Very Thankful

There was lots of turkey this weekend.  We ate turkey dinner three times:  Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.  As if that wasn't enough, we stopped by Whole Foods for lunch on Friday and Tim got turkey and gravy from their hot bar.  Turkey four days in a row for him.  He loves Thanksgiving.

We did sneak in some non-turkey-eating activities.  There was a family dinner outside of Columbus, a quick unpacking of our Christmas decorations, and an impromptu visit to the Englewood dam for family pictures. 

While waiting for the sunset to hit the perfect moment for a few last pictures, we did a little goofing around, balancing on fallen branches, and chatting about what our dogs secretly think about us.  (We have very deep conversations in times like these.)  I caught a moment of Tim and Melissa on the bench, side by side, and thought about how I hit the jackpot marrying into this family.

After I snapped a few pictures of Melissa in front of the setting sun, we headed to the car.  The sky was beautiful, full of blues and pinks, but it didn't seem like the sunset was going to offer the golden reds and royal puples I was hoping for.  As we were driving away from the park, we could see out the windows that we left a few minutes too early.

Tim knew I had been waiting for that shot and asked, "Do you want me to pull over?"  It was thoughtful of him, but I said we could just keep on heading home.

If I'm lucky, I will get to see thousands of more sunsets with this family.  For that, I am very thankful.

(Just thoughts today, but more food posts later this week.)


Bread, My Love

I was all set to do a post about preparing the home for Thanksgiving where I was going to tell you how Tim and I got serious on our clutter this weekend, but then bread happened.  Yes, bread.

As I told you we would, we spent Saturday morning acting like tourists around downtown Cincinnati, snapping pictures of Findlay Market and then of the incredible gardens at Krohn Conservatory.  Tim teased me a little bit, calling me the paparazzi, but once I handed the camera over to him at the Conservatory to take photos of the Orchid House, he started to really get into taking pictures.  I think he took a picture of every single orchid in the installation.  Every. Single. One

When we got home, Tim settled in to watch college football and I took up my post in the kitchen, experimentally baking, as I told you I would.  My lofty dream of re-creating a family favorite dessert went south--quickly--as just about everything went wrong.  Then I mixed up the dough for gluten-free, egg-free baguettes and that seemed to flop as well.  My pre-ground flax, when mixed with water, wasn't gelling the way it was supposed to do and the dough was off.  It wasn't until I baked up some gluten-free, vegan, soy-free chocolate chip blondies that I felt like I was getting my baking mojo back.  I was ready for round two of bread-making.

I followed the directions on the Artisan Bread in 5 Blog exactly as written, even grinding my own whole flax seed to fine powder for an egg-replacer, and said a small prayer over the mixing bowl.  As we waited for it to rise, we tackled some clutter (all inspired by Tracy's post on the Homefries blog) by decluttering the living room bookshelf and then emptying out our cabinet with the lazy-susan and ridding ourselves of half full bags of dried cranberries.  It felt great to tame our overflowing cabinet, and as a reward for our efforts, the universe cooperated, allowing the stars to align, and our dough rose perfectly.

After we chilled it, formed the baguette shapes (a delicate procedure when working with somewhat goopy, squishy gluten-free dough), and let them rest for another 40 minutes, I finally popped them into a hot oven to bake. 

The house smelled like warm, yeasty bread.  A smell so missed that I think I had hidden my longing for it deep inside so that even I couldn't recognize it until the smell of a bread I could actually eat awoke it.  I could only think, Oh bread, my love, this is our reunion!

It's been over 5 weeks since I've eaten bread that even remotely reminded me of bread. This bread was divine.  Even Tim said that it was so similar to traditional bread that he was pleasantly surprised.  The outside was firm and crisp, the inside was slightly fluffy with a little bit of the trademark bready chew.

Should you decide to make this bread for yourself or a gluten-free loved one, I do have a few tips.  Wait until the bread has cooled completely before eating it.  If you break it open too soon, the inside might be a little squishy.  It tastes perfectly wonderful at room temperature and has more traditional bread-like structure.  Also, I didn't top it with the seeds as shown in the original recipe, but I think seeds would be an excellent addition to the bread.  Lastly--and this is the most important--you can't swap out any of the ingredients and expect the same result.  For the best gluten-free bread, use the King Arthur Flour mixes exactly as listed.  I can purchase KAF Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour at Whole Foods and possibly my local supermarket, but I had to order the KAF Ancient Grains Flour from the KAF website.

Happy baking!

(And if you missed it, you can find the recipe with step-by-step photos for Gluten-free, Egg-free Baguettes here.)



See that up there?  My early Christmas gift from Tim.  I couldn't figure out how to tell you about it without taking a picture of it, and then thought about the slight absurdity of photographing a camera (might I call it meta-photography?).  He purchased it from someone on Craigslist; it's practically unused and came with the original box.  I have had just one afternoon since he gave it to me (before our 5:30pm sunset) to snap a few pictures of the dogs playing in the backyard.  I am just getting the hang of it, and I suppose once I get started taking pictures I may never stop learning.

