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Sugared Cranberries (and Adjusted Expectations)

Expectations.  Good intentions.  Those blasted things trip me up every time!  As I sit here (yes, yes, at 8:02 a.m.) typing this and eating rum cake (I know, I know!), I think about all the blogs that rattled around in my head--brilliant, witty blogs with amazing recipes--blogs that I ruminated over and which, ultimately, I never managed to get posted...well, frankly, I am frustrated.  Frustrated with myself, and life, and everything else that seems to conspire to thwart all of my best intentions.

My Christmas holidays were a whirlwind.  We scuttled from one person's home to another, trying to make sure no one felt left out, but ending up feeling a bit left out ourselves.  The holidays can be an exercise in frustration (bordering on futility!) for those with food allergies.  It can be too much to expect others to be able to accommodate our needs, but it can feel a bit like moving house to take a day's worth of holiday fare to another's house in order to feel like we are not just sitting around watching everyone else eat.

This was my first holiday season since being diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophagitis.  I thought going gluten free was a hurdle last year, but this was . . . more.  More exhausting, more frustrating.

I ended up decided it was easier (and safer) to eat at home and then go to visit family afterwards for the opening of the "extended family" gifts.  We had Christmas Eve at my in-law's house, which left no time to baking or early preparation of anything.  After getting up at 4:00 a.m. Christmas Day to put the turkey in, then re-awakening to the sound of screeching children around 6:00 a.m., then running late after watching our kids open their gifts from Santa, my menu had to be cut dramatically.  This was our first year to NOT have homemade "Neil Gaiman Cranberry Sauce" and cranberry relish.  The fresh green beans were cut from the menu.  I didn't even have time to make gravy before we had to gulp down our food and run off to see extended family.

Later, at Destination #3, everyone else ate cakes and pies.  But, alas, they were not "me-friendly."  I had not expected it to be.  However, it had not dawned on me that, in our trips to and fro, I had not had time to make myself a gluten-free vegan pumpkin pie.  I was now acutely aware of the void.

A litany of car troubles, a much-needed surgery for my husband, and general school and kid stuff had encroached on the holidays and now . . . they are over.  Where did they go?  I never got around to enjoying them!  Where is my hot apple cider?  My pumpkin pie?  My homemade mincemeat I meant to make?  We never made it to see Santa this year (although he did send a lovely letter and a video)!  There were not enough Christmas Light drives with sleepy kids, with their tummies full of hot cocoa, murmuring a sleepy "oooohhhh" from the back seat as we drive through the displays.

The older I get, the more I realized that I have impossibly high standards for the holidays.  I am not sure that I will ever have a year where I have baked "enough" or done "enough" to meet my own impossible standards.  So, as I scrape the last of the rum cake from my plate, I turn my thoughts to this New Year.

I want more peace, more affection, more compassion.  I want to cut myself a break.  I want to enjoy the little things, and stop obsessing over everything I did NOT accomplish.

So, in that vein, I am posting a recipe.  It is a little slip of a thing that doesn't take long, but requires a bit of patience (or passivity...depends how you look at it...its all in the attitude!).  The payoffs, however, are remarkable...the stuff of legends as far as my children are concerned.



Sugared Cranberries


For the simple syrup:
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 cinnamon stick (optional)
  • 7 whole cloves (optional)
  • 3 cups water

The star of the show:
  • 1 package fresh cranberries (about 3 cups)

For rolling:
  • 1 cup superfine sugar (or take 1 cup granulated sugar and run it through the food processor for a few pulses)

Mix the sugar and water (and the cinnamon sticks and cloves, if you are using them) in a saucepan.  Cook over over medium heat until boiling.  Simmer for about a minute, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat and pour into a bowl or Tupperware container.  Make sure the mixture is no longer boiling, then add the cranberries.  Cover and refrigerate at least eight hours (overnight works well, too!).  Drain the cranberries (but save the liquid, the resulting simple syrup it is perfect for spiced tea or holiday cocktails).  Make sure to remove the cinnamon sticks and cloves!

Put the superfine sugar in a shallow bowl and gently roll the cranberries in the sugar to coat evenly.  I will be honest here . . . this part is boring.  To make them lovely, you kinda need to roll just one or two at a time (this is NOT one of the cases where you can just toss it all in a giant zippy bag).  But the result is gorgeous.  So, if you have little ones, this is a perfect job for them (just remind them to wait until after all the cranberries are done before licking their fingers).  Or, if you owe your mother a call, you could roll the berries while she tells you all about your Great-Aunt Estelle and why they aren't speaking.

