28 December 2012

Saying It Out Loud

I was named adult taekwon-do student of the year for 2012 at the school where I take lessons.  It's an honor I didn't expect.  My children congratulated me, and my teen even gave me a high five on my way back to my seat from accepting my award.  But my cheering section ended there.  My spouse didn't say a word to me - still hasn't.  I have acquaintances, not friends, and no family, so picking up the telephone and sharing with someone isn't an option.  That's why I'm saying it out loud here.

I have kept quiet about it for over a week because I feel badly for all the kids in the school who did not win awards, my own included.  There are several kids I wish I could bestow this honor upon - kids who stepped up to the plate at the virtually the last minute when others backed out, kids who put their heart and soul into taekwon-do this year taking more than the normal two classes per week, kids who traveled and competed in tournaments throughout the year and represented our school well, kids who were slighted/judged unfairly at said tournaments and never complained, kids who volunteered and gave freely of their time to help out with summer camp and younger-aged classes, kids who very obviously worked hard outside of class to learn difficult patterns and kicks.  They all deserve it far more than me.

Yet at the same time I realize I should be proud of myself.  I toyed around with the idea of taking lessons for several months before I was brave enough to take the plunge.  I am in my forties for crying out loud.  This is something I really should have started as a child.  I also am very timid about being up in front of other people.  I don't like to look foolish.  I don't like to be laughed at or made fun of.  I get my feelings hurt very easily.  I not only took lessons, but competed in tournaments as well.  I did it afraid, with my heart pounding and palms sweating.  But I did it ... and for that I congratulate myself.

17 December 2012

Gluten-Free Brownies ... Halleujah!

The moment December 1st rolls around, my brain immediately switches to "sweets mode".  I usually fret over what I'll bake throughout the month - a mixture of family favorites and new-to-me recipes - but this year has definitely presented a challenge now that we're gluten-free.  I came across a recipe for "Gluten-Free Saucepan Brownies" in Unbelievably Gluten-Free by Anne Byrne, realized I had all the necessary ingredients on hand, and threw caution to the wind.  Why caution to the wind?  Because I generally don't have success baking brownies from scratch ... as in there have been incidents where they stuck so badly to the baking dish the dish had to be thrown away ... so we don't eat brownies.  That has changed!

This recipe was as simple as it gets.  The most difficult part was waiting for the brownies to cool for one hour before slicing and devouring.  They got a thumbs-up from every member of my family - I'll definitely be making these again, and again, and again, and again.

14 December 2012

Pizza Night

Homemade pizza has always been a favorite meal at my house.  Being new to gluten-free, I have not yet come across a recipe for gf pizza crust that meets my hopes.  I found Namaste pizza crust mix at one of my local natural foods markets and decided to give it a try because my kids were begging for pizza.  The ingredients are not certified organic, but they are non-GMO.

This mix is super easy to make - just add oil (I used organic evoo) and water and mix using a stand mixer for three minutes.  The directions indicated this would be the consistency of thick cake batter, and indeed it was.  I used a spoon to spread the batter on my baking stones, going all the way to the edges.  I am glad I did take it all the way to the edges because it shrank up a bit when baked.

Each package of mix makes two pizzas.  I used the whole package as it takes two pizzas to feed my family (pizza is something my teen boy really chows down on!).  On the first pizza I used Organic Valley mozzarella cheese, and it turned out beautifully.  The crust was crisp, like a thin crust pizza, and it tasted great.  I sliced this one up into squares, and my child who must be on a gluten-free diet ate four pieces!  First, he never at that much when I made homemade pizza using freshly ground wheat.  Second, he has not been eating well since going gf, so it almost brought me to tears to see him eat AND enjoy what he was eating.  My teen gave it his approval as well.

The second pizza I made using Daiya mozzarella shreds.  I have been reluctant to add a lot of dairy back into my diet, but I have to admit the first pizza was a lot better.  This second one was not bad, it just didn't cook up as well.  I have used Daiya products before, and know they don't cook up exactly like real cheese, but this was still a bit disappointing (especially after tasting the first pizza!).

Anyway, the pizza crust mix is a winner, and I'll continue to use it for pizza night.

