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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Gluten Free Artisanal Bread (Gumless)

I have stopped making gluten free bread using xanthan gum and guar gum. The gums irritate my intestinal tract and give me stomach cramps and diarrhoea. I now have a new recipe with psyllium husk and flaxseed meal.

Dry Ingredients
1 cup oat flour
1 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup flax seed meal (buy the flax seed and blend into meal because flax seed meal turns rancid very fast)
1/2 cup psyllium husk
1/2 cup icing sugar
2 teaspoons yeast

Wet Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 cup warm water

(1) Fit the kitchen machine with a dough hook.
(2) Mix all dry ingredients well inside the kitchen machine.
(3) Mix all wet ingredients in a large bowl.
(4) Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients.
(5) Switch on the machine and let the dough hook knead until the mixture becomes a ball.
(6) Divide the ball into 2 halves and shape into 2 round balls.
(7) Sprinkle oat flour atop each ball.
(8) Let rise on parchment paper till double in volume.
(9) Preheat a cast iron dutch oven in an oven at 200 DegC for 30 minutes.
(10) Transfer the dough into the hot dutch oven. Cover tightly with the lid.
(11) Bake at 200 Deg C for 15 minutes. Bring the temperature down to 140 Deg C for 40 minutes.

Let dough double in volume.

Preheat dutch oven for 30 minutes at 200 Deg C.

Transfer to Dutch Oven and bake (with lid on) at 200 Deg C for 15 minutes and a further 40 minutes at 150 Deg C.

Ode to My Helper

My new helper is worthy of my greatest respect and consideration. No, really! She has earned the regard of the entire family. We have had a patchy history with helpers. They stay with us between 6 to 8 years. The first 4 years are usually quite uneventful. After that, for some reason, they get themselves boyfriends and things get complicated.

One boyfriend climbed into the helper's bedroom from the HDB corridor and spent nights with her. A neighbour living opposite our HDB flat tipped us off. Another one came to us looking like a Plain Jane and in 4 years time, morphed into this petite and sexy thing with dresses costing $100+ in her cupboard. She was so attractive that men followed her home. On one occasion, 2 men fought over her at the traffic light junction and she needed to go and be a witness at the police station. The lasts straw came when she got herself molested in our lift and I had to bring her TWICE to the police station to look at a line-up of potential culprits.

I finally decided that I was getting to know the inside of the Jurong Police HQ a little too well.

Then, we had a very quiet but extraordinarily sloppy helper for another 6 years. Dust bunnies gathered under the tables. Shelves collected dust like the top of Mt Everest collects snow. After she had swept and mopped, the floors still had dust and debris. It took her all of 2 years to learn how to make ciabatta bread. She was not good with machines so we replaced 2 bread makers and 1 washing machine. I reckoned it was still ok because I don't have babies in the house... and if I closed one eye or asked her to re-mop the room a few times, we could still get the house rather clean.

It does not have to be THAT clean.

Then M came along 6 months ago, and she has been wonderful. When M mops the floor, she is thorough. It is really, really clean. It is cleaner than when I mop it myself and I pride myself to be a very thorough floor mopper.

I only need to show her twice how to make a dish and she can manage on her own. She spends her evenings writing down our recipes and even bugged me to let her grill the steaks. We really fell in love with her when we caught her staring deep into Milo's eyes, stroking his ears and whispering sweet nothings. She even powders our dog with the rose scented talc that I got for her. So twice a week, our dog runs around with face and head dusted in powder and smelling of roses. It reminds me of The Son as a toddler. We used to slap powder on his face after his bath and he used to look so cute with a half white face.

I am not the only one who respects and honours M. The Daughter (who used to buy economy rice with 2 veggies and one meat for the previous helper) now insists on queuing at stalls with good food. I surprised myself one day too. M loves roses. I bought her a bouquet of roses just to make her happy. I can afford it. If it makes her happy, it is worth the expense.

