looking for tasty ways to add MORE healthy, natural fat to my diet. Butter is definitely in this category. As is coconut oil.

7. I am super picky about sauces. I can’t stand the texture of most sauces in Chinese food, which is why the only Chinese food I ever order is chicken-fried rice. Ketchup and mayo really gross me out as well.

8. However, I love Japanese food, especially sushi! I load it up with wesabi and drown it in soy sauce. Soy sauce should really be a food group, no?

9. Soy sauce is the only type of soy I consume regularly. I generally try to avoid soy (see #3).

10. I love traveling. So far, I’ve been to the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, Austria and Mexico.

11. I have only gone surfing only once (over two days in Tofino, B.C.). It was so much fun and I can’t wait to do it again. I got up once on the second day but we had to leave about 30 seconds later when my boyfriend popped his eardrum. Now surfing and I have some unfinished business to take care of!

And with that, I am off to go eat sushi for the third time in two weeks.

Have a great weekend, everyone! I am planning to try making macaroons, which I may or may not post about on Monday, depending on how it goes. Wish me luck!

November 5, 2010   8 Comments

Pumpkin Pie with Enlightenment Spice

On Sunday October 31st, we woke up to two inches of snow. I have photographic evidence, see?

But in spite of being reminded of the fact that I live in a place where it apparently snows in October (!), I was in a good mood and gearing up for a lovely day ahead.

I had a sugar pumpkin from the market, and I was excited to make my first ever pumpkin pie (a possible Macaroon Monday submission), and victoriously serve it to my family after photographing it in natural light, and going to yoga at 4 pm.

All that and about a million errands too. I started at 11.

Enlightenment Spice

Everything took longer than I expected. I arrived, on edge, in the baking section of the Loblaws Superstore, proceeded to be completely overwhelmed by the kilometre or so of various baking powders and spices, and spent approximately 20 minutes looking for Pumpkin Pie Spice.

Then I spent five minutes looking for an employee so I could ask for help. I finally found one in refrigerated goods. I asked her if she could help me find Pumpkin Pie Spice.

She told me she didn’t work in that section.

I tried again. She took me to the aisle labelled “Spices” and said, “This aisle is labelled ‘Spices.’ You can probably find it here.”

I tried again. I gave her my friendliest smile. ”I just spent 20 minutes in this aisle. I am not very familiar with baking goods, so do you think you could help me or find someone who works in this section?” She agreed, and walked off to get help, as I continued to stand helplessly in the Spice aisle, making sad faces and hoping that a kind passerby would take pity on me and help.

No such luck. After about 15 minutes, I realized this woman was not coming back. Then I looked at my watch and realized that I wasn’t going to be photographing my pumpkin pie in beautiful, color-balanced daylight. And I most certainly was not going to make it to yoga.

I found her back in Refrigrated Goods. “Did you have any luck?” I asked innocently. “Yes,” she said. “It turns out we are out of stock.” I walked away. And this is when I started meditating on punching that woman in the face.

Honestly, I’ve never been great at standing up for myself. I don’t like hurting people’s feelings. Like many women, I am not comfortable with conflict. But seriously, I was upset - it’s one thing to be out of stock, but a totally different thing not to tell me about it until I look for you after I wasted a total of an hour looking for freaking pumpkin pie spice.

I thought about all this while I looked for organic eggs, which naturally were also out of stock.

I felt the stress hormones coursing through my veins. I wondered how much of this was due to the fact that I didn’t get enough sleep. And I knew how terrible I would feel if I dumped  all of my frustration on a woman who makes $10 an hour. And suddenly, I knew what I had to do.

I found her again in the Beef section.

And I said, “I would have really appreciated it if you had told me that you were out of stock. I kept looking for pumpkin pie spice for 15 minutes after you left.” I was calm and polite. She apologized. I went on my way. I had met my own needs without ruining someone else’s day.

And you know what? I may not have found enlightenment, but I certainly felt lighter.

Victorious Pumpkin Pie

And now, on to the food. I followed this recipe from Allrecipes.com pretty closely. It turned out to be really easy (except scooping the seeds – is it possible that carpal tunnel is an occupational hazard of cooking?)

I love the color of pumpkins!

