Pain-Free Coffee Detox

WP_20151007_07_58_23_Pro Ever since my daughter, affectionately known as The Amazing Non-Sleeping Baby, entered the world, I’ve started my day with coffee. Although I love the stuff, especially now that we live in the land of Stumptown, it doesn’t love me. Between tension headaches, insomnia, and lactose intolerance, I can’t enjoy the coffee without some pretty serious side effects.

So I decided to start the new year with a big old detox, Whole30 style. One catch, though. Recent studies showed the risk of heart-disease increased because of Ibuprofen (which I take like candy when I’m in the throes of the tension headache/insomnia/overcaffeinating cycle) made me want to add Vitamin I to the detox list too. And with a writing deadline looming, I really couldn’t afford to have all fifteen of these nasty caffeine withdrawal symptoms for two weeks while I let my body adjust to the lack of caffeine.

If you’re looking for information on why caffeine is bad for you, read this Forbes article that summarizes a John Hopkins report about how caffeine affects cognitive function or this article on caffeine withdrawal being reclassified as a mental disorder. I fall into the category described in this Mayo Clinic article as “caffeine sensitive,” so I get the jitters and can’t sleep with a much lower dose of caffeine than some people. I estimate my daily consumption (which varied based on whether I drank espresso or press-pot, and whether my pot of tea was green or black tea) to be in the 170-220mg per day range. Safe according to Mayo Clinic, but not working for me personally.

There are oodles of plans out there from stopping cold-turkey (which I’ve tried before and found really painful) to step-down plans that take three weeks to wean the body off of caffeine. Yeah, I’m too impatient for that. So I basically did a 7-day plan based off of the detox steps outlined here. And I promise you, it works! I’m now on day 3 with zero caffeine AND zero headaches. Note that I am downing tons of water, taking a multi-vitamin, as well as taking L-Tyrosine and DLPA amino-acid supplements for mental clarity and alertness, which I believe helped me with the detox.

Here’s what it looked like for me:

New Year’s Day – Coffee. Because champagne and staying up til midnight the night before. Duh!

January 2 – One cup of coffee (instead of the two, plus an afternoon pot of tea I usually drink) in the morning.

January 3 – No coffee, but started the morning with black tea. At this point, I didn’t really notice a difference.

January 4 – Started the morning with a pot of green tea (only one tea bag). Felt a little sluggish, to be honest.

January 5 – Repeated previous day since I didn’t feel great the previous day. Glad I did because I went to the dentist that day, which always gives me a massive headache.

January 6 – Waited until lunch to have a pot of tea. For me, the two signs of physical dependence on caffeine I have are being fuzzy-headed in the morning and having an energy slump in the afternoon. So I thought I would tackle the morning fuzzy-headedness first by making myself start my day with no caffeine.

January 7 – Waited until lunch and had a pot of tea. I had a busy, out-of-the-house day planned, so I couldn’t afford a major afternoon slump.

January 8 – Waited until lunch, had a kombucha. FELL ASLEEP FOR 20 MINUTES AT 11am. I consider this the biggest fail of the detox because I was supposed to be working, not napping. But overall, not bad.

January 9 – present – Caffeine free. *confetti cannon*

I’m alert, head-ache free, and getting productive work done this week so far. Oh, and I haven’t murdered anyone in my immediate family. So I’d call that a success, wouldn’t you?

To be honest, I’m not sure if I’ll stay off of caffeine for the rest of my days. But for at least the next month, I plan to. After that, I may go back to green tea in moderation, but I think my coffee-drinking days are going to be extremely limited. Sorry, Stumptown!

Kugelhopf Recipe (Alsatian Sweet Bread)

WP_20151224_14_56_45_ProNever share a foreign-language recipe on social media unless you’re prepared to offer the translation to your friends 😉 For all who asked, here is my (translated) Kugelhopf recipe.

  • 500g white or cake flour
  • 150g softened butter (you want this pretty soft!)
  • 100g sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 25g fresh yeast (or 5t dried yeast)
  • 250ml warm milk
  • a pinch of salt
  • 50g slivered almonds, plus whole almonds for top
  • 50g raisins, dried currants, or a mix
  • 3T Kirsch (cherry brandy) or other brandy
  • powdered sugar
  1. Mix the yeast into the warmed milk and set aside.
  2. Pour kirsch over dried fruit to rehydrate.
  3. Add flour to a large mixing bowl.
  4. Add beaten eggs to the yeast mixture, mix, and add to flour.
  5. Mix until flour is moistened, then add butter and sugar to the dough.
  6. Knead until the dough comes together—it will be wet, but should come away from the sides of the bowl a bit. You may need to add a bit more flour if it’s too sticky.
  7. Dust dough with flour and leave under a damp towel to rise for one hour.
  8. Then mix the kirsch, almonds, and fruit into the dough and knead to evenly distribute.
  9. Butter a bundt pan, place blanched almonds around the bottom of the pan, and arrange the dough evenly in the pan. The smoother you get the top of the dough in this step, the nicer the kugelhopf will sit on the plate.
  10. Cover and leave to rise 90 minutes or until the dough fills the pan.
  11. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown and hollow-sounding when tapped.
  12. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with mimosas 😉
This brioche-style bread is delicious on its own, but leftovers also make a mean French toast.
This brioche-style bread is delicious on its own, but leftovers also make a mean French toast.

