I get by with a little help

Fall for me, is a warm and sentimental time. I find myself being more sympathetic, empathetic, and sensitive to others. Maybe it’s the change in the weather that makes me want to surround myself in comforting things… I don’t know. What I do know is that despite the absolute sheer horror of what the victims of Superstorm Sandy are going through, and the extreme ugliness of both sides during this election season, I continue to believe, and I continue to find that love actually is all around (name that movie!)

When we lived our old neighborhood, Halloween night was always amazingly fun. We lived at the end of a cul-de-sac, and we’d hook up with the neighbors and do a potluck dinner out in our front yard. We’d set up tables, and everyone would contribute something. There was always chili, or soup, or beef stew… along with tons of other goodies. I’d make a crock pot full of my Kahlua Caramel Apple Cider, and as the sun set, we’d have a feast of fun, food, and fellowship. Our kids would take off in a pack to collect candy from all our neighbors, and we grown ups would set up with our candy, and the parade of princesses, superheroes, wildlife, and ghastly ghouls, would make one stop with all of us adults filling candy buckets and praising the costumes. Moving away from that neighborhood and to the end of our secluded dirt road was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

So lately we’ve had another tradition that has sprung up on Halloween night. Spouse and I take the kids and we head over to a friends home for dinner and trick or treating. Debbie and Mike live in a neighborhood not too far from our old one, and for the past few years, we’ve hung out with them. The boys grab beers and shepherd the smaller kids for trick or treating while the women and older girls hang out on the porch, delighting in the hundreds of kids that come by. Tonight was no exception except Debbie said she would take care of dinner. I offered to bring something, but she said “Oh I’ll find something gluten free to throw together.” Debbie is a beautiful Italian woman, and I know better than to argue with her.

We arrived tonight, jack-o-lantern and candy in tow… the boy was dressed as a Crash Test Dummy, and Mads was ketchup. I was delighted to find our friend Karen and her daughter were there too. Debbie had a super nice veggie tray, a pepperoni and cheese tray and some drinks all ready. She also had a big pot of chili on the stove, along with Fritos, sour cream, and cheese…and a gluten free cornbread fresh out of the oven. That cornbread was delicious too.. it was light, airy, and sweet with glutenous rice flour substituted in for the wheat flour. Karen had also chipped in and supplied a warm, cheesy, buffalo chicken mixture that was the centerpiece of wrapped sandwiches, made from super soft 100% corn tortillas and crisp romaine lettuce. My two girlfriends had put together a feast and I could eat every single thing! Now I have always seen my dietary issues as mine to deal with. I mean they’re my problem…I don’t expect others to do anything special to accommodate me. But to have my friends go to the lengths they did really touches my heart.

What’s funny is that this morning, I woke up with the song “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story running through my head. It stayed there ALL DAY, so much so that I found myself humming it. I figured the universe was giving me a signal to be a friend, a blessing to others and I concentrated on being that person all day today. Then tonight, it seems I learned that being a blessing to others will often result in being blessed yourself. There’s a lesson in there my children… for all of us.

Kahlua Caramel Apple Cider:
Quality apple cider
Kahlua – 1.5 ounces for every 8 ounces of cider
cinnamon sticks
Apple wedges

Add all ingredients to crock pot and turn on. You want the cider to just warm through. Ladle into cups, and enjoy not only the juice but the apples as well. Don’t eat the cinnamon sticks though! The drink tastes like a delicious caramel apple, and is guaranteed to warm you all the way to your toes. Perfect for a chilly Halloween night, or equally as good when chilling out in front of a crackling fire.

Post Sandy

What’s the first thing I consumed after Sandy left town?

20121030-203607.jpg

Chai Latte. Nectar of the Gods. All is well. My prayers are with all of those adversely affected by the storm, and my irreverent banter will return once I finally get the family to finish all these leftovers!

Just a quick check in

Sandy is pounding those north of us but we are holding up ok. Haven’t lost power (and even if we do, I have a gas stove and fireplace). We are all warm and snug and eating everything in sight. At this point, once the storm clears I may need to turn this into a diet blog!

In all seriousness, I hope that everyone reading this is holding up ok. My prayers to everyone in Sandy’s path, I hope she treats you as gently as she has treated us. I’ll be back to irreverent food blogging soon, I promise. For now thought it’s more important to be a little serious and keep others in my prayers.

God bless us, every one.

Storm Prep

Hurricane Sandy is going to batter the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast over the course of Sunday night/Monday/Tuesday…so I had to do some storm prep in advance. Would you like to know how I prepare for a huge storm that is likely to knock out power and keep us housebound for 48 hours?

