Latkes, gluten-free (or not)

I made two batches of latkes to freeze for Chanukah this month, starting with my go-to recipe, Norene Gilletz’s Easy Potato Latkes.

For the second batch, I wanted to make a gluten-free version. I also wanted to use what I had in the house – two red potatoes, two organic yellow-fleshed potatoes, and a red onion.

For inspiration, I referred to my falling-apart copy of Norene’s classic yellow-covered book The Pleasures of your Processor, specifically the Rich Man’s Potato Latkes recipe – a mix of potatoes, onion, eggs, salt, pepper and nothing else.


I hand-grated the potatoes because I like the texture… but there’s a limit to the number of potatoes I’m willing to grate by hand. I thought about adding some zucchini too, but decided not to.

I used my processor to chop the red onion, and mixed the combined vegetables with salt, pepper and five eggs. Four probably would have worked as well.

Halfway through cooking, I decided to add 1/4 cup of flour to the remaining batter. It was getting hard to work with, and some of the latkes weren’t holding together well. I set aside the gluten-free latkes – to ensure they remained gluten-free – before I started cooking the ones with flour.

hand-grated latkes

On Wednesday, the first night of Chanukah, I snuck a few latkes from the freezer and heated them in the microwave. The rest are safely tucked away in the freezer for this weekend.

Latkes, gluten-free (or not)

4 potatoes

1 sweet potato

1/2 large red onion

4 or 5 eggs

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 c. flour (optional)

canola oil for frying

1. Grate potatoes and sweet potatoes. Place in a strainer, and rinse with cold water in a strainer. Drain well.

2. Process red onion until finely chopped.

3. Combine in mixing bowl and add eggs, salt and pepper. Mix well.

4. Drop tablespoonfuls into hot oil. Fry until bottom and edges are brown, then flip to brown other side. If you like, add 1/4 c. flour to mix before frying last half of batter.

5. Drain on paper towel.

Serve with sour cream or Greek yogourt.


My time-management experiment

A friend of mine said to me the other day that she sees I like to be busy.

It’s true, up to a point. I’m very happy to be busy. When I was first downsized, I worried that I wouldn’t know how to fill the hours as I transitioned to whatever was next in my life. That was part of the reason I started to blog.

But being busy without being productive doesn’t feel satisfying. I’m still trying to fine-tune the balance between productivity and downtime, as well as working in all the other things that foster productivity – eating well, and getting enough sleep, exercise, intellectual stimulation, and meaningful connection with friends and family.

Sometimes I wonder where the time goes, when I’m busy but not as productive as I’d like to be. Yesterday – in an attempt to figure that out while I was home waiting for a delivery – I decided to write down everything I accomplished, and how long it took.

That lasted less than an hour, because I had too many small items to tackle before working my way up to “bigger” tasks.

It occurred to me that it might make sense, instead, just to list what I was accomplishing hour-by-hour. Maybe it would tell me something about what time of day is most productive for me, too.

But I think it told me more about the effects of recording all this information on paper, in my little orange notebook.

Even though I was the only one who knew about this experiment, the act of recording what I did made me accountable, and motivated me to make better use of my time.

Dividing the day into hours made a difference too. Every hour, I was able to make a fresh start. I assessed what I’d accomplished the previous hour, and used that information to help me decide what to do next.

I hadn’t planned it that way, but I guess I was using the “Swiss cheese” method of time management. The concept – from a 1973 book by Alan Lakein, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life – involves breaking down an intimidating or labour-intensive task into manageable chunks.

I tried to alternate small tasks with larger ones, and computer time with non-sitting activities.

I was busy all day, I was reasonably productive, and best of all, I gained insight from my experiment. I guess that means it was productive, too.




Lessons from my new front door mat

In last Thursday’s post, I wrote that I miss my paper to-do list, in part because I knew at a glance which items were older.

The truth is, I still know at a glance if an item is new or old… although now I have to scroll down to see all the items on my iPhone list.

Sometimes I end up inputting the same item a second time, or literally moving it closer to the top of the list, so that it won’t fall through the cracks.

