Coconut Curry Lentil Soup

I’m not going to sugar coat it – being sick sucks. Stuffy nose, body aches, tingling skin, and worst of all anything I put in my mouth seems flavourless and bland. When I was still living at home my wonderful parents would often make me Jook or Rice Congee to make me feel better. Unfortunately, now that I’ve moved out and their catering services are a bit too far away I’ve got to fend for myself.

When I’m stuck nursing myself back to health I’ve found that spicy ethnic food is the only thing that keeps my spirits up (and the only thing I can taste). So, in light of my recently contracted cold I decided to treat myself to some Coconut Curry Lentil Soup. It’s a little spicy, a little sweet, and has a creaminess that has soothed my persistent cough. To be honest, I even love this recipe for when I’m not coughing out a lung, and I hope you will too!

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COCONUT CURRY LENTIL SOUP

Ingredients

1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tbsp red chilli flakes (you can add more or less depending on your spice tolerance)

2 small onions, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tbsp ginger, minced

2 tbsp ketchup (or tomato paste, I just didn’t have any on hand)

2 tbsp curry powder

1/2 tsp red curry paste

2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped

1 stalk of celery, finely chopped

4 stalks of Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli), rinsed with leaves and stalks separated

1 400mL can of Coconut milk

2 cups tomato sauce (I used the sauce my family jars, but pureed canned tomatoes work too)

4 cups vegetable stock (chicken stock works too!)

1.5 cups of dried lentils (I used the Six Leaf Sprouted French lentils from Costco)

Salt & Pepper to taste

My apologies for the lack of prep photos, my sick brain didn’t clue into the idea of posting this recipe until it was too late.

Heat a large sauce pan on medium-high and add the olive oil and chilli flakes. I always like to warm chilli flakes because I find it brings out more flavour/fragrance, but you do you! Once sizzling add in the chopped onions and hit them with a pinch of salt & pep and sauté for 4-5 mins or until they are almost translucent.

When the onions are translucent add in the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant (or if you’re sick like me and thinking I CANNOT SMELL, WHAT IS FRAGRANT?? sauté for another minute or so). Then add in your wonderful veggies – carrot, celery, and gai lan stalks (I finely cut these on a bias because I was feeling fancy). Stir until combined and the veggies soften, approximately 4 mins.

Then add in your curry, ketchup, and red curry paste. Stir until all the veggies are coated in spicy-yumness and continue to brown until you have bits of curry/red curry paste/ketchup stuck at the bottom of your pan. This usually takes another 5 minutes or so.

Now all those delicious spices stuck at the bottom aren’t going to go to waste – grab the canned coconut milk and pour it in, scraping the bottom to get those browned bits. Add your tomato sauce and veggie stock, stirring to combine. Once that’s all in you’re ready to add your lentils, and honestly if you don’t have lentils I can see this working with basically any other seed/grain you can think of – quinoa, dried split peas, even rice. It really just depends on the texture you want, I like lentils because of their high reheat value and they seem to soak up any flavour you toss them with.

Cover your pot and bring it to a boil for 5 minutes, making sure to stir every so often to ensure all those veggies aren’t stuck at the bottom. Turn down the heat and keep it simmering for 20 mins or until the lentils are tender. After 20 mins add in the chopped gai lan leaves – they don’t take long to cook through, just a minute or two.

If you want to be extra fancy you could serve the soup with some Naan bread, but really all you need is a spoon. Bonus tip – this freezes REALLY well, so if you make a big batch you can seal it up in a tupperware and toss it in the freezer for the next time the flu bug hits.

What kind of foods do you like to eat when you’re feeling under the weather??

When in doubt, chocolate.

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It’s been absolutely FREEZING the past few days. I’m not sure if it’s just me being a huge wimp, but it seems like winter is neverending. We have an extreme cold warning for the next week – yes that’s a thing here in Canada – it’s supposed to be -24 degrees Celsius feeling like -33 with the windchill. Lovely. Needless to say other than the extremely brisk walk between my house/car/workplace I don’t subject myself to the elements. If anyone’s looking for me I’ll be hibernating in my blanket fort denying the existence of any temperature below zero.

