The 3 P’s

Pumpkin, Products and Party

As usual at this point in my life, I am entirely behind a week in my pictures and posts, so this is from Friday a week ago.

That night we had a surprise party for one of my coworkers.  I decided that pumpkin would be the best for a dish to bring, so I made a variation of this pumpkin bread.  How convenient that I already had some canned pumpkin in the house.
I love my bread machine.
Usually it does a good job of mixing, but I have found some of the thicker sweet breads need a little help during the mixing process.
You can see that I did not get all the chunks out, but it was only a little flour on the top.
Then we headed to a local product expo.
Look at all the neat Azorean treats.
Mom, this picture is for you.  Timmerman’s is just like the Lambic’s.
Before we left, Ryan was hungry and got a giant taco salad from a street vendor.
Then we got to the party.  I was so happy that my bread was still warm.

This is a lasagna made by my coworker, Carter, whose lovely wife, Nicole had worked on reheating this dish and explaining everything that was inside, including pine nuts and a layer of lentils and another with garlic mashed potatoes, in addition to your usual lasagna fillings.  All vegetarian, which made me so excited to try this.
After it was reheated, it was topped with tomatoes and basil.
Another coworker made this cake for the Birthday girl, Ann, who teaches band at the school, hence a cake shaped like a guitar.
This salsa, which is famous around our school, was made by one of the school’s Spanish teachers.
Last, but not least, my pumpkin bread, which was a success.
After a very exhausting night, and week since I was an Algebra sub for the whole week, we headed home to watch a movie and go to sleep.

QUESTIONS:  When was the last time you went to a surprise party?  Has anyone ever thrown you a surprise party?

Thursday Thoughts: Food and Travel

It's Thursday, so you know what that means...

Thursday Thoughts

If you are new to my blog, or haven't been reading on Thursdays, this is a segment where I post my thoughts about various nutrition and health related topics, or maybe even something else if it is really an intriguing topic.  Most of my current views and opinions come from experience working as a dietitian and as college instructor in nutrition courses.  Most of that learning is science based or observational from the clinical setting.  In general, I hate over-generalizations, so for many of the things I post, I expect there is one or two exceptions because broad sweeping generalizations are always bound to miss out on something. 

This week I wanted to talk about something not so controversial, and more of just my thoughts on the topic of food and travel.  Now that we live overseas, we have the chance to travel more, and as many of you saw, I traveled quite a bit over the summer.  Since I am a vegetarian and I do have certain food preferences, I have had some experience with this topic.  The hardest for me was probably my travel to China, and I was prepared for that situation, plus our tour guides were very helpful.

1) Plan ahead.  This is probably the biggest part and all my other thoughts on this will play into the whole plan ahead topic.  The first thing to do after you decide where you are going, plan where to stay and how to travel, you want to investigate their food habits and traditional dishes.  This way you will know what to expect.  If you have no food dislikes and will eat just about anything, this may not pertain to you.  As a vegetarian, I like to know if there will be fish options (because I have included fish in my diet for several years now) or if they are predominately a meat eating country.  I can learn about the food and the culture and have an idea of what would be expected of me at meal times, and I would also know which meal would be the biggest.  In many European cultures, it is lunch that is the biggest meal of the day.  It is also good to have an idea of the times people dine because this can help you plan your sightseeing and other outings.

2) Learn some of the language.  At least learn some of the words for foods because it will make it easier to navigate a menu if there is not a menu in English available.  Knowing a few words can help you understand what dishes are being offered.  If you have a food allergy or dislike, it is helpful to know these words so you can avoid them.  Learning basic words and phrases related to ordering food and shopping are the most helpful and best places to start, because this can even help when at a sightseeing location.  The next most important I focus on are basic conversational phrases and things to help in areas of travel.  When you know well in advance where you are going, there is more time to focus on learning more of the language.  In Portugal now I have no issues with reading a menu and ordering food.  Many places that are more touristy will have English speaking staff and usually a menu or two in English.

3) If you have a food allergy, food preference (like vegetarian or vegan) or any dietary restrictions, learn how to express these in the native language.  Even better is to have it written on a card and carry this with you.  Google Translate can be helpful, but never rely just on the computer.  I would suggest checking with a dictionary in that language and also checking if you can with someone who does speak that language.  This can prevent any surprises and also prevent allergic reactions.  Always check on foods and never assume that an ingredient may not be present.  Anything is possible when you are not familiar with the food, and if it is for a medical reason, always check.

4) Bring back up food and snacks.  Not only are snacks good if you are traveling and sightseeing all day and are not able to stop and sit down at a typical meal time, but they are helpful if you get stuck in long lines are really just stuck anywhere.  Being a vegetarian, sometimes I have limited options.  I try to carry non-perishable small meal items with me, usually a tuna meal packet (because I do eat fish), or anything that I can easily carry and fix if I have no options.  This came in handy in China because there was a meal or two where I had no options and I knew I would get really hungry.  I have found many places will serve just vegetables, but you can never be sure.  I know it is great to be able to experience the local food, but sometimes it is not conducive to food prefs and specific dietary needs, so carrying something with you is a good idea.

5) My last thought is on bringing home local treats.  I love to explore grocery stores in other countries and I almost always buy more food than I can ever try, so I wind up needing to bring it home.  My advice on this would be that this is a great idea for starters because it prevents over eating on just about everything you wish you could try.  But, my second piece of advice is check with customs before you try traveling with food.  There may be special rules and guidelines and you do not want to get stuck at the airport sorting things out while trying to catch a flight.  I have never really had problems with snack type foods, but as you can imagine, produce is a whole different story, so check ahead.  I know from Hawaii we could bring back one pineapple, but anything more than that one and we needed to claim these and whatever else was the rule.  I like bringing back snacks too because I can let other people sample the yummy treats too.