Peanut Butter Cookies ... Revisited

This past weekend I decided to revisit a recipe I haven't made in years.  You know the one.  The really easy one.  It's simply 1 cup peanut butter (I used Winn Dixie's organic pb), 1 egg (I used organic), 1 cup sugar (I used 3/4 cup + 2 T. organic evaporated cane crystals), and 1 tsp. vanilla (I used organic). Roll into 1-inch balls, make the crisscross pattern by pressing with the tines of a fork, and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes (some ovens may require less/more time).

When I cut eggs from my diet, I stopped making these cookies.  I am not a fan of organic eggs from a store because the hens are "vegetarian fed".  That means soy and the old adage "you are what you eat" always comes to mind.  I am really not a fan of soy, with the exception of fermented soy.  If you can find farm fresh eggs where the hens have not been fed soy, great!  No such luck for me where I live.  I also just really do not like cooking or baking with eggs.  I am always worried about salmonella, and generally just hate the feel of raw egg on my hands period.  It took a pep talk with myself to even revisit making these cookies.  But, I'm glad I did because my whole family had a special gluten-free treat.

07 December 2012

Almond Flour Pancakes

I received the Honeyville almond flour I ordered and knew the first thing I wanted to try was the almond flour pancakes I saw on The Urban Poser.  While in the process of getting a batch of these mixed up, I had to tell a little white lie.  Yes, I admit I lied to my child to get him to give them a try.  My teen doesn't think before he speaks.  He loves nuts, my youngest child does not.  My teen wanted to know if almond flour was really made of almonds, and I told him yes.  He asked if he could taste the flour and I told him sure.  He loudly exclaimed the flour tasted just like almonds and my youngest heard this proclamation.  At that point the youngest informed me he would NOT be trying the pancakes, so I told him his big brother was kidding and it was really flour I was using.  He's young enough for me to get away with it, and I don't feel the least bit sorry I fibbed.  Why?  Because he ate every bite and told me they taste like angels!

My kids were gobbling these down so fast I had to resort to taking a photo while I had a couple cooking.  In making mine I used the recipe linked above and did the following ... used 1/4 tsp. sea salt, subbed 1 T. organic ground flaxseed meal and 3 T. water for one of the eggs (because I only had 2 eggs on hand), subbed 4 T. organic rice milk for the coconut milk, used vanilla instead of lemon juice, and did use the optional cinnamon.  Jenni, aka The Urban Poser, is not kidding when she says to keep these pancakes small because they are difficult to flip.  I managed not to make too big of a mess and didn't burn anything.  Other than the flipping difficulty, these are extremely simple to make and downright yummy.  They were sweet, but not overly so.  I cooked mine in organic extra virgin coconut oil and served them with a wee bit of pure maple syrup.  I will definitely be making these again and again.

Week One Summed Up

We've officially made it through one week of gluten-free living.  My youngest has whined about the whole situation a bit and even promised to control himself (which he cannot do) if I please just let him eat bread.  He's been very reluctant to eat well this week.  He was a bread-o-holic.  As I stated in another blog post, he's been battling a head cold/sinus infection so his tastebuds are off and it wasn't the optimum time to start introducing all kinds of new flavors, textures, and products. 

What have I observed over this week?  His behavioral issues that I feel are related to gluten have dramatically improved.  There have been a few days we've dealt with some undesirable behavior, but he also had OTC medicine on those days that contained sodium benzoate so I know to chalk it up to that ingredient.  It's really frustrating that even products from Hyland's contain sodium benzoate. *sigh*

As for myself, I have noticed several positives ... First, I no longer have a bloated or heavy feeling in my stomach all the time.  I feel a lightness I haven't in a very long time.  Second, I no longer feel overwhelmingly sleepy each afternoon.  Every single afternoon at some point between 3pm and 4pm I would get so sleepy I would sometimes nod off or actually have to lie down and take a nap.  No more!  Third, I've lost 3.5lbs.  With the positives, there have also been negatives ... First, the pain in my left shoulder that I experienced when I used to eat beef, pork, or poultry is slowly creeping back.  It's not the intense, burning pain I endured before, but rather a dull aching.  I know I cannot eat as many meals consisting of meat as I have this past week.  I'm sure my spouse is thrilled to be eating as much meat as he pleases again, so he's kind of gone overboard with the meals he's prepared.  Second, I am being plagued with insomnia again every night.  I know this is a perimenopausal thing, so it may not be related to going gluten-free at all.  I had also hoped to see an improvement in my sinuses, but I'm still battling one of the most major infections I've ever had.  Pollen is extremely high here right now (our pond that is at least 1/3 acre in size is completely covered in green pollen) plus I know I have overdone it on cheese/dairy consumption this past week.  I never had my sinus issues clear up when I cut dairy previously, so I was hoping being gluten-free would provide me some much needed relief.  I know I need to make a bigger effort to keep dairy minimal as this journey continues.

