Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Croissants, Bribery, Cricket, and Hot Yoga...

I couldn't help but bring a few baked goods home to eat at our leisure
At the moment, it is 9am and I'm sitting on the balcony delicately pulling apart one of the warm croissants photographed. I'm sipping french pressed coffee, something that oddly enough did not become a routine until moving to South Africa, and for that, I already have something I will bring back home with me. The breeze wisps my hair and the sun shines only on my feet which are resting heavy on the protection bar.


The croissants are from a beautiful restaurant/bakery located less than half a mile from home. It's called Junipa's, and it's my favorite restaurant thus far. It has three different rooms, the interior dining room, the bakery, and outside seating. The entire restaurant is open. The interior dining/bar area has a gorgeous brick backdrop. Simple yet whimsical chandeliers hover over the re-fabricated, burlap upholstered furniture painted with warm and inviting colors. On Sunday, we started the day off by going to Junipa's for an early breakfast. We began the meal with two Americanos, sans milk.  It is common to drink Americanos with milk in SA. When they arrived, a tiny chocolate chip and walnut cookie was perched next to the cup.  As I reviewed the menu, my eyes hovered over the traditional breakfast-- two eggs, bacon rashers, spiced sausage, grilled tomato, sauteed mushrooms, and toast. However, I couldn't help but notice the Salmon Florentine in my peripheral.  Finally, I caved. After all, why would I order something that I've already made at home?

Salmon Florentine - Junipa's
First look at the plate and one thing came to mind -- the meal was absolutely gorgeous. The Salmon Florentine consisted of a delicate-tasting, yet dense potato latke (savory potato pancake), poached eggs cooked medium per my request, wilted spinach, hollandaise sauce, with thin and rich smoked salmon wrapped in an inviting rose, and balsamic vinegar providing what seems to be a protective barrier for the meal.  The spinach was more toasted than the described wilted consistency. The latke maintained just the right thickness to act as a vessel for the poached eggs.  The salmon was sliced just a tad thicker than your standard prosciutto which rendered it incredibly pliable. As a fork full broke through the protective barrier, just the right amount of vinegar clung to the food. The tastes were phenomenal and exciting.

Passion Fruit, Lemonade Cordial--Junipa's
Following our unexpectedly elaborate breakfast, we experienced our first (and in my opinion last) cricket match-- South Africa vs. West Indies.  Upon arrival, we were shuffled through the expected security procedures but were unaware of what would happen next.  The guard who searched our bags brought us aside and told us we were not allowed to have cans.  Oh no. It was too hot to go a few hours without anything to drink. Being from the states, we should have assumed that our cans would not be welcomed, but were temporarily in la-la-land and figured all sodas, canned or not, would make it through. I politely begged and played the I'm new around here and don't know the rules, so please let me break them act. He hesitated, shook his head, hesitated again, then suddenly shouted "Twenty Rand!" Brian and I darted stares at each other then to the sodas, then back to the man. It quickly dawned on me that he was bribing us! "Give him the R20!" I said to Brian who still was in disbelief of what was happening. So he did, we snatched our bag before he could change his mind, and were off as if nothing ever happened. That was just a small taste for how corrupt things are around here. You can basically bribe your way out of anything.  Good to know, if we ever find ourselves committing a worse crime than soda-trafficking.

Two enthusiastic fans hold up signs to induce excitement and cheer
Although we had a lovely time getting to know our new friends, learning the game, and relaxing in the SA sun, the game was not what we were expecting.  We ignorantly assumed the game would last about 3-4 hours. It wasn't until I comfortably sat my bum down that we were told the game lasts seven hours. Yes, seven hours. Sitting in seat F-103 with enthusiasm and delight, I suddenly felt as though I accidentally entered the elevator in the Tower of Terror in Disney World. For those of you who do not know me well, you will never find me on that ride as long as I can help it. So, I sat back, scanned the field, then did what any foreigner would do-- I learned the game. I won't go into too much detail, but as an American, the game doesn't make much sense to me. Like baseball, the home team gets the advantage of batting first. The only difference is that they bat for the entire first half of the game. It isn't until about four hours later (including half-time) that the opposing team gets to bat. Fairness doesn't seem to be a common occurrence in this game. I would think the opposing team would be exhausted by the time they are up to bat which unless they're modern-day gladiators, ultimately renders them the predetermined losers. I'm sure it doesn't always play out that way and that I'm missing an important variable.  The game as a whole was a good experience.  In addition, I have an even greater appreciation for baseball and the limited playing time it offers.