Well spouse and I put the deck furniture away, and moved the grill close to the house. We made sure to have two full propane tanks, and moved the generator into the garage, having it filled up with gas. Extra gas cans are at the ready. Cars are fueled up, phones are charged, and I pulled out the emergency kit with flashlights, LED lamps, batteries, candles, and glow sticks!

We also went to the store… we always have cases of bottled water, but we made sure to add a few just in case the power goes out (no power = no pump from the well) and we stocked up on supplies.

Chips, dip, brownie mix, popcorn, soda, bread, lunch meat, wine, and toilet paper.

RIGHT. Storm time = junk food time here at the casa…I need to at least have mindless eating to take the place of worrying about flooding and high winds. Currently I have a pan of “everything” brownies in the oven. That’s gluten free brownies studded with caramels, marshmallow, and almonds… I’ll sprinkle some coconut on the top just before they’re done. Basically, these brownies have everything left over from my other dessert projects added to them. If it’s sweet and yummy and mixes with chocolate, it’s going in there.

Because if I’m going to be housebound with my children, I need fuel.

Tonight we had roast chicken, parsley potatoes, and sauteed cabbage. I swear I LOVE sauteed cabbage. I used bacon grease, and thinly sliced ribbons of cabbage in skillet. I seasoned those ribbons with a little mustard powder, onion powder, salt, and half a lemon before finishing it with parsley compound butter (the same stuff I put on the potatoes and under the skin of my roasted chicken). Dinner was delicious, satisfying, and if we have no power, I can make cold chicken salad, and a skillet bubble and squeak on my gas stovetop.

Now I’m just relaxing, praying for my friends up and down the coast, and hunkering down with the spouse, the kids, and the pooches. I’m confident that our preparations will see us through the worst of this storm.

Because NOTHING wards off a hurricane like “everything” brownies. Stay safe y’all!

A product review

So, remember that gluten-free cupcake mix I got from Williams Sonoma? I’ve been less than impressed with gluten-free mixes in the past, but knowing the W-S quality, thought I’d at least give it a try.

Tonight it was red velvet cupcakes…. and I learned a few valuable things. First off, contrary to normal baking, when baking gluten free you must have all ingredients at room temperature. Eggs, butter, milk…. ROOM TEMPERATURE. Then blend those ingredients well. Very well. As in 3 minutes or more well…you want a completely homogeneous mixture before you start adding the dry ingredients. The dry stuff should be added in small batches, scraping down the bowl periodically. Once it’s all combined, beat again THOROUGHLY for 3+ minutes. You wouldn’t do this with regular flour because you don’t want the gluten to develop…it makes the cake TOUGH. But gluten free flour doesn’t have that problem, and benefits from the prolonged mixing period.

So, that’s what I did and I ended up with a thickened, silky smooth batter that I spooned into twelve paper lined cupcake cups. Honestly, it looked more like ketchup than any cake batter I’d ever made.

Into a pre-heated oven (don’t cheat on this step…make SURE your oven is pre-heated)

and 22 minutes later, I had cupcakes that had risen, and were PRETTY! I let the pan cool on a rack for five minutes, then pulled the cupcakes out and let them cool individually on the rack while the spouse and I ran some errands. Once the cupcakes were completely cool, I mixed up some cream cheese frosting to top them off.

Here’s my cream cheese frosting recipe:
One 8 ounce block of cream cheese at room temperature
One stick of butter at room temperature
Powdered sugar – 1 3/4 cup
One teaspoon good vanilla extract

Beat the cream cheese on medium until smooth and fluffy (about three minutes). Add the butter and beat another 3 minutes until smooth and fluffy. Add the sugar in stages, stopping to scrape down the bowl periodically… until all sugar is incorporated and there are no lumps. Finally add the teaspoon of vanilla and beat on medium until completely combined and the texture is smooth and slightly shiny. You will end up with a cream cheese frosting that is light as a cloud and not too sweet. Spread on completely cooled cupcakes.

Aren’t they pretty? But the final test was yet to come….

Heavens to Betsy (whoever she is) these cupcakes are DELICIOUS. The crumb is tender, the texture absolutely perfect, and the taste is richly cocoa without being overpowering. The rich taste is balanced beautifully by that light as air frosting, and I swear, this is the BEST gluten-free baked good I’ve ever made during an entire year of experimenting.

These cupcakes got thumbs up from the ENTIRE family. YAY! We may actually get to experience things like birthday cake, cupcakes, and the occasional dessert now. I can’t wait.

