“Green” Quinoa Salad

Ever since I began an elimination diet almost two weeks ago in an attempt to discover possible food sensitivities, I’ve been putting together a variety of salads made up of whatever I have on hand that’s permitted.

"green" quinoa saladLast Friday, we had a crowd for dinner – eleven people in all. I made four salads  – green, quinoa, beet, and fennel/apple/carrot – to accompany baked salmon, roasted asparagus, sweet potato-leek soup, challah and two kinds of dips. I could eat everything except the challah.

I liked all the salads, but I think the quinoa was my favourite. It was simple and nourishing, and it was easy to decide what to add because I only used herbs and vegetables that were green in colour.

“Green” Quinoa Salad

1 cup quinoa

2 green onions, sliced

1 cup diced cucumber

1 1/2 stalks celery, diced

fresh parsley, fresh dill and fresh basil to taste, chopped

juice of 1 small lemon

extra-virgin olive oil (same amount as lemon juice)

sea salt to taste

1. Rinse quinoa if not pre-washed, and drain in sieve. In a small pot, bring two cups of water to boil. Add quinoa, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 15 minutes. Let cool.

2. Add vegetables and herbs to quinoa. Quantities are only a suggestion.

3. Pour fresh-squeezed lemon juice into pyrex measuring cup or other clear container. Add same amount of olive oil. Add sea salt, and whisk together. Combine with quinoa and vegetables.

Enjoy!

Word nerds

I only came across the term “word nerd” for the first time last week, but it resonated with me immediately, and I thought that, for sure, I qualify.

After looking at a couple of online word nerd quizzes, like this one on grammarly.com, I’m glad I don’t meet all imaginable criteria. I don’t correct pop song lyrics in my head, and I don’t fly into a rage when I see a sign that says “ten items or less.” That said, I do know the difference between “less” and “fewer.”

I didn’t do so well on the Writer’s Digest multiple-choice quiz, either. But I loved its link to this picture.

January 9 was National Word Nerd Day. This article about it pegs me as an “editor.” It says that I’m not just picky – I’m right! I’ll have to remember that line.

I can’t say I’m always right, though. A friend of mine found a mistake I overlooked when I wrote Tuesday’s blog post. Maybe she’s an “editor” too.

As for me, I know it’s picky, but I won’t call someone “a trooper” if I mean “a trouper,” and don’t get me started on the difference between alumnus, alumna, alumni and alumnae.

The thing is, I’m not just picky – I’m right! (Thank you, Mediabistro.)

What makes a good interviewee?

After I blogged last Thursday about interviewing and the things I enjoyed about it, I started to think about the people I interviewed as a reporter.

What makes a good interviewee? Bottom line, for me, is someone who is articulate and has something to say that is worth hearing.

Sometimes people underestimate their ability to express themselves well. Some think, wrongly, that what they have to say won’t be interesting or relevant to readers. Others, um, err in the opposite direction.

Interviewees who love their work or hobby (if that’s what they’re being interviewed about), and who are good at what they do, bring something special to an interview. I’ve been surprised more than once that a subject I thought might be boring turned out to be unexpectedly interesting.

It’s also good when interviewees use regular language instead of jargon, especially those whose fields of expertise are specialized. It’s not just that jargon is esoteric, understood by a select few; it’s that sometimes jargon serves as a generic catch-all, masking a more specific meaning. Easy example: “best practices.”

Some interviewees write things down that they want to remember to include in an interview. Reflecting, and clarifying one’s thoughts beforehand often makes for a better and more coherent conversation. But reading complete answers doesn’t work. As a rule, people don’t talk the way they write, and sometimes those written answers end up sounding like “fake” quotes. They’re also likely to disrupt the flow of a good interview.

People often asked me before an interview how long the interview would take. If I’d never met the person, it was hard to predict, because some people are talkers, and some aren’t. But I found, in the end, that whether or not a person is a talker doesn’t predict how interesting an interview will be, or how easy or difficult it will be to write up.

That’s all for today… but definitely not all there is to say about interviewing.

Chocolate Sunday (with no chocolate) – Experiment #1, Almond Butter Treats

Last Sunday, I started an elimination diet that excludes a whole bunch of foods I might be sensitive to, including caffeine and sugar. No chocolate for me for the next few weeks – yikes!

