getting it right

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So most days I’m a total mess and I have horrible anxiety that I don’t know what I’m doing with my life because I have no career goals and all I really want to do is hang out at the circus.

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But every once in a while, I realize I’m actually a genius.

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Sugar-free, gluten-free, gelatin-free, agar-free, cream-cheese-free, Whole Life Challenge friendly cheesecake. Cheesecake.

And it’s not even made out of super expensive cashews.

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As one would expect given that it has no sugar, it’s not sweet at all. It’s slightly tart and coconutty and the hazelnut crust is to die for. It’s thick and it’s creamy and I topped it with berries and it might be the best thing to ever happen to me.

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Oh man… This cheesecake.

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Please make it.

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Whole Life Challenge Cheesecake

Note: You’ll have to prepare ahead for this one… The Greek yogurt should be drained overnight. Put a sieve over a pan or bowl and then line it with cheesecloth or muslin. Dump all the Greek yogurt into the cheesecloth and let the whey drip out overnight.

Ingredients

Crust

one cup hazelnuts, toasted
one cup almond meal
one cup unsweetened shredded coconut
six tablespoons butter, melted

Filling

one 500mL container of Greek yogurt, strained overnight (see note)
about half a 400mL can of coconut milk – mine had separated (if you keep the can upright and try not to shake it too much when moving/opening the top it should separate. Unfortunately I don’t know how long this takes) so I skimmed all the cream for this recipe and used the rest for something else.
half tablespoon vanilla powder (this is expensive, so it’s optional. I would highly recommend it though.)
one egg

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Blast the hazelnuts, almond meal, and coconut in a food processor or blender until they’re crumbs. In a small bowl, combine the crumbs with the melted butter. Press it into a pie plate and bake for about 10 minutes. Take it out and throw it in the fridge.
Combine all the filling ingredients in a medium bowl, and stir gently until the egg is fully incorporated and everything is well mixed. Pull your crust out of the fridge and pour the filling into the centre. Throw it back in the oven for about 40 minutes – you want the edges of the cheesecake to brown and the middle to look set.
Let the cheesecake cool completely in the fridge for a few hours before serving so it has time to set. Serve with berries for some added sweetness.

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good effort

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So the Whole Life Challenge is going swimmingly.

(I don’t know why I chose that particular word. I dislike all water sports.)

The problem is that I think I may be missing the point.

While everyone else is getting used to gnawing on carrots and celery all day, I’m, well, getting creative.

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I’m experimenting with just how many non-compliant foods I can make without breaking any rules. Sugar-free, gluten-free, cheese-free baking? I’m all over it. I’ve made matcha cookies and banana bread and cheesecake and chicken pot pie and brownies.

But while I haven’t technically cheated, I’m not sure that the creators of this challenge intended for me to eat brownies all the time.

But hey – they’re 68-calorie brownies. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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Brownies (gluten-free, sugar-free, paleo)

Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine
Makes 16 small brownies

Ingredients

one cup dates, pitted and chopped – if you use super hard dates you may need to soak them first.
two cups beets, chopped and cooked
half cup cocoa powder
half teaspoon baking powder
pinch red pepper flakes
one teaspoon cinnamon
three eggs

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8″ square pan and set aside.
In a food processor (I used my Vitamix), blend dates and beets until mushy. Scrape into a mixing bowl and stir in remaining ingredients.
Spread into the prepared square pan and bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Note: you have to let these cool completely (even throw them in the fridge) before serving – I can’t stress this enough! I tried one right out of the oven and almost tossed the whole batch. Instead, because I’m lazy, they sat on my counter for a few days until I pawned a couple off onto my friend and she texted me a few minutes later to tell me they were amazing. So I tasted one and she was right. (I probably shouldn’t have written that online; she’s never going to trust me when I give her baking again.)

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For once in my life I don’t feel like I can’t put a sentence together. The tone of the voice in my head perfectly matches what I want my blog posts to sound like.

But I have nothing to talk about.

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I’m just over halfway through the Whole Life Challenge, I’m at either circus or dance every day of the week, work has been super busy, and I haven’t left Vancouver since Christmas.

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The only things I can tell you about are my obsession with greeting cards and these kale chips I made.

I know. Kale chips. I feel like a total let-down. I’m sorry.

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Kale Chips

Ingredients

one bunch curly kale
olive oil
coarse sea salt

Directions

Wash the kale, and tear it into small-ish pieces. Get rid of the thick part of the stem. Pat them dry and let them sit on paper towels for a few hours – any leftover water will steam them in the oven and they won’t be crispy.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Rub olive oil into the kale, and then spread them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes; you want them to be crispy (pull them out and touch them to see if they’re ready, just be careful not to burn yourself) but not brown on the edges – that means they’ve burnt. Mine took 18 minutes.

ugh, hearts and candy

Oh God it’s almost Valentine’s Day.

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For some of you that’s awesome and you get to go restaurants with your significant others and spoon feed each other, and for others it means crying alone into your tub of chocolate ice cream.

(I’d just like to reiterate: there’s no being judgey on this blog.)

