Playing Favourites: Thai Kitchen coconut milk

Thai Kitchen premium coconut milk

I’ve never been to Asia. I’ve never even wanted to go to Asia. Then, Johnathan spent three months backpacking through Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, and the Philippines last year, and informs me that I must go back with him someday, that it was gorgeous (especially southern Philippines), and so perhaps one day I shall actually travel to Asia.

I do know that I like Asian food. That is, I like the North American versions of Asian food: sushi (though I’m still not brave enough to try real raw fish sushi: I stick to smoked salmon and crab and deep-fried shrimp and vegetarian rolls), Thai curry, Indian curry √° la British pub, Thai food of any sort, Chinese buffet… you get the idea.

Since doing the Whole30 earlier this year, coconut milk, which was for me previously only an ingredient in Thai curry, has become a staple. While avoiding dairy for two months, I began to put coconut milk in my coffee, and lo and behold I no longer enjoy half and half. Go figure. Coffee is a staple for me, ergo so is coconut milk.

Coffee with coconut milk

But not just any coconut milk. The Whole30 taught me that not all coconut milks are created equal.

For instance, many cheaper (and often imported from Asia) versions of canned (canned is the best) coconut milk contain sulfites, which is an additive that has what the Whole9Life people call “potentially nasty side effects.” It is often used as a preservative, but you can usually find versions of whatever you’re looking for (dried fruit, balsamic vinegar, etc.) that either doesn’t have preservatives or uses something more natural instead.

In the case of coconut milk, the premium version (don’t even look at the low-fat version: you want full fat, and besides, it’s cheaper!) of the Thai Kitchen brand uses something called guar gum as a stabilizer, not a preservative.

If you’re thinking about removing dairy and/or adding some good fat to your diet, grab a can of this coconut milk and add it to your coffee, tea, smoothies, curries, baked goods, etc. And let me save you the trouble of reading all of the labels of all of the other varieties you might find in your local grocery stores: Thai Kitchen is the best, with the fewest and most trustworthy ingredients.

And yes, they really should compensate me for this post. ūüėČ

 

Edit: The National Post posted a story (from @TheAppetizer) that breaks down the discrepancy between “coconut water,” “coconut cream,” “coconut milk,” and other products with similar names. Check out the delicious-looking recipe for Coconut-Lime Pulled Chicken Tacos!

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Playing Favourites: Some nostalgia with my coffee, please

Mom's mug

My mug collection is made up of a wide variety of mismatched receptacles. They were all either given to me as gifts, purchased as souvenirs, or inherited from my mom’s house when she passed away over four years ago.

This particular one is the smallest of my “coffee” mugs, and not necessarily the most attractive. It also can’t be microwaved because of the gold coating (unless you want to risk an explosion while enjoying the strange crackle and pop noises), but I love drinking out of this mug.

Perhaps I’m a sucker for nostalgia, but this mug was not only my mom’s, but is an anniversary mug from her Alma Mater, what was then called Ontario Bible College (OBC) (now called Tyndale University College). It would have been special to her, and so every time I pour my reductionist Americano into it, I think of her just a little bit.

My mom also loved coffee. In fact, I started drinking coffee because she drank it. She wouldn’t have been able to keep up with my progressively snobby tastes, but drinking coffee together with my mom is one of my favourite memories.

Raise a mug with me…. happy Monday!

Cheese and Bread and Chocolate, oh my. AKA: I fell off the horse for 3 days.

Crack, aka pizza

Crack, aka pizza

I finished my first Whole30 last week. Thursday was the official day 30, but I continued the diet through Friday.

Then, to be able to celebrate my friend’s birthday on Saturday and celebrate finishing the Whole30 with my boyfriend on Sunday, I took a two-day diet break. I pretty much fell off the wagon for two days: On Saturday I had a muffin for breakfast (tried two but couldn’t even eat the first one), and cream in two coffees.Then, my body was freaking out, so I gave it two bananas and a whole bunch of raw veggies. It didn’t get any protein until around 5:00 pm. Bad scene, not to be repeated.

Dinner on Saturday was a delightful catered party spread that included homemade salsa and tapenade and fruit and veggies and meats and artesanal (sp?) cheeses and wraps with goat cheese and sauces and crackers and… SOOO good! Definitely worth “falling off the wagon” for. Or horse. I started with horse, I had probably continue with horse.

