Thursday, September 23, 2010


This weekend, the Engineer and I will be moving to our new house. Our mortgage loan hasn’t been finalized yet (more on that in a second), but the sellers have agreed to rent us their house until the closing date. We’re pretty much as far north as you can go in San Antonio, so we’ll have to deal with traffic to come into town, but at least we have some space up there. We are so looking forward to finally settling in! It’ll be the first time we have an address without an apartment number.

We recently found out (a month after our offer was accepted, mind you) that the house has quartz countertops in the kitchen (which have always been my ultimate dream) as well as fiber-to-the-home (the Engineer’s dream). The downside is that we will be without phone, television or internet for a week! Being offline that long will be really hard for me, especially since I’m always checking email, Facebook or blogs (and I’ve been faithfully watching Nate Berkus since his first show). Everything should be set up by October 1st, hopefully earlier. It’ll be at least another week after that until we have our fridge (we’ve got a mini-fridge to tide us over until then, but it’s going to be a challenge).

I mentioned that our mortgage loan hasn’t been finalized yet. If you’ll allow me a moment to rant... The Engineer and I both have excellent credit in Canada. The reason we moved to San Antonio is because he was offered a dream job, with a salary that allows us to pay a decent mortgage each month. And we’ve been saving up for years for this purpose; we’re putting 20% down on the house and have money left in the bank. So getting a mortgage loan shouldn’t be complicated, right? But because apparently the US and Canada have different systems, we have no credit here. It’s like we were born yesterday; we don’t have American credit cards yet, and the Engineer’s credit limit with his bank is so small it’s laughable (and I don’t even qualify for a credit limit, which is even more laughable). I mean, Canada and the US are practically the same country on so many levels – why can’t they sign some sort of agreement to make this transition easier on their citizens? We have to jump through so many hoops and bend over backward, and still we’re treated like we’re 18 years old and can’t be trusted with money! The situation is incredibly frustrating, especially when we know that we HAVE the money. We have a certain sense of entitlement and feel that we should have the same privileges in both countries; I’m sure Americans who move to Canada feel the same. I keep saying Sandra Bullock’s line from that movie: “Deported? It’s not like I’m an immigrant or something. I’m from Canada!”

We still have to figure out the decoration, but that’s the fun part (rest assured, it won’t be as crazy as drawing on the walls!). We bought the essential furniture we’ll need, and we’ll just take our time with the rest – though I can’t wait for our things to get here from Montreal so I can unpack and really feel at home.

I’ll be back in October (at the latest) with a bunch of recipes I didn’t get to post yet. Rest assured that nothing too interesting will happen on the kitchen front in the coming weeks, what with not having a fridge or access to recipes. Our friends Rob and Jen bought their first house a few years ago, and Jen said that there is so much maintenance work and so many expenses involved that sometimes, we’ll wonder why we left our apartment for this. She suggested we make a list, so that when it gets hard, we can read it and remember why we wanted a house so much in the first place. I’ll leave you with our top reasons.

When we have a house, we...
- will have a dining room and will host diners
- will have a guest room and will host guests
- will have awesome storage for spices, appliances, Christmas decorations, etc.
- will have counter space in the kitchen and in the bathroom
- will have more than one bathroom
- will have off-street parking
- will have a yard and a garden
- will be able to control the temperature in our home
- won’t have to endure noise or smells from other adjacent apartments
- will have our own washer and dryer (with options like “gentle cycle”, “spin” and “cool air cycle”)
- will finally have “une maison qu’on peut faire le tour” (as I’ve been dreaming about since I was little).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rob, this one's for you

I'd never seen that many barbecues at a grocery store - especially in September.

These have a designated section!

Salsa... But what's the Engineer pointing at?

The huge containers of picante sauce, of course!

Barbecue sauce.

Bonus for Rob: mustard!

Ramblings about moving

Leaving Montreal was bittersweet. After all, I spent 12 years there (and the Engineer, his whole life). It is still my favourite city in the world, and the place that feels most like home. That being said, we’ve got a great life ahead of us in San Antonio, which is a beautiful city too. And there were certain things that made it easier to leave Montreal. Like the fact that the mountain won’t be as accessible as before. Like the fact that our neighbourhood was hosting constructionfest for the foreseeable future. Like the fact that our bus route was altered consequently in a way that makes it less convenient, and no one knows whether this is permanent. The accordion buses were a nice touch, though, as was the (incredibly) long-awaited Bus 747 - on the bright side, we can make use of that one next time we fly in. My point is that things were starting to change anyway, and that made the transition easier.

