I’m out in Saskatoon this week for a conference, where the land is flat and the weather is surprisingly fall perfection. I gave my presentation on Day 1, so now I can sit back and relax a little, take in the other sessions and sneak out for a few minutes here and there to walk down to the Saskatchewan River, where the sun is warm and the trails are littered with crunchy leaves.
In between presentations I wanted to share this recipe that I made last weekend. In this dish, a simple rice pilaf is jazzed up with sweet dried cranberries and tender cubes of roasted butternut squash.
After getting home from France, I noticed we had a single butternut squash hiding in the cupboard, leftover from the butternut squash soup that we served for our Sugar-Free Thanksgiving. I also spotted the dried cranberries that I’d hidden away last month, so together they went into this Cranberry Rice Pilaf with Roasted Garlic Butternut Squash.
I roasted the garlic right inside the cavity of the overturned halved squash, which infused the squash with a subtle garlic flavour and resulted in buttery soft garlic that I then mashed into the rice. Cubed butternut squash is mixed with wild rice, cranberries, onion and pepper, and served in mini pumpkins just for extra seasonal cuteness. How great would this look on a Thanksgiving table though, right?
Cranberry Rice Pilaf with Roasted Garlic Butternut Squash
Wild rice, cranberries, rosemary, and cubes of roasted garlic butternut squash combine in this seasonal, sweet and savory rice pilaf. Serve in mini pumpkins for a festive Thanksgiving side dish. Find more Thanksgiving dishes: http://homeatsix.com/2014/09/thanksgiving-menu/
Mike has a severe peanut allergy, which can honestly be a huge pain in the butt when it comes to eating out. Before we left on our trip to France, we did a bit of googling and found out that although peanuts aren’t used too commonly in French cooking and baking, they do use peanut oil in everything from pizza dough to salad dressings. Eeeek! I knew that peanut butter wasn’t really eaten there, so I’d mistakenly assumed that it would be easier to find peanut-free options there, rather than harder! Boy, was I wrong. Peanuts and peanut oil are everywhere!
While evidence shows that the refining process removes the allergens from peanut oil, we weren’t taking any chances while we were on vacation and didn’t want to eat anywhere that wasn’t absolutely certain that their products were peanut-free. And it was really tough! Compared to North America, it seemed like peanuts were everywhere. I know Mike ended up eating way more burgers and pizza than he’d ever hoped to on a French vacation due to his peanut allergy.
Fortunately, despite the peanut allergy, we did manage to make it safely through our vacation and we were able to track down all the French specialties that Mike had his heart set on trying. So much of French culture centers around food, so I’m so glad we were able to find peanut-free options (croissants, French onion soup, socca and all).
I compiled the following tips to help anyone else who might be facing the same challenges.
What to know about peanut allergy in France?
Peanuts everywhere. Nearly every bar will have bowls of peanuts. You’ll see bowls of peanuts at cafés, too. Even if you’re just going for a drink, inform the staff of the peanut allergy to ensure there’s no cross-contamination. If you or your child are very sensitive then you’ll need to be extra careful. We ate at a restaurant where the chef assured us that the kitchen was entirely peanut-free, but sure enough, when I walked past the bar I saw heaping bowls of peanuts. Even if you don’t think a dish would contain peanuts, ask! Sauces are thickened with peanut butter and dressings might be made with peanut oil.
Less awareness. In France, there is so much less awareness regarding peanut allergies. When we go to restaurants here in Toronto, servers are almost always able to immediately tell us whether or not their restaurants use peanuts, even though they’ll rarely make a 100% peanut-free guarantee. In France, when we informed them of Mike’s peanut allergy, only a couple front of house staff had the answer, and sometimes even the cooks didn’t know! A couple explained that they receive their oil is huge vats and they can’t be sure what’s in it. A whole bunch of times we encountered hosts and servers that preferred to just tell us that we probably shouldn’t eat there without even checking with the kitchen. That was pretty frustrating when we’d already struck out at a few restaurants already, but we felt it was much better to be safe than sorry.
Parisian waitstaff are grumpy. Restaurant servers are notoriously grumpy in Paris, but don’t let it phase you. Don’t take it personally, and don’t let it discourage you from emphasizing the seriousness of the peanut allergy.