The bite-sized finger-food party grazing spread was fantastic. I had been in touch with the caterers beforehand to make sure I wasn’t falling off the horse for a meal full of deep-fried food and breads and sugars, etc. But no, of course no. These people are way too classy for that.

I also tried a couple of the signature drink, The Justin, named in honour of the birthday boy. After no alcohol for a month, I felt like two was enough, and what with a glass of punch besides, I started having a major thirst issue and couldn’t drink enough water.

But I’m pretty sure it was the dessert that caused the painful pangs in my belly the next morning. Justin’s mom is the dessert queen. I do not exaggerate. In all honesty, she is the Martha Stewart of our region, but dessert is possibly one of her brightest stars.

There was an entire table full of desserts that she had made. Cupcakes. Cheesecakes. Pies. A gigantic red velvet black forest trifle cake. Chocolate. Peanut butter. Strawberries. Skor. Caramel. Whipped cream. HEAVEN!!!!

I couldn’t help it. If the dessert was going to kill me from the insides out, I was going to die with the best dessert in the world on my lips. So I tried at least a bite from three desserts, including a whole (small) slice of pecan pie. Mmmmmmmm!!! I didn’t even have the presence of mind to take a picture of that plate of goodness, such was my eagerness to devour it.

Yesterday morning, for a few minutes, I felt cramp-like pangs in my belly. Then I got up and added cheddar and sriracha¬† to an otherwise Whole30-compliant omelette, and cream to my coffee. Ahh dairy, I’ve missed you! In the afternoon, I ate leftover braised cabbage, aware I would be sinning majorly that night.

Knowing I’d be going another month without any kind of grains or dairy, I decided to pile on another layer of dirty eating and make pizza for my celebratory dinner with Johnathan. Caveats? I put lots of veggies on mine, and made the dough and sauce from scratch. Both involve non-kosher ingredients. It was a cheat or bust kind of weekend, I guess.

Then I proceeded to deviate further and I ate an absolutely heavenly leftover cupcake from the party the night before, and then one my most favourite awful foods: a Cadbury Creme Egg.

Oh, and full disclosure: I had 2 glasses of wine with my pizza.

By now, all the Paleo people are cringing. Sorry, guys.

As much as I enjoyed all of those flavours that I had missed and will continue to miss, I was glad to get back to the strictness of the Whole30: I’ve gotten used to feeling great all the time, and all the cheese and chocolate and cupcakes in the world can’t give that to me.

Pushing the reset button

Today was supposed to be the first day of my second Whole30. It started well, but when dinner-time hunger pangs hit, I felt the need to not waste the two pieces of leftover pizza in my fridge. So I had to strike the attempt and postpone Second Whole30, Day  until tomorrow.

This second edition of the Whole30 is going to be even more hard-core than the first: no Fudge Babies. Less fruit. Less almond butter, less smoothies.

I’ve been inspired by a great opportunity which I will tell you about tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, I’m excited to get my good sleep back and lose the residual tailbone pain…

Playing Favourites: Blogs I enjoy

On a regular basis, my email inbox is filled with posts from many bloggers that I have followed. These are my current and long-term fave

Getting into the Spirit of Local

  • Rachel’s Table: A Local Food Experiment
    • Rachel is not local to me, but she is serious about what is local to her in Delaware, USA. Rachel posts regularly about discovering local food at markets and restaurants, and recently blogged about the difference between supermarket eggs and organic farm-fresh eggs. I re-blogged that here.

Wit

  • Dooce
    • There are really few wittier or more transparent bloggers out there than Heather Armstrong. If any. She is also a photographer, author, and style maven. All of which you will experience on her blog site.
  • The Pioneer Woman
    • You may be familiar with Ree Drummond from her Food Network show, or have heard about her cookbooks, etc. She does post about some fabulous-looking food, and definitely has some great photography, but what I enjoy most is her rambling wit. In the spirit of transparency, I don’t love all of her posts. I have seen more of her children and pets than I really care to, but in between all of those family photos is the frank good humour of “P-Dub”.

Style

  • The Sartorialist
    • Scott Schuman is an international fashion photographer who shares some of his favourite outfits on his blog site. Models, street style, unexpected combinations of textures and patterns… it’s all there. Prepare to be inspired and perhaps confused.