Best Gluten-Free Muffin Recipe

(301-365) Muffin (6100678703)My kids love a good muffin. That means that muffins are my go-to when I need to bring a snack to school, or friends come over for a play date, or really just about any time I need food for any reason. But several of my son’s friends are either gluten or dairy intolerant (or both), so I wanted to find the best gluten-free muffin recipe.

Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. I made things that were so nasty that even loads of chocolate chips or cream-cheese frosting couldn’t make them palatable. I made ones that were just OK warm, but turned to rocks when they cooled. I made some that tasted too much like the almond or coconut or whatever they were made with in place of the gluten. I despaired. I gave up for a while and just went back to my old stand-by muffin recipe and made something else if his GF friends were here.

Then I tried to make up my own recipe. And…success! I had to use a Wikimedia Commons picture of a muffin because by the time I figured out that this recipe was a success, a plague of hungry locusts my kids and their friends had eaten every last one of these delicious, moist, perfect gluten-free muffins.

So here it is, my Best Gluten-Free Muffin recipe:

Best Gluten-Free Muffin Recipe

makes 24 muffins

Ingredients:
1/3 c coconut oil (olive oil would also work)
1 t vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup almond milk or other milk alternative
1/3 c sweetener (date sugar, honey, brown sugar, whatever you fancy. Note that some sweeteners are sweeter than others and adjust as necessary)
2 c grated or mashed fruits/veggies (carrots, zucchini, pumpkin, apple, banana, dates)
1 1/2 c gluten-free pastry flour (the one I use is a fine-ground corn-based flour)
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 T cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t ginger
1/2 c slivered almonds
1/2 c chocolate chips (make sure the ones you have are dairy-free–many aren’t)

  1. Preheat oven to 180C or 350F.
  2. Mix the first six ingredients in a large bowl. If using something chunky like bananas or dates, I use an immersion blender until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Add flour, baking soda & powder, spices, and slivered almonds and mix just until combined.
  4. Fold in chocolate chips.
  5. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake for 16 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  6. Cool just enough to prevent injury and devour at will.

This go-round, I made these with coconut oil, date syrup, almond milk, and a mix of 1 c pumpkin, 3/4 c banana and 1/4 c dates. But apples, zucchinis, and carrots would also be delicious, coconut milk would absolutely work, and I often use olive oil in baking when I don’t have coconut oil on hand. And raisins can be substituted for the chocolate chips, although I definitely prefer the chocolate!

Easy and delicious. What’s your favorite gluten-free recipe?

Embracing Comfort Food

photo of home-made chicken fingers
My kids’ new favorite meal: Home-made chicken fingers

I’m a foodie. I love food and, on more than a special-occasion basis, I like fancy food. While my kids are good eaters, sometimes they get tired of my chutneys and sauces and garnishes and just want plain old comfort food.

Between my insane aggressive writing schedule and the kids’ after school activities, we need quick (<30 minutes to prepare) meals 3-4 nights a week. And I can't make every. single. meal. in the slow-cooker, no matter how much I might like to. Enter exhibit A: healthy, home-made (even gluten-free!) chicken fingers. My kids' new favorite meal. Ingredients:
4 chicken breasts, sliced into 1-inch wide strips
2 egg whites, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt
2/3 c fine-ground cornmeal (I’ve heard crushed cornflakes work too!)
herbs & spices

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 225C (450F).
  2. Pour the cornmeal into a wide shallow bowl and season heavily with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and whatever spices go with the rest of your meal. Try taco seasoning, italian herbs, cumin, smoked paprika (not all at once!), or whatever your kids like. Mix thoroughly. You want to be able to see spices in the cornmeal mix. If you can’t, you haven’t added enough!
  3. Dip chicken strips in egg white.
  4. Dredge them in the cornmeal mixture, making sure every bit of the chicken is evenly coated.
  5. Arrange on a baking tray so that the chicken strips don’t touch.
  6. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until chicken is cooked to the internal temperature you prefer.
  7. Cook veggies & starches while chicken bakes. In the picture above, I made a veggie pilaf with quick-cooking brown rice, and kale salad.
  8. Serve with ranch, ketchup, or whatever sauce your munchkins love.

A Foodie’s Dream Day Out

raw ingredients
The raw ingredients for our Emo Cooking Class

One of my favorite traditions in our expat community is the PTO’s Cooking Club. About once a month, someone invites a group of ladies over to their house and shows them how to cook a meal from their home country. In my time here, I’ve attended Japanese, Russian, Korean, Hungarian, Polish, French, Indian, and German cooking classes and have co-hosted three consecutive Thanksgiving cooking clubs.

This month, the cooking club did something a little different. This time, our cooking club was hosted by one of Helsinki’s hot new restaurants Gastrobar Emo. Owned by the same folks as Michelin-starred Olo, Emo adds a dash of European flavor to its reasonably-priced menu, earning it a Michelin Bib Gourmand.