At first, we didn’t know quite where we would end up. There was talk of Alberta, Pennsylvania, California and New York State, including New York City. While the culture and climate of those places seemed close to that of Montreal (or at least, closer than that Texas), I did have reservations about New York City, especially after doing some research. This website shows the average income of residents in the various neighbourhoods of the city, along with how much it costs to rent a 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom or 3-bedroom apartment. (This, of course, when what we really wanted was to own a house with a yard.) I was convinced we would only be able to afford the smallest apartment in New York City! Luckily, we ended up someplace much more affordable.

Texas is a big change culturally, sure, but all the stereotypes you might have don’t necessarily hold true (at least not in a metropolitan center that voted for Obama). Our dog’s name, Darwin, has yet to cause anything but smiles on the face of those who hear it. (Well, there was the one woman in the housedress who obstinately called him Charlie, but maybe that’s short for Charles Darwin, so I’m not jumping to conclusions, even though she’s been avoiding us since then.)The climate is much warmer – some would say nicer, especially since this summer hasn’t been as hot as the previous ones. But even though I’ll enjoy the mild winters, I’ll miss leaves turning red and making snowmen. Taxes here are much lower than in Quebec, and Texas doesn’t have a state income tax, but any savings we make that way will be immediately sucked into paying for healthcare and medical insurance. The cost of life is relatively low. There are stores like Whole Foods, Petco and The Container Store ; I’m pretty much giddy from the moment I step in there until I have to leave.

Even grocery stores are different. There is just so much more choice in the States than in Canada! On the downside, some products are different (like the Nesquik mix for chocolate milk, which has a different recipe here than in Canada – next time we’re having family come visit us, I’ll ask that they bring me a big old container of Canadian Nesquik with reduced sugar and added vitamins and minerals; the American version just isn’t doing it for me). And you know how we’re used to grocery stores having impulse items like candy bars and trashy magazines near the cash registers? Here, the impulse items are whole roasted chickens and gourmet foodie magazines! Servings are also big in Texas; if you go to the movies and buy a small soda, they’ll give you what is basically a bucket with a straw. Most fast-food restaurants give you free refills on drinks, too. And when you want something supersized, down here, it’s actually called “Texas-sized”. Great. I bought cotton balls, and there were two sizes available: super jumbo and triple-sized. Where are the regular-sized anything?

The wildlife is also quite different, especially the bugs. Basically, everything is bigger and everything is venomous. We’ve been warned about spiders like the black widow and the brown recluse (both potentially deadly), as well as scorpions. We saw the biggest daddy-long-legs we’d ever seen. There are big black crickets that seem to infiltrate every store in town and die on the premises. And we also had a huge cockroach (about 2 inches long). I’d seen big roaches in my day, bigger than 2 inches even, but mostly in Asia and places with tropical climates. I somehow thought that with my feet firmly in the northern part of the American continent, that was behind me – but no. As it turns out, Texas has the perfect climate for those Texas-sized beasts. I hope I don’t encounter any more (with one sighting in two months in a rental apartment, there’s a chance that was the only one I’ll see, but still). The Engineer saw a Texas spiny lizard on two occasions, but all I’ve seen are frogs (perhaps they’re toads, actually). Oh, and one teeny tiny green gecko. We’re getting used to turtledoves, but the grackles still retain that novelty factor. There are also birds of prey which we mistook for falcons or hawks at first, since those are the ones we’re used to. But we saw some up close, including one perched on top of a telephone pole outside town: they’re vultures. Like in Lucky Luke! Actual big ole vultures!

Up next: pictures from specific aisles at HEB , by special request. :)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sacoche Mary Poppins

Dimanche soir, j’ai lu le plus récent billet de Gaga mais avertie, qui parlait de sacoche. Lucie fait référence au défi lancé par Mamanbooh!. Il s’agit de prendre une photo de notre sacoche, puis d’en décrire le contenu en nommant les cinq objets les plus indispensables (elle nomme les siens ici).

Petite introduction dans mon cas : depuis environ deux ans, j’ai une belle petite sacoche rouge que je nomme ma sacoche Mary Poppins (photo ci-haut). Elle est petite et passe-partout, mais loge étonnamment de choses. Pour vous donner un exemple, quand je la portais pour aller au Centre Bell ou à des endroits semblables, jamais on ne vérifiait si elle contenait de bouteille d’eau – et pourtant, la mienne y loge, debout. J’y mettais tous les objets que j’énumère plus bas, et il me restait de la place pour un appareil photo numérique, un iPod, un cellulaire, un mini-parapluie et un gros ruban à mesurer de 30 pieds (ben quoi, on magasinait des meubles). J’avais acheté cette sacoche aux Ailes de la Mode, en solde à 14,99 $! (Je ne trouve malheureusement aucun nom de marque dessus ni dedans.)