When you have had your fill, store the leftovers in the refrigerator in an airtight container for a day or two (assuming they actually last that long).

They are also LOVELY in a simple glass jar presented as a hostess gift.  If you are a very savvy guest, you could also present the hostess with the jar of simple syrup to use in her New Year's cocktails.

The best part is that the rolling of a small berry is the hardest bit of it.  Actually, it is rather relaxing . . . rolling it around in lazy circles.  Not sure about you, but I could use a bit more lazy and relaxing.  I will put that on my list for the new year.  Right under:  don't expect so much from yourself all the time.

Hopefully this new year will be full of new recipes, warm memories, and happy holidays...whichever ones you happen to celebrate.

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Spiced Pecans to Save Your Turkey Day

It's November.  Thanksgiving is tomorrow.  The next thing you know, it'll be Hanukkah and Yule and Christmas and Kwanzaa and a veritable cornucopia of winter festivities that will keep you baking and partying until your head spins.  Whew!  Who needs a glass of heavily spiked eggnog?  (Or vegan wine, whatever your poison.)

Now, lets say that, with Thanksgiving looming, you're heading to the in-laws and you really should bring something, but you're so unprepared and haven't a clue what to do because you just don't have the energy to try for the umpteenth year in a row to wow them with your latest culinary masterpiece.  And yet, you are loathe to bring something store-bought.

If you've got just about an hour and a half to kill (most of this time being spent reading that novel you've been trying to finish while keeping an ear out for the oven timer), I've got just the thing for you.  It's simple, it's delicious, it's absolutely seasonal, and you could do it with your eyes closed (almost).  Or, you know, while you're blogging.  Like me.

What follows is one of only two die-hard traditions I have for the holidays.  It is a recipe that has been handed down through my family for, well, at least three generations.  (I'm a little foggy as to whether my dearly departed grandmother started this one, or if it was handed down to her by her own mother.  Or maybe it was her mother-in-law . . . hmm . . . family history I'll have to clear up at some point.)

My grandmother made these spiced pecans every year, without fail.  That is, until she died when I was sixteen.  I went several years after without them, until the day I wised up, realized what I was missing, and called my aunt to get the recipe.  Her first response was to chuckle.

     "What?" I asked, nonplussed.
     "Do you know what your grandmother used to go through to make those pecans?" asked my aunt, in her silly-mortals voice.
     "Er, no . . ."
     "I asked her for this recipe years ago, and she told me that she would roll each pecan, by hand, first in the wet mix and then the dry mix, one by one."
     Dramatic and much impressed pause.  "She didn't," says I.
     "She did," said my aunt.  "She would spend an entire day, sitting at her table, making pecans."
     Another dramatic pause.
     "Well, I said to hell with that," my aunt continued.  "I'll tell you the shortcut.  And if your grandmother ever knew how much time she wasted . . . "
     "You never told her?" Me, horrified and amused all at once.  If there's one trait that truly defines my aunt, it's her audacity.  She takes after her mother.
     "I never had the heart to," she said, all heart herself.

So, here it is in all its glory, my grandma Lillie's recipe for spiced pecans--revised.

Lillie's Legendary Spiced Pecans (Revised)
*One quick rule of thumb to remembering this recipe is that everything is in ones.

1 lb. shelled pecan halves
1 egg white
1 Tbsp. cold water
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large mixing bowl (large enough to easily mix around a pound of pecans), whisk together the egg white and cold water.  Add the pecans and stir well until the pecans are thoroughly and evenly coated.  Set aside.

Combine the sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a gallon size plastic baggie.  Close the bag tightly (make sure to leave ample air inside to create space) and shake vigorously until the sugar/salt/cinnamon is evenly blended.  Carefully dump all of the pecans into this bag with the sugar mixture, close tight (again, with plenty of air for mixing space), and shake the contents like crazy until all the nuts are coated and there is no more loose sugar in the bottom of the bag.  (This, my dear friends, is what has saved my aunt and I hours and hours of work every holiday season since my beloved, hard-working grandma passed from this life. May she never find out that we're cheating.)

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (for easier cleanup) and pour the coated pecans onto the sheet, spreading them out as evenly as possible.  Bake the pecans in the oven, taking them out to stir every fifteen minutes, for a total cooking time of one hour (not counting the time it takes to stir, so you'll have to restart your timer every time you put them back in the oven).  Stirring them every fifteen minutes like this is essential.  Otherwise, you end up with, as my aunt puts it, "the worlds largest praline."