I love eating gorgeous food. But I love learning to cook it myself even more. Especially when Matt, my favorite sous-chef (ha ha!), is by my side and there’s a glass of sparkling wine in my hand. Oh yeah, did I mention that a sommelier came with the class? How can I order one of those for home use?

On the menu for the three course lunch and cooking class were two things that I still struggle with in the kitchen: scallops and venison. Both notoriously easy to overcook, I looked forward to expert advice and I wasn’t disappointed. We seared half the scallops and marinated the others in a bit of lemon juice ceviche-style. Served with hand-whisked dill mayo and pickled cucumbers and radishes, it was divine. Read more

Because Bacon!

a large plate of bacon
A big plate-o-bacon

I’ve been struggling with what to write about this week. I’d love to say something meaningful about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic death, but I think I like what Russell Brand had to say better than anything I could put together. Likewise, I’d love to offer my thoughts on the upcoming Sochi Olympics. But I’m home with a sick child and not feeling great myself, so instead of stalking FB all day for news of my soon-to-arrive nephew (!!) I’m going to talk about bacon. Because bacon, duh!

A friend and I were talking last week about the rage induced by kids futzing around in the morning instead of getting ready for school. The potential for rage only increases when you add cooking a healthy protein-laden breakfast to the mix of morning chores. Oh how I long for the days when I could eat a piece of toast with my coffee and not have to take a mid-morning nap to sleep off the carbs…

Anyhow, here’s one easy solution I’ve come up with to the protein in the morning dilemma. Because while I’ve embraced eating leftover steak for breakfast, I’m not quite up for left over arctic char. Read more

A Few Cutting Remarks

WP_20140130_001On G’s seventh birthday, we bought him a gift that many of our friends and parenting peers thought was both insane and inappropriate: his first pocket knife.

I grew up a consummate tomboy and I have the scars to prove it. I still enjoy whittling a green sapling to spear a marshmallow over the campfire, and nothing makes me think of my father more than sharpening a knife on a whetstone (although I use honing oil now instead of spit. Sorry Dad!).

So when my six-year-old son asked for a pocket knife so that he could whittle sticks, I had a hard time saying no. Matt didn’t have any concerns either, so we got him a knife. And over the past two and a half years, he’s done great with the knives (yes, he has more than one now). He has carved home-made birthday presents, his own marshmallow-roasting sticks, a couple of olive pokers, a few spoons, and more whittled-down-to-nothing nubs than I could count. Read more

Never say never

Photo from the State Library of New South Wales collection (http://www.flickr.com/photos/statelibraryofnsw/)

When Gabriel was about 18 months old, I got together with a group of my friends from college. Several of us had children within a few months of each other, so there was a lot of talk that weekend about how life had changed and what we had to look forward to as our children grew. One friend who had older brothers told us about a recent birthday party she’d attended that involved pony rides, a cowboy, and goodie bags that cost roughly $20 a pop. We all howled about how ridiculous that was and about how we’d never, ever, ever do that.

The kids’ first few birthday parties held true to my proclamation. But that’s easy in Boulder County, where dressing up often meant pulling on the new Icebreaker or Mountain Hardware hoody and putting on the dressy jeans that weren’t frayed at the bottom from wearing them with flip-flops. Birthday parties there usually involved playing out in the back yard and oodles of home-made whole-wheat cupcakes, with a few gluten/dairy/soy/corn/nut free ones for the children with food sensitivities. Favors I offered in the past included little pots filled with dirt and basil seeds, home-made play dough, and little bouquets of natural dye-free lollipops. Read more

A Meatless Monday home-run!

a photograph of Finnish chanterelles (suomenlainen kantarelli)
Finnish chanterelles (suomenlainen kantarelli) for sale at the market by our house

Despite having added meat back into our diet a few years ago after more than a decade as vegetarians, we still eat meatless meals several times per week. It’s not really a conscious decision, just something that naturally happens when I plan the menu. Still, with the abundance of amazing local poultry & fish available here in Helsinki, I’ve been feeling like my best meals, at least recently, have included meat. That’s why I was so excited to hit one out of the park this past week, and on Meatless Monday no less!

Chanterelles are in season here in Finland, and by that, I mean the market stalls are bursting with these tasty orange mushrooms, and people are out combing the woods for them at every opportunity. So I bought a kilo the other day, and just threw them in to just about everything I was making from vegetable side-dishes to pizza. But I wanted to do something to really showcase them as a main course, and this Chanterelle Tart did the trick. Read more

Demystifying Finnish Flour *Updated*

I like to bake. People have been known to covet my pie and my pancakes have garnered acclaim on two continents. And then there’s my bread and my pizza dough. I mean, when it comes to baking, I know what I’m doing, right? I have conquered high-altitude baking. I unraveled the mysteries of British flour from strong to self-rising. And yet, after seven months, I’m just starting to figure out Finnish flour, and doing a lot more research on it than I was expecting! Oh yeah, and here I am four months later revising it again to include even more info!! Read more