On a brighter note, being cooped up inside has forced me to come up with new activities to pass the time, most of which include food … Smartie Chocolate Chip cookies specifically. There’s just something so comforting about the smell of baked goods – especially ones made with chocolate.

I’ve stated before that I’m not a baker – having to precisely measuring out ingredients and really just following directions in general has never really appealed to me, so naturally this recipe is extremely forgiving. I was even able to successfully sub in coconut oil for butter so it gets extra points for being kind of healthy!

Smartie Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/4 cup Coconut Oil*, melted

1/4 cup Butter*, melted

1 Egg

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

3/4 cup Brown Sugar

1 tsp Baking Soda

1 cup All-Purpose Flour

1/2 cup Dark Chocolate Chips

1/2 cup Smarties

*I’ve made the recipe with 1/2 cup Coconut Oil instead of a quarter cup of both butter and coconut oil and it’s turned out just fine! The butter seems to make the cookies a bit fluffier, whereas the coconut oil only cookies came out flat (but still delicious)

Set your oven to 325 degrees Celsius. I always forget to do this first and end up having to wait for it to warm up. For anyone who is impatient like me this is THE MOST unfortunate thing that could occur – I just want to bake my cookies and devour ALL them as soon as humanly possible, forgetting to turn on the oven really impedes this process.

Next you’re going to want to melt your butter and coconut oil – I do this because I personally can’t be bothered to wait for the blender to adequately combine the sugar and whatever fatty base I’m adding it to. I find that melting the oil makes the sugar dissolve much quicker, plus most of the time my butter comes straight from the fridge and is as solid as the French Baguette you bought for lunch last week and forgot in the cupboard. If you haven’t noticed most of the things I do are because I’m lazy/forgetful/impatient. To be completely candid, the first batch of these I cookies made I used my Magic Bullet, in my mind smaller appliance = easier to clean = more likely that I’ll be able to get away with leaving them in the sink for someone else to wash (see lazy).

Getting back to the recipe … after you’ve sufficiently combined the melted coconut oil/ butter add in the egg and vanilla and mix until it’s a nice light brownish yellow colour. Next you’re going to want to add in the brown sugar – I add them in 1/4 cup at a time, but hey feel free to add the whole 3/4 at once, it’s a free country. By the time you’ve beat that all together you should have a smooth medium brown watery glob of tastiness at the bottom of your mixing bowl.

Now is time to add the dry ingredients into the wet. The original recipe said to sift/whisk together the flour and baking soda, but that meant I would need to wash yet another dish sooo I just add the flour to the mix in 1/4 cup lumps and the baking soda after the second quarter cup addition. To all those of you thinking jeeze this girl is lazy – yes, yes I am, and I find laziness is the key to my ingenuity so just let me live my life.

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Toss in whatever chocolatey goodness your heart desires – for me that was Smarties and dark chocolate chips, but you could really toss in anything – I imagine squares of caramilk bars would also be delicious (if anyone ends up trying this let me know and please send some for testing).

Now is the choose your own adventure portion of this recipe … your options are to:

A) Place the batter in the fridge to chill for half an hour, then rolling them into perfect 1 inch balls, spacing them out adequately and placing them in the oven

B) Screw chilling the batter and toss these on a cookie tray and getting those buggers cooked ASAP

C) Chilling them in the fridge for 5 minutes, taking them out (and sneaking a spoon of raw dough), then quickly deciding you can wait no longer and these chocolately morsels must be baked like YESTERDAY

… if you chose option B/C hit me up sometime because we have the potential to be BEST friends.

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But for real, roll out teaspoon-ish sized (1 inch) balls with about 1.5 inches between them minimum. If you’re cooking with the full 1/2 cup of coconut oil you’ll probably need about 2 inches because those suckers flatten out.

You’re going to need to wait about 18 minutes till they reach optimal chocolate-gooeyness. They should be light brown on top and slightly darker around the edges.

After eighteen AGONIZING minutes you’ll have the greatest little treat to share (or not).