I like to imagine Tim and I traipsing around the globe with this camera hanging from our necks, snapping pictures of one another posing awkwardly in front of "The World's Largest (Blank)."  In fact, we are going to start doing that this weekend.

Well, there is no impromptu cross-country road trip planned, but Tim called me this afternoon to inform me that we have nothing planned this weekend.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  Two whole days.  So we are going to spend Saturday morning visiting Findlay Market, slurping Pho for lunch, and then finding spots in the city to take pictures.  Think sunny thoughts for me, would you please?

I also plan on doing some experimental baking.  I've got this (crazy) idea to make a beloved family dessert fit my diet restrictions, and I may spend any other free time I have figuring it out.  One thing I have learned about cooking since I started avoiding certain foods is that there is no equal substitute for certain items.  If you swap out the regular flour for gluten-free flour, you will not necessarily get an equal result.  It does require changes in my expectations, but I'm hopeful that I can come up with something close enough.  It wouldn't be Thanksgiving if this dessert wasn't on the buffet table.

Speaking of baking...I'd like to propose a Virtual Cookie Swap on December 12.  No stress--just post a favorite holiday cookie recipe on your blog on Monday, December 12, and then come over here and comment on my blog with a link to your post.   Then I will do a cookie recipe round-up that will inspire bakers to get in the kitchen and into the holiday spirit!  I will post more information on the blog about this virtual event before then, and you can also look for the hashtag #cookieswap on Twitter!

Have a great weekend--and I hope to have some photos and recipes to share with you next week. 


On Eating (and Not Eating)

A few weeks ago I stood in a semi-fast food restaurant and couldn't pick out a single thing on the menu to order.  I ruled out several items from the get-go and then asked the manager to bring out a binder full of nutrition and ingredient facts.  I went over nearly every item on their menu, standing there at the counter for almost ten minutes, realizing that I have never had any idea what was in the food I was eating. 

It was shocking, confusing, disheartening.  I finally settled on an iced tea and a fruit cup.  That would have to be lunch that day.

Then I went out to my car and cried a little.  That day, it was just a little.  But there have been a few days since I started seeing an allergist to get to the root of my stomach issues that I've cried a lot.  I found him through an online doctor-finder program provided by my insurance company.  He had positive reviews, was close to my house, and was accepting new patients.  When I went to see him, I was taken back to a room relatively quickly and the staff were friendly.  I explained my symptoms and concerns to him and emphatically said, "I would do anything to feel better.  I would stop eating anything."

And he very seriously looked at me and said, "Do you mean that?  Because I will be asking you to give things up."

And he did ask.  He asked me to give up a lot--for three straight weeks.  And for three straight weeks, I followed every single guideline he gave me.  I went without.  I felt better.  I also had blood drawn and was tested for all sorts of things.  Nothing came back irregular.  No food allergies.  No diseases (like celiac).  My body is simply intolerant to certain foods. 

I saw him again, just a few days ago.  When I told him how strict I'd been with the diet, he praised me.  "That's wonderful!" he said, "any issues?"

There was one day where I'd eaten something specific and felt ill soon after.  "Ah yes, we'll have you avoid that too.  For one month."

Now I'm going on four weeks of food restrictions.  I've managed to dine out a few times, but I order plain steamed vegetables or a simple salad with no dressing.  Once I even brought my own dressing since I could guarantee it fit my restrictions.  I've packed my lunch to take on trips, and I've found a few fairly convenient restaurants that can accommodate my restrictions, though I think Tim is sick of both of them already.  In another week I will get one food I've been living without back into my diet, and hopefully that will go well because I surely miss it. 

There's also a big holiday coming up--an eating holiday--where I will likely sit around a table watching my family eat foods I love.  I felt guilty last week when I spoke to my mom about my restrictions and requested that some foods be prepared without certain ingredients. I even felt badly for offering alternative ingredient suggestions.  How could I ask someone to go out and buy an unusual item just to accommodate me?  Then I remembered that she loves me.  And that gives me a little courage to speak up.  To at least ask.  My mom was happy to look into some small substitutions, and I also offered to bring a side dish to share.  Something that everyone will enjoy and that will guarantee I have something good to eat.   

Even though I have had a few moments where I am exhausted with reading labels and researching menus and looking up recipes to the point where I would rather just eat nothing than continue researching safe foods, I know that it's worth it.  Eating this way has helped me start to feel better.  And that's all I want. 

I will tell you all the nitty, gritty details of what I can and can't eat someday, but for now I'm still figuring out what restrictions are temporary and what may be more permanent.  You may see me post recipes and talk of dining out from pre- and post-restrictions.  When I get answers, I will let you know.  I can only say for sure that things--internally speaking--are on the up and up.


Monday Link Love: Inspiration

I would consider myself a person who thinks a lot--maybe too much.  My mind drifts off when I'm waiting at the pharmacy or stirring a pot of risotto.  I cry during all Pixar movies and even sometimes watching commercials.  I am a dreamer.  A believer.  I'm sure some would say I just have a wild imagination, but I don't think that's the reason.  Life moves me. 