I creepily shot a picture of the open bakery where everything is made in-house.
I've never seen an open bakery like this one! Note the massive loaves of bread dough.
Back in the states before our trip, I looked up places to do hot yoga.  I threw my back out, yet again, just a few days prior to our trip and decided that I would strengthen my body while I'm here. I am 26, after all, and incredibly too young to be using IcyHot on a somewhat regular basis.  Last night, we ventured out to our first hot yoga class at Zen Hot Yoga. Without trying the Bikram class, we decided to commit to their new member special - Unlimited classes for 10-days, only R250!  When the petite yet delicately chizzled lady approached us before the class asking if we've done Bikram before, I confidently nodded my head followed by a highly confident 'yes' . Brian was more even-keeled and said no.  She went through what seemed to be a verbal terms of agreement by spatting words like - faint, feeling like death, vomit, and you can't leave. Prior to my first hot yoga class in Ohio, my sister mentioned that they slowly increase the temperature throughout the duration of the class. That was not the case here. We walked into the very, very hot room that was in one way, peaceful and relaxing, and another overwhelming and intimidating. Throughout the class, I sweat more than I had ever sweat in my life. I could feel the toxins clutching each drop of sweat that dropped down my arm. That's right, my arm. I had never sweat from my arm before. Nevertheless, 60-minutes later we survived and enjoyed our first class. I felt a sense of empowerment and strength that hopefully turns into an addictive drug leaving me at its mercy, resulting in my continuous return. I'm happy to say that we attended another class prior to publishing this post.

Once we returned home, I put together a late dinner -- 1) Seared pork chops seasoned with nutmeg, salt, and pepper, with a whole-grain mustard, white wine, and Nutella sauce, 2) roasted portobella mushrooms topped with a dill, garlicky dutch feta cheese, and 3) butter-glazed carrots cooked to the point of a tiny crunch and smooth finish. It was a concoction I had thought of only a few hours before and had to improvise with Nutella when I realized I didn't have a sweetening agent to balance out the acidity of the wine and mustard. It turned out that the silky chocolate-y hazelnut spread added a warm nutty flavor. I have fallen in love with dutch feta. I had my first taste on pizza. It is rich, tart, creamy, crumbly and mild all at the same time. Rather than use blue cheese (on of the very few foods I despise), I used the dutch feta to complement the subtle smokiness of the mushroom.

Cappuccino con panna & a delicate sugar bowl overflowing
with cinnamon sticks and coarse brown sugar
The bakery at Junipa's, providing sweet and savory scents that
manage to linger in the outside air.
It is common that apartments complexes provide housekeepers once a week in SA. This news caught me off guard and leaping for joy. Never have I imagined to have a housekeeper, let alone one so early in my life, but I'll take it! The adopted roll of June Clever, which I mentioned in my previous post, was getting easier and easier. Her name is Thully (tool-y) and she is dear. It wasn't until late last night that I realized we didn't have cleaning products and that it's our responsibility to provide them--I knew there was a catch (joking).  I woke up, walked to the store, arrived at 7:08 only to find out that it didn't open until 8. I looked around the shopping mall with a glazed look of confusion.  I decided to follow the scent that seemed to be saying come hither. I rode the escalator knowing that I was getting warmer and as I stepped off the moving staircase, I saw it. It was a cafe/bakery called Petits Fours.  It seems as though my nose smelled the goods baking for the later crowds because the cafe was not yet open. Servers were preparing the tables and chairs.  I asked one of them when the cafe opens and they politely replied that it wasn't until a half-hour, but he would make me a coffee drink. Without hesitating, I pulled up my own seat from the stacked chairs and placed it at a table sitting just outside in the courtyard. I ordered a cappuccino con panna, sat back, and observed like a fly on the wall.  A man to my right was sweeping with a flat-broom while whistling a tune I've never heard.  Past him, another man was placing solo flower vases on each table, pausing to ensure the colors are not clustered in one part of the room. To my left, another man gently hung a small ivy bush from a hook hanging from the umbrella.  It was clear that this cafe, like most in SA, paid attention to detail.  A large but subtle smile worked its way across my face as I basked in the performance in which they provided me.