Why do we love M so much? Beyond the fact that she has high professional standards (i.e., not sloppy) she is also very kind to our dog. The first is enough to earn our respect because this is a family that respects competence and high work standards. The second warrants our affection and love.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Big and Scary Dr. Pet

I am not sure I like that part about "witch". 
The Daughter used to think I was a mean old witch too. Yeah... brings back some not nice memories. Hmmmm...

He was a GEP who had been placed on advanced training in Science and Math. This meant that from amongst the GEP, the boy was identified as talent to be further groomed. He was simply one of those children who would interrupt you after he has heard 20% of what you are trying to explain, and then he would proceed to explain to you what you were going to say.

It didn't make him popular with the facilitators (all of whom found him odious) but after 2 years of teaching him, a soft spot for him had grown deep inside my heart.

The poor boy had been working 12 hour days 7 days a week. Even his GEP brain was maxed out. He did not have much emotional control to begin with, being one of those children with higher IQ than EQ... and when tired, he was like a cranky 3 month old... bursting into tears at the slightest provocation.

He just stood there with eyes streaming saying, "I really don't understand the comprehension passage", whilst other non-GEP children with REAL problems in language acquisition were studiously at work.

- You are tired. You aren't thinking anymore. This is the 3rd week in a row. Please withdraw from my class for your own good. You need to rest.

At this, he collapsed into a heap on my staircase and wailed...

- I cannot leave this class. This is the only time in the week where I am truly HAPPY!

At that, my heart broke. My classes are no piece of cake. The HW is demanding and I actually do throw badly done HW into the dustbin. If this demanding class with a FIERCE Dr. Pet was his oasis of happiness, what hell must be the rest of his life?!!!!!

Trying not to breathe in his pre-adolescent stale sweat, I gathered the Fat Little Boy into my arms and asked him questions to get him to verbalise all the toxic emotions in his heart. It is like lancing a boil you know. Before you put on a dressing, it helps to squeeze out all the pus. When he was done, I applied my dressing to his emotional wound...

- Next time, when you meet something that scares or stresses you, I want you to imagine Dr. Pet at her fattest, biggest and FIERCEST... and I am standing behind you protecting you from anything that might try to hurt you.

Apparently, it works. I have now become the children's virtual Protector Pet. I think I shall go tailor myself a cape to wear on my shoulders... or perhaps a pointy hat and a broomstick!

Monday, October 17, 2016

With The Breath of a Wok

The simplest dishes are the hardest to make. These are dishes that test one's skill and stretches the potential of one's kitchen equipment. For my entire adult life, I have envied the zi char cooks their kickass gas stoves that roar with a fire that gives wok fried dishes their "dragon breath"... that elusive breath of the wok. I don't have a commercial standard gas stove.

In no other dish is the presence of the breath of the wok so necessary than fried rice. I have never made good fried rice at home. Never.

Till now.

After decades of pining and desiring, I finally bought a Le Creuset #32 cast iron marmite and for the first time in my life, I made really good fried rice complete with "wok hei" and individual fluffy grains. Finally, I put fried rice on the dining table that smelled like a dragon had breathed gently over it. Cast iron really makes a huge difference to fried rice. Simple to make. Hard to do perfectly well.

The Mysteries of Gluten Poisoning

My health has gone from strength to strength since I stopped eating foods containing gluten - wheat, barley, spelt, couscous. What is gluten? See HERE.

Gluten's Effects on Me
Gluten's effects on my body are spectacularly negative. My small intestine becomes inflamed and I get stomach cramps and diarrhoea. It is the intestinal equivalent of someone using steel wool to scrape skin. For weeks and months after, my food absorption is compromised as the damaged intestinal lining needs to heal. Not only that, gluten sets off an auto-immune response. My body's immune cells attack my thyroid gland and my levels of thyroid hormone drops low. I feel an overwhelming sense of fatigue no matter how much I sleep.

Gluten's Effects on The Husband
The Husband ostensibly had no negative reaction to gluten. Nothing seemed to happen to him after eating gluten. However, since I am the cook in our home, everyone else eats what I eat. My kitchen must be completely gluten free because I cannot risk cross-contamination.