Random

  • Caffeinated and Random
    • A fellow (though less snobby) coffee lover, Jenny regularly posts a “Coffee of the Day” photo and description, and often blogs twice or even three times a day about food, people, TV shows, style… whatever is exciting to her that day.

Real Food

  • 100 Days of Real Food
    • Lisa is a wife and mother who decided to take her family in the direction of real food. Now, she challenges her many readers to do without sugar or flour or processed foods, in the name of getting healthier. You’ll find recipes and creative real food ideas.

 

 

Playing Favourites: Reductionist Americano

Wee cuppa

My wee cuppa java

Contrary to the bold and bright magnet on my fridge, I am not a coffee slut.

I don’t think.

I’m pretty sure what I actually am is a coffee snob.

If you ask Johnathan, he’ll tell you that I’m snobby about a lot of things, but I continue to maintain that I merely have discriminating taste. And, sometimes, I’m a snob.

Coffee is one of those cases.

It’s not that I want to hate sub-par coffees. I have just been ruined for the ordinary.

I blame someone named Dan for introducing me to awesome coffee, back when I lived in Mexico. Then there grew to be a wee gang of us: Dan, Roger, Matt, and I. Not sure why none of the other ladies really got on board. Hmm.

Funny thing is that Dan no longer drinks coffee. Go figure.

Dan et al introduced me to what I like to call “real” coffee: fair trade, organic, freshly-roasted, freshly-ground, strong, French press, and all that good stuff. They introduced me to Cuban coffee. And to Jamaican Blue Mountain. And to Kona coffee, which I believe is the best in the world. Alright, alright, it can share the limelight with Jamaican Blue Mountain.

Thus began my true love affair with “black gold,” and it continues unabated years later.

These days, I find myself unimpressed with most drip-brewed coffees (that’s your regular everyday coffee, if you’re not up on your java terminology). It’s too weak. It doesn’t have enough flavour, enough depth, enough richness. (Told you I was a snob!)

I haven’t used my fancy-schmancy coffee maker for months and months now.

Fancy-schmancy coffee maker

My fancy-schmancy coffee maker (Cuisinart Grind & Brew)

What I am using surprises even me: a cheap espresso maker and a handful of other implements.

Every morning, I grind up a mix of 2/3 decaf and 1/3 “high-test” Coastal Coffee Company (fair trade/direct trade, organic) beans (not “espresso” beans, but usually dark roast beans) until they are very finely ground. I would highly recommend grinding your own coffee beans at home. It’s a cheap, easy way of boosting the flavour and freshness in your cup. You can get a basic grinder for about $10-$15 at your local department store. Mine looks like this.

I then use a heavy-duty coffee measuring spoon that I got at Starbuck’s to scoop the ground coffee into the part of the espresso maker where the grounds go (highly technical language here). You don’t need any fancy spoons. Any spoon will do.

Part of the brilliance of espresso has to do with tamping the coffee down tightly into a disc. Some fancy-schmancy espresso makers or espresso grinders come with these, but I don’t have one. So I make do with a straight-sided shot glass. True story. It’s fiddly and a touch messy, but it works. I do it over the sink ’cause I always spill grounds over the side.

While my little espresso machine heats its water and spits out a shot or two of “espresso”, I turn the kettle on.

The final product is what I call a Reductionist Americano: roughly equal parts “espresso” and hot water, depending on how strong the brew is that my little machine produces (read: the stronger the better).

When I need a coffee fix away from home, I wish I could just say “reductionist Americano” and know that the barista will understand, but alas! such an official name doesn’t exist yet. So I continue to ask for an Americano with just as much water as espresso and no more.

They don’t always get it right, but 95% of the time, it’s better than a drip coffee any day.

Gratitude √° la First World

McCafe $1 off

This is not a promo. I repeat, this is not a promo.

I am grateful for being a Canadian, a citizen of a country where I am free to do so many things people of other countries cannot.

I am grateful for OSAP, which makes it possible for me to go to university, even though I will have debt after I graduate.

I am grateful for the technology which allows me to communicate with family and friends far and wide.

I am grateful for the chance to have a voice about things that matter, should I so choose to take it.

I am grateful for Tax-Free Savings Accounts.

I am grateful for nieces.

I am grateful for cousins.

I am grateful for freedom of speech, even though I have recently learned few things are as democratic as they sound.

I am grateful for good old-fashioned bacon and eggs.

