Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

I'd post my "First Year, Gluten Free" roundup, but lots of you have been down that road already. I'll just say thanks to God, the universe, my patient family and friends, and my gluten free blog buddies for helping me through this year. I love being healthy again. Some mysteries remain, but they are manageable. I feel good every day.

The week between Christmas and New Year has passed in a flash. I still have a few more vacation days, and I plan to enjoy them at a leisurely pace.

In chicken news, I ran into my buddy, Big Lar. He's a developer and owns the land where the winter farmers market sits. He's offered some valuable re-used materials for my chicken coop project. Thanks, Larry!

I joined Facebook so I could be an official friend of the Chatterbox Jazz Club. In only two days lots of friends, old and new, have checked in on my wall. I'm lovin' Facebook!

I'll be enjoying an early New Grist beer at the Chatterbox this New Year's Eve. I hope to see lots of my pals in the after-work hours.

I wish you a healthy, happy and prosperous 2009!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sounds like summer . . .

But it's not! It's an unseasonably warm December 27th. I started my leisurely Saturday with a trip to a new farmers market. When I returned home I did a little gardening. IN DECEMBER!

Indianapolis has a relatively new Winter Farmers Market on Saturday mornings at 25th and Central, in the renovating Mapleton Fall Creek neighborhood. I had just run out of the apples I picked from my neighbor's tree, so I decided to check it out.

I had lots of varieties to choose from. I bought some Grimes for baking and a couple of good red apples to eat fresh. I got to use one of the three new shopping bags I got for Christmas. Two are nylon and fold up into tiny bundles. One even has a clip so I can attach it to my purse or belt loop. The third is a big canvas shopper from Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville store. I love them all!

I saw these funny fingerling potatoes. Their odd shapes reminded me of ginger root. The same stand offered beautiful winter squash. But I've still got plenty of potatoes and squash from my own garden, so I settled for photos.

Sunset Acres had samples of all their cheeses. I tasted several and decided on the horseradish white cheddar and the white colby. Yum! I also picked up some Fromage a Trois goat cheese featuring a white layer, a sundried tomato layer and a pesto layer.

My last stop was the chicken and egg stand. I bought these beautiful brown eggs and got to see photos of their chickens and Quonset hut-like mobile chicken coops. Their free range chickens are protected by a hard-working guard dog and a puppy in training. The grown dog is training the puppy. The humans just watch in awe. Hawks and eagles are their most dangerous predators. So the dogs watch the ground and the sky. Good dogs!

I talked to my friend, Kyle, who is organizing a downtown food co-op. I might plant extras of some vegetables so I can be a supplier. My dragon tongue beans and sungold orange cherry tomatoes are real eye-catchers, and tasty, too!

I stopped by the homes of a couple of friends on my way home. I still have lots of summer cherries in my freezer and decided to share the wealth.

It was 67 degrees when I returned to Kay's Leaning Tree Farm. We'd had some rain, so the ground was a bit muddy. But it seemed like the right time to move a couple of rogue asparagus plants from the front yard to the asparagus patch in back. I'd been meaning to get around to that chore for eight years. Dormant roots, wet soil, perfect! I hope they like their new home.

It felt great to have a summer-like day in late December. Today we're back to a high in the 30's. It's winter again.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Is this gluten free?

Why, yes it is! My Key Lime Pie passed the holiday-with-wheat-eating-relatives test! It had been a year since I'd enjoyed a piece of pie for dessert. So I was probably the happiest about eating pie. But none of my relatives left even a crumb on their plate.

The crust was confusing part. I can't eat any packaged cookies, even the gluten free ones. And all the cookie recipes call for baking soda, which is off my list. So I decided to bake up some vanilla cookies without baking soda. I was just going to turn them into crumbs.

Crumb Crust Cookies

1 C butter
2 1/2 C sugar (Next time I'll use 2 C)
vanilla scrapings from 1/4 vanilla bean pod
2 eggs
3 C brown rice flour
1 t salt

Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter, sugar, vanilla. Add eggs. Beat well. Blend in flour and salt. Roll into balls and flatten the balls slightly. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet at bake for 10 - 12 minutes. Remove when they just start to brown around the edges.

*Note: They were a little dense and my crumbs were a little big. Next time I'll try whipping two of the egg whites and folding them in last. I hope that will give me a lighter cookie.