So far, so good. I’m not a big coffee or black tea drinker, and I try to eat chocolate in moderation, so I didn’t get the headache that can accompany caffeine withdrawal.

I’m also making sure there’s lots of food in the house that I can eat, so I don’t feel deprived.

I just had a protein smoothie and added blueberries and ripe banana to it. After a week without refined sugar, I appreciate the sweetness of the fruit in a new way – an unanticipated benefit.

But sometimes you just want a treat you can eat instead of drink, or one that melts in your mouth like chocolate.

I hadn’t thought to ask, but my naturopath suggested a treat made of almond butter and coconut oil melted together with cinnamon and salt, and frozen.

almond butter treats

My almond butter treats

It’s not technically a recipe, but I’m including it in recipe form below.

But first, the results of this little experiment:

1. I used relatively small amounts of almond butter and coconut oil, and I would stick to small quantities because I found it hard to eat just one. I did cut the squares very small, though, about 1/2 an inch.

2. My husband, who is on a regular diet, found the treats resistible. Maybe the elimination diet has moderated my sweet tooth.

3. The almond butter treats are very smooth, and melt in your mouth. In that way, they’re a bit of a substitute for chocolate. They melt in your hands too, if you hold them too long!

Almond Butter Treats

1/4 cup almond butter

1/4 cup coconut oil

1 tsp cinnamon, or to taste

sea salt to taste (not too much, but not too little either – it enhanced the flavour a lot)

1. Melt almond butter and coconut oil on medium low, stirring with wooden spoon until smooth and blended.

2. Stir in cinnamon and sea salt.

3. Transfer to small container. Mine is about 5″ x 3″.

4. Freeze until solid. Refrigerating might work too.

5. Cut into small squares (may need to soften at room temperature first).

6. Store in fridge.

Enjoy!

 

 

No Gluten, No Dairy, No Sugar… Oh My!

I’ve never considered it a burden to cook vegetarian, or lactose-free, or nut-free or gluten-free. A number of my friends and family members have allergies, food sensitivities and/or diet preferences, so I’m used to working around food restrictions.

This week, and for the next two weeks, I’m dealing with some new restrictions, and it’s been interesting. I’m on an elimination diet (eliminating foods that might be problematic) in an attempt to figure out if I have any food sensitivities. There are a lot of restrictions on this diet, including no gluten, no dairy, no refined sugar, no alcohol, no chemicals (which I try to avoid anyway), and no eggs or nightshades (potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes). It is not a calorie-restricted diet.

After the three weeks are over, I’ll add back one food or category of food at a time, to see what happens.

Still trying to figure out what I’ll post on my Chocolate Sunday blog, but I have a few ideas.

I’ve always figured that there are so many foods you can eat when you’re on a restricted diet – why focus on the ones you can’t?

IMG_6848

Whitefish, ready to go into the oven.

So on Monday, the day after I started the diet, I made a pot of red lentil soup, roasted two pounds of beets, cooked up some quinoa, sautéed leeks and mushrooms (oops, didn’t realize that mushrooms were on the verboten list), and baked whitefish brushed with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with fresh lemon, and generously topped with dill. Those dishes have been my staples this week, along with green salad, fresh fruits and vegetables, some leftover broccolini and sweet potatoes, and rice cakes and almond butter.

I haven’t felt deprived at all, and within a day I noticed that I had more energy.

However, on Tuesday night I went out with a couple of friends for dinner and realized that of all the items on the extensive menu, there were only two I could eat. And they were out of one.

Sigh.

Do I miss interviewing?

A friend asked me the other day if I miss interviewing. Sometimes I do, but not as much as I thought I would. I’m happy to be writing my blog and my book, neither of which calls for interviews at this point.

There wasn’t much I didn’t enjoy about interviewing, though. My job was never boring. Over the 22 years that I worked at The Canadian Jewish News, I interviewed a wide range of people including celebrities, architects, rabbis, students, professors, schoolteachers, authors, artists, centenarians, and community leaders. Many were from Israel or other countries. I learned a little about a lot of things, and in many cases more than a little.

