Long time no post, I know

Sorry for the lengthy delay in posting. Two weeks ago, my children’s Godmother (and the mother to MY Godchildren) passed away unexpectedly. To say that I was shocked and saddened would be a gross understatement. Even now I have a tough time processing the fact that this wonderful person is gone from my life forever. She was one of those people that no matter how long had passed since we last talked, we always picked RIGHT up where we left off. I had spoken to her less than a month before her death and she sounded great, happy…everything I loved about her. So that is how I will remember her, not the last few days of her life and her untimely death.

So I came back home from her memorial services, and back into my routine. New job, kid stuff, market runs, hit and miss dinners.

HOWEVER, I was able to make Italian stuffed cabbage rolls for my family as well as an extra pan which I delivered to friends who are brand new parents. I’ll do the tutorial on those later (they were LABOR INTENSIVE but oh so good!), but today I wanted to celebrate the most delicious, easiest side dish/salad I’ve had in a long long time. I call it “Zucchini Ribbon Salad” and it seriously couldn’t be easier.

I was fortunate enough to snag some tiny yellow squash and some small zucchini from the farmer’s market, hooray for fall plantings! and I needed something delicious to do with them. So here’s my answer… warning…it’s addictive.

I used four small yellow squash and two small zucchini… as well as a small red onion. I put them on the mandolin, and sliced them super thin into ribbons. I sliced the onion thin as well, and popped it into ice water to take some of the “bite” out of it. You could also use a simple vegetable peeler to get the ribbon effect from the squash, but since I had the mandolin out, I couldn’t resist!

I put one large clove of garlic through the garlic press into a bowl. I added the zest of a lemon and then the juice of that lemon to the bowl. I chopped up a handful of fresh parsley, added salt, and then whisked in a generous amount of olive oil to make a lemon vinaigrette. Be sure to taste! You want it lemony, but not so tart it causes the pucker factor.

I added the squash ribbons to the vinaigrette, making sure to separate them (no clumps of ribbons for me), and removed the onion from the water. I patted it dry on paper towels, and added it to the squash, then tossed everything together, mixing well and coating it with that delicious dressing. To serve, I used tongs and pulled the ribbons out, piling them loosely on the side of the plate. I topped it with some feta cheese, and it was perfect. Fresh, lemony, slightly salty from the feta… YUM. I could have eaten the entire bowl by myself. AND it was even better the next day.

It ended up being a great end to a pretty crappy couple of weeks.

Now I’m back and working on my next passion: Christmas shopping! But my idea for Christmas this year is to eschew the big box stores as much as I can, and either make gifts by hand, or purchase from local vendors, artisans, craftsmen, and small businesses. Yes, I know, Wally World hires people in my neighborhood, but ultimately a lot of the money goes to product manufacturers in China, and the profits to stockholder portfolios. However, by purchasing locally, the money goes in the hands of REAL people in my community. Plus these folks are putting their talent, their passion into their product…they deserve to be rewarded for that!

So, this Christmas it will be pre-paid meals (or gift cards) from the locally owned restaurant, or fitness classes with the personal trainer, or handcrafted jewelry, or prints of local nature photography.

Feel free to find us on Facebook and get the ball rolling in your own neighborhood! Our group is open to anyone, come shop with us, or promote your own ideas. I’d love for this to become a nationwide movement, just think of all the benefits we could bring to the economy if we all shopped small?

An Outside the Box (Store) Christmas on Facebook.

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?

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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!