05 December 2012

Watch The Heavy Hand

Three-fourths of my family (which includes me in that number) has taekwon-do lessons three nights a week.  That means my spouse is responsible for dinner on those nights because we all walk through the door starving.  In an attempt to get my youngest cheered up about his new gluten-free lifestyle, I thought it would be a grand idea to incorporate some new dishes into our boring meal plans.

I personally am not thrilled about adding beef, poultry, or pork back into my diet.  I had issues a few years ago with an intense, and at times overwhelming, burning pain in my left shoulder.  Keeping those meats out of my diet resulted in the pain going away.  I don't care to revisit that pain.  I also have mixed feelings about eating meat.  I still feel strongly about not eating meat for a variety of reasons, but I realize at the same time I must keep dinner preparations for my spouse as simple as possible and I don't have any free time during my crazy schedule (homeschooler, taekwon-do student and assistant, part-time employee, volunteer, etc.) to make up some dishes just for me ahead of time.  It is what it is, and I have accepted it as such.

Anyway, while perusing The Healthy Gluten-Free Life, I came across a recipe for baked chicken legs that specifically mentioned chicken legs are "a great, kid-approved dinner" in the author's house.  I knew we had a package of organic drumsticks in the freezer, so I put this recipe on the menu plan (accompanied by mashed potatoes and roasted green beans).  I left my spouse specific instructions and envisioned coming home from taekwon-do to a delicious meal.  Even the kids were excited, which lets me know we really have fallen into a boring routine of meals.

Left to his own devices, I honestly don't know if my spouse followed the recipe exactly.  His final product (pictured above) was much more coated with seasoning than the photo accompanying the recipe in the book.  It was too much spice for the youngest kiddo, so he refused to eat.  My teen and I both had bites that were perfect and bites that were just too over the top with seasoning.  I believe with a little less of a heavy hand these would have been great overall.  My spouse declared the recipe a winner.

If I Don't Laugh, I'll Cry For Sure

I used some of the crazy loaf of gluten-free bread I baked to make cinnamon sugar "toast".  My newly gluten-free kiddo thought it sounded like a good plan, but he took one bite and literally spit it out.  As a side note, he's been sick with a head cold, sinus infection, or combo of the two, so it wasn't the best timing for going gluten-free with him feeling yucky and his tastebuds askew.  I'll chalk his reaction up to that for now as we all need to get used to some new flavors and textures.  I tried a couple of bites and decided it was edible.  Decent even.  Not bread for sure, but doable and something I'm sure I will get used to along this journey.  My teen - one of the members of my family who does not have to be gluten-free - gobbled it down and said it was good.  Go figure.

I'm still disappointed the loaf baked so crazy.  It sure does make for some goofy looking slices.  One thing I did notice when I sliced the loaf was the outer "crust" crumbled very easily (this is with being cold and having been kept in the refrigerator).  I used a serrated bread knife and am wondering if a different type of knife would help with the crumbling issue.  Probably not, but something for me to keep in mind next time.

02 December 2012

Toto ... We're Not in Kansas Anymore

I set off to my local natural foods market yesterday determined to get our gluten-free journey off on a good foot.  About halfway there I felt so overwhelmed about it all that I truly thought there is just no way we can do this ... it's too hard.  Then I remembered my youngest child and all the behavioral issues I hope will be resolved by going gluten-free.  I need to give this a try for me, but I really need to do this for him.  His body is obviously rebelling against something and I need to help him get well.

My kiddo is a big bread eater.  Rudi's Organic sourdough bread has been a favorite staple in his diet, but it can be no more.  I do know Rudi's makes an "original" gluten-free bread, however, it's not organic and that really bothers me with ingredients like potato extract, egg whites, and xanthan gum.