Until next time...

Cheers!

-Christina





















Saturday, January 17, 2015

Avocados, Coffee Shops, and Thunderstorms

May I just start by saying, this is literally my first connection with the outside world since Tuesday of this week. As I count backwards the days since our arrival (only on one hand), I regrettably realize that back in the states, I have allowed myself to be fully dependent on technology.

I am sitting at a coffee shop with a delicate cup of subtly sweet cappuccino, accompanied with a red-colored 70% cocoa chocolate medallion and a petite stirring spoon. This cafe is in the middle of Hyde Park Shopping center, a mall which on the inside looks like it was scooped up from Kenwood, OH and plopped on the beautiful soil of South Africa. The difference - everything seems to be more intentional here. The food, the people, the work, even the weather all  have an inviting touch that seems to be lacking in some parts of America. Don't get me wrong, I love home and the people who make it just that, but South Africa has a humble pride that renders its locals eager to help when they hear our less-refined accents.

The weather is remarkable here. Humidity is practically non-existent. I know because my hair has the tight-spiral curls I once owned as a child. A daily mid-afternoon thunderstorm provides torrential downpour and lighting bolts all in the span of about 30 minutes. Nevertheless, the sunshine always manages to make its way through the tight cracks of the clouds, only to provide light air, and a beautiful sunset to top off the evening. As I mentioned earlier, the weather seems very intentional here. It rains just long and hard enough to provide nourishment to the plants that have a regimented consumption schedule. It goes as follows - sunshine, rain, massive storm, sunshine. If it rained in Ohio, you'd see the lingering aftermath of gloom and humidity for a couple days. Ew.

Our apartment felt like home the minute we walked in. There's no A/C so we leave the windows open constantly, and I love it. The smell of the outside lingering indoors is probably one of the top-5 smells, in my opinion. The kitchen is TINY but there are no complaints here. I am embracing the fact that I have less counter, pots and pans, and utensils to clean. But wait, there's a dishwasher (YAY) so the cleaning is pretty minimal.

I've temporarily adopted the role of June Clever while I'm here, and I'm completely embracing it. I've made 2 dinners so far, only with the spices of salt and pepper. They consisted of, 1)  white wine and mushroom spin on chicken marsala served with roasted green beans, and 2) a porterhouse steak served with broccoli and Yukon gold mashed potatoes.  They were pretty basic, but not lacking!  Our dining out so far has been delectable! We stumbled upon a pizza restaurant (Piza e Vino) that served gourmet flat-breads with unique toppings like honey, danish feta, chicken, avocado, and roasted cherry tomatoes.  Avocados are as common in restaurants as salt shakers on tables. They're everywhere (glory be)!

Last night we went to Higher Grounds Restaurant (picture on right), a restaurant located on St. Stithian College campus in Randburg. The view was breathtaking.  We indulged in escargot (snails served with a rich garlic butter sauce), and grilled calamari salads. The prices here are definitely something to write home about. Our entire meal including beers hovered right around $30 USD.

That covers most of it! I'll write again when I'm able.

Cheers!



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Let's Talk About Eggs...