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I’m somewhere in the middle. The manfriend exists, so perhaps ice cream isn’t the answer (who am I kidding, ice cream is always the answer) but he is still out of town, so he can’t be the one to spoon feed me the ice cream (and also I find the spoon feeding thing really weird).

Unfortunately I’m still on the Whole Life Challenge, so single or alone or none of the above, I can’t dig into the chocolate ice cream. I can’t make heart shaped cookies. I can’t angrily bite off the heads of gummy bears who never did anything to me.

So I will just have to live with these Challenge-friendly banana muffins, a bowl of berries, and my lover-on-the-side. (Netflix. Calm yourself.)

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Happy Valentine’s Day, D. I love you for being lactose intolerant so I never have to share my dessert with you when we go out for dinner.

Blueberry Banana Muffins (gluten-free)

Ingredients

two cups almond meal
half tablespoon baking soda
halt teaspoon salt
half scoop (my scoop is 37g) protein powder (I used chocolate)
three ripe bananas
two eggs
half cup plain greek yogurt
half cup coconut oil
half cup blueberries
quarter cup pecans

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a muffin tin and set aside.
In a large bowl, mash bananas well. Whisk in eggs, yogurt, and oil, and mix really well. Then stir in the almond meal, baking soda, salt, and protein powder. Fold in berries and nuts. It’s gluten-free, so there’s no risk of over-mixing!
Spoon batter into the prepared muffin tin – I got 14 muffins out of the recipe. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

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Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

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Ha Long Bay was a beautiful backdrop to a whirlwind of scheduled activities.

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We took a two-night tour with Ha Long Best Cruises on the Marguerite boat, though I believe most of the tours are the same. The scenery was gorgeous, but there seemed to be a designated time when all the boats brought all the tourists to one stop, be it a man-made beach with a mini market, a giant cave where they’d cemented in stairs and cordoned off a path, or a pearl farm that looked like it might not actually be real. We would all crowd in, and then all disperse. I would have preferred to spend time relaxing on deck and just cruising around away from all the other boats, but that appeared to not be an option.

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Still, at the end of the day, the bay was beautiful and the food was delicious, so I can’t complain.

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And hey, maybe I should be less judgemental about someone wanting to schedule 20 minutes of rest time into my day. I’m back at work now, and that seems like a pretty thoughtful itinerary addition.

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once more, with feeling

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We’re doing some early-year reassessing around here.

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This needs to happen because I am more than a quarter of a century old, and I don’t even have it together enough to make my bed when the manfriend goes out of town. (Actually, I don’t make it when he’s in town either, because I get up before he does. Maybe that’s why I still don’t make it when he’s away? Food for thought… I’m probably just lazy though.)

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So yeah. I also have other priorities that could probably get in order.

Like, maybe I should stop live-texting / Facebook messaging / emailing my life to my best friend. It’s a good thing I’m not a Sony executive, because, well, a lot of reasons. Partly I’m not very politically correct, but also their movies would all suck from now on, because I have screen-ADD and can barely get through an episode of Girls.

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I could go on with areas of my life that need work, but I think I’ll leave it at that.

Anyway, where I was going with all of this (I had a plan from the very beginning! Totally grown up of me, right?) is that I’m back on the Whole Life Challenge and that, my dears, means that vegetables are getting all up in this business.

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Root Vegetable Pie

Adapted from Happyolks

For those of you keeping tabs on me: no, I’m not allowed pie crust on the challenge. I made this before the challenge started, but had extra vegetables leftover, which I ate without the pie crust once the challenge started. Delicious either way.

Ingredients

one pie crust (recipe suggestion)
four small beets
three small-ish carrots
half a small butternut squash
a generous drizzle of olive oil
a few generous shakes of sea salt
two shallots
one cup flat-leaf parsley
four ounces of Gorgonzola cheese
two teaspoons dijon mustard

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Chop beets and squash into about one-inch cubes, and slice carrots in half lengthwise. Place in a 9×13 baking pan and top with olive oil and salt. Bake until carrots are just starting to soften; about 45 minutes.
In the meantime, mince shallots, chop parsley, and crumble cheese. Mix them all together with dijon mustard.
When the roasted vegetables are done, toss them together with the shallot mixture. Roll out your pie pastry and fill with vegetables. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the pie crust is done. If you’re Whole Life Challenging, forget the pie crust steps and just roast in the 400 degree oven until the beets and squash are soft enough for you to eat.

Note: this recipe reheats really well – just throw it back into the oven at 400 degrees until it’s warmed through.

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Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

After my essay on Ho Chi Minh City, there’s not too much to say about Phu Quoc: it’s a touristy island with great beaches.

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photo (4)Recommendations:

Ong Lang Beach – we had to try a couple routes to find a way to the beach that wasn’t on private resort land, but once we made it we had a huge stretch of beach to ourselves.

Sao Beach – a busier but gorgeous beach, with food and drinks available to be brought to rentable beach chairs.

Huong Viet Restaurant – I’m not entirely sure of the name; it should be near Ut Phuong Resort. We swam in the river and had a late lunch, and then they butchered a duck about 5 feet away from us. Perhaps not for the faint of heart, but the food was delicious.