I am grateful to be from a rural, agricultural area: farmers truly do feed cities.

I am grateful to know many truly talented people, and to be able to celebrate them in their successes.

I am grateful to have friends on at least 4 continents.

I am grateful for friends that I can have deep, thoughtful conversations with.

I am grateful for the knowledge that I will never run out of books to read.

I am grateful for the many resources I have to help me be healthy.

I am grateful for McDonald’s’ $1-off McCafe days, in competition with Tim Horton’s Roll-up-the-Rim, especially since, believe it or not, McD’s is currently the best place to go to study in my hometown!

Planning Packed Meals… on the cheap.

(Please accept my apology ahead of time for the wonky alignment of photos and text. I have spent way too much time trying to get them to line up, and so I’m giving up. Hopefully everything makes sense anyway.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’m one of those people who doesn’t function well when I don’t know where my next meal is coming from. Ask my friends. They all have funny stories about me asking what the plan is for the next meal or two, and what we’re going to take with us.

I’m also a planner. If I don’t have a plan, a strategy for a day or a span of time, I feel a bit lost. If I don’t know that I’m going to need money for something and find myself without any, that’s a problem. Or, if I don’t prepare myself to be spontaneous during a certain period of time, and I’m expecting something non-spontaneous, it takes me a while to adjust my outlook.water bottle

Needless to say, I like to be prepared for meals, whenever possible. At home, that means I keep my favourite ingredients stocked at all times. But when I’m going to be out for a day, it gets a bit more complicated. Most people buy food, but eating out, especially on my university campus, is a great way to spend rather than save.

Now that I’m in my third year of university, I have got lunch-planning pretty much down to a science.That’s a really good thing, because I also have to save my money more than ever.

So. My strategies.

1. I always carry a bottle of water. Most public places have water fountains, and it’s much more environmentally-friendly and wallet-friendly to use a re-usable water bottle than to buy bottles of water. Mine is a well-used flexible plastic Vapur bottle that I purchased at The Warwick Lodge Shoppe in Bayfield, but they’re available at many stores now. It’s lightweight and compact.

almonds

2. I always carry healthy snacks. This term, it’s mostly just a small container of my trusty raw almonds, but I have also carried containers of dried fruit such as bananas and apricots. I usually have a granola bar or two on me as well, and perhaps a bit of candy for when I get a craving for something sweet.

Insider’s tip: The best raw almonds that I have found for the best price are the Kirkland brand from Costco. I’m lucky to have a boyfriend with a membership. ūüôā

granola bars3. Buying in bulk is great for saving money and time and mental energy. I got this gigantor box of granola bars at Costco. –>

tuna4. There are a couple of different approaches for packing meals. I use a combination of leftovers and things that I can eat on my favourite crackers. Cheese, slices of tomato, and individual cans of flavoured tuna are a few of them.

5. This is a no-brainer, but I like to make big batches of foods that will freeze and re-heat well, such as this huge batch of broccoli soup I made yesterday. I’ll put it into smaller, microwaveable containers to take with me for lunches this week.

container of soup

egg container6. Another great quick, easy, and healthy snack-ish meal component is boiled eggs. They are good for one week in the fridge. Here are some instructions for how to get perfectly boiled eggs. I put my boiled eggs in this handy-dandy container that I got at a Mountain Equipment Co-op store –>

7. For those times when I am just too busy to get all domestic and make things ahead of time, I keep a few packages of a perhaps not-so-healthy but filling meal that I can prepare the night before, such as these pasta dinners by Knorr.

knorr sidekicks

8. For dessert, a batch of cupcakes baked-ahead is a great idea. Or some pudding or yogurt in a container. Don’t forget the spoon!

I often have muffins in the freezer, or other breakfast-y concoctions that I can merely thaw and eat, or sometimes reheat and eat.

container of cupcakes

9. Sometimes I get on a salad kick where I will only take salads to school for lunch. For those times, having a container like this one relieves a lot of the annoyance of taking salad. If you add the dressing ahead of time, the lettuce wilts. So you have to take an extra container of dressing, which takes up extra space. Then you have to fit some unwieldy container of salad into your lunch bag to keep the veggies fresh… etc. etc.

salad container 1

This container was about $10 from Winner’s, but is made by a company called Fit & Fresh.

It’s great because it has all of the parts you need for a great salad container!

