Remember what every one says when they hand you a lemon?
Make the best damn lemonade as if your life depends on it. Well, that’s not the actual phrase but you probably get what I’m squeezing at 😉
Metaphorically speaking, it’s the best line to encourage optimism and positivity in light of adversity. Because sometimes, you just need to do what your gut tells you and stop overthinking things. The lemon could probably be sour or sweet (if you’re lucky enough to be handed a gorgeous meyer lemon) but you never know till you slice it open and extract all the juice it has to offer.
Travelling is a lot like making lemonade. We all make it a certain way. I like mine with apple cider vinegar and a splash of maple syrup. Some prefer basil leaves in it. Every person has their travelling preference. For me, I delight in the kind of travel that transcends space/place. Don’t worry I’m not about to go all philosophical on you. In my world, travel is a journey. You don’t need to physically leave the country you’re in to ‘travel’ in the proper sense. If you focus hard, you can travel through your senses. That’s one of the best kind of travels, in my honest opinion. For a second, you escape your current literal reality and ‘teleport’ to a destination of your choice (no air fares needed!).
An ordinary bite of salsa, with guacamole and sour cream takes me to Mexico (even though I haven’t been!) and decadent jamon iberco on warm baguette slathered in french butter is enough to transport me to Barcelona (which I also haven’t been to!). The concept seems ethereal but if you think about it, it’s melding the tangible and intangible so that your reality (which is really what your mind perceives) becomes what you feel in your five senses.
This is my huge lesson of the year. I’ve been more adventurous in the kitchen, exploring healthier cooking options and more nourishing ingredients and it’s been terrific.
Many friends have asked me to open something to share the food that I’ve been cooking. To this, I have to say – it’s in the works. I have a long way to go. But it might be sooner rather than later as I’ve a pretty awesome cooking partner now and we’ve been cooking up quite a storm for our friends over the past few months.
Here’s a peek into one of our homely dinners. The menu was decided on a whim as yours truly constantly trawls Tasting Table and Food52 for recipes to try. These dishes seem to fit (in theory) in terms of flavours so I thought why not?
Onions are one of my favourite ingredients and the way they caramelise and morph into something so rich so easily always leaves me spellbound so I couldn’t resist making this Cilantro-Lime Sofrito. Such an exotic sounding name isn’t it. For the layperson – it’s really onion jam that’s cooked till it’s sweet and layered with a burst of lime and lime zest. There are many versions of sofrito (it has its roots in Spanish culture but the Cubans, Filipinos and Greeks also have their take on it apparently) but for a start, this was a mind-blowing concoction. It went really well with the cauliflower rice we made.
Cauliflower rice is super easy. Pulse a whole head in a food processor, fry some aromatics like garlic & onions in oil for about 3 to 5 minutes then throw the ‘cous-cous’ textured blitzed cauliflower. Unlike rice, it doesn’t weigh you down and it absorbs whatever gravy/sauce you douse it in. Which makes perfect sense when paired with Food52’s Shrimp & Okra stew.
We doubled the recipe as there were 8 of us and it was one of the most easy yet complex tasting dish I’ve cooked. The smokiness of the back bacon complemented the buoyant prawns that glided through the liquid and pulp from the 8 tomatoes we threw in. What I loved most was when two of our guests shared how they don’t usually like prawns and okra but having tasted this stew, were completely converted. Feedback like that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling!
Every mouthful and every tender bite made sense. Best ‘icing’ on the figurative cake was how nutritious every dish was.
Even the dessert!
Chocolate Avocado Pudding. Nothing I can say can accurately describe how life changing this dessert is. Raw, vegan, gluten free, dairy free and completely free of unrefined sugar, it’s one of the most healthy things you can feed yourself. But it doesn’t taste gross (as you would expect something that healthy to be eh?). Instead, it tastes decadent. You’d think there was heavy cream in it. Oh boy that’s when you understand the miracle of creamy ripe avocados!
One of our guests brought along his guitar and started singing & strumming some melodious latin inspired tunes. The best part was when we all got up to dance to the music.
For that second (or maybe a minute or two), we felt like we were in the Caribbean, swaying along, by the beachside.
We escaped reality. And it was awesome.