In case of emergency. Make sure you know the local emergency numbers. For emergency numbers in France, click HERE.
What to say?
Make sure you emphasize the severity of the peanut allergy and make sure you clearly communicate that it’s a matter of life and death, not just a food preference. Clarify that it’s important that not just the particular meal be peanut-free, but that no peanuts are used in the kitchen at all. We were told at least once that there were no peanuts before being told, “Ah, yes, actually we use peanut oil for the fries!”
Je suis très allergique aux arachides/cacahuètes - I am very allergic to peanuts
J’ai une allergie analphylactique aux arachides/cacahuètes- I have an anaphylactic allergy to peanuts
Je suis gravement allergique aux cacahuètes et à l’huile d’arachide- I am seriously allergic to peanuts and peanut oil
Important note: Do not just ask if the food contains noix. This word for nut is used to refer specifically to walnuts, and misleadingly doesn’t encompass all nuts.
What to do?
Even in the most touristy, English-speaking places we visited, hardly anyone understood the word ‘peanut’, so make sure you know all the different terms used to refer to peanuts and peanut oils. Don’t assume that what is safe at home is safe abroad.
Be prepared. If you have a severe peanut allergy, always have an Epipen and make sure it’s labelled and carry a prescription for airline screeners. Make sure your travel companions know how to use it.
Write it out. Unfortunately the French don’t make it easy, and there are a few different words that are used to refer to peanuts. We made sure to use them all. Mike doesn’t speak very much French, but he memorized a few key phrases and carried them around written on a paper card to be sure. If you’re unsure of your pronunciation or if the restaurant staff seem even the least bit unsure, show them your card.
Check labels. Allergens are pretty well labeled on packaged goods, so we bought a lot of our food at grocery stores. We stayed in apartments with kitchens, so we were able to prepare our own food, which saved us money and grief. We always tried to have some peanut-free snacks on hand, so that when it took us ages to find a peanut-free restaurant, Mike wasn’t left completely ravenous.
On labels, look for:
Cacahuètes- peanuts (most commonly used in France)
Arachides- peanuts (most commonly used in Quebec, but also used in France)
Huile d’arachides - peanut oil
Beurre de cacahuètes/arachides - peanut butter
Fruit à coque - translated as “fruits in shells”, this term is used as a catch-all for nuts, and is used on lots of labels
Watch out. if peanuts are an ingredient in a product, they won’t necessarily be included in the list of “may contain” ingredients, so read everything carefully!
Clarify. Even if the host told us we were ok, we also made sure to ask the server, and also asked them to double-check with the kitchen. We emphasized the severity of the peanut allergy, and told them he would DIE. Honestly, it was a hassle and Mike hated the fuss, but I reminded him that it was way less fuss than a trip to the ER.
Where to go?
In both Nice and Paris, I tried searching online for peanut-free restaurants and bakeries, and didn’t find anything at all. So here’s a list of a few of the spots we found that were able to assure us that they didn’t use any peanuts or peanut oils. If you’re looking for peanut-free food while in France, check these places out as a starting point, but please, please make sure to always ask because things might have changed. I need to track down the names of some other restaurants we ate at, so I’ll update this list.
Nice: La Claire Fontaine (lunch/dinner), Boulangerie de L’Olivier (bakery)
Eze: Le Pinocchio (lunch/dinner)
Vence: Brasselie la Victoire (no peanuts in the kitchen, but served at the bar) (lunch/dinner)
Thanks so much for the congratulations on our recent engagement! We are so excited to take this next step in our relationship and I couldn’t be happier!
All that aside, this morning I made a shocking realization. it’s now already mid-October and I haven’t even had my first pumpkin spice latte! What?! I have a strict policy that fall-specific drinks aren’t to be enjoyed before October 1st (and no Christmas drinks until December 1st), no matter how early Starbucks wants to roll them out. But we’re two weeks into the month and I haven’t had my first PSL yet. To be rectified ASAP!
While I have my rules about my seasonal beverages, I don’t have any rules or regulations prohibiting the early use of pumpkin in other goods for consumption, which is a good thing since I had to celebrate Thanksgiving a month early this year. As you know, my early Thanksgiving coincided with Sugar-Free September. I wasn’t very worried about pulling it off with the exception of dessert.