And for the record, Williams Sonoma has NO idea who I even am…I am not paid for this review, the only thing I got was delicious red velvet cupcakes after paying for my mix like anyone else. So for all you other normal folks who have to eat gluten free…. try the cupcake mix. It’s awesome!

The perfect Halloween food

Look at this thing!

It’s a horned melon…also known as a jelly melon. This is what I fed my family tonight. Ok, not JUST this…we actually had a delicious and VERY fast dinner (out of the fridge/pantry and onto the table in 45 minutes) of pork shoulder steaks – salt, pepper, and into the grill pan, fingerling sweet potatoes – peel, pop into a glass dish, cover with plastic wrap and nuke, dress with butter, salt, and some brown sugar, and a tossed salad with some feta cheese.

But hey, it’s close to Halloween and I had picked up this little thing at the local farmer’s market. So I cut it into wedges and THIS is what was inside…

Green slime and seeds! WOO HOOO! Now you can eat the rind, although my family didn’t. Also, some folks just eat the green flesh and spit out the seeds, but in this family, the whole thing went down…seeds and all.

So the taste? Something between a cucumber and a kiwi. Add salt, and it goes sweeter and more kiwi… leave it alone and the flavor stays more mellow and refreshing like a cuke. Really neat fruit and a fun thing to eat. Everyone gave it a thumbs up, so I think I’ll pick up another one or two to eat over the weekend. You should too….after all, it isn’t every food that can look THIS scary but taste this good!

PIG DAY!!

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Today, I got my pig. Well… WE got OUR pig. Part of it anyway. There was a mix up at the butcher, so I’m still minus ham, and ham steaks, and ALL THE BACON… but we’ll fix that soon enough.

Spareribs, baby back ribs, tenderloin, pork roasts, chops, shoulder steaks, sweet Italian sausage… I honestly cannot WAIT to try out all the recipes swirling around my head.

So, our visit to ION Farms in Nanjemoy was awesome! Lee and Tasha are super cool people who treat their animals a lot like pets. I got to meet a bunch of them, including the new breeding piglets. They’re all little redheads… good thing I didn’t meet this cuteness FIRST, I couldn’t stand it.

Look! Ginger piglets!


Goats, cows, chickens, guineafowl, rabbits, a mama cat and her kittens… Lee and Tasha have a cross between a menagerie and a petting zoo. As Lee puts it “we know the eventual purpose of these animals, but that doesn’t stop us from treating them like pets and spoiling them while we have them.” It sure shows too, as the animals are all just so calm, relaxed, and happy. Honestly, there isn’t a single iota of stress that shows on these animals. Also, they invite any of their customers to come and visit, see the animals, view their environment and their feed. It’s so refreshing to meet food producers with no secrets, no agenda, just the desire to bring wholesome delicious food from the farm to the table. You can read a bit about ION Farm at Eat Wild. Contact them, go see them, and enjoy your visit to the country. You’ll be impressed, I promise.

I realize also that I owe you a recipe for my ham with cabbage, apples, and carrot. So here goes… I took three organic carrots, peeled and cut them into rounds. I also peeled, cored, and diced three apples (one red delicious, one empire, and one granny smith since that’s what I had on hand). I heated up some bacon grease, and put the carrots and apples in there with some salt to let them soften. I cut half a medium cabbage into strips, and set them aside. When the carrots and apples just start to soften, I removed them, and laid the section of ham into the skillet. I laid the cabbage strips over the ham, spooned the apples and carrots on top, and then poured in enough organic apple cider to have the liquid come halfway up the sides of my deep skillet. I added a grating of black pepper and popping on the lid, I put the entire shebang into the oven at 350 degrees. I let the dish cook for a while, the liquid braising that cabbage until tender and luscious.

SO SO SO good! The apple cider, salt, and pepper added enough warmth and a hint of a spicy flavor that I didn’t need anything else. The carrots were sweet, the apples gave a tartness, and the cabbage just tasted earthy and had soaked up so much ham flavor it was incredible. It was also the perfect foil to my kale and ham hocks. The best news? There were enough leftovers that Mads and the Boy had some with mac and cheese for dinner tonight while Spouse and I went pig fetching.

OH! And in geek news, I got to help a fellow foodie @glutenfreefreak on tips to clean leeks! Look for her on Twitter and give her a follow. She’s the BOMB when it comes to gluten-free food finds. Oh, and feel free to follow me too, (@stacyo513) even though I tweet more about sports than food it seems.

Another work day awaits tomorrow, but you can believe I’ll be SO unproductive as I’m dreaming of ways to cook pork!