Recently I deleted a couple of longstanding home-related items on the list. They weren’t “major” tasks in terms of difficulty or how they would affect my life, but removing them from the list felt like a significant accomplishment.

Probably the most symbolic one for me was finding a new front door mat to replace the ratty old one. In addition to all the work-related things I wanted – and still want – to accomplish, I needed to tend to things in the house. I thought I would start at the front door, and work my way in.

The new mat didn’t make it to the top of the list for a long time, and it was nagging at me. I felt I hadn’t properly “started” to work my way through the house.

Now, when I think about my new front door mat, it reminds me that:

1. Sometimes things loom large psychologically, but don’t really take a huge amount of effort.

2. The payoff can be disproportionately large, compared to the amount of work involved.

3. Starting at the beginning – taking one step – makes it easier to get to the next step.

4. Little things can make a difference.

5. Sometimes, little things turn out to be big things.

Yesterday I set the timer on my phone for fifteen minutes, and worked on the book that I’ve been neglecting for the past couple of weeks. Just a little effort, and I feel like I’m back on track.




Chocolate Sunday – Spicy Flourless Mexican Cookies!

I love when I make a recipe that I have misgivings about, but it turns out to be great.

Earlier this week, I saw this recipe for Flourless Mexican Chocolate Cookies with Spicy Roasted Pepitas on a blog called Kitchen Testedspicy mexican cookies

It appealed to me for several reasons:

1. The chocolate flavour.

2. The cookies are gluten-free.

3. They’re also dairy-free.

4. They’re sweetened with maple syrup and agave or honey, not refined sugar.

5. The spiced pumpkin seeds suggested added health benefits, and – together with the chocolate chips – promised an interesting combination of taste and texture.

6. I had all the ingredients on hand.

But I wasn’t convinced the recipe would work, and I usually avoid recipes that have recipes within them, when I’m pressed for time. However, roasting the pumpkin seeds with spices and oil before preparing the cookie dough wasn’t time-consuming, and I mixed the ingredients on a lined cookie sheet instead of in a bowl. One less item to wash.

pumpkin seeds spice oil

Pumpkin seeds, spices and olive oil

pumpkin seeds roasted

Twenty minutes later

Once I tasted the roasted pumpkin seeds, I found them a touch too spicy – at least for my taste. I decided to divide the dough in two, and leave one half plain, while using only half the amount of pumpkin seeds called for, in the other half of the cookie dough.

Even my mother preferred the finished product with the pumpkin seeds, not only for the health benefits but for the taste. That took me by surprise – I was sure the cookies would be too spicy for her.

“Delicious,” she said.

Carrot spread – tame or adventurous version?

A couple of weeks ago, I made a carrot spread for Friday night dinner, and served it with challah as an alternative to black bean-based mock liver.

carrot spread, orig

Carrot spread — the mild version

I started by roasting carrots and garlic cloves with a bit of olive oil, and proceeded from there, adding lemon juice, organic tahini (sesame paste), salt and pepper, then a bit more oil and lemon juice to thin the mixture once I processed it. Nothing else. Simple is good. Other considerations – I had food sensitivities to take into account, and I wanted to use what I had in the house.

For inspiration, I consulted Passionate Vegetarian, by Crescent Dragonwagon. The first two recipes in the book are for carrot spreads, one of which I’ve made and enjoyed.

indian carrot spread

Spicier Indian carrot spread

The end result was vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, legume-free, and mild. It wasn’t bad, but I had an urge to try a spicier version this week, using garam masala – a heady mix of cumin, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, green cardamom, nutmeg, ginger and mace that my kids brought back from India this summer.

I used my original recipe as a base, substituting yogourt for lemon juice, and adding fresh ginger as well.

It’s an easy recipe to play with, and adjust to your own taste. I love spices – they’re good for you, too! – but prefer flavour to heat. So my adventurous version isn’t as adventurous as it could be. Maybe next time I’ll up the quantity of garam masala.

Here are both versions – have fun!

Mild carrot spread

6 carrots, peeled

2 garlic cloves, tops sliced off

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. tahini

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1. Rub carrots and garlic with olive oil, and roast on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet at 425 degrees. Remove garlic after 20 minutes. Roast carrots for an additional ten minutes or until soft.