For me, Thanksgiving really isn’t Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. So Sugar-Free September was going to need a sugar-free pumpkin pie. Earlier in the month I’d made a Sugar-Free Peach Pie, but peaches have so much sweetness all on their own. If you’ve ever tried pumpkin straight out of the can, or the rind, then you know it isn’t the least bit sweet. In fact, it’s pretty gross! I certainly didn’t want to end up with a gross pumpkin pie, no matter how healthy.
My (needlessly strict) rules for Sugar-Free September prohibited the use of any added sweeteners. That meant I couldn’t use any of my typical baking sweetener alternatives. No stevia, no maple syrup, no dates. So what did that leave? Bananas! I’ve used bananas in plenty of cakes and muffins before, and of course in banana loaf, but could I pull off a banana-sweetened sugar-free pumpkin pie? Yep, I sure could!
But this sugar-free pumpkin pie recipe isn’t that sugar-free pumpkin pie recipe. This recipe is my first attempt at sweetening a pumpkin pie with overripe banana. I didn’t quite trust that it would work, so I added a few scoops of carob powder for extra sweetness. This attempt resulted in banana-chocolatey deliciousness with that smooth pumpkin pie texture, but it wasn’t close enough to the classic pumpkin pie that I wanted to serve my Thanksgiving dinner guests. For that recipe, download my Sugar-Free Thanksgiving Menu. But if you’re looking for another use for that extra can of pumpkin you’ve got in the cupboard, then go ahead and try this Sugar-Free Banana Chocolate Pumpkin Pie.
I’ve been away from the blog for a while because I’ve been super busy. Super busy lying on the beach in Nice (swimming in October, even!), busy eating bread and cheese at every meal, and busy walking for hours on end through winding streets and medieval towns, up hills and down mountains, through castles and into shops, and all over the beautiful south of France and up into Paris.
We spent the first half of the trip visiting with my family in Nice, and capped the trip off with a few days in Paris. It was Mike’s first time to France, so we crammed in as much as possible and had an amazing, though completely exhausting time.
While every day was wonderful, fun and pretty much perfect in every way, in this post I’m going to re-cap my Top Five in France. While I’m sure I’ll be sharing more about our trip over the coming days, these 5 are among my favourite memories.
1)Spending time with family. It was wonderful to visit with my dad and sister, Rebecca, who live in Nice. With my dad, Mike and I enjoyed visiting the huge, weekly antiques market, touring the beautiful town of Vence and eating many meals and sipping on numerous espressos. I wish I could see them more often, but it does give me a great excuse for the occasional visit to the glorious French Riviera. While I unfortunately didn’t get to see them during this visit, my aunt and uncle generously allowed Mike and me to stay in their beautiful apartment just steps from the Promenade des Anglais.
2)Warm days on the French Riviera. Already dreading the onslaught of another hideously cold winter in Toronto, it was wonderful to slip away to Nice, where I was able to put aside my jackets and scarves, and slip back into my summer dresses and sandals. I even went for a quick dip, which I never, ever do, unless it’s really, really hot. We spent countless hours people watching in the cobblestone streets of Vieux Nice, being dazzled by the sights, sounds and Lamborghinis of Monte Carlo, and living like a local by going for morning jogs and late, late night dinners. We enjoyed the local specialties and maybe a croissant or two or three, and, of course, more than a few glasses of wine. Between the palm trees and the food and the history and the culture, Nice is nice, as the tacky souvenir t-shirts say.
3) Creating my signature fragrance. France is, of course, famous for it’s perfumeries. So I signed Mike and myself up for a perfume-making workshop that was held at the Fragonard factory in the adorable hilltop town of Eze. The class started off with a really fun and interesting introduction to the science and smells of perfume making. Then we were able to mix up our own signature scents and I ended up with a pretty, light and citrusy eau de cologne, which will remind me of this trip every time I wear it.