One of my purposeful missions yesterday was to attempt to find a bread mix I could make at home.  After our good experience with the Namaste Waffle & Pancake Mix, I was really hoping to find the Namaste Bread Mix (even though it contains xanthan gum).  No such luck.  The store carried plenty of Namaste products, but not that one.  Where's a Whole Foods when I need one?  Oh yeah, an hour and a half away!!!  Anyway, after going round and round the gluten-free section - with plenty of help from one of the employees who I am sure I drove completely insane with questions - I decided to try the Sun Flour Mills Sandwich Bread & Rolls mix.  Again, it's not organic (and it has xanthan gum), but it is Non-GMO. 

It was requested I make bread today, and I hoped the final product would result in a loaf that could be used for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I followed the directions exactly and chose to use 2 eggs (organic) - the mix can also be made by upping the amount of warm water and omitting the eggs.  This is unfortunately what resulted.......

No problems with rising for sure!  But really, this loaf was not beautiful by any means.  The directions on the box indicate to pour the batter into a large loaf pan.  I'm sure that's where I went terribly wrong, but what exactly do they mean by "large" loaf pan?  I mean, I have standard cooking equipment in my kitchen.  I'm not running a restaurant with specialty equipment.  If that's what is required, the directions really should state such.  Gluten-free novices like me absolutely need to know.  I had to cook the loaf 15 minutes longer than the longest time indicated on the box to make sure it was cooked all the way through (at the end of the longest suggested baking time the middle was still gooey).  The color also deepened as the loaf cooled. 

The taste?  Well, it's not bread.  It truly leaves a lot to be desired.  It's very dense and heavy.  I'm not knocking the product.  I know this is a whole new ball game with all new flavors and textures involved.  On it's own, it's a no go.  I would not have any desire to sit down and eat a piece of this bread along with a bowl of soup.  My kiddo tried a piece and said no way.  My teen declined to even give it a try.  My spouse tried a piece with cheese melted on top and gave it a so-so review.  We both thought a thinly sliced piece toasted and topped with cream cheese, cheese, or even jelly might be doable.  Toasted in the oven with some butter, cinnamon, and sugar might turn out okay as well.  We still have about three-fourths of the loaf left, so we'll have to give some of those options a try in the next few days.  That will determine whether or not I will give this particular product a try again.  If I do make it again in the future, I will separate the batter into two loaf pans for sure!

01 December 2012

Day one under our belts

Yesterday, we - meaning my youngest son and I - made it all day completely gluten-free.  I consider that an enormous feat considering his cookie raid on what was supposed to have been 'day one' of this new journey.  We made it through our official day one with no tantrums, no meltdowns, no screaming, no yelling, no fits, no outbursts of uncontrolled rage or anger ... none of the stuff I want to free him of.  Sibling squabbles - yes, we had those.  But the really bad stuff ... none, zero, zilch, nada.  I consider that a huge blessing.

To try to make the transition easier, I stopped by one of the Publix grocery stores here that carries quite a bit more natural and organic products than the other Publix store locations.  Being very much in my certified organic, anti-soy, anti-GMO's, anti this and anti that frame of mind - well, the pickings were slim.  Mighty slim.

I caved on my certified organic standard and purchased a Namaste Waffle & Pancake Mix, hoping to cheer up my kiddo.  The ingredients in this particular product - sweet brown rice flour, tapioca flour, arrowroot flour, rice milk powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, and ground vanilla bean - were much more in tune with what I was hoping to find than the ingredients in my only other choice of pancake & waffle mix for sale at this particular store.

I made the pancakes for dinner (breakfast for dinner is always a good thing!) following the package directions (requires the addition of eggs - I used organic, oil - I used organic evoo, and water or rice milk - I used filtered water).  I used organic extra virgin coconut oil in the skillet since that's what my entire family is used to from my pancake making days of the past.  They were fluffy, looked appealing, and easy to make.  The package states it makes about twelve 4-inch pancakes (half that amount if you only make 'one batch' - each package makes two batches).  I ended up with fourteen pancakes total, some larger than the size indicated - not a bad outcome in that respect.  My youngest ate half of one.  I consider that a success because that's often all he would eat when I made pancakes using whole wheat pastry flour.  My teen wolfed his plate full down.  I asked what he thought of the taste and was answered with shrugged shoulders.  That's a typical response - he is a teen after all - so the mere fact he ate every bite has me encouraged.  I will admit I wasn't so sure about the first one I ate, but by the time I started on my second I realized I actually like the taste.  My spouse commented he thought they were good as well.