Let the pecans cool completely and store in an airtight container until ready to serve.  Needs no refrigeration and will make your in-laws very happy.  Also, they make great little jarred, tinned, or cello-bagged holiday gifts.

Much love and good eating,

Angela

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Time for Fall Cooking and Molasses Ginger Cookies

The changing leaves and brisk wind has made me eager to begin baking again.  I have long considered Halloween to the be the official start of the Holiday Baking Season.  This year is no exception.  I have started the process of converting all of our beloved holiday recipes to gluten free and vegan versions.  I decided that I needed to work on the recipe for Molasses Ginger Cookies so that we could be snacking on these which I tried to figure out how to make Pecan Pie, but without pecans since I am allergic to them now.  Yep, some of these conversions are going to be tricky.  This recipe, however, is moist and gingery, with just the right bite of molasses.  It conjures memories of raking leaves on a brisk day, picking up fallen pecans, and hurrying inside once my toes got too cold...only to find hot apple cider and cookies fresh from the oven.



Ginger Molasses Cookies

1/2 (1 stick) of vegan butter (I used Earth Balance)
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/3 c. molasses
Egg replacer equivalent of 1 egg
1/3 c. teff flour
1/3 c. oat flour
1/3 c. brown rice flour
1 c. sweet rice flour
1/4 c. tapioca flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Extra granulated sugar for coating 
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease cookie sheets.
  2. Beat vegan butter and brown in a large bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until creamy.  Add molasses and egg replacer.  Beat until well blended.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  Whisk to combine.
  4. Add flour mixture to vegan butter mixture.  Beat until dough forms.  
  5. Roll dough into generous one inch balls and press one side of dough ball into granulated sugar in shallow bowl.  Then place dough ball on cookie sheet and flatten slightly.
  6. Bake approx. 10-14 minutes,  or until set.rest on cookie sheet for about one minute after removing from oven, then move to wire rack to cool.  
  7. Store in airtight container.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

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Ditch the Box: Easy Spanish Rice

If, like me, you've been making quick Spanish rice "out of a box" to round out your Mexican/Spanish meals for all these years, you'll be happy to know (or, I'm assuming you will if you're bothering to read this blog) that I have cracked the code.  I have done a little reading and a little experimenting and have deduced that making your own perfectly marvelous Spanish rice from scratch is really no big deal.  I have also confirmed, as I long suspected, that the convenience of boxed Spanish rice is a scam.    From this hypothesis I will further theorize that ALL flavored boxed rices are no more efficient or "easy" than their from-scratch predecessors, but I will have to prove that theory in future experiments.  For now, let's turn to Exhibit A.


Rice A Roni Spanish Rice Ingredients
This stuff has been a standard in my household for years.  No longer.  You see, what I want out of food is something that tastes good, is nutritious, and is as natural and simple as possible.  And I mean really natural, not what our food industry calls 'all natural.'  How natural is it if it's been stripped of its nutrients, then a small handful of isolated nutrients are added back in to give us the bare minimum?  How natural is it if the flavor has to be enhanced with MSG and there are things in the ingredient list you've never heard of and couldn't guess what plant or animal they came from, and it's not some exotic foreign food.  It's something they came up with in a lab.  As Michael Pollan says, "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."

To add to the list of complaints, if you click on the caption under the Rice A Roni image up there, you'll see that WHEAT is listed as the second ingredient on the label (and a soy product is just a little further down).  Rice, once one of the most allergy-friendly grains on the planet, the stuff that has sustained millions across the decades, has now invaded our grocery shelves in the form of little boxes and bags (the flavor packet is right in the box, so convenient for the busy working home maker) laced with more allergens and lab-invented ingredients than was ever necessary to make a good, flavorful pot of rice.  For some of us, this stuff will kill you.  Allergic to wheat and/or soy?  Stay well away from boxed flavored rice.

And now the good news, my personal salvation: perfectly good boxless Spanish rice.

Spanish Rice


Ingredients*:

2 c. long grain brown rice
Dollop of  Olive Oil (1 or 2 Tbsp.)
1 can (14.5 oz or thereabouts) diced tomatoes
1 can (14.5 oz or thereabouts) diced tomatoes and green chilis
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced (totally optional, Terri)
1 1/2 - 2 cups broth (chicken, veggie, turkey, whateva')

Method:

Chop your onion however you like it, big chunks or little disintegrating bits or somewhere in between (I'm not going to tell you how to run your kitchen).  Heat up your dollop of olive oil in a medium-sized pot and cook the onion until it's nearly translucent (or you can go for full caramelization, your choice).  Add the minced garlic in the last few minutes, since garlic cooks very fast.  At the same time as the garlic, add the rice and stir constantly over medium heat until some of the rice starts to brown slightly.