So, The Husband became largely gluten free too. We didn't notice much of a difference to his health.

However, one weekend, we went out for lunch where The Husband ingested an entire plate of pasta. For 5 days after that, The Husband felt bloated and uncomfortable. He was not a happy man that week. His belly ballooned outwards too. I was surprised. I had thought that his protruding belly was due to middle age bulge. The last thing I expected was a wheat belly on The Husband.

Mysterious Wheat
There are people out there arguing that celiac disease and gluten intolerance is all hype. I don't care what your research says. I know I feel ill when I eat gluten, sometimes unknowingly. The recipe of Indian thosai does not include gluten ingredients. I thought it was safe and ate 2. I was very ill for 5 days. It is not hype because I really fell ill. It is not me imagining my symptoms because I ate the thosai believing that there was no gluten in there.

The Husband too did not expect that one plate of pasta would make him feel bloated all week.

It really is all very mysterious.

There are also people who say that the culprit is not gluten but glyphosate. Apparently, glyphosate (a herbicide) is sprayed on wheat before harvesting. This kills the wheat stalks uniformly right across the whole field of wheat and ensure that the entire field will dry out evenly and at the same rate during harvest time. See HERE.

Glyphosate is not toxic to humans but it is toxic to bacteria. It wreaks havoc with all the beneficial bacteria in our guts and thus negatively impacts our digestive system. Is that why The Husband and I cannot tolerate wheat?

Oh well... who knows? Whatever it is, my children have also reduced their gluten intake by about 90%. Firstly, meals at home are gluten free. Secondly, they have stopped buying buns and cakes to eat as snacks.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Self-Entitled Parents

These exist you know. I meet them all the time. They think that for $280 a month, I can touch their kids with a magic wand and lo and behold, their kids will get an A*, grow up polite and moral AND I will also psycho-analyse the parents.

One parent told me in confidence about all her marital problems. I freaked out when she got to the bit about lusting after her colleague who was 20 years younger. Visions of her trying to feel up my son filled my head.

One parent called me at 23:55h wailing on the phone that her daughter was freaking out because the HW deadline was midnight and could I please walk through a particular writing technique with her daughter on the phone? A week later, I sent out an email to parents stating that the HW deadline submission would henceforth be 9pm. Submissions emailed after 9pm would be deleted from my inbox because I did not want to be party to parents keeping their kids up past midnight to do my HW. Kids have 7 days to do HW. Why wait till the 11th hour?

One parent would text me asking me to find and give her the link to such and such a roast chicken, roast pork etc recipe... on my blog. After googling the links for her a few times, I asked her to google them herself.

One parent would call me on Sunday at 9 am, asking whether I had had a look at her son's compo submission. The compo was given to me at 5.30pm the night before. After collecting the compos, I went for dinner. After dinner, I spent time with my family. After that, I went to sleep, only to be called to the phone at breakfast with my family on a Sunday morning by a parent who clearly expected me to have marked her son's compo overnight.

One parent did many things that I told her were detrimental to her child's progression. I spent hours in 2015 patiently counselling her and letting her know that if certain things were not done, her child would NOT be ready for PSLE in 2016. This parent whined so much that 4 months before PSLE, I completely reworked 6 weeks of lesson plans just because her son was the ONLY one in the P6 class who had not mastered the Planning Sheet. Just for her son, other kids had to do exercises that they had already mastered. I received not a word of thanks but since April this year, I received from her a never-ending stream of "feedback for improvement". I gave up. There was no pleasing this parent. She clearly believed that for $280, I was her child's personal governess and it didn't matter that there were other students in the class as long as her kids had special treatment. It didn't matter that I typewrite compo feedback 2 to 3 pages long for her child (that her child failed to internalise, making the exact same mistake over EIGHT weeks of compos). It didn't matter that I marked and returned marked work to her often within 2 working days. All that was not enough, you know. God forbid that I scold her child! In 3 long years, I scolded her child ONCE and it was a long saga that did not end till I gave up trying to please her and suggested that she look for a better tutor. To my greatest surprise, miraculously, all the whining stopped and she agreed to collaborate with me instead of telling me how to do my job.

