December 14, 2014

Stewart is Ready for Christmas Breakfast! Are you?

Santa Stewart
Stewart is ready for christmas breakfast! Are you? Since the Christmas shopping season starts earlier and earlier each year, I’m wondering if you’re experiencing less rush and more relaxation? I mean, it stands to reason that if we start shopping earlier, we should finish earlier, right?

So far it’s working that way for me because I’ve decided to keep things simple, but my grandog Stewart is way ahead of me. He has already donned his Santa hat, delivered his presents and moved on to picking out his outfit for Christmas breakfast. (He’s leaning toward this gray hoodie. What do you think?) Stewart prefers to focus on the food at all occasions so I guess it’s natural he would want to rush through every other task and get ready for the meal.

This is Stewart’s first Christmas with us, so we had to explain to him that our traditional Christmas meal is breakfast rather than dinner. I don’t think he really understood pancakes, biscuits & gravy or anything else he heard until we got to the word bacon. That one he knows. He immediately perked up and became the most obedient dog ever!

Before my sister would agree to go gluten-free, she needed to know how it would affect all the traditions to which she’s attached. Christmas breakfast was one of those traditions. It was important to her to know that she could still have biscuits, or moonrocks as we call them when my mom does the baking.

My sister was pleased to find out that biscuits and gravy could still be on the menu. In fact, we haven’t found anything in our traditional family meals that can’t be made deliciously gluten-free. If you’ve been looking for a gluten-free biscuit recipe, give this one a try:

Success, Biscuits!
Makes 6 – 8

1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup unblanched almond flour
1/4 cup sweet white sorghum flour
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp tapioca flour
2 tbsp arrowroot flour
2 tbsp potato flour
2 tbsp potato starch
2 tbsp beet sugar
1 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp buttermilk
Cooking oil spray

Preheat oven to 400º. Spray baking pan with cooking oil spray.

In large bowl, combine brown rice flour, unblanched almond flour, sorghum flour, tapioca flour, arrowroot flour, potato flour, and potato starch. Whisk together until well mixed. Add sugar, salt, and baking powder and mix well. Use a pastry blender to cut shortening into the dry mixture until it forms pea size chunks. Stir in milk and buttermilk until all the dry ingredients are mixed in and begin to form a ball. Beat with a spoon for 30 seconds.

Divide dough in half. Place half the dough on a piece of wax paper and lightly flatten with your palm. Place a second piece of wax paper on top. Roll until 1 inch thick. Using 2 more pieces of wax paper, repeat for the second half of the dough. Remove the top pieces of wax paper from both sections of rolled dough. Turn one of the sections over onto the top of the other to create a second layer. Use a two inch biscuit cutter to cut the dough into circles.

Place cut biscuits 2 inches apart in baking pan & bake at 400º for 18- 20 minutes. Remove to cooling rack. Serve warm.

Christmas breakfast is best enjoyed in your PJs with a cup of piping hot coffee and the ones you love. Don’t tell Stewart. He really wants to wear his hoodie.

December 7, 2014

Making Holiday Memories – Take a Limo to See the Lights!

Making holiday memories – take a limo to see the lights! This year I’m focussed on making memories during the holidays rather than making gifts or involved menus. My easy take on Thanksgiving turned out to be delicious in its original form as well as the one-pot version that followed.

Now I’m looking toward Christmas and New Year’s with the same goal in mind. I think I’ll resurrect one of my favorite holiday activities – taking a limo to see the lights. It’s easy, festive, and relatively inexpensive if everyone chips in. In my city you can spend 4 hours riding around in style with a fully stocked bar for around $50 – $60 per person including a decent tip for the driver. While that’s not dirt cheap, I can save that much by eating lunch at home for a week or two so the price doesn’t feel out of reach.
Hats in LimoLimo

We always come to the limo prepared with snacks, music, and hats! Why hats? I have no idea. Just seems more fun somehow. Once in the limo, we pop in our favorite holiday CD and put on a hat and we’re ready to ride. The driver often helps us decide the route. You can encourage the use of, or temporarily confiscate, the ubiquitous smart phone cameras depending on how raucous a crowd you invite and what sort of reputation you desire on social media.