Not a bad way to start this new adventure.

30 November 2012

Another new road ... gluten-free

Gluten-Free was certainly never a road I intended to travel, but it's one I find myself (and my family) on now.  We are in the beginning stages.  As in yesterday was our first day and my youngest child, who it is imperative is gluten-free, blew it by chowing down on some cookies I didn't realize we still had in the pantry.  Baby steps.  Definitely baby steps.

Why are we going gluten-free?

I am one of the reasons.  Perimenopause slammed me head-on almost four years ago, and it has not been kind.  I packed on 25 pounds (from 123lbs. to 148lbs.) all in my stomach.  Hormonal craziness has sent more acne my way than I ever dealt with as a teen.  I read ... okay, skimmed mostly due to the overwhelming content ... Wheat Belly by William Davis and was convinced going gluten-free is worth a try.  I already tried veganism for well over a year only to have the seven pounds I managed to shed find their way back to my stomach, and dairy-free didn't clear up my skin to the extent I hoped.  I have nothing to lose by trying a gluten-free diet.

The other reason is my youngest child.  I stumbled upon this entry on the Wheat Belly Blog, and cried while reading.  The behavioral issues, with the exception of 'general unhappiness/sadness', describe him perfectly.  These behavioral issues first reared their ugly head a year ago.  We have been organic and paid close attention to what we eat for almost eleven years, however, we had no control over the snacks being served at Sunday School, foods served at church potlucks, foods served at a homeschool co-op we attended, foods served at Christmas parties and such, etc.  I desperately wanted my sweet little boy back, so I became the "food police" and did my utmost to make sure no artificial colors/dyes, artificial flavors, or preservatives (like sodium benzoate) was in anything he consumed.  That has worked well until recently.  Now the behavioral issues have returned, and I feel going gluten-free is the next logical step in the process.  To make things easy, the rest of the family is going gluten-free at home as well.

I do still passionately care about the things we consume being organic, and I'm finding that to be a challenge when it comes to ready-made gluten-free products.  I am NOT in favor of genetically-modified ingredients, so reading that most gluten-free foods contain GMO's has me on edge.  I also wish to avoid xanthan gum and guar gum as much as possible.  This will be an interesting journey to say the least.

05 October 2012


Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. ~Leo Buscaglia

01 October 2012

Beachcombing Finds

I've always loved beachcombing, but it's sea bean "season" now in my neck of the woods and I'm determined to make up for how lax I've been about searching for these treasures the last few years.  These are pics of some of my recent finds.

In the top photo are a pile of coin vine pods (top left); sea coconuts aka golfballs (top right); sea glass and a "sea hero" (bottom left); shark's eyes, white mangrove, and seagrapes (middle); tropical almonds, hog plums, and a couple I have yet to positively identify.

In the bottom photo (clockwise) are sea coconuts aka golfballs, a penshell with striped acorn barnacles, crabwood, hamburger beans (1 brown and 1 red), blister pods, sea coconut in husk, starnut palm, and one I have not yet positively identified.

01 July 2012

Peace, Love, and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Domestic goddess I am not.  I have accepted that fact.  But.......

I used to find such peace and happiness in baking.  Whipping up a treat for my family was fulfilling and restful.

What happened?  I honestly don't know.  It's been months since I've ventured into my kitchen to bake any of the goodies my family and I enjoyed.  I found every excuse possible.  All that stopped today.

My youngest child begged for homemade cookies.  I could have used a variety of excuses ... the weather's too hot plus the kitchen ceiling fan is still not working, I'm too tired because I didn't get enough sleep last night (yowling cats at 4am are such a delight), I really should be preparing homeschool lesson plans ... but I didn't.  I'm so thankful I didn't.

The cookie dough preparation took mere minutes of my time.  My children made me laugh as they oohed and aahed over each ingredient while hovering excitedly by the mixing bowl.  We dove into the cookies as they came out of the oven, savoring each bite of warm goodness and gooey chocolate.

It's a step in the right direction.