So today I'm sharing some of that inspiration with you (food and non-food related). 

My beautiful, talented, smart cousin Joy is a truly motivated young woman.  She's already completed a young adult novel!  And she shares about her goals to be a published writer over on her blog.  Check it out--she will make you laugh, make you think, and make you want to chase your dreams, too. 

Do you think Thanksgiving can't exist without the turkey?  Aimee is proving that wrong with her round-up of vegetarian Thanksgiving dishes.  I think she's onto something, here. 

We went to a fund-raiser on Saturday night for the Midwest Boston Terrier Rescue. It's the rescue from which we adopted our amazing Boston Terrier mix, Murray.   It felt really good to support the rescue's mission and motivated me to be more involved in something that I truly believe in.

Speaking of going after your goals, I loved today's blog post from Joy the Baker.  She shares 10 tips on how to build a successful blog--and most of them you might already know but need to hear.   My favorite:  pretty things are important.  I'm going to work on that. 

You may be in denial, but Christmas is just around the corner.  I'm inspired by the modern-homemaking goddess, Cherry Menlove.  She started her series on preparing for Christmas with sharing an extremely useful template to keep track of holiday gifting and budgets.  I've already printed three copies!

Has anything around the web inspired you lately?  Please share!

See you back here soon.  As always, thanks for stopping by. 


Culinary Smackdown Round-Up and Winner!

I just want to say thankyouthankyouthankyou to all of you who participated!  What a fun way to pay tribute to fall and to share ideas on food.

And since everyone is so enthusiastic, I decided to make the victory a little sweeter.  Before I even looked at the entries, I decided to toss in an extra prize.

The winner of Culinary Smackdown: Battle Winter Squash will receive a $25 Gift Card to Bed, Bath & Beyond.  It's one of my favorite stores to waste a little money, and I thought I'd give the winner some incentive to treat themselves. 

Now to check out the entries.

La Diva from La Diva Cucina got serious about winter squash with not ONE but TWO entries. First she offered up Pumpkin Pancakes with Fried Chipotle Chicken.  This screams sweet and savory comfort food, and it kind of makes me want this for breakfast and dinner...Brinner?

Then just to really show how versatile winter squash can be she created an entirely original and incredible second dish, Seared Lemongrass Scallops on a Thai Coconut Butternut Squash Coulis with Thai Basil Oil and Crispy Fried Eschallots.  If you are wondering what any of those fancy words mean, La Diva kindly describes it on her blog.  All I can say is that this woman can dream up a dish and make it happen.  Impressive.  

One of my favorite Cincinnati bloggers, Jeff from A Dork and His Pork, joined the Smackdown this month and got scientific on us!  Using molecular gastronomy, he took his stand-by Rosemary Squash Soup and turned some of it into little gelled spheres to garnish his soup.  It's kind of amazing, and even though he wasn't fully satisfied with the result, I'm thoroughly impressed with his effort and the soup recipe.  (I think the world IS ready, Jeff!)

Local food blogger Stephanie from Small Girl Adventures introduced me to Pumpkin Butter.  And not only did she give a great recipe, but she also gave suggestions on ways to use it up.  I don't think Pumpkin Butter would last very long at my house--and I'm kind of dying to make it now that I've got this easy recipe to follow. 

I absolutely love the recipe for Butternut Squash Soup from Grumpy Granny.  It calls for coconut milk, rather than cream, to thicken the soup, and since I have so many vegan's and dairy-free people in my life, this recipe could be a dinner-party lifesaver!  She didn't even know it and she was offering up a recipe with one of my very favorite new ingredients!  (And I love the idea of serving it out of a teacup!)

My dear blogging friend Eggy at Eggplant To Go offered up the most unique use of winter squash with her Fresh Butternut Squash Salad.  How incredibly creative to use raw squash the way you would use a thick pasta!  I'm always so astonished with the passion in which she approaches food and how stylish she is in the kitchen, but she raised the bar on herself with this one!

I can hardly believe that this is the first time Boxer from Anonymous Boxer cooked with squash.  These Butternut Squash Cupcakes are divine and beautiful!  Boxer is the only person to offer up a dessert and I think the risk paid off!  Well done!

I wish I had been at the block party where Buzzkill's Butternut and Acorn Squash Soup was served.  That looked like a good party!  And the secret ingredient to this soup?  Cream cheese!  And I can get acorn squash for less than a dollar a piece at the farmer's market these days so this would be a great way to use them up!

Alright, now that I've checked out all of the entries and considered my guidelines for the Smackdown, I've decided on a winner.

Drumroll please...

The winner is BOXER!  I loved your use of a normally savory squash in a the sweet cupcakes.  Please go to my about page and send me an email with your mailing address and I will send you the gift card!

And thanks to everyone who participated.  I'm not sure when the next Smackdown will be held but I'm already looking forward to it!