*NOTE: We are trying to make this a private supper club project so if anyone is interested or want to try our food, do drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Adapted from from Annie Pettry, Decca, Louisville, KY (as seen on Tasting Table)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 cups finely chopped yellow onion (3 to 4 medium onions)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon minced garlic (1 large clove)
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
Zest of ½ lime
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon, fresh lime juice (1 lime)
In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and salt, and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook the onions slowly, stirring often, until they are soft and light golden, 1 hour. Add the garlic and cook until soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the cilantro, lime zest and lime juice. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt. Let cool.
Shrimp & Okra Stew (We doubled it to feed 8 pax)
Chocolate Avocado Pudding by Laura Miller (I doubled the ingredients to feed 8 pax)
-2 large avocados
-½ cup agave or maple syrup (I used maple)
-½ cup cocoa powder
-3 T coconut oil
-1/2 t balsamic
-1/2 t nama shoyu
-¼ t salt
-Blend all ingredients in a food processor.
-Enjoy as is, or freeze overnight!
-High in Vitamins C, K, B6
-Great source of fiber
-Healthy fats that boost your metabolism (including an amino acid L-carnitine)
This reason gives me ultimate pleasure but equal measures of guilt.
If you’re a lady, chances are you will be in the same camp.
The cake camp.
The happy camp. Yes. Joy to me is the precise moment where I see a cake (preferably chocolate) and know that it is mine (although I have lusted over many that didn’t belong to me and still felt good about it!) and run/attack/lunge towards it with pure ecstasy. It’s my drug of choice. I don’t need no Prozac or Xanax. I just need cake.
Last year, the day after a break-up, in the midst of my murky mind, all I wanted was cake. PS. Cafe’s Chocolate Black-out Cake to be specific. I had it. And yes it did hit the spot. I was satiated. For that moment, I needed no consolation.
That’s how much I love cake. Who needs men when you have cake? Ladies (and men), do I hear a shout of agreement? My life long affection for cake surpasses every other infatuation of mine. I have dreamt of cake, wrote poems about cake and even tried to draw cakes (don’t even ask me how they look like. I cannot draw. period.).
I wish I could just eat cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ve tried that actually. How did that turn out? I ended up looking like cake. A buttery pound cake. Who was to blame? My parents. Yes. Their genetics did not allow me to eat all that I can and melt it all away through my sweat glands (yes I do think of such nonsense all the time). I have a large frame – big bones and all. Cake makes my bottom look wholesome. Don’t get me wrong! Wholesome is good. It’s all about wholesomeness these days ain’t it (just ask J. Lo and Nicki Minaj)? But the vain part of me wants to look svelte in a crop top damn it!
Crossing the threshold of the 30s realm is no walk in the park. Butter, sugar, eggs and flour stick to you like barnacles. In theory it sounds funny but in reality it’s rather morose. Putting on weight is easier. So cake seems more like a sin than something I enjoy eating. Calling cake a sin is a very strange thing to me! Like I’m betraying a loved one.
Then it hit me – I should have my cake and eat it too. Who says I can’t? If I want something that bad, I should do something about it. My imaginative mind cooked up cakes that had zero calories. Unfortunately, it remained a figment of my imagination.
What if I cheated? What if I tricked my brains. What if I tinkered with science and magic (ok not magic. joking)?
Many what ifs later, I dived into the world of glorious substitution. I bake and I cook all the time so who says I can’t make cakes slightly healthier? Jeez, how long did it take me to figure that out?
Better late than never yes?
#1 rule of guilt-free cake making – use an unrefined sugar substitute. Our bodies prefer natural food sources. If you can, use maple syrup or molasses or muscovado sugar.
#2 – Use gluten-free flour. But make sure you use the more nutritious ones. I prefer flours like brown rice and sorghum. I use the Bob’s Red Mills range. They have a wide variety.
#3 – Try to use a healthy frosting. Technically there is no such thing as a frosting that’s good for you. But this is where you improvise. I’ve discovered the miracle of avocado’s creaminess and am milking it for what it’s worth. Imagine feeling 101% good about licking the frosting off your cake and knowing that it has nutrients that are good for you!
So this is the story of how I found a way to cheat my body. My cakes are still equally delicious but just less ‘bad’.
Here’s a recipe you can try to kick-start your cheating ways:
Gluten Free Pound Cake.
Note that I replaced sweet rice flour with stoneground brown rice flour and used muscovado sugar instead of white sugar. I also halved the sugar.
Here’s to all the cakes in the world – gluten free or not. No cakes are made the same and thou shall not judge them but find a loophole to live healthy while caking through life.