4) Cooking in Paris! I surprised Mike with a cooking class on our first night in Paris. The class was led by the loveliest French chef, and was full of an eclectic group of other English-speaking travelers. One man was taking his 13th cooking class in 13 days, and another was a language teacher who spoke 28 languages (only 20 fluently, as he clarified). We cooked up a delicious 3 course meal and then sat down to enjoy it along with plenty of wine and good conversation.
5) By far, the biggest highlight of our trip was getting ENGAGED IN PARIS! After enjoying a cute little picnic along the Seine, Mike suspiciously insisted on leading me a block away, through a construction zone, with the promise of a really great view of the Eiffel Tower. I was wondering what the heck he was up to because he was glancing around furtively and clearly not hearing a word I was saying. And then it happened! Mike got down on one knee and proposed to me in the most nervous and rambling, yet beautifully romantic way on a quiet bridge near the Eiffel Tower. I couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect moment and Mike thoughtfully had a photographer hiding in the shadows, ready to capture the proposal. We’re so happy and excited!
Hey guys! I did it! I survived Sugar-Free September, and am so excited to share my experience.
First of all, I need to confess that I didn’t keep things 100% sugar-free. I enjoyed a glass of champagne at an engagement party, as well as two sugar cookies that were shaped like diamond rings. I also had two mojitos when I went out with some friends, had a scoop of ice cream, and ate sweetened cranberry sauce along with my (otherwise) Sugar-Free Thanksgiving dinner. But y’know what? I feel great about it! During a regular month, I bet there are days when I’d eat 5 things with sugar just in one day, so to eat added sugars only 5 times in an entire month? I think that’s pretty awesome! Progress not perfection, right?
I actually found that I didn’t crave sugar very much at all. During a regular month, I usually crave sweets of some sort every few days, but I think avoiding sugars almost entirely eliminated those cravings. I certainly didn’t experience those strong cravings that sometimes have me grabbing for a muffin during my mid-afternoon slump. My boyfriend kept things fairly sugar-free, too, and while he normally LOVES his candy, he hardly missed it this month. One evening he said, “I wish I could have some candy….actually, I don’t!” I could completely relate. It was almost like we thought we should want those sweet treats, but we actually didn’t. It wasn’t about mustering will power and fighting cravings. We just naturally weren’t super interested in reaching for those sugary foods.
I felt great all month. I woke up each morning feeling positive. Each and every morning. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an emotionally stable month before in my entire life! Normally, I have my regular ups and downs, but I felt so consistently well all month that I couldn’t help but notice. Apparently science has noticed the effect, too!
A month without “fat days”? Heck yes! I lost 5-6 pounds this month without even trying and hardly experienced any bloating. All I focused on was avoiding added sugars, so there was none of the usual candy and baked goods, and I also avoided a lot of the carbs that I usually eat. Even though I felt like I was always eating, and never felt deprived, I lost some of that extra softness. Woohoo! On top of that, my skin was pretty clear all month and I just generally felt happy with my appearance.
One thing that I think will be a long-term benefit of this month-long sugar-free experiment is that I was forced to identify sugar-free substitutes for some of the convenience items I regularly buy. It took a little bit of extra hunting, but I did manage to find marinara sauce, granola and canned soups that didn’t contain any added sugars. I’m going to stick to buying these products since it’s such a simple way to cut out some of the sugars that I don’t miss at all. I also found sugar-free prepared chili, frozen spinach patties and bread for those times when I need quick and easy food options. I also paid a bit more attention to my fruit intake. I’d normally eat a banana or two each day, but I simply substituted apples, peaches and berries, which have lower sugar content, and only ate a few bananas over the course of the month, even cutting them out of my daily green smoothie.
I’m not going to be avoiding added sugars as strictly as I did this past month, and I’ll be more open to using alternative sweeteners like stevia, honey, and maple syrup. I’m going to keep looking for sugar-free substitutes for everyday staples to continue cutting sugars where they just aren’t necessary. I’ll also continue to explore sugar-free baking, since I now know I can make delicious muffins, pies and breads. My Sugar-Free Thanksgiving proves that I can even enjoy my favourite holiday meals without needing the usual piles of sugar, and that’s pretty awesome (go download your free copy of the menu, if you haven’t already!).