2. Let cool.

3. Squeeze roasted garlic into processor, discarding skin. Add roasted carrots, in pieces. Add tahini and lemon juice.

4. Process until smooth, adding a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and/or water to thin the spread if too thick.

Indian Roasted Carrot Spread

6 carrots, peeled

2 garlic cloves, tops sliced off

small piece of fresh ginger

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp. garam masala or to taste

1 tbsp. tahini

1 tbsp. yogourt

1 tbsp. water

1. Rub carrots, garlic and ginger with olive oil, and roast on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet at 425 degrees. Remove ginger after 5 to 10 minutes, and garlic after 20 minutes. Roast carrots for an additional ten minutes or until soft.

2. Let cool.

3. Squeeze roasted garlic into processor, discarding skin. Add ginger and roasted carrots, cut in pieces. Add tahini and yogourt.

4. Process until smooth, adding water if necessary.


Sometimes I miss my paper to-do list

I’ve had a running to-do list for a long time. These days, it’s on my iPhone, and I don’t really have a paper to-do list.

Sometimes I miss the paper list that I used at work as a reporter, because I knew at a glance which items were new and which ones were older, as well as which ones had been crossed off.

Usually, I would begin the list on Monday, writing in black ink, and circling high-priority items in a different colour. I would use the same pen to add any new items that came up the same day. The next day, I would use a different colour to add new items, and to mark with an asterisk any high-priority tasks from the previous day that I hadn’t completed. And so on throughout the week.

By Friday, the page was full – and very colourful.

Now, when I finish an item on my electronic list, I just delete it. I have a separate e-list for recurring items, which I mark with a virtual check mark when they’re done.

My paper list provided tangible proof of what I had done all week. Now, even though I know I’ve been busy, sometimes I wonder where the time has gone.




Time management – “work” vs. “non-work”

I remember reading an article years ago that said it’s harder for women who work part-time – compared to their counterparts who work full-time – to fit their non-work-related activities into their schedules. You would expect the opposite to be true.

I don’t remember the details, but I think the reason had to do with the perception of the amount of free time available to part-time workers. Part-timers took on more, because they (and others) figured they had more time than full-timers. They ended up overextending themselves.

Even though I’m not employed right now, I find that writing, investigating work opportunities, and attending work- or writing-related events constitute the equivalent of part-time “work” for me. The rest of my time is devoted to “non-work” – day-to-day errands and tasks, and time with friends and family.

But with my work based out of my dining room, and considering that I blog about food two days a week, there’s a fair bit of crossover between work and non-work.

I also have a lengthy to-do list, and some items have been on it for a long time.

I’ve been wondering in the last few days if it might be more efficient to minimize the crossover – perhaps devoting blog days to “work” and non-blog days to “non-work.”

But I think that little experiment may be over before it begins. I already have lunch with a friend scheduled on a blogging day this week, and I don’t want to reschedule it again.

It’s probably more realistic for me to make my blogging days “work-heavy” days, and use non-blogging days to focus mainly on the non-work part of my life.


Chocolate Sunday – The Great Chocolate Beet experiment!

A few days ago, I found this article about beets in the online Jewish magazine Tablet, and thought, “Seriously?”


My chocolate beet rugelach aren’t pink!

The article, by food blogger Amy Kritzer, is accompanied by a recipe for chocolate beet rugelach (recipe link is on left side of the Tablet magazine article) and a picture showing the brightly hued dough. Seriously? Um, yes.

But my skepticism about fuchsia-coloured rugelach changed to enthusiasm after I checked out Kritzer’s Jewish food blog. I admired her beautiful pictures and creative recipes, not to mention her culinary school training.

I also realized I had all the ingredients for her rugelach at home. Well, not cream cheese exactly, but the Tofutti version, which I was planning to use in a recipe before it expires next year. Sigh.

And I had just bought some golden beets. No reason not to use them instead of the red ones.

I hadn’t made rugelach in years, especially with cream cheese dough. I don’t bake as often as I used to, and I’ve become lactose-intolerant. But this recipe would be a treat for Chanukah, which begins in 10 days.