FYI here’s the difference between the coconut oil only cookie versus the butter/coconut oil combo one …

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100% Coconut Oil

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50% Butter 50% Coconut Oil

A homage to my iPhone

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I’m actually quite ashamed to admit how crucial a role my cell phone plays in my daily life – it’s the first thing I check every morning and the last thing I look at most nights. I use apps like Buzzfeed for a lighter, more visual, take on the often depressing news (yes I’m also lazy and refuse to seek out a proper newspaper) and Instagram for entertainment while on break. My phone is my connection to the rest of the world – texting, emails, appointments, reminders, photos – they’re all there, which is why the thought of trading it in seems so daunting.

This is the cell phone that got my through the majority of my undergrad, if I had an assignment that needed to be completed, it was in my calendar, if I had an exam I needed to wake up for be prepared for, the alarm never failed me, if I was waiting on the cute guy of the week to text me back, it was ready with full bars, and probably most importantly, if when I went out on a Thursday night with my friends, it held the photo evidence of how many jagerbombs we really did (for $2 it was actually a steal mom :) ). I probably sound a bit crazy, being so attached to an inanimate object, and an ancient one at that *shout out to my iPhone 4S peeps*, but my little iPhone has been by my side through a lot of memorable moments (and a lot of not so memorable ones – thanks for not giving up on me when you were literally submerged in beer).

On the day of the much anticipated trade-in I can’t help but to reminisce on our time together.

The first day I brought you home and you proved how much you were going to up my we-fie game…

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Your first DJ show where you proved you were worthy of the protection of a Ziploc bag (Dada Life doesn’t mess around when they say champagne showers)…

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Our first Christmas together where you snapped this picture with my great grandmother…

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Just one of the countless parties you attended (and helped keep tabs of others drinking accomplishments – note the hand) …

partyparty 2You were there for me when I wanted to capture the daily cuteness of Jake and Khloe…

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You stuck with me through Homecomings – mine or others ….

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You were there for Halloweens, Christmas, New Years, and St. Paddy’s …

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Music Festivals …

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You were there for some big milestones…

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You were first to tell me the days when my selfie game was strong …

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And when I should avoid the front-facing camera like the plague …

NO PHOTO AVAILABLE. hehe

You crossed the Atlantic with me, and braved the craziness that is The Yacht Week and made it back in one piece …

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You were there for all the beautiful sights and sunsets in Greece …

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And all the food, WINE, and shenanigans in Italy …

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You were there to help me Snapchat my first day in the real world …

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And how I felt by the second day …

second dayWhat I want to say is THANK YOU my little iPhone, for being there through it all – I wish you all the best in your retirement to technology heaven.

Planning

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There aren’t many things I enjoy more than planning vacations. Call me crazy, but I love the lists, research, and scheduling that goes into it almost as much as experiencing the trip itself. Give me my iPad, an Excel spreadsheet, and wifi and I could peruse SkyScanner all day.

While planning, I find my Type-A personality is actually a blessing instead of a curse. I’m a firm believer that chance favours the prepared meaning that I’m the one who not only always has a Plan B, but also a Plan C and D. Just a note to the ‘go-with-the-flow types – I’m aware that most people aren’t quite as rigid as I am with plans, but this method works for me. You may prioritize certain aspects of your travels different than I do, these are just my personal suggestions. If I had the guts to buy an open ended plane ticket to a foreign country I would, but I know myself and that sounds like stage one of a minor panic attack :)

My next big trip is going to be backpacking across western and central Europe. Like many other recent grads I feel as though it’s a right of passage to be able to say I roughed it in hostels. I’m hoping to be able to spend 2 months taking in all the sights, culture, and food I can.

The first thing I did when I started conceptualizing my trip was print out of map of Europe. If you’re a geography whiz you can probably skip this step, but I found it useful to be able to visualize where each city was in relation to the others. I then went through and highlighted the cities that I wanted to see – don’t hold back, you can pare the list down once you take time and money into consideration.

At this point you need to start looking at limiting factors, the main ones being time and money. Both will unfortunately dictate the extent of your trip, with money usually being the most unforgiving. Once you determine a rough budget you’ll be able to determine how long your trip can be.