Would you like to see an action shot of mixing the rest of the ingredients? Okay, if I must.

My mom and stepfather came over for dinner last night. Meet the Mother of DFF.

It was 7 pm by the time the pie was finished, but my mom and I were highly motivated to eat it. You are supposed to cool it overnight, but if you live in Canada, or some place they have polar bears, you can also put it into the garage for about an hour.

Behold my pumpkin pie! Is it not a thing of beauty?

Everyone loved it. I had two pieces, and my mom had three. You all now know where I get my distaste for portion control. But my mom is in excellent shape, so we’ll hope for the best.

(I promise I don’t usually look like a zombie. This was just my skin colour for Halloween . Okay, not really, but can I at least blame the lighting for this one?

Oh, and the pie tastes even better as I write this the next morning.

November 1, 2010   2 Comments

A Saucy Evening

Last night, we had Fettuccine Alfredo. Not even the homemade stuff, but rather the quick stuff from M&M (with the accompanying garlic bread, of course). I haven’t had this dish in months, because like I said before, I really do eat healthfully most of the time (gratuitous  pecan pie consumption notwithstanding).

However, there was just no time to cook last night, so it was back to this old favourite.

First of all, let me just point out that M&M makes the sauciest take-out Fettuccine Alfredo in at least all of Ontario, and very possibly also the world. I mean, look at that sauce! (the parsley is from our garden).

Of course, we added lots of parmesan cheese for protein. I didn’t work out yesterday, but I am still sore from Boot Camp on Wednesday so clearly the cheese was mandatory.

This is actually one of the dishes that Ryan made for me when we first started dating. In addition to parmesan and parsley, he also modified it by adding in extra cream. It was divine.

This dish, along with Jamie Oliver’s spicy pasta and our daily regimen of beer and wine at the time, is how I gained twenty pounds.

Thankfully, I figured out I could lose it by eating butter! I am now back to my happy weight.

The leftover garlic bread, however, is trying to eat the leftover parmesan.

Oh for the love of all that is healthy, how can I stop this travesty from happening?

… Clearly, someone has to eat that bread before the cheese suffers.

October 22, 2010   2 Comments

My food philosophy in a nutshell

I’ve tried so many different ways of eating, it makes me dizzy just to think about it. One day I’ll definitely post about my not-so-duty-free past. But today, I’ll tell you guys about the way of eating I have followed for the past couple of years – I am pretty happy with it right now.

The Basics

I try to eat real food 80%-90% of the time, devoting the other 10-20% of what I eat to guilt-free pleasure.*

It’s kind of like what Benjamin Graham says about speculation vs. investing. Not that I am doing either at the moment. (But if I were, I would probably speculate 20% or less because a Soviet upbringing isn’t very conducive to risk-taking.) It’s the same way with food. If I stop eating desserts and nachos, my life feels woefully incomplete. But if I eat too many, I start craving vegetables. If you were to tell me ten years ago I would start craving vegetables if I ate too much chocolate, I would probably have had a very premature heart attack.**

So that’s it in a nutshell - eat healthy most of the time, and indulge without feeling bad about it afterwards. Because really, life is too short.

*This month, my diet consists 20% of pecan pie. This one was actually taken out of the freezer in the back for me by the gracious grocery store staff. Public Service Announcement: pecan pie is even better straight out of the freezer.

** That’s because ten years ago, I literally bought a cinnamon bun every third period and a chocolate bar every day for lunch. I was on a constant energy roller coaster. Usually the chocolate bar was a Hershey’s Cookies & Creme. So tasty! But I digress …

Some other mini-principles

  • When in doubt, I usually choose the fatty thing over the carby thing. I also try to eat butter at least once a day. It is heart-healthy, after all
  • I eat vegetables … almost every single day.
  • I think of “real food” as anything that occurs in nature with minimal processing. So olive oil is in, but canola is out. Butter is in, but margarine is out. Honey is in, but sugar is … oh who am I kidding, it’s still in, just not as often.
  • I eat carbs, but I do try to avoid sugar and flour as much as I reasonably can.
  • I don’t count calories or grams of any kind. I do aim to get enough fat and protein for my body, but I prefer to go with intuition over math on this one.

That’s it for me! What about you?

October 20, 2010   12 Comments

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