Elle était vraiment parfaite, à un détail près : elle n’est pas en cuir, mais en mousse de polyuréthane, ce qui fait qu’elle se désintégrait littéralement depuis un certain temps. J’en cherchais donc une autre. J’en avais vue une superbe (de mémoire chez Browns sur Sainte-Catherine, mais je ne la retrouve pas sur le site web). Si je ne l’ai pas achetée sur le champ, c’est que l’Ingénieur et moi avons une règle : aucun achat supérieur à 100 $ sans l’accord préalable de l’autre. Bon, je suis sûre qu’il aurait compris si je le lui avais expliqué après coup, mais à ce moment-là, je me voyais mal demander à la caissière si je pouvais emprunter le téléphone pour appeler mon mari au travail et lui demander « la permission » d’acheter ladite sacoche (quand même!). J’ai donc quitté le Québec sans l’acheter, et honnêtement, je crois y avoir pensé presque chaque jour depuis. Je regrette sincèrement de ne pas l’avoir achetée! L’Ingénieur est maintenant au courant que je risque de faire cette dépense un jour ou l’autre.

J’ai une deuxième sacoche que j’utilise beaucoup (photo ci-dessous). Elle est plus grosse que la sacoche Mary Poppins et a de plus une longue ganse que je peux porter sur l’épaule en diagonale. Je l’utilise quand j’ai davantage de choses à porter, comme des documents 8"x10". Je l’utilisais aussi en hiver, car la ganse me permettait de la porter même avec un gros manteau style bonhomme Michelin, et de plus, sa grandeur me permettait d’y fourrer chapeau, gants et foulard quand j’entrais dans un cinéma ou un magasin. Cependant, je la trouve trop grande pour l’utiliser au quotidien, surtout dans un climat clément.

Samedi, la fermeture éclair de la sacoche Mary Poppins a enfin lâché (je dis enfin, car je le sentais venir). On est passés chez Stein Mart, où j’ai acheté la sacoche turquoise que vous voyez plus bas. Elle a le même profil que la sacoche Mary Poppins, mais avec deux poches supplémentaires (elle est donc plus grosse, ce qui est peu pratique car elle loge sous le bras). Et surprise : elle loge moins! J’en suis donc assez déçue. Et les ganses sont minces, ce qui fait qu’elles deviennent vite douloureuses. Aussi, même problème, elle est en matériel artificiel qui risque de ne pas durer plus de quelques années. J’ai donc l’impression que je n’ai que repoussé ma quête d’une sacoche à la fois belle, pratique et durable...

Voici donc les objets que j’avais ce matin dans ma sacoche :
- carte du Texas (je la mets dans le coffre à gants de l’auto aujourd’hui, promis);
- lunettes fumées (gros format, car elles doivent être portées par-dessus mes lunettes habituelles);
- bouteille d’eau;
- portefeuille (qui, je le fais remarquer, est tout à fait ordonné et n’est pas bourré de factures);
- permis de conduire temporaire du Texas (en attendant d’en avoir un sans faute d’orthographe dans mon prénom);
- stylo;
- bidule pour accrocher une sacoche à une table de resto au lieu de la poser par terre;
- sac en nylon pliable;
- mouchoirs en papier;
- petite bouteille de Purell;
- cartes d’affaires (qui sont là par réflexe et que je devrais retirer de la sacoche, puisque je ne peux travailler aux États-Unis avec mon statut H4);
- linge pour nettoyer mes lunettes;
- carnet avec numéros de téléphone utiles;
- petite pochette contenant pansements, soie dentaire, fond de teint, pastille, feuilles de Listerine;
- boîtier contenant des Lactaid;
- porte-clés avec une ampoule DEL étonnamment lumineuse (ça n’a l’air de rien comme ça, mais la fois où l’Ingénieur a laissé tomber sa bague d’ingénieur sur le sol d’un bar la nuit, c’est grâce à mon porte-clés qu’on l’a retrouvée; également pratique pour remplacer un briquet lors d’un concert);
- lime à ongles;
- élastique;
- baume à lèvres;
- bas de nylon (vous connaissez ma difficulté à trouver des chaussures; j’ai donc décidé d’être toujours prête à en essayer, d’un coup que je tomberais pas hasard sur la bonne paire);
- menthes Rio au thé vert;
- clés de l’appartement;
- clé de l’auto;
- quelques articles d’hygiène féminine (toujours cachés dans la pochette intérieure à fermeture éclair et pas montrés sur la photo);
- deux balles de laine (achetées samedi et trimballées dans ma sacoche depuis car je cherche des boutons qui s’agencent avec les couleurs; j’ignore encore les bons endroits où trouver des boutons à San Antonio, voilà pourquoi je trimballe ma laine).