I liked preparing for interviews. The process, for me, was basically what my Grade 6 teacher expected as our first step when we worked on school projects. She had us make two lists: “What I Know,” and “What I Want to Find Out.” I always enjoyed the challenge of coming up with questions that I thought other interviewers might not have asked.

I liked the actual interviews, and the interview process too. A good interview is like a conversation in many ways, but it also has structure and a logical end. I would begin by asking how much time the person had, and try to pace the interview accordingly.

And while I usually had a list of questions, there were many others that weren’t on my list – follow-up questions seeking clarification or more information. It helped that I was genuinely interested in what people had to say. My husband used to hope that I would get a sports-related interview, to pique my interest in that area too!

When I wrote up my interviews – unlike my blog posts – I worked from notes, and sometimes from an audio recording as well, especially if the subject of discussion was controversial, or if the interviewee spoke quickly. For me, it was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, taking the most relevant and interesting pieces of the interview and fitting them together in a way that made sense.

Sometimes I thought about the interviews long after they were over. I still think about some of them. I’ll have to blog about that another time.

 

 

I’m just regrouping – I’m fine!

I think I need to follow up on last Thursday’s post, when I compared being downsized to the breakup of a relationship, and also looked at similarities between the post-downsizing transition time and the mourning period I went through after I lost my father.

A couple of people seemed to be concerned about me, and sent messages of support and reassurance.

Don’t get me wrong, a big part of why I’ve been okay after I lost my job is the support I have from family and friends, including those I used to work with.

I’m past the “mourning” stage of being downsized, but I’m definitely still regrouping and figuring out what’s next.

It helped a lot that my departure wasn’t abrupt, that I wasn’t the only one, and that – during the two weeks I had between receiving notice and actually leaving – my colleagues and I were able to spend time in the lunchroom over tea, coffee, and comfort food, processing all the changes that a restructuring meant.

For the past seven months, I’ve been telling people I’m in transition. Shortly before I blogged last Thursday, I said it again when I ran into someone I knew through my work at The Canadian Jewish News. It was the first time that it didn’t feel right, that maybe I should be past that stage.

The exchange prompted some personal reflection, along with my post last week. I wondered if I’m enjoying blogging too much, and whether I’ve become “stuck.”

I started the blog to help me transition to whatever is next, but the blog may actually be what is next for me. Or a big part of what is next. On reflection, it feels right. At least for now.

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate Sunday – Chocolate Strawberries, and Chocolate Pomegranate Clusters!

I’ve been making chocolate-covered strawberries for years, but this week I learned something new about the process.

chocolate strawberries & pomegranate clustersIt hadn’t occurred to me to look for instructions – how hard is it to melt chocolate and dip strawberries in it? But, because I was planning to blog about it, I looked online to see what was already there.

I found this recipe, which recommends placing the strawberries stem-side down to allow the chocolate to dry. Light-bulb moment – I realized that my chocolate never dried smoothly in the past because I placed the strawberries sideways, not upright. There was always a flat side to the chocolate.

chocolate strawberries on cookie sheetThe recipe also suggests placing the fresh-dipped strawberries on a wire rack. I missed that bit, probably because I was multi-tasking and had already put waxed paper on a cookie sheet. Strawberry stems are not inherently flat, and some of them didn’t want to stand up. But if I was very careful about placing them just so against the sides of the sheet, I was able to compensate for that.

Strawberries are on the “dirty dozen” produce list, so I try to buy organic when I can to avoid pesticides. I had found gorgeous strawberries at Organic Garage, and wanted to make sure to use them quickly.

I used only the perfect ones for dipping, and cut up the rest for breakfast the next morning.

You can melt almost any chocolate for dipping. I used three squares each from two large Lindt chocolate bars, one with 70 percent cacao content (“dark”) and the other with 85 percent (“intense dark”). The dark chocolate is twice as sweet as the intense dark (8 grams of sugar per three squares, compared to 4), and I thought the mix would be a good compromise.

After I dipped the strawberries, I coated pomegranate seeds with the remaining chocolate. In all, there was enough chocolate for about 15 strawberries and just over a dozen pomegranate clusters.

The strawberries looked more elegant, but the pomegranate seed clusters were more interesting, with fruity bursts of liquid inside each bite-sized cluster.