I'll be the first to admit, I am very fond of deviled eggs. I'm not quite sure where the fondness developed considering that eggs are the turkey to my breakfast - it's only socially acceptable to eat all the sides as long as the protein is there.

That said, I decided to make one of my client's a deviled eggs recipe. Haters, before you start with your judge-mental stares at your computer screen, let me explain. This client is an elderly woman who has an strong-liking with picnic food. She loves foods that are easy to eat and can be served chilled. She also eats like a bird. I kid you not, her appetite for the entire day amounts to a mid-afternoon snack for myself. That said, I need to be mindful of serving small amounts of food that will not overwhelm her. In this case, deviled eggs are a royal flush.

Although I enjoy an occasional mustard/mayonnaise/relish delight, I have to switch things up a bit. Let's be real for a second, the 'dressing' for a typical deviled egg is the exact same of the generic potato salad. It can only go so far. Last week, I made an Eggs Benedict Style Deviled Egg.

'How is that possible? How do you make a deviled egg with hollandaise sauce?', you say? I've got one answer for you - You don't. It's an incredibly simple recipe that creates a richness that ever so slightly resembles the flavors of eggs benedict...and it's awesome. 

Here's how it's done...

Ingredients

4 hard boiled eggs
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 pieces Canadian bacon
panko breadcrumbs
2 scallions, chopped finely
1 tbs Dijon mustard
1 tbs mayonnaise
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Steps

Boil the eggs by placing them in a small pot with cold water (enough to skim the top of the eggs) and vinegar. Bring water to a boil then cook for 2 minutes before turning the off the heat. Let the eggs sit in the pot covered for at least 10-15 minutes.  While the eggs are sitting in the hot water, cook then chop the Canadian bacon for one minute turning over once.  Rinse with cold water then lightly crack eggs on a flat surface to easily peel off the shell.

Place into a bowl then mix in all the ingredients except for the panko breadcrumbs. Once the eggs are peeled, slice them in half lengthwise  and use your thumb to apply just enough pressure to release the yolk into the bowl. Toast the panko breadcrumbs in a shallow skillet over low heat. Toss until they are golden brown.

Use a small fork to mash the ingredients in the bowl. Use a small spoon to scoop a generous amount into the eggs. Toss a pinch of the toasted breadcrumbs over each egg.

Bon Appetite!


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Gluten-Free Coconut Crusted Chicken Strips

I have a client who has several food allergies that prevent her from eating dairy and gluten.  In all honesty, when I took on this (10-week) challenge I was a bit nervous that I would be limited in dishes to prepare. I thought it would be boring, and incredibly difficult to make foods that originally contain gluten/dairy to be delicious and diverse.

Example- for the egg substitute I use is a ground flaxseed and hot water combo. I basically whisk the two ingredients into a frenzy until it has a gooey and thick consistency. I tried a small taste and thought 'Ew, this tastes like a combination of fertilizer and sand'. That said, I continued through my recipe and realized that while the egg-substitute was lacking in delight on it's own, it really brought the entire dish together! My entire experience (now multiplied into 30-weeks and counting) of cooking for this client has been a wonderful experience of triumph and thinking outside the box.

All this to say,  I've realized that in the 1.5 years I've had my business, I've expanded my cooking repertoire 10-fold, and that's only because of the client's requests. By starting off with the determination to create 'completely customized meal plans' for my clients, I've subconsciously expanded my efforts and abilities to places I never thought I'd be.

If you have a serious food allergy, I'm aware that it's less than ideal. It's incredibly troublesome to have to avoid certain foods at all costs! I'm so eternally thankful that I don't have to avoid any types of food (quite honestly I'd be horrible at that). I bet you think to yourself 'what did I do with the time before I found out about this allergy?' now that you spend most of it researching and reading labels. Even-so, how awesome is it when you do figure out a food that is delicious that you CAN eat?!