I think I’ll include Kahlua and Peppermint Schnapps in my bar request so we can enjoy Kahlua Mint Hot Chocolate along with our snacks. If you’d like to do this too, just bring a thermos or two of hot chocolate along. After you pour a cup, swirl in an oz of Kahlua and an oz of Peppermint Schnapps to warm your tummy.

I’m going to keep the snacks easy to make and easy to serve. Gluten-free sausage balls and ChexTM Mix will fit the bill. I can carry both of them in zip top plastic bags that can be passed around the car. When I was a kid, we called ChexTM Mix “party” mix and you had to make it in the oven. The prepackaged kind didn’t yet exist. I still prefer the kind made in the oven and I don’t think bagel chips belong in the recipe. I use Corn Chex, Rice Chex, Kix, gluten-free mixed nuts, gluten-free pretzels, butter, Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, garlic powder, and onion powder and follow the recipe from one of the cereal boxes. I prefer to use a few more Corn and Rice Chex than I do Kix rather than the standard 3 cups of each. You can leave out the Kix entirely if you don’t want the sweetness.
Sausage Balls

If I want easy to become even easier, I can skip making the snacks entirely by grabbing some white chocolate peppermint drizzled popcorn, gluten-free ginger snaps, M&M Holiday Candies, and a bag of gluten-free pretzels from the grocery store. Even better, I don’t have to make a decision right now. I can wait and see how the next couple of weeks turn out. If I determine that making the snacks will interfere with time I can spend with James, I’ll opt for plan B.

Now that I have a loose plan in place, I feel calm and ready to enjoy the lights.
Christmas Lights

Have a fun holiday memory making activity? Share it here and we’ll give it a try!

November 28, 2014

I’m Going to let Thanksgiving be the Kickoff for a New Year Filled With Gratitude!

I’m going to let Thanksgiving be the kickoff for a new year filled with gratitude! I can’t imagine a better way to prepare for a new year than looking forward with gratitude. I suppose it’s more common to look back in nostalgia, but that only leaves me longing for something that is no longer. Somehow that seems like a waste of emotional energy that can better be used to recognize, feel, and express thankfulness for what’s happening all around me.

Approaching each moment with a posture of gratitude keeps me focussed on the amazing strength and courage the universe provides to meet each challenge. That recognition then becomes a spiral of feeling more confident, powerful, calm, peaceful, and humble which in turn provides me with more joy and, of course, gratitude. If that spiraled out of control, would it be such a bad thing? I think not.

Science is even getting behind this idea. Studies by psychologists Dr. Robert A Emmons of the University of California, Davis, Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, and Dr. Martin E. Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania have shown that the positive effects of practicing gratitude include: Feeling more optimistic and better about life, exercising more, and making fewer doctor visits.

Taking a quick look at daily news stories, online rants, and statistics on child abuse and domestic violence, it is easy to see that we are in need of healing in our family units. The pain we suffer at home often spills over into our workplace. Before we realize it, our entire worldview can quickly become jaded, pessimistic, and dismal.

Even the healing process requires that we walk back through sadness, grief, loss, and rage in order to let it go. How can we possibly feel grateful in the midst of open wounds?
Gratitude Journals

Here’s the deal. You don’t have to feel grateful to start the process. You just have to PRACTICE gratitude. I’m not saying this because I read it somewhere. I’m saying this because I’ve felt the power of this practice by filling journal after journal with lists that I struggled to generate while caught in a cycle of grief.

I started with the intention of writing 5 things I was grateful for every day. Some days I could only come up with 3. Often, 3 of those things were the same as the day before. I know this because I recently reviewed a series of these journals before throwing them away. I felt both sad at how I had felt and joyous about how I feel now.

What I learned in the process is that even the tiniest amount of gratitude changed my focus in a positive way. The other thing I learned was that when I could find a way to be thankful for something really painful, I had found an emotional place from which to begin to heal that pain.

Healing requires having the courage and fortitude to sit and fully embrace the fear, anger, sadness, loss and other difficult emotions that hold us hostage until they dissipate for good. Coming to these moments with gratitude helps makes this process more tolerable.