Oui, ça paraît énorme, surtout que ce n’est pas une sacoche de maman, mais j’ai quand même arrêté depuis longtemps de trimballer un livre avec moi. Cela dit, la nouvelle sacoche turquoise est pleine – pas question d’y rajouter quoi que ce soit (appareil photo ou autre), et la bouteille d’eau est couchée dans une poche et fait donc des bruits d’eau à tout bout de champ.

Les cinq objets qui me sont le plus importants : mon portefeuille, ma bouteille d’eau, le baume à lèvres, les Lactaid et les mouchoirs. Puis les clés, quand même. Plus la lime à ongle, le linge à lunettes et les petites menthes (c’est tout petit, ça ne compte pas comme vrais objets, hein?). Je pourrais éventuellement me passer du carnet avec les numéros de téléphone si j’avais un cellulaire dédié où transférer toutes ces informations.

Un objet que j’aimerais trouver : une autre belle petite sacoche Mary Poppins. Si vous pouvez me diriger vers le bon endroit, je suis toute ouïe!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


You may have noticed a tag that wasn’t there when I first started this blog: “vegan/végétalien”. I’m not vegan, nor are any of my close friends or relatives. So why the tag? Well, because I believe in veganism. In part because of the convenience of knowing that anything that is vegan is automatically lactose-free, sure, and because it just sounds healthy, but mostly because I strongly disapprove of the conditions in which most “farm” animals are raised and slaughtered. I put the word “farm” in quotation marks here because the traditional farm model is no longer used – and that’s part of the problem. The vast majority of animal products on the market today come from factory farming (the key word being “factory”).

Jonathan Safran Foer wrote a hugely popular book called Eating Animals; Natalie Portman then wrote a great article on why that book was enough to turn her from vegetarian to vegan. You can also see the author discuss the book with Ellen De Generes on her show. And here’s another good article musing as to how we decide why it’s okay to eat certain animals and not others. I recommend the documentary Food, Inc. if you want to learn more about this. It’s not for veganism per se, but it’s a real eye-opener about how much crap goes into our food. Oprah also did a show on this topic. People who have seen Food, Inc. have started looking at alternative places to buy their animal products; others are exploring ethical slaughter and ways to find places that sell or serve ethically raised meat. All of this has more to do with Slow Food than with veganism, though.

So what is veganism, exactly? In short, a vegan is someone who doesn’t use any animal products. No meat, poultry, fish or seafood products or by-products, of course, but also no eggs, no dairy and no honey. And it extends to things other than food: no leather, no wool, no silk either. Animal products can hide almost anywhere, like in sugar; according to Wikipedia, “the sugar refining industry often uses bone char (calcinated animal bones) for decolorizing. About 25% of sugar produced in the U.S. is processed using bone char as a filter, the remainder being processed with activated carbon.” It is still interesting to note that a vegan food item is not automatically healthy: shortening is vegan, potato chips are vegan, most donuts are vegan, etc. That being said, vegans also tend to be very health-conscious, so a balanced vegan diet is centered on foods like whole grains, legumes and vegetables, with sugar and fat being used only on occasion.

While I suspect most people get into veganism for moral or ethical reasons, it turns out that they often stick with it for health reasons. Vegans report numerous health improvements, including clearer skin, easier digestion, lessening or disappearance of symptoms of asthma and chronic allergies, etc. This may or may not have anything to do with the animal products themselves, but you have to take into consideration the fact that most cows on the market, for example, are raised with antibiotics in feedlots and are killed in inhumane conditions, all of which affect the contents of the beef and dairy we buy (and none of which is particularly good for us). Some people are more sensitive to it than others. It is also true that meat is harder to digest than plant matter; as a matter of fact, many runners turn vegan when they are in training, even if they aren’t full-time vegans. And while there is less calcium in plant-based foods than in dairy, it is more easily absorbed by the body – actually, scientists think that most nutrients are more easily absorbed by the body when one does not consume animal products. (As an example, I’ll remind you that while a traditional Chinese diet contains no dairy, Chinese women have a much lower rate of osteoporosis than North American women. So clearly, dairy is not the only way to get sufficient calcium!)