The beauty of Europe is that there are so many ways to stretch your dollar – one site I found useful was TrekHard, which has a calculator that will show you an estimation of your daily cost per country based on a number of factors such as accommodation and transportation. It’ll also give you an idea of which countries are more expensive so you can either limit the days you spend there or avoid them all together. I originally wanted to stay in Zurich for a festival, but after seeing how much it would cost decided Prague was a much more viable option! The time of year you travel will also come into play, summer will be much more expensive than winter for obvious reasons.

After deciding on the where and when comes the fun part, IMO – scheduling. To get stated you’ll need the map you highlighted, a list of each cities’ main airport or bus/train terminals, a calendar, pencil and LARGE eraser – you’ll be doing a lot of revisions. My absolute favourite flight app is SkyScanner, it’s similar to Kayak, but specializes in flights within Europe. You have the option of “watching” flight searches and they’ll send you emails when flight prices change. The explore feature is amazing as well – it’s really useful when you’re trying to find the cheapest way to travel between cities – it lets you choose your departing airport and then shows you the prices of flights going into surrounding airports… if you’re really brave you could theoretically plan an entire itinerary using it! I redid my itinerary 8+ times during the planning process, it was a lot of extra work, but this way I ensured I was taking the most economical route.

Trains are another option to consider when going between cities in close proximity. Eurorail passes, especially with student and off-season discounts, are extremely affordable. Overnight trains also kill two birds with one stone, you avoid paying for a hostel and wake up in your next destination!

When looking for somewhere to stay I turned to Hostelworld and Airbnb. Both are great because they include reviews from people who have recently stayed there. When reading through reviews I scan for three main things: location, amenities, traveller tips/suggestions. The location is always most important to me – I’m looking for somewhere that’s close to the metro/public transportation lines. Second thing I look for is an overview of the amenities – were the showers clean? were there any recent bedbug complaints? were the people at the front desk friendly and helpful? As I’m reading the reviews I also like to write down any suggestions the commenters have left, these could include anything from what time is best to see the sunset or the name of a fantastic restaurant around the corner. If there seems to be a never-ending list of reviews try and keep to the most recent – I usually go as far back as year then call it a day. I wouldn’t want to be judged presently by how I was a year ago so I figure the hostels shouldn’t be either.

What steps do you take when planning your trips? Are you more of a planner or a go-with-the-flow type?

Battling the Winter Blues

The aftermath of last winter's snowstorm

The aftermath of last winter’s snowstorm

I’m a summer baby in every sense of the word, I was born on a hot summer night in August and have reveled in warm weather my entire life. As a child I spent my summers running around the park behind my house, playing in the forest, or pool hopping. If it was above 20 degrees Celsius you could count on me being outside soaking up every ray of sunshine I could. While some people complain about blistering 30 degree weather, I’m completely in my element – those days with heat wave warnings, they’re my favourite. I’ve always associated the heat of summer with absolute freedom; as the days grew warmer I was that much closer to ridding myself of the responsibilities of school and whatever stress came with it. Summer is synonymous with happiness to me, so when the cooler weather inevitably rolls around you can imagine how my mood plummets.

Living in Canada means that I’m subjected to seemingly never-ending winters. The first snowfall marks the beginning of my own personal hibernation season – my motto is if it’s below freezing count me out. Aside from the obvious social drawbacks of being cooped up all winter, living as a weather-induced recluse is mentally draining.

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This year, I’m trying to brainstorm ways to keep busy during these frigid months in hopes of improving my outlook on the snowiest season. In typical list-loving fashion I’ve created an index of activities and things I want to accomplish between November and March. I’ll probably be adding to it over time, but here’s what I have so far!