I made the rugelach last night, using the best chocolate I had in the house – Lindt 70% cacao. I used only part of the dough – I’ll bake the rest today – but I made the filling with less than two cups of chocolate, and I think it may be enough.

Buttery dough, oozing chocolate, straight out of the oven. Decadent. Even better today, I think, with little chunks of chocolate studding the pastry. My son says you can’t taste the beets. And the rogelach aren’t pink!


Leftover Challah (Bourbon) Pudding

Probably my favourite purchase when I visited Charleston, South Carolina last month was the cookbook Crazy Good Kugel, a project of the sisterhood of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, a beautiful synagogue with a history dating back more than 250 years.

After a tour of the sanctuary, with its wooden pews, decorative columns, and stained-glass windows, my husband and I stopped in at the gift shop, hoping to find a memento to take home. I left with two of the synagogue’s cookbooks. The other, more substantial one, is called Historically Cooking, 250 Years of Good Eating.

But what really excited me was the recipe for Leftover Challah Pudding (Kugel) in the slim, coil-bound kugel cookbook, a compilation of entries in the synagogue’s kugel cook-off. Bread pudding and bourbon (one of the ingredients in the recipe) signify Southern food, but challah is a Jewish staple, seen on Shabbat and holiday tables, and at celebratory events.

challah bourbon pudding“Look at this!” I said. The recipe was the reason I bought the book, and it also helped me formulate a guest column about Jewish food that ran last week in my colleague Sheldon Kirshner’s new online journal.

Once I returned home, I wanted to try the recipe. It’s richer and sweeter than my everyday cooking, but not as rich as some bread pudding recipes that call for half-and-half or cream instead of milk, and/or greater quantities of butter.

I used almond milk, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey, and a combination of white and multigrain challah. pudding & bourbonMy kitchen smelled sweet and boozy when the pudding was baking, and the end result was/is very tasty. Most of it is in my freezer for safekeeping, and to save it for an upcoming meal with friends.

Paige William’s recipe, below, is reprinted with permission.

Leftover Challah Pudding (Kugel)

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup bourbon (or apple juice)

8 cups cubed stale Challah (with crusts on)

4 cups milk

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar

4 eggs

2 tbsp. vanilla

nutmeg to taste

3 tbsp. butter

• In a small bowl, combine the raisins and bourbon. Let stand at least 30 minutes or as long as overnight.

• In a large bowl, combine the bread cubes and milk.

• Preheat oven to 350.

• In a big bowl: mix sugar, eggs, vanilla, nutmeg and raisins (with soaking liquid).

• Add the egg-raisin mixture to bread mixture.

• Place butter in a 13×9 pan and put in oven until butter melts.

• Pour bread mixture on top and bake until firm (knife inserted in middle will be clean) about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

• Cool to room temperature.

Very easy recipe to adapt. May adjust sugar to taste. Other possibilities: add pecans, dried or fresh apples/pears.

Also possible to divide recipe in half and bake for approximately 35 minutes in a 9 inch gratin dish.

* * *


Maximizing LinkedIn’s potential

Recently, I signed up for a LinkedIn tutorial for journalists, which I heard about via a LinkedIn journalists’ group. The session, which took place on Tuesday, was one of the best things I’ve done all week.

Until now, I thought I was doing well on LinkedIn, and for the most part, I was. In July, I blogged about using the site to make contacts and learn about issues, available jobs, and journalism/writing-related workshops and events. That post is here.

But a couple of days ago I learned about features I was unfamiliar with and links I’d never clicked on, which I expect will be helpful to me. A LinkedIn tool to find alumni, for example, is only a few months old.

LinkedIn’s corporate communications manager Yumi Wilson, a former journalist, hosted the phone-in session, and walked us through a succession of features. Her presentation was clear and relevant, and it was great to have the opportunity to communicate offline.

The experience reminded me of an encounter I witnessed earlier this year when a colleague of my husband’s – engrossed in shop talk with a colleague she’d never met but knew from online discussions – suddenly exclaimed, “You’re a real person!”

Social media is a wonderful tool, especially when its reach extends offline. A bonus for tutorial participants – we were eligible for a free upgrade, allowing the use of even more LinkedIn tools for the coming year.