To celebrate the end of Sugar-Free September, here’s an easy recipe for Pumpkin Spice “Nice” Cream. Enjoy it on its own, or use it to top a slice of sugar-free pumpkin pie. This is a delicious dessert that you can enjoy, guilt-free. Add some granola and enjoy this “nice” cream for breakfast! By swapping in these healthier treat options on a regular basis, it means I’m able to really enjoy my special occasion treats…like those Nutella crepes I’ll be enjoying soon in Paris next week!
Healthy Ice Cream made with bananas and spiced with pumpkin pie spice
Author: Home at Six
5 overripe bananas (1 banana per person), chopped and frozen
¼ cup pumpkin puree
1 tbs pumpkin spice (or cinnamon/nutmeg)
pinch of salt
Place ingredients in a food processor and process on high until smooth
Serve immediately, or freeze to harden (thaw for ~5 minutes before serving)
Did you do sugar-free September? How’d it go? Or if you haven’t tried it yet, have I convinced you to give it a shot?
Find all my Sugar-Free September posts HERE, including lots of recipes!
And don’t forget to get my complete Sugar-Free Thanksgiving menu. All you need to do is subscribe to receive updates from Home at Six, and you’ll receive a printable PDFdownload. If you’re already subscribed, just enter your email address to receive your free download.
Thank you all for your amazing response to my recent post. It means the world to me to have wonderful friends and readers like you! I am so thankful for the outpouring of support, and it means so much to me that my story touched and informed so many.
Feeling thankful for things, this weekend we hosted an early Thanksgiving dinner. We’re going to be out of the country during (Canadian) Thanksgiving, but since it’s my favourite holiday, I really wanted to celebrate it early. Of course, that meant Early Thanksgiving fell within Sugar-Free September, so well, that was a challenge!
The only thing stressing me out all week was dessert. For me, Thanksgiving isn’t really Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, so I really wanted to find a way to enjoy pumpkin pie while avoiding any sugars and sweeteners including stevia, and even maple syrup and dates. I found a way!
I’ll be sharing some of my healthy Thanksgiving recipes here on the blog, but as a thank you for reading, I’m giving you a copy of my totally Sugar-Free Thanksgiving menu to download.
You’ll find 7 easy recipes for a healthy Thanksgiving dinner menu that contains absolutely no added sugars, including my sugar-free pumpkin pie.
Subscribe to receive updates from Home at Six and to download a printable PDFof my Sugar-Free Thanksgiving menu. If you’re already subscribed, just enter your email address to receive your free download.
This week’s Beauty Detox blogger assignment was to write about something we are grateful for. Practicing gratitude, meaning thinking of or writing down specific things that I’m grateful for, is something I turn to regularly, especially when I’m feeling down or stressed. It doesn’t always make my problems go away, but it does help put things into perspective.
As Kimberly Snyder writes, “It’s impossible to feel sad, worried or angry and feel gratitude at the same time.”
For this assignment, I immediately knew what I wanted to write about. It’s something that I’ve been contemplating sharing here on the blog, but it’s also something very personal that I wasn’t sure I should broadcast on the Internet. But it’s something that has played a major role in my life over the last several years, and especially this past year, and sent me on a roller coaster of emotions including sadness, fear, disappointment, and anger, but throughout it all, and especially now, an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
In 2012 I received the news that I’d been dreading. My genetic testing results were in, and I found out that I was positive for the BRCA1 mutation. This is the genetic mutation that caused my mom’s ovarian cancer, which she died from in 2009 at only 55. As a result of my diagnosis, I chose to have a prophylactic double mastectomy in March of this year, which reduced my risk of breast cancer to virtually nothing. While I’m not grateful for my BCRA1 mutation, which I could have definitely done without, I am beyond thankful for the knowledge and ability to do something about it.
Yes, this is the same procedure that Angelina Jolie underwent. And this is another reason I want to share my story. I remember when Angelina’s news came out, I heard a lot of different reactions. At that time, I already knew I had the BRCA1 mutation, but I hadn’t fully committed to a course of action yet. I remember the women talking about Angelina’s surgery at my pilates class. Although some used the word “brave”, most were using words like “extreme” and “drastic”.
For reference, the average lifetime risk for women without the mutation is around 11% for breast cancer and 1.5% for ovarian cancer. Now, look back up at those numbers above. Isn’t that pretty extreme?