1. Host a dinner party
2. Learn how to make chicken pot pie
3. Build a snowman … while singing do you want to build a snow man :)
4. Take my younger cousins out
5. Decorate my house for Christmas
6. Host a fondue/cocktail party
7. Make all of the hot chocolates on this infographic
8. Go to the Toronto Christmas Market
9. Go skating at an outdoor rink
10. Knit a scarf
11. Take photos of a fresh snowfall
12. Make a festive bread pudding
13. Make homemade dog treats
14. Make a printed t-shirt
15. Sew another shirt – I made one before Europe but bought material to make a second, the design’s from this blog!
16. Buy another onesie … I’m on a hunt for a panda one!
17. Make a list of New Years resolutions
18. Make a perfectly roasted chicken
19. Clean up my Macbook
20. Organize my closet
21. DIY some Christmas gifts (maybe bath bombs? I LOVED these when I was little)
22. Create a monthly meal plan – and stick to it
23. Learn to make gnocchi
24. Perfect my hummus recipe
25. Learn to make falafel balls
26. Make a croquembouche tower – preferably for my dinner party
27. Learn to make my Dad’s beef stew
28. Make a mini terrarium for my room
29. Organize my new Filofax (it should be shipped just in time for Christmas!)
30. Write Christmas cards to both my Great-Grandmothers
31. Visit at least 2 restaurants on this list
32. Make a custom ceramic mug with a sharpie (I love this one!)
33. Make my own body butter – I need to find a good recipe for this … my Bath and Body Works bill has been getting out of control.
34. Redecorate my room
35. Continue planning my next international adventure
36. Perfect my mussels recipe (I’ll be doing a post on this soon!)
37. Find the perfect winter soup recipe
38. Purchase the perfect over-the-knee boot
39. Go on a winter hike
40. Go tobogganing
41. Bake the perfect chocolate chip cookie
42. Learn to make the Butterbeer that was at Harry Potter World
43. Make a photo album of my last Eurotrip
44. Make a Cake Batter Protein Shake (recipe here)
45. Watch all the old Christmas classic movies – I’ll never grow out of watching Rudolph
46. Learn how to waterfall braid
47. Clean out and reorganize my closet
48. Learn to make sushi
49. Redecorate my bathroom
50. Spend more time with family and friends

As you can see a lot of them have to do with food – the only upside I see to cold weather is that gaining a pound or two isn’t as easily detected under big sweaters – not to mention that it’s near impossible for me to lose weight while stuffing my face with turkey around the holidays!

I’m hoping by the end of this winter I’ll feel more like this …

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Do you like winter, or dread the season like me? What are some things you do to keep busy when it’s cold out?

My Current Beverage Obsession

Aside from my complete obsession (it’s not an addiction I swear) with wine, I adore smoothies – especially after a tough workout. Ever since I bought my magic bullet I’ve been experimenting with different fruity concoctions, my favourite being strawberry banana :)

I personally find bananas are an extremely underrated fruit – they’re a fantastic source of potassium and magnesium and make the most delicious, thick smoothies! If you haven’t noticed from previous posts, I’m in a constant battle against time, always trying to use up ingredients before they spoil. My former banana usage was the most perfect case of this.

When I lived away at school I would typically buy a huge bunch that, of course all ripened at once, and would eat them leisurely for one and a half days, or what I like to call my perfect-banana-ripeness window. Following my 1.5 days of banana snacking bliss I’d go into panic mode and be forced to eat smoothies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a last ditch attempt to consume them all before they turned into black piles of goo and caused yet another fruit fly epidemic. The fruit fly war that my roommate and I battled in our senior year deserves a completely separate post, so I won’t go into much detail now, just know it was horrible and to never trust your semi-hoarder roommate to take out her own garbage. Anyways, one of my roommates (a non-hoarding one) at the time noticed that I kept trying to pawn bananas off on everyone in the house and asked why I wasn’t just freezing them. DUH. It had never actually occurred to me to freeze bananas – I guess I had always just pictured how gross they look when they turn brown in the fridge, but this is easily remedied by peeling and cutting them first! Needless to say, this was a revolutionary moment for me in smoothie making history. Not only do frozen bananas add a ton of flavour my smoothie, but freezing them cuts the need for ice and makes them seem more like ice cream!

Without further ado here’s my delicious healthy strawberry banana smoothie!

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5 medium sized strawberries (frozen or fresh)
3/4 cup frozen banana slices
1/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup of fresh baby spinach (you can use more or less, I usually just go with a handful)
2 cubes of ice
1/2 scoop of vanilla protein powder

Blend together and enjoy!

What are some healthy smoothie recipes you love? I’m always looking for new ideas! :)