Key Lime Pie

1 C cookie crumbs (I ground mine in the food processor)
4 T melted butter

Press your gooey mixture into a 9 inch pie plate. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Cream layer
1/2 C fresh lime juice
4 egg yolks
1 - 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

Separate the eggs and put the yolks in the mixing bowl. Whip them until they are creamy light yellow. Add the lime juice and milk. Beat until it thickens. Pour into cooled pie shell. Bake for about ten minutes while you make meringue.

In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites until they are stiff. Add 6 T sugar. Beat until the sugar dissolves. Spread the meringue over the creamy layer of your pie. Be artistic! Bake another 10 minutes and remove pie when the meringue is nicely browned. Let the pie cool at room temperature for a couple of hours before refrigerating.

My mom made these polar bears to decorate her yard for Christmas. The bears entertained neighbors and passersby, and their photo appeared in our local newspaper. They are constructed of papier mache and painted with exterior latex (house paint.) They are nearly weather-proof. One of the bears was seen wearing a plastic bag over his head during a recent rainstorm. Thankfully, the paparazzi missed that moment.

Welcome home, Cousin Kathy! Missed you! She's on the right. I'm on the left. As you can see, my side of the family is "cheekier" than Kathy's side. My puke green sweater with fur collar was maybe the second bold fashion statement I've made in my whole life. I wore it all day and all night on Christmas Eve. I attended three different Christmas celebrations that day. Christmas Eve is my birthday, and it was a really happy one! Who needs birthday cake when there's Key Lime Pie?!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The countdown continues

It's December 17, one week before Christmas Eve. I have to cook two more dinners for the finals-frenzied sorority girls, then take leftover perishibles to Second Helpings. I'll join in some holiday gatherings over the weekend. Then my brother and his girlfriend will arrive on Monday.

I checked out my fridge, to see what I could offer to mainstream gluten-eaters. Eeeek! I was seriously short on condiments! I'm afraid my brother might have a panic attack if he opened my refrigerator to find no ketchup, mayonnaise or barbecue sauce. I've only enjoyed ketchup a few times in the last year. I made two batches (about 3/4 cup each) from my garden tomatoes. Turns out my gluten free diet doesn't require much ketchup. But I think every refrigerator should contain a bottle. It's a food comfort issue.

Early on, I tried every organic and health food store ketchup I could find. No luck. Reactions to all. I hadn't found a canned tomato sauce that worked for me, so I decided it was time for more research. I found some Muir Glen organic tomato paste and crushed tomatoes, with only one ingredient - tomatoes. No reaction, yay! So I cooked up a batch of ketchup, then turned half of it into barbecue sauce.

On to the luxuriuos creaminess of mayo! I've tried making it by hand whisking. That worked, but took a long time. I tried using my stick blender. Didn't work out for me. And it's tough to whip one egg yolk in the KitchenAid mixer. Hmmm. Okay, how about two egg yolks? How about if I unscrew the mixing bowl and hold it just a little higher so the whip can reach the yolks? Score! Double batch!

Kay's Mayonnaise
(Makes a little over 2 C)

2 egg yolks
4 1/2 t cider vinegar
1 t salt
1 t sugar
1 t fresh lime juice
2 C canola oil

Whisk the egg yolks in the stand mixer using the whisk attachment. Hold the bowl just high enough for the whisk to do its job. It's tricky!

Combine vinegar, water, salt, sugar and lemon juice in a cup or bowl. Stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved.

Add half of this to the egg yolk and whisk a few seconds until incorporated.

Measure the canola oil into a measuring cup with a spout. Pour a couple of drops of oil into the egg mixture. Then pour a couple more drops. Screw the mixing bowl back onto its stand and run the whisk at med-high speed. Then pour the first cup of oil in a very thin, slow stream down the side of the bowl.

When the mayonnaise is very thick, add the rest of the vinegar mixture. Whisk some more.

Add the remaining oil in a slow steady stream while the whisk is running.

Voila! Sandwich and potato salad heaven!

I added a little (maybe 1/2 t) dry mustard to 1/4 c mayonnaise to make a tangy spread for ham sandwiches. It needs to sit in the fridge for a few days to mellow before using. I might spice it up a bit by adding a dab of the vinegar from my jar of horseradish.

After a trip to Trader Joe's to stock up on chemical-free bacon, I'll be ready for company! I really envy those of you who can just go to the store and buy a jar of whatever condiment you need!

And just for fun, here's a photo of my Delta Delta Delta alumnae group. I'm in my pink Christmas tree sweater. We had our Christmas brunch and auction last Saturday. We had fun and raised some money for local collegiate chapters. Irma's famous rum cakes brought a pretty penny! Several members were sidelined with the flu. Hope you're feeling better, girls!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

All this goodness for $3.88!