So if I believe in veganism, why am I not vegan? The short answer is twofold (see, even my short answers aren’t that short!): 1) there are too many things I like that I would have to give up completely if I went vegan (bacon, cheeseburgers, eggs, lactose-free ice cream, pork tenderloin, duck breast, sharp cheddar, goat cheese, red tuna. etc.); and 2) since I’m still having issues eating my vegetables, I’m afraid that I wouldn’t have enough to fall back on if I stuck strictly to plant-based food, or at least that the adaptation would be really rough for me. Let it be noted, though, that it is easier to be vegan in some places than in others: I’m sure there’s more choice in, say, Berkeley than in Texarkana. I only recently found vegan creamer in grocery stores in Montreal. I was confronted with this problem recently, as I read Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet. The book is very informative, and it contains a lot of recipes that look delicious. However, most of them call for ingredients that are not readily available in most grocery stores in Montreal, though I’ve seen them in the U.S. (vegan cheeses, Veganaise, seitan, tofu sour cream, umeboshi plums and vinegar, kombu seaweed, kabocha squash, Earth Balance margarine, spirulina, Stevia, carob powder, etc.). So while those recipes look great, I think I’ll use this book more when I’m settled in my Texas kitchen and shop at Whole Foods. Four of the recipes are online, so you can take a look (and don’t forget the blog, which has posts about food as well as health, style and the environment). I definitely recommend The Kind Diet to anyone who is trying to find out more about a vegan lifestyle, though.

That being said, I do enjoy vegan meals once in a while. I’m not officially doing the Meat-Free Mondays, but I do support the cause. I don’t eat a lot of red meat, and I don’t buy baby animals like veal or lamb (tough if I’m eating at someone else’s house and that’s what they’re serving, I’ll eat it and I’ll probably enjoy it, too). I used to buy eggs from free-run chicken, but since I found out that “free-run” isn’t actually as good as it sounds (since it doesn’t even mean that the hens can go outside, as opposed to free-range animals), I prefer organic or pastured eggs if I can find them. I do this for humane reasons, but as a bonus, those eggs are healthier, too! Now that I have the option of organic lactose-free milk, that’s also what I prefer. And I make it a point to cook satisfying vegetarian or vegan meals (though not necessarily on Mondays). I recently found out that there’s a term for my eating habits – apparently, I’m a flexitarian. I’m not sure I like the label, but whatever.

There are websites that group a lot of vegetarian and vegan meal ideas, though any Google search will give you thousands. Personally, I tend to prefer meals that don’t contain meat to begin with, as opposed to those that use mock meat. More and more restaurants are having vegan options on their menus, because as celebrities (like Alicia Silverstone, Natalie Portman or Chelsea Clinton, not to mention the fictional Todd Ingram with his vegan superpowers) announce they are vegan, it becomes more and more mainstream. And if you want to help change laws and create more humane conditions for animals, read how Europe has made eggs safer than North America by improving hens’ quality of life.

(I’ll get off my soapbox now.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Warm Potato Salad with Cilantro and Toasted Cumin

Another quick and filling recipe from The Kitchn that’s great to make if you have either little time or few resources in your kitchen. We had this for dinner, but leftovers made a great lunch, even straight from the fridge. This made a lot (perhaps 6 small or reasonably sized servings, but you’ll have more if you only use this as a side).

2 Tbsp kosher salt
2 lbs red potatoes, chopped into roughly 2-inch pieces
1 bunch cilantro, stems trimmed and removed
3 large shallots
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ Tbsp whole cumin seeds
½ lemon
freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Stir in the kosher salt. Add the diced potatoes and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are tender but not yet mush. Drain and return to the pot.

Chop the cilantro roughly and stir it into the hot potatoes. Slice the shallots thinly and stir them in too.

Pour the olive oil into a small skillet and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is quite hot, stir in the cumin seeds. Cook for about 45 seconds, stirring frequently, until the cumin and oil smell toasty and the cumin has darkened slightly. Carefully pour the contents of the skillet over the potatoes. Stir thoroughly.

Juice the half lemon and stir the juice in as well. Season to taste with black pepper, and any additional salt if needed. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

All-Bran's Cocoa Banana Muffins

I got this recipe from the All-Bran website via my friend Jen. These muffins combine chocolate and bananas, a great flavour partnership, but they also have the added benefit of containing 3.6g of fibre per serving (which would make my father very proud). The recipe makes 12 muffins, which were particularly nice to get us out of a breakfast rut.

1 cup All-Bran Original cereal
1 cup (lactose-free) milk
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
2 ripe bananas (medium size)
1 egg
¼ cup margarine, melted

Preheat oven to 400 °F and line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners.

In a large mixing bowl, combine cereal and milk. Let stand 2 or 3 minutes or until cereal is softened.

Stir together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, soda and salt; set aside.

Peel the bananas; mash one and slice one.

To the softened cereal, add egg, margarine and mashed bananas; beat well. Stir in sliced banana.

Add flour mixture, stirring just until combined.

Portion batter evenly into the liners.

Bake for 20 to 22 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Lack of evidence for lactose remedies?