Overall, there are many reasons to travel and not everyone will travel and dream of the wonderful food experiences they will have, but regardless, everyone will have to eat while on vacation and traveling, so it is important to plan ahead.  This is most important if you have special dietary needs or preferences, and travel can be much less stressful if you do have special needs and actually take the time in advance to learn about the food habits in a foreign country.  Oh, and I will stress again, just learning some basic food related terms will be so helpful and make your dining experiences more enjoyable.

QUESTIONS:  What are your tips for food and travel?  Have you ever had an usual dining experience while traveling?

The squash bandwagon

Ok, ok, it wasn’t hard to jump on this band wagon.  Actually for me it was a mater of having the squash available at the commissary.  I love squash and it makes fall just that much better.  I selected this recipe for one of my meals last week.  Don’t forget, I am still doing 2 dinners each week.  This time it was Moroccan-Style Stuffed Acorn Squash from  Of course due to the availability of squash around here, by the time I went to get my acorn squash they were out and it was going to be a while before I would see any again.  So I improvised…see below.
Here are some of my ingredients.  I also subbed quinoa for the couscous to improve the nutritional value.
Here is my squash option.  I bought this and had NO idea what this was.  Looks like a pumpkin…but only a little, and I did not think it was a pumpkin.  Thank heavens for my sister who is a squash expert.
Do you know what this is?

Within seconds of sending her this picture and telling her it tasted like sweet potato, she identified this for me.  This is a Red Kuri squash.  After looking it up on the internet, I see this is also called a Hokkaido which looks familiar and I think it may have said somewhere on the mixed squash sign at the commissary.  Since I was using these as boats for my quinoa, I cut it in half and baked it in the oven.
Then it was time to get to work on my quinoa filling.
I love that this had raisins and chickpeas.
Looks so good, and it smelled wonderful.
Then my squash were ready to be filled, after brushing with a little butter and brown sugar.
Oh yeah, that is a nice looking dinner.
This squash was so good, so if you see one, BUY IT!
My Thursday night dinner was a repeat, but I had to because Ryan really liked this and was still talking about the fish tacos.  I liked them a lot too so I couldn’t resist.  I know I wanted to do fish filets instead this time, but I went with the tilapia fish sticks again because they were not only easy, but really did taste good, just like the ones we used to get at a Mexican restaurant in Vegas.
This is one dinner that is here to stay and I so happy because it is so easy to do.
QUESTIONS:  Have you jumped on the squash bandwagon?  Have you ever seen or tried a Red Kuri squash?  What is your favorite squash?

Samples and the BEST fish ever

I am so excited to try out some samples I received in the mail.  First up are two sauces from Mr. Spice.  These are salt free, gluten free, dairy free, no MSG, organic, all natural, heck just about every healthy buzz word you can think of, and I think they look pretty good especially since I am not a sucker for buzz words on labels.  I know it is marketing, but this company really seems to have great products out there that I think will be great for people who do need to watch out for salt and gluten, good for vegans, and those who are avoiding HFCS.  I just got these in the mail and have not tried them, but I really can’t wait and I hope I am not disappointed.
Next up are some bars from Kardea Nutrition.  These are advertised for their fiber content and natural cholesterol management.  They have about 140 calories per bar and are aimed at managing heart disease.  The lemon ginger was good, but I could see myself preferring something else nutritious for my 140 calories.  Now, the banana walnut was a different story.  I loved this flavor.  I wish I had more.  The other 2 flavors I have not tried yet, but I am looking forward to this.  I was also disappointed with the lemon ginger because I found myself very hungry about an hour or so later.  I think it may have just been that I was really hungry that day, but since it was that bar I had just eaten, i associated my quick hunger with the bar.  My experience with the banana walnut was completely different.
Ryan had a fun food to try.  I showed this box of tapas he found a few weeks ago, and he finally tried them.  It was really neat.  This was a refrigerated package that went into the microwave in the package wrapper and cooked in there.  He said these little meat tapas were great and wants to buy them again.
Also at the local grocery store we found these ramen noodles.  They are no where near as cheap here as they are in the US.  This was a Thai product made in Finland (or something similar).  I bought mushroom flavor.
I make mine differently and it cuts down on sodium.  I drain all the liquid off and then eat just the noodles with a hint of flavor.  So it is more like past than a soup.
On to the super dinner we had a O Pescador the other night.  Sometimes we just get an urge to go out and east during the week.  Since I am cooking dinner twice during the week, it really only leaves Wednesday night for this, and last week we took the opportunity to head into town for a nice dinner.
We even had some red wine.  We always do white, so this was nice and different for us.
Ryan had the steak on the rock.  It is a charcoal stone and the steak continues to cook after it is brought to the table.  This is popular around here.  They even sell stones like this and ones that are electric so that people can eat like this at home.
It was a big piece of meat, but the dog was thankful for that.  Ginger had some, mostly because it helped her to swallow the giant antibiotic she has been taking.
The steak came with the salad and French fries.  French fries here are really good and most restaurants make these on the premises.
I ordered the wreckfish, but they were out, so I went with the fresh fish from the case.  I ordered the boca negra, which is usually a small fish, served whole.  Ryan was facing the case and noticed they cut a big fish in half.  I was really curious about this, so when it showed up and looked like this, I was excited.
The boca negra (literally black mouth) was large, and then cooked it intact, but cut it open, so there were still bones and the skin, plus the tail because I had the back half.  It was truly the best fish I have ever been served at this restaurant, and maybe even anywhere on this island in a while.  It was fantastic.  Too bad it is not always on the menu.  This fish was served with potatoes and veggies underneath.
Then we had coffees to end the meal.
QUESTIONS:  Have you tried any new products lately?  Any samples?  When was the last time a meal pleasantly surprised you?