I know lots of people will continue to disagree with this choice. But very few of those people are medical professionals or researchers, who are pretty much in unanimous agreement on this topic, which doesn’t happen often. The science is so strong that our government health plans covers 100% of the costs because they know that prevention will cost them a whole lot less than cancer treatment, which also doesn’t happen often.
I’m not out to change anyone’s opinion, but by sharing my story I hope maybe some people will think, “hey, if Jill chose to do this, maybe it’s not really that crazy after all.” I also just met a girl at a party over the weekend who was going to be doing the genetic testing in the near future because her father had prostate cancer (also linked to BRCA). I shared that I am so happy I made the decision to do this, because although I don’t know what else will get me, I know that it won’t be breast cancer. I shared that although it’s major surgery and the recovery isn’t easy, the anxiety I experienced before receiving my test results and before undergoing the surgery was so much worse. I shared my experience, and she told me it was comforting, since now she knew that even the worst case scenario wasn’t all that bad.
My journey isn’t over, since I have a surgery in November to complete the reconstruction, and the next step will be to take care of my ovaries, which is a whole other complex set of decisions. But I am so so so thankful for the opportunity to take these preventative measures. I’m so grateful for my wonderful medical team and thankful for a wonderful recovery with amazing support from my sister, boyfriend, friends and coworkers. I was lucky that I didn’t run into any complications, and I’m completely thrilled with my cosmetic results. I am grateful to my mother for having the test done when she received her own cancer diagnosis and I’m grateful that science has come so far to enable this option which didn’t exist when her own mother died of the same cancer 20 years before. Through this whole process I have been so thankful that I live in a country where this testing and treatment is made available to me at no cost, and thankful for access to some of the leading doctors in this field. I am just so grateful for the knowledge about my BRCA1 mutation and for the ability to do something about it. Thanks mom. Thanks science.
If you or someone you know is faced with this difficult decision, visit My Destiny or the Prophylactic Mastectomy Facebook Group for information and support.
Since I probably totally grossed you out by sharing that whole hair-in-bread thing, this morning I’m sharing a great recipe to make up for it. This healthy flax bread takes 45 minutes from start to in your mouth.
My hand mixer would not turn on when I went to mix this so I whisked by hand and it turned out nicely.
I wanted a quick and super easy bread recipe that was going to be sugar-free for Sugar-Free September and contained simple ingredients that I had on hand. I found and based my bread on this recipe on glutenfreeeasily.com.
Easy to prepare and packed full of healthy flax, this loaf doesn’t crumble, making it ideal for toast or sandwiches.
I’m working from home today, so I woke up thinking I might go out for a quick breakfast at our favourite greasy spoon. I figured eggs and bacon are sugar free, right?
While still lying in bed, I started Googling, and it turns out that sugar is used in most bacons as part of the curing process. Ok, so bacon is out. What about toast?
I knew most breads contain sugar, but then I wondered optimistically if rye bread might be sugar-free. Of course, as I expected, it’s not.
I decided to give up on going out for breakfast since I’d been lying in bed for too long anyway, but then I came across a disturbing fact. Did you know that commercial breads contain HUMAN HAIR? And if it’s not human hair, it’s duck feathers! I don’t know what you think, but I think that’s pretty revolting too!
If you thought that yoga mat Subway bread was disgusting, then this might just have you giving up commercial bread forever. Have you ever noticed L-Cysteine in an ingredients list? I have, but I never actually looked into what it was. The truth could make me puke:
L-Cysteine – an amino acid used to prolong shelf-life in products such as commercial bread – can be found in duck and chicken feathers and cow horns, but most that’s used in food comes from human hair. It has been reported that most of the hair used to make L-Cysteine comes from China, where it’s gathered from barbershops and hair salons. [The Guardian]
It’s gross enough when I find one of my own foot-long hairs in my food, but the fact that the food industry thinks this is acceptable pisses me off. Stop messing with our food!
Hey, an added benefit of avoiding sugar is avoiding some of these other gross ingredients since I’m sticking almost entirely to fresh, whole foods. Do you eat commercial bread? Go check the label for me, and let me know if it contains this yucky ingredient!