There's a little produce market I visit frequently. It's called Wilcher's and it's sort of the Big Lots of fresh foods. The prices are always great, but I never know what I'll find. So I used to stop in every week before my trip to the grocery store. But I haven't had a regular schedule for grocery shopping lately, so I've been skipping that stop. Wilcher's closes at 6:00, and I've been shopping on my way home from late nights at work. So I just pay the grocery store prices.

Fortunately, my mom shops there too, and alerted me to some deals. So I went there three days in a row. The first day I bought two boxes of bluberries for $1.00. The second day I got all the lovely produce in the photo for $3.88. The third day I bought two HUGE pointsettias for $3.00 each. I gave them as gifts before I took any photos. Oops!

I froze the bluberries for a holiday cobbler. I ate every one of the red raspberries right out of the box. They tasted like June! Last night I oven roasted the baby beets and ate them with a dab of goat cheese and some toasted pecans. They were sweet like fruit or candy! I squeeze an orange or two for a glass of juice before breakfast. I used the celery for a re-do batch of my wild rice soup.

I love Wilcher's!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Goals . . . how oddly mine have morphed

Sally over at Aprovechar is wondering what new physical goals to set, now that she has reached some previous goals. First, congrats Sally! You're the butterfly now - light, beautiful and mobile. It's been encouraging to follow your blog and watch your transformation. I'm happy you have taken charge of your health and made dramatic improvements.

Nearly a year into gluten-free living (my anniversary is Jan. 1,) my goals have also changed dramatically. Healthwise I'm feeling nearly normal. I can get through a tough day's work and still have energy for my own projects. I put in 12 hour days of hard work in the garden all summer and was rewarded with delightful harvests. I rescued my flower beds after five years of neglect due to ill health.

My attitude has improved along with my health. Most days I'm a pretty happy camper. I have enough energy for fun after five years of struggling to just make it through my work days.

My new lifestyle has brought new goals. Funny what can happen in a year . . . really! Laugh-out-loud funny!

Here's the entertaining list of my current goals:

1. I want to raise my own chickens and eat fresh eggs every day. I've found a couple of "chicken mentors." I want to build my coop and chicken yard with recycled (reused, really) materials. I'm circulating my materials list, so the right cast-offs can come my way.

2. I want to raise my bowling average to the 120's. I had a couple of lucky games during the last league. I'd like to figure out what I did right and do it more often. I'd also like new bowling shoes. I bought my current shoes when I was puffed up like an Oompah Loompah. They are too big now. Like my pants - ha ha!!!!! (BTW - I'm taking 14 pairs of too-big pants to the resale shop today.)

3. I'd like to try out for the Naptown Roller Girls, Indy's fairly new roller derby team. I'm pretty sure I'll be the only 52 year old at tryouts. I'm a good skater, and the uniforms are really hot! I went to their 2009 calendar party last night and I sooooo want to be in one of those calendar shots. They definitely celebrate their strengths, with perfect lighting, of course. The biggest challenge of this endeavor will be finding a new career, or a job that provides health insurance. But that's on a different goals list.

4. This is a really short-term goal. I want to drive half an hour north and get arrested by Erik Estrada. He's back in uniform with the Muncie, IN police department! He did a reality show with the force there and made some friends. He's back this weekend to help them out with some fundraising. I don't generally break any laws, but maybe I could, just this once!

Of course, I have other goals. They are not as much fun as these goals. I'll save them for a less entertaining post.

Since I don't have a roller derby calendar shot yet, I'll leave you with a this photo from our bowling banquet. I'm on the left, with fellow bowlers Rebecca, Rich and Christianna. Rich is about a foot and a half taller than Christianna, so she's standing up on the stage. It was a really fun bowling banquet!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I ended up baking a new loaf of bread while watching Rudolph. Before Thanksgiving, I found a couple of bags of white rice flour marked down to half price. I'd been using brown rice flour for months, but I couldn't resist a gluten free deal. So I bought them and used them in place of my usual brown rice flour. After three days of eating the foods I'd made, I noticed my vision was blurry . . . again. My vision has been clear since about May. So it took a couple of days for me to realize that white rice flour was the new item in my diet. And it's puzzling that I would react to white rice flour, but not brown rice flour. But it's an easy fix.