My niece makes chocolate blueberry clusters, which are equally refreshing. I thought about making them too, and found a recipe here. But in the end, I had just the right ratio of chocolate to fruit without the blueberries.

Chocolate Strawberries, and Chocolate Pomegranate Clusters

15 perfect strawberries

1/3 to 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (I’m guessing the amount; forgot to measure!)

3 squares Lindt dark chocolate (from 100-gram bar)

3 squares Lindt intense dark chocolate (from 100-gram bar)

1. Line cookie sheet with waxed paper or parchment paper.

2. Wash strawberries, and dry gently but thoroughly with paper towel.

3. Spread pomegranate seeds on paper towel to dry, placing more paper towel on top of the seeds to dry them completely.

4. Melt chocolate in pyrex bowl on low heat in microwave, checking frequently to make sure it doesn’t overheat. Great instructions here, if you want more information.

5. Stir chocolate to ensure it is completely melted, and to combine the two types.

6. Dip dried strawberries into chocolate, letting excess chocolate drip back into bowl.

7. Place strawberries stem-side down on lined cookie sheet to dry.

8. Add dried pomegranate seeds to remaining chocolate, and stir together to coat the seeds.

9. Using two teaspoons, form clusters of pomegranate seeds, and place on cookie sheet to dry.

10. Put cookie sheet in fridge for 15 minutes to allow chocolate to set, or leave at room temperature until set.

Enjoy!

Indian-Spiced Roasted Red Pepper Dip

I’ve started to experiment with exotic Indian spice blends (masalas) – a gift from my kids that they knew I would enjoy. I love flavour, but I’m not a fan of heat, so my first attempts at incorporating the spices are usually too mild-tasting.

roasted peppers

This is how my roasted peppers looked when they were done.

The dal makhani masala that I used for this recipe is made up of more than a dozen ingredients including coriander, chili, dried mango, ginger, garlic, nutmeg, cloves and anise. It’s recommended for lentils and stews.

I’ll have to try it next time I make dal (red lentil soup).

It’s easy to roast peppers – 20 minutes per side at 400 degrees. I found instructions here. The skins slipped off easily when the peppers were done.

To mix the dip, I used an immersion blender, but I’d recommend a food processor instead. Maybe I didn’t cut the peppers into small enough pieces, or maybe I should have mixed in the green onion by hand, once everything else was blended. I’m glad my immersion blender didn’t break. I definitely overworked it.

The end result was a mix of what I had in the house, and I made it up as I went along. I thought the dip could have been thicker (maybe less yogourt and mayo?), but everyone said they liked it. And they took seconds.

Indian-Spiced Roasted Red Pepper Dip

2 large red, yellow or orange peppers

1 tbsp. mayonnaise

1 tbsp. yogourt

1/4 to 1/2 tsp. or more dal makhani masala

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 scallion, sliced

1. Roast peppers on baking sheet at 400 F for a total of 40 minutes, turning over half-way through cooking.

2. Let peppers cool, then peel and seed them. Cut in pieces before processing.

3. Place in processor with mayonnaise, yogourt, masala, salt, and pepper.

4. Process until not quite as smooth as you like. Add green onions, and process on/off until just incorporated into the dip.

Enjoy!

 

 

How long does it take to move forward after being downsized?

Seven months after being downsized, is it too late to say I’m still in transition?

I don’t think so, but sometimes I feel like I’ve been saying that for too long. At the same time, I still have a few items on my post-work to-do list.

A colleague told me last summer that being downsized is like going through a breakup. I’m sure someone told me once that, after a breakup, it takes a month for every year the relationship lasted to get over it. If that’s true, then 22 months of transition would be about right after 22 years at the same job. But I couldn’t find that formula online, and an article I found indicated there is no formula that applies to everyone.

I’ve also thought about how things played out for me the year after my father died, because I’ve been told that you need time to grieve for a job loss too. The Jewish mourning period for a parent is a year, and I’ve often thought that the year following my dad’s death was a time not just of healing and regrouping, but of life lessons. They’ve been helpful to me these past months.

I have a clearer sense of what I value, and I trust that my instincts and this blog – which I started partly as a way to figure out what’s next – will lead me in the right direction. However long it takes.