For instance, I am grateful that I believe I am competent to achieve a goal even when I must push past feeling unprepared, afraid, or inadequate. This belief for which I’m grateful comes from the years of events like: Having to hang onto the saddle when my parents sent me galloping down the road on a full-size horse by myself. I was 18 months old. Being sent to round up the cows when I was 5 and hardly bigger than the dog I took with me. The cows acted as if I wasn’t even there, but I knew if I didn’t get them started toward the barn, the danger of the punishment I would receive was greater than any danger those cows represented. Being the delegated baker of cakes for my family to give away when I had just entered elementary school. By then, I knew how to use a mixer and the oven so I was in the kitchen alone. This was not all bad. I enjoyed baking. Getting up every night to take care of my crying baby sister because the adults in the house didn’t seem to hear her. At least by then I was 13.

While I am grateful for the skills and feeling of competence, I have had to grieve the lack of a childhood and wonder what it would feel like to ever feel carefree. (I also have a lingering sense of danger because typing this would be considered talking out of school and the consequence of such a breach still feels frightening.)

Because I began sharing this with a statement of gratitude, the feeling of loss and danger quickly dissipate and I’m left with a feeling of accomplishment and joy that I left high school after 3 years to begin college, raised two amazing sons, was able to pay for their college education, started two businesses, successfully operated one of them for 24 years while building the other one, earned a pilot’s license, built and maintained computer networks, and am slowly finding the courage to reveal where I began.

Whew! I’m also grateful to Brené Brown whose work reminds me that gratitude will help me get past my current feeling of vulnerability. To that end, I am grateful this post is done and for the chance to begin a new year with gratitude as its focus.

If you feel you can’t possibly begin to practice gratitude, let me leave you with this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

November 22, 2014

Small Crowd? Small Bird! How about Cornish Game Hen for Thanksgiving?

Small Crowd? Small Bird! How about Cornish game hen for Thanksgiving? If the gathering at your Thanksgiving table this year will be small, then maybe it’s a good time to downsize the meal to fit.
Cornish Hen
Perhaps I’m thinking this because I’m short, drove a MiniCooper for 10 years, or because I love small things. It’s really probably more closely related to the fact that I recently saw the documentary, “Just Eat It”. This movie explores food waste on the farm, in the retail food chain and in our own refrigerators. That, coupled with the fact that only Ben and I will be home this year, has me leaning toward paring down my shopping list beginning with the bird. Of course, I’ve let time get away from me so paring things down makes even more sense with less than a week to the event and no real plan in place.

The great thing about cooking with fresh ingredients is that when you’re short on planning, shopping, or prep time, you can let the food speak for itself without a lot of embellishment. Yesterday, my hairdresser told me she uses orange marmalade diluted with orange juice to baste Cornish game hens that she has seasoned with salt & pepper and larded with butter. She bakes for 15 minutes at 375% and then starts basting every 7 or 8 minutes with the orange marmalade until the bird is fully cooked (an additional 35-45 minutes). That sounds easy enough.

Instead of stuffing, I can make a rice pilaf with red bell pepper, orange zest, peas, raisins, and nuts. I already have a butternut squash and a head of cabbage. I’ll peel, boil, and mash the butternut squash with a little salt, butter, and cream and boil the cabbage in some chicken broth. Ta da! That’s plenty of food for the two of us.
Butternut Squash

Oh wait. Since it’s a holiday, maybe I should add dessert. What’s quick, easy, and small? My first thought is banana pudding. I can use instant vanilla pudding made with half & half (the generic store brand is gluten-free) layered with Mi-Del animal cookies plus perfectly ripe bananas. I’ve done this before. It takes about 5 minutes and it’s delicious. We like to call it Bananimal pudding.

Panna cotta is also an option. I love it served in my grandmother’s sherbet glasses topped with fresh raspberries. The only part that takes much time is the chilling. Since my refrigerator is happy to take care of this without any assistance from me, it fits my definition of quick.

Another possibility is to throw together a microwave spoon bread filled with berries or chocolate, or both. All I need is in an almond flour base, an egg, sweetener, a little baking soda, then some spices and berries. The result is another dessert that’s ready in less than 15 minutes.

By implementing my pared down plan, I’m also saving myself some headaches at the grocery store. If I needed traditional ingredients, I might face empty displays since I’ve waited until the last minute.

While it would be great to have the whole family together, I’m not lacking things for which to be thankful. I think I’ll add this scaled down Thanksgiving meal plan to the list.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”