My friend Rob recently emailed me an article synopsis distributed by the Canadian Medical Association. It said “Lack of evidence for lactose remedies” (!), in reference to Systematic Review: Effective Management Strategies for Lactose Intolerance by Shaukat, Levitt, Taylor et al. This synopsis said: “Good evidence does not exist for lactose-reduced milk, lactase supplements, or probiotics to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms of lactose intolerance in people older than 4 years. Most studies were of low quality and did not find a benefit over placebo”. Well, at least they flat out admit that the studies were of low quality! I was flabbergasted to hear that some people – scientists, even – were actually saying that they didn’t see the benefits of treatments for lactose intolerance, when I live with it every day and see the benefits first-hand. How could this be?

So I read the article itself to find out more. It is a government-funded literature review, not an original study with participants. That in and of itself is a problem, because the authors admit that the different studies reviewed had not only different protocols, but different definitions of lactose intolerance. The authors also found that participants could drink a cup of milk without a problem, more if it was taken with food. While it is true that I can digest lactose more easily if there is other food involved, there’s no possible way I can drink a cup of regular milk and not get really sick. There are different degrees of lactose intolerance, though, so I figured perhaps the patients in the studies reviewed were only mildly lactose intolerant – in which case, it’s too bad the sample wasn’t more representative. But it turns out that the authors flat out say that most of the subjects suffered from lactose malabsorption rather than lactose intolerance. One of the studies cited actually said: "Participants were not required to have symptoms compatible with lactose intolerance before enrollment". So I think the authors shouldn't be generalizing their findings to the LI population and saying that products like lactase are ineffective in our case, because that’s not helping anyone! I mean, how can the study be about lactose intolerance if none of the participants are lactose intolerant? How does this get funded and subsequently published?

Another problem (as if I needed to dig any further) is that different brands of lactose-reduced milk might have different methods of removing lactose, and therefore different levels of lactose remaining once they are sold. I’ve had issues with that since moving here a month ago (I'm trying different brands now, since my Natrel is not available here, but I think the last one I tried still had too much lactose in it for my body). The same is true about lactase pills: different brands have different strengths and act more or less quickly, so whatever brand was used in those studies may not have been appropriate for the participants anyway. And on the subject of probiotics: the bacteria that help break down lactose are (or at least include) Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. But when a product like yogurt claims to have probiotics or active cultures, it doesn’t necessarily have those particular ones! So the yogurt has greater odds of being digestible for LI sufferers than if it didn’t have probiotics (probably because odds are then greater that it's real yogurt made the old-fashioned way with bacteria that make our life easier), but there’s no way to know for sure without either knowing exactly what’s inside or actually trying it to see how our body reacts. (By the way, here’s what Steve Carper, from Planet Lactose, said about yogurt and probiotics: Part 1 and Part 2).

Regarding Systematic Review: Effective Management Strategies for Lactose Intolerance, my friend Rob says: “I am biased in thinking that it is a good article, since it is published in a reputable journal, although even the best journals make mistakes. I think the key point I take from this is the surprising paucity of well-done research on the subject. I would have imagined that there would be more and better studies, especially considering the relatively high prevalence (especially amongst certain ethnicities) of lactose intolerance.” Personally, I think that the reason there is so little research done on the subject is that lactose intolerance is not really a disease – if anything, it’s actually the norm, with the exception of Caucasians. No one will die from it and it is easily treatable, so the potential to get rich by finding a cure for it is limited. (I’ve heard claims by Lactagen that they sell a cure, but I keep thinking that if it really worked, the medical community would know about it and I wouldn’t have to find out through a pop-up ad online.)

I emailed Planet Lactose’s Steve Carper (who literally wrote the book on lactose intolerance) to seek his opinion on this article. Here’s what he had to say: "I see that the [paper] is from the NIH Conference on the state of lactose intolerance. I actually attended that conference and did commentary on every paper for my blog, back in March. If you read - or, realistically, scan - those entries, you'll see that every single paper that touched on this issue reads the same way. Scientists can't reproduce in their labs the symptoms that people report in the real world. If you can't reproduce the symptoms, then you're not going to get good results from testing symptom relief. However, most of the studies are themselves not terribly good, for reasons I go into. I'm fairly sure that lactase pills work for many people in many real world situations. But I can't find very good scientific proof of that."