It pains me to throw out homemade food with expensive ingredients, but I'm getting used to it. So I abandoned the pizza, bread and soup I'd made with white rice flour. My eyes seem to be back to normal today. I made a fresh loaf of bread with brown rice flour and potato flour, and I'll try the soup again, with brown rice flour. It's a great soup!

Minnesota Wild Rice Soup

3/4 C wild rice
1 onion, diced
1 C celery, sliced
1 4 oz. can mushrooms
1/2 C butter
1 C rice flour (choose your own color!)
8 C chicken broth
1 C diced chicken
Salt & pepper to taste
1 C milk or half & half (I used goat milk.)
2 T sherry or white wine (I left this out.)

I started by making a big vat of chicken stock. I haven't found a store-bought version that agrees with me. I miss the convenience, so I made enough to freeze some for future soups. Since I need a "do-over," I'm glad I made extra.

Simmer the wild rice in 2 C water for about 4o minutes.

In your soup pot, saute onion, celery and mushrooms in butter until they start to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in flour until mixed in. Do not brown. Heat the chicken stock and stir it in slowly until the mix is well blended. Stir in drained, cooked rice and chicken. Season. Heat thoroughly. Stir in milk or half & half. Add sherry or wine and heat gently but do not boil.

I needed some flavor for my stock, so I cut some Italian parsley and par-cel from my frozen garden. Worked just fine!

I used my adorable pastel carrots. I love them! I'm planting twice as many next year!

I started preparing Christmas treats in my work kitchen at school. The sorority girls will have their party next Monday (eeek!) so I need to make a couple of items every day. I love making the treats, but fixing their dinner feels like an inconvenience this time of year.

First I stirred up a big jar of hot cocoa mix. They'll need a comforting hot beverage for late night studying. The recipe I used included non-dairy creamer. The first ingredient listed is corn syrup solids. As soon as I opened the pack, a cloud of dust rushed up. Since I stay away from corn and corn products, I put on a mask right away and turned on the big exhaust fan. I mixed a double batch in a gallon zip lock bag, to inhibit the spread of corn dust. I had one of my house boys taste-test a cup of cocoa when the mix was done. He said it's lots better than the mix that comes in packets.

Hot Cocoa Mix

2 C powdered milk
1 C sugar
1/2 C cocoa
1/2 C non-dairy creamer
4 shakes of salt

Mix well and store in a pretty jar. To make cocoa, add 3 to 4 T mix to a mug of boiling water. Add marshmallows, whipped cream or both!

I also tried a very easy, and mostly allergen-free peanut butter fudge. My houseboy taste-testers liked it, and couldn't tell there's no cream or milk.

Peanut Butter Fudge

1 C creamy peanut butter
2 C sugar
1/2 C water
1/4 t vanilla

In a pot, bring the sugar and water to a boil. Let boil for EXACTLY one minute. Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter and vanilla. Have it measured out and ready. Mix well and pour into 8 x 8 greased pan. Cool and cut into squares.

My notes on this recipe say that natural peanut butters don't work well. I used Peter Pan for this batch. I'll test drive it at home with one of the brands I can eat. Smucker's Natural is the thickest of the peanut butters I eat, so I'll try that one first.

Happy holiday baking!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's the big day!

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is on tonight! I always kick off the holiday baking season while watching Rudolph. I almost know it by heart. I know when to step away from the chocolate because I'll have to shed a tear or two. Copyright laws prevent me from posting a photo of Rudolph and Burl Ives' Snowman, but just the sight of them cheers me up and puts me in a Christmas-y mood.

This will be the first gluten free Christmas Rudolph and I will share. So my recipes will change, but not my spirit! I might stir up some homemade hot chocolate mix to warm the hearts (and bodies!) of friends and family. I might roll some truffles into perfect round delights. I might bake some vanilla cookies to use for the crust of my Christmas Key Lime Pie.

Rudolph reminds me that even my oddities can have value. He lets me treasure my role in my little universe (which is looking a bit like the North Pole since we've had a little snow!) He reminds me to love unconditionally. And he lets me sing along, even though I can't carry a tune.

Rudolph with your nose so bright, won't you light my kitchen counter tonight? He never lets me down! Let the festivities begin!

I started my gluten free journey last January 1. I'm glad I've got 11 months of adjusting behind me. I've come a long way. My brain has found detours around wheat-laden roadblocks. My heart has found joy in improved health. And . . .

All my hair has grown back! No bald spots to hide with ingenious comb-overs! Every Christmas for the last five years, my mother has said, "Don't worry, dear. I'm sure your hair will grow back by next Christmas." At long last, next Christmas has arrived!