I'm grateful to be part of that process for a few people. It's such a magnificent thing when a client raves about a dish that was created from start to finish with their needs in mind.  This week, I made a few gluten/dairy-free dishes that have been requested on multiple occasions. Check them out and let me know if you have any questions on cooking meals that require substitutions!

Coconut-Crusted Chicken Strips

Ingredients
2 tbs ground flax seed
4 tbs hot water
2 cups dried-unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried sage
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
1 pound chicken breast tenders (I used Kroger's Simple Truth)
Olive oil cooking spray (any cooking spray will do as long as it's not intended for baking)

Steps
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a shallow plate, whisk the flaxseed and water together until it becomes thick and gooey. In another plate, combine the next 8 ingredients and toss so that it's mixed completely.  Lightly season chicken strips then use your hands to press the egg-substitute on the chicken.  You don't need to drench it, just make sure the chicken is sticky.  Place chicken in coconut mixture and toss some flakes on-top, then press and make sure the chicken is covered completely in coconut.  Place on a non-stick baking sheet, or a pan coated with cooking spray.  Once you've done this with all the chicken, place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, flipping the tenders over halfway through. The coconut should be golden and crispy.

Cucumber Mango Salad

1 English cucumber, halved and sliced
2 mangos, cored and sliced
1 tsp dried dill
1 tbs red wine vinaigrette
1 tbs walnut oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Combine the ingredients in a small  bowl and toss to evenly distribute the dressing. Chill before serving.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Coconut Curry Shrimp and Green Beans

It's Monday. Two things are certain with Mondays - 1.  The ubiquitous complaints, comments, and flowing cups of coffee that get most of us through our mornings/days, and 2. There are still four more days until Friday.

Isn't it sad how we view the work week? I'll be the first to say, I used to HATE Mondays. Let's play a game of 'would you rather?'... In the past, I would rather walk over hot coals while listening to this than go to work on a Monday. Okay, so that was a slight exaggeration, but you get the point. I used to spend my Sundays counting down the hours before I would plod into work. Isn't that horrible?! I wasted a completely perfect day off to worry and stress about the upcoming!

That all has changed. Yes, my profession has changed drastically and I'm doing something  in which I find fulfillment and happiness, but no matter how you slice it, a Monday is still a Monday. I took myself up on a little challenge -- to view each work day as an opportunity. It sounds tough to do but once you get yourself into that mindset, you'd be surprised what you can accomplish. Once doing that, I realized that I put more effort and pride into my work. I get lost in what I'm doing to the point that I lose track of time. Cooking several meals simultaneously in a hot kitchen doesn't leave for very much 'dilly-dally', but my attitude going in makes a huge difference.

So I challenge you, if you're one of those people who absolutely dreads work, try to look at it as an opportunity -- an opportunity to prove yourself, to produce something, to grow, and at the very least make money. I promise, it works!

On that note, I made a pretty fantastic meal this evening. It is a meal that is perfect for Mondays! It's quick, easy, and incredibly healthy. Take a look, try it out, and let me know your thoughts!

Ingredients

1 lb raw shrimp, pealed and deveined
1.5 lb fresh green beans, ends trimmed
1- 14.5oz can lite coconut milk
1 tbs curry
2 tsp paprika
2 tbs all purpose flour (corn meal or tapioca meal will do)
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
dash of salt and pepper

Directions

In a small sauce pan, add 1/2 tbs olive oil, rice, a pinch of salt (amount you grasp with your index finger and thumb) and water. Stir gently, cover, and bring to a boil. Check on it after 15 minutes to make sure it doesn't overcook. Meanwhile, cook the remaining olive oil and green beans in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir consistently to ensure the green beans are cooked evenly. After about 5 minutes, add the garlic. Cook for another minute, reduce the heat to medium. Add the flour stir, then add coconut milk, and seasoning. Bring to a boil. Add the shrimp and let it cook for 4-5 more minutes. Serve the shrimp mixture alongside or on the rice.