The authors of Systematic Review: Effective Management Strategies for Lactose Intolerance also presented other papers that were variations on the same theme at the NIH conference. There’s one called Effective Strategies for the Management of Individuals With Diagnosed Lactose Intolerance; Steve Carper reviewed it here and basically said: “The literature burped up a grand total of 37 studies for managing lactose intolerance. Almost all of them showed nothing of interest or were based on such small and bad samples that they added up to nothing. The limp conclusion: using lactose-reduced milk reduced symptoms in the lactose intolerant.” There was also another author, Savaiano, who wrote The Tolerable Amount of Lactose Intake in Subjects with Lactose Intolerance, reviewed here. In a nutshell, the author said that nobody gets symptoms from lactose. To which Steve Carper says: “Ridiculous, right? Ludicrous, even. This whole blog is about lactose intolerance. My books are about LI. The conference was the state-of-the-science on LI. I've received thousands of letters and emails and posts from people telling me about their LI symptoms. [The presenter is a researcher who's spent his entire career] writing about LI. Something's totally nuts here. I wish I knew what. […] I didn't get it then, and I don't get it today. I'm reporting what the medical journal evidence says. […] But I'll put the concluding paragraph here.‘We stress the importance of additional scientific investigations to provide evidence-based and culturally sensitive recommendations about the amount of daily lactose intake that can be tolerated by lactose-intolerant individuals, with special emphasis on pediatric and adolescent populations and pregnant and lactating women.’ That's the biggest ‘We don't understand what the hell's going on, give us some funding money’ you'll ever see in scientific language.”

I’m always one to complain about the fact that journalists often misreport information from scientific publications, because they usually just take the title or conclusion and run with it, without bothering to read the article or be critical about it in any way. So I guess this is one case where I should be grateful that the only member of the press at the NIH conference last spring was Steve Carper – though to me that only illustrates the media’s pathetic lack of interest in this condition.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Plum Sauce (for Pork Chops)

I adapted this recipe from the one created by Gluten-Free Girl a few years ago. I used thin butterfly chops instead of thick chops, but you could use the cut you want. I also used regular plums instead of Italian plums (again), which may account for the beautiful red color of the sauce, and omitted the orange juice (I thought we had some left in the fridge, but the Engineer had finished it at breakfast). It was absolutely delicious! I probably should have let it cook a little longer, because it wasn’t quite thick enough, but that didn’t matter to us. There was sauce left over (I'd say it's about 4 servings), and I ended up eating it with a spoon, straight from the fridge, as a sweet side dish. I’ll definitely be making this again! I’m sure it would go well with duck, too.

2 Tbsp of high-quality, unsalted butter (or lactose-free margarine)
1 red onion, finely diced
6 plums, slivered into quarters
1 handful of brown sugar (about ½ cup, if you want to be fussy)
1 glug of balsamic vinegar (2 or 3 Tbsp)

Melt the butter over medium-high heat, being careful not to brown it. When it has melted and becomes bubbly, tip the diced onion into the skillet and stir it frequently. As the onion becomes soft and translucent, add the slivered plums and sauté them for a few moments.

When the plums have started to grow soft and sag, add the handful of sugar and the glug of balsamic vinegar.

Stir and cook, simmer and allow the plums to become fully softened, until the flesh yields easily to the fork. Continue cooking until the entire mixture has congealed and smells so good that you can no longer resist it.

Serve over pork chops (or duck breasts, or a vegan dish of your choice).

Cold Peanut Sesame Noodles

This is a very simple recipe perfect for summer, when you just feel like eating something light and not too hot. I got the recipe on The Kitchn. It’s great at room temperature or straight from the fridge. I don’t have my mandoline, so I decided to cube the cucumber rather than cut them in to matchsticks. To make this gluten-free, simply make sure that the noodles are gluten-free.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 tsp peanut or canola oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
a ½-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 lb soba noodles
1 English (seedless) cucumber, peeled chopped or cut into matchsticks
5 scallions (white and light green parts), chopped
2 tsp black or white sesame seeds

For the sauce
2 Tbsp natural peanut butter
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
3 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
½ tsp red pepper flakes

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tsp of oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook the garlic and ginger for about 2 minutes, then remove and set aside.

Add the remaining 2 tsp of oil, increase the heat slightly, and add the chicken breasts. Cook until golden on each side, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove chicken from the pan and set aside to cool.

Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil and cook soba noodles according to the package directions.

In a large bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the sauce, plus the garlic and ginger. When the noodles are finished cooking, drain and rinse under cold water until cool. Add to the bowl with the sauce and toss to coat. Add the cucumber, scallions, and sesame seeds.

Slice the cooled chicken into thin, diagonal strips and place on top of the noodles on each plate.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Ginger Syrup

I tried something I hadn’t seen in stores before: ginger syrup. There is French on the bottle label (this is the case for a surprising number of items here), so I’m assuming it’s available in Canada. It’s made with two ingredients only, ginger and cane sugar. The design of the bottle is great, as the wide mouth makes it easy to pour the syrup and it prevents any messy spills.