The good thing is this. I do what I do because I love it. I don't have to do it. I choose to do it. Unlike the poor teachers in MOE, I can and I do put my foot down. Civilised parents who treat me considerately find me warm, loving and generous. I will scour research papers just to problem solve ONE child's emotional or cognitive issue. The pushy and inconsiderate ones find themselves without a tutor. It is that simple.

At this stage of my life, I want to do what I find fun to do. If it ain't fun for me, then I ain't doing it. It so happens that I get a lot of satisfaction from teaching kids how to write. I also love advising parents on motivation or study methods. I also love learning about the different children's problems. Right now, I am jotting down notes systematically from this book, because I have some anxious children to help. It is intellectually rewarding.

To have time to do these things that I love, I have created a system that minimises my admin load, and those parents who expect me to be their secretary, find themselves without a tutor too. Actually, they find themselves without me as their tutor. They can always get someone else who doesn't mind being their secretary. I didn't get a PhD to end up doing admin for parents. They have to decide whether they value me for my ability to teach or if they want a secretary.

I do get amply rewarded by great warmth from parents. There are parents who teach their kids to come directly to me right after class to say, "Thank you, Dr Pet, for teaching me."  2 metre tall fathers  (whom I had never seen because they leave the children to their wives) come to the house to specially thank me for making a difference to their families. I even had one father who made a rather large donation to Touch Community Services on my behalf when I declined payment for services rendered beyond my call of duty. I am grateful to these parents for such regard. I have parents who, when leaving me, write, "We learnt so much from you that we could not have learnt anywhere else." You see, many parents read my blogposts from years ago and find them informative. Since then, I have learnt much more but I have not had time to share much of what I have learnt since 2012, on my public blog. I am busy sharing the knowledge with my students' parents, instead.

I had done the same for other parents before, who simply took it and demanded yet more. So parents see 2 different faces of Dr Pet. Some see the warmth and generosity. Others see a stern, cold and brutally honest Dr Pet. I am no different than the servers in restaurants, you know. I never get poor service in restaurants. Even the foodcourt cleaners smile at me. It starts with me. I am nice to them and they treat me nice too.

This Mommy just wrote me last week and she said that she missed me!!

I have a choice. I exercise this choice to make my chosen profession rewarding for me. Unfortunately, MOE teachers often do not have that choice.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Open Door Policy: Gluten Free and Dairy Free

Open Door Policy has re-invented itself. When we were there in 2012, we were not impressed. Since then, it has re-invented itself as a gluten free and dairy free joint. We went back to try it today and were blown away. The food was not only healthy but extremely good. It actually feels weird to walk into a Western food joint and feel free as a bird to eat anything I want. I so rarely do Western food nowadays. It is easier to find things I can eat in Asian food joints. Even then, I am told that there is plenty of hidden flour.

The only place to eat entirely without stress or a slight feeling of fear, is at home. My home kitchen is completely gluten free. Everywhere else I go, I close one eye and hope that I will not get sick. Usually, if I exercise some judgment, I don't get sick. Every now and then, I do - diarrhoea, extreme fatigue and tummy bloatedness. I go down for 3 to 4 days before I slowly climb the hill back to good health again.

This place is highly recommended.

Warm chorizo and octopus salad.

Osso bucco on risotto.

Eggs benedict.

Mango sago with coconut milk and black sesame ice cream.

Almond milk pudding with raspberry sorbet.

Garden lemonade cocktail

Passionfruit mocktail

The restaurant walls are lined with micro-green mini-farms that are lighted up at night with solar lamps. In the day, they switch on ambient lights instead. I thought that was so clever! They own their micro-greens supply and the mini-farms are very attractive live displays.

A few streets away, I found Tiann's ( a gluten free bakery) and I went to town with those cakes.