It comes with an ice pack that fits either into the lid or into the inside lower level, in the same space as the salad itself.salad container 4

salad container 3

There is a special container for dressing, where it will stay (most of the time) until you turn the container around in its spot (open it) and release it directly into the salad. Genius!

And there you have it!

It’s worth spending money on containers and gadgets that are going to make your planning and saving easier!

10. Finally, for those that are like me and love their coffee (or tea), and want to save pennies and trees, get a travel mug. Make your hot morning beverage at home. Splurge on a coffee maker with a timer. Or set everything up beforehand so all you have to do is turn the machine on in the morning.

I sometimes take a travel mug with coffee in the morning, and a thermos with loose tea for later in the day, that I just have to add hot water to.

travel mugAgain, spending $10-$15 on decent-quality gadgets and containers will save you money and time, and you will be able to commit to better-quality coffees and teas as well.

My personal favourite place to buy travel mugs is Starbuck’s. Their mugs are as close as I have ever found to being leak-proof, and I have no qualms about dropping a full one in my schoolbag (upright, of course) to take out to the car or across campus. Plus, they’re usually cool-looking. Bonus!

Playing Favourites: Coastal Coffee Company

*List of retailers updated March 16, 2012. Stay tuned for a few more being announced soon!

To introduce what I hope will be a new series appearing every Monday, Playing Favourites, I have chosen what is a relatively new favourite in a category that will always be on top of my list, coffee. Coastal Coffee Company coffee, to be precise.

Coastal Coffee Company

This local company is owned by a childhood friend, Ben, who was raised in the tradition of organic farming, so it was only natural for him to find a passion that incorporated those values.

Meet Ben and his wife Bri:

Owners of Coastal Coffee Company

A few years in the making, Coastal Coffee Company started with a popcorn popper and some green beans, in Ben’s garage in a small town on the coast of Lake Huron in Ontario. Friends and family began to ask Ben to roast batches for them, and so Ben began producing bags of locally-roasted beans.

Today, Ben has a small but beautiful roasting machine that he imported, not without aggravation, from Turkey, and a new shed in his backyard pretty much completely devoted to roasting coffee beans.

I have stopped buying coffee roasted anywhere else, partly because I believe it’s important to buy local, but mostly because Ben’s coffee is delicious!

This is what I drank today:

Nicaraguan Cafe Diego

In the last year, Coastal Coffee Co. has begun to sell beans in several nearby towns (Goderich, Exeter, Clinton, Grand Bend, Bayfield, etc.), in locally-owned stores and at farmer’s markets. You can find these tasty beans at the following locations:

And, you can enjoy delicious food and Coastal Coffee in your cup at Eddington’s of Exeter restaurant.

If you’re not going to be near any of these locations but would REALLY like to try my favourite coffee, let me know and I’ll pick some up for you. Of course, this only really makes sense if it’s feasible that I could deliver it. No, I won’t be road-tripping to other provinces or countries anytime soon. Sorry. But perhaps Ben does shipping!
You can also find Coastal Coffee at local events such as the Zurich Bean Festival and the county-wide culinary festival Taste of Huron, among others.

If you’re a coffee-drinker, consider giving up over-processed, pre-ground, imported cheap coffee in exchange for fair-trade or direct-trade organic, locally-roasted beans. They’re better for you, better for our community, and better for coffee growers.

Coastal Coffee table at outdoor event

Learn more about the “Fair Trade” certification and why it’s important:¬†http://www.5min.com/Video/Learn-About-Fair-Trade-Coffee-517049684

“Like” Coastal Coffee Company on Facebook:¬†https://www.facebook.com/pages/Coastal-Coffee-Company-Roasted-on-Ontarios-West-Coast/180368545350175

For more information or to make a custom order, email Ben at coastalcoffeecompany@gmail.com.

What would you like to see in my About Me page?

It’ll take you five seconds… okay, maybe ten or twenty. It might even be fun!

Let’s have your vote… About me.

Springtime Ramblings

Today was supposed to be a study-and-do-laundry day, but it’s turned into a be-emotional-and-cry-too-much day, so I’m taking advantage of the inspiration accrued from heightened feelings to share some thoughts with my blog-o-sphere.

Lately, I’ve been sharing most of my great ideas, my daily happenings, my rants, my inspirations, and my emotions with my stellar boyfriend Johnathan, and dividing my time between him, school, and work, plus