The syrup itself is delicious! It’s a nice change from maple syrup, and it is naturally flavoured. I’ve used it on pancakes and waffles, but as the label suggests, it must be delicious on roasted vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes as well as in beverages. I’d consider pouring it over fruit like mango. I totally love this product!

The only downsides are that the mascot is a little on the scary side (this is subjective, but the Engineer confirmed my impression), and that the translation is wrong on one point: notice how in English, you should store the syrup at room temperature, but in French, you are supposed to refrigerate it. I tried it both ways (after all, maple syrup keeps better in the fridge too), but the consistency is much better at room temperature. And at the speed at which I’m using it, I’m not worried about it going bad!

Crazy weather (Hermine)

The weather is crazy down here. The first three weeks after our arrival, it was nothing but sunshine, high of 37 °C and low of 25 °C, every single day. To us, that felt really hot, especially when standing in a parking lot in early afternoon. Then again, the heat is drier than in Montreal, and every single building has air-conditioning, so on a day-to-day basis, it’s not that bad. This is actually a mild summer for Texas (in the summer of 2009, there were 59 consecutive days with temperatures over 100 °F, along with the drought you can imagine; this year, while every other place on Earth is having heat that shatters all previous records, San Antonio has barely broken the 100 °F-mark on a day or two).

The thing is that the soil in San Antonio absorbs very little water, so when it does rain, flooding occurs, and a few people drown each time because they try to cross flooded waterways (despite flood gauges installed prominently). Last week, we finally had some rain, but nothing major. There was a storm with hours of lightning, but no thunder. Today is the first full day of rain, and the backyard in our apartment complex is flooded (there’s an alarm blaring as I write this). I’m glad we’re not living on the ground floor right now, and I’m even gladder that we can still access the front of the building, because Darwin still has to pee every once in a while – not to mention the Engineer has classes to teach. Luckily, the apartment complex has pumps to fix the problem, and they’re on a generator, so they were not affected by the power failure brought on by the storm. There is flooding all over town, and some classes are even cancelled!

Plum Crumble

This delicious plum crumble is adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s recipe for Delancey. She uses Italian prune plums, but all I found here were regular plums; I used them instead and just used fewer. I also used margarine instead of butter, and it came out beautifully. Instead of tripling the recipe in a 9”x13” dish, I made it as is and used a 6”x9” dish that I had on hand in this rented kitchen; it was the perfect size, though of course you can use the recommended deep 9” pie plate. The Engineer and I liked this crumble so much that I think I’ll make it again this week! As it is, the recipe makes about 6 servings, wonderful for dessert or breakfast.

For the plums
2 Tbsp lightly packed brown sugar
1 ½ Tbsp all-purpose flour
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
2 Tbsp finely chopped crystallized ginger
12 to 14 Italian prune plums OR 4 to 6 regular plums, halved and pitted

For the topping
¾ cup granulated sugar (I used vegan cane sugar)
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp kosher salt
1 egg, beaten well
7-8 Tbsp unsalted butter or margarine, melted

Position a rack in the center of your oven, and preheat the oven to 375 °F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the seasoning for the plums: the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, ginger, and crystallized ginger. Add the plums, and gently stir to coat. Arrange the plums skin side up in an ungreased deep 9” pie plate (or 6”x9” baking dish).

In another medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the topping: the granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to blend well. Add the egg. Using your hands or a fork, mix thoroughly, squeezing and tossing the mixture, to produce moist little particles. Sprinkle evenly over the plums.

Spoon the butter or margarine evenly over the topping, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is browned and the plums yield easily when pricked with a toothpick. Let cool.

Serve the crumble warm or at room temperature, with lactose-free ice cream, crème fraîche or thick yogurt if you wish.

Going lactose-free in the American frozen section

One thing that’s nice about American supermarkets is the variety of lactose-free and dairy-free items, especially in the frozen section. As far as lactose-free ice cream goes, the US only has Breyer’s in vanilla, whereas Canada has Chapman’s in half a dozen flavours. But the US has way more dairy-free items made with coconut milk, soy milk or rice milk. Even something in cookie dough!

The US also has frozen meals made with dairy-free cheese, such as Amy’s soy cheeze pizza as well as macaroni and soy cheeze (in both cases, the only times I would willingly eat something made with “cheeze”!). It was really very good. Not exactly the same as dairy cheese, but close enough that I didn’t feel deprived of anything (the texture of the macaroni and soy cheeze was perfectly gooey!). Amy’s also makes gluten-free meals, but those do have dairy. Tofurky makes vegan pizzas now, but I haven’t tasted those yet.

Next on my list, in the refrigerated section: tasting Daiya, soy as well as nut cheeses, along with dairy-free cream cheese – I just love that these are so readily available here!