Add the tomatoes, tomatoes and chilis, any spices if you're going to (see below) and broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover, letting it simmer for 35 - 45 minutes, depending on your stove and your rice.  Start checking it at about 30 minutes.  If the liquid isn't all absorbed, let it keep going.  If, at around 40 minutes the rice has absorbed all its liquid but it's still a touch underdone, add a 1/4 c. liquid, put the lid back on, and cook for another 5 minutes or so.  Fluff the finished rice with a fork.  Eat it with something yummy and Mexican.  And know that you have thwarted The Man by making something good from scratch... and it was easy.  :)

*That's the basics.  Feel free to spice it up from there, if you wish.  I've seen recipes that call for a tsp. or so of oregano, or a few dashes of cumin, or even some fresh cilantro thrown in at the end.  Go wild.  You'll notice that my amounts on the tomatoes are approximate.  I understand that many of our wonderfully resourceful readers might be using their own canned tomatoes (not store bought).  If that's you, I commend you, and understand that your cans are probably not exactly a store-standard 14.5 oz.  Use your best judgment.  If you want to use fresh tomatoes, use 2 if they're very large, and maybe 3 or 4 if they're kinda' small (eyeball it).  Do not strain your 'maters.  You want all that juice in your rice (it will make up part of your liquid), and a few tomato seeds never hurt anyone (honestly, I've done it with whole tomatoes and never even noticed the seeds).  Then, of course, you'll have to add your chilis (even if they're mild chilis, or even bell peppers - you need it for depth of flavor).  One or two of those little cans of green chilis will do the trick.  But, if you're pulling all this produce out of the garden, you probably already know what kind of peppers you want to use, and again, I'm not one to stop you.  You can make it as hot or mild as you wish.  This is your show.

Go forth and cook food.

~ Angela

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Homemade Gluten Free Vegan Noodles

When I first found out that our family was going gluten free, the recipe that I nearly cried at losing was my home made chicken noodle soup.  I could not figure out how to have gluten free noodles that tasted like homemade.  I did not want rice noodles, and I am allergic to quinoa--so those are out.  Plus, I am allergic to eggs...so it decent noodles for a hearty chicken soup seemed to be getting further and further out of my grasp.  In desperation, I started experimenting.  (Necessity being the mother of invention and all that...)

What I came up with is somehow al dente yet tender.  It can be rolled a bit thicker and used, dumpling like, in a hearty soup, but can also be rolled paper thin.  My kids adore these noodles, and I simply do not make my chicken noodle soup with any other noodle.

Before I go any further, I have to admit...these are starch based.  In order to get the texture I wanted this was what worked.  No apologies.

Also, I am posting this (temporarily) without a photo.  I will be making my chicken noodle soup soon, so I will post the photo (and the recipe for the soup) then.

Gluten Free and Vegan Noodles

1/2 c. tapioca starch
1/2 c. cornstarch
3 tbs. potato starch
1 1/2 tbs. xanthan gum (yes, tablespoons...noodles have to be able to bend a lot!)
4 1/2 tsp. Ener-G egg replacer (combine this with 6 tbs. very warm water, whisk until frothy, and set aside)
1 1/2 tbs. vegetable oil
  1. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
  2. Take the the Ener-G egg replacer and water mixture and add the vegetable oil, then add to the dry ingredients.
  3. Work the dough into a ball and knead it a LOT.  No, seriously...a lot.  It will take a minute or two for the starches to combine and become easier to work with.  (If the mixture does not combine well after a few minutes of kneading, you can add a tsp. or two of warm water.)
At this point, you can either put the dough in a large plastic zippy bag in the fridge and let it set up for a few hours before rolling and cutting into noodles.  Or, if you are like me, there is no time.  In that case continue to...

     4.  Coat your rolling surface with potato starch and roll to desired thickness.

(Fair warning, they do expand a bit in thickness when they cook, so roll them a bit thinner than you want them to end up.)  Also, I often use the pizza cutter to cut the noodles.  Works great! 

The noodles cook in about ten minutes in boiling water (or just throw them right into your chicken noodle soup recipe)! 

I have used these noodles in my homemade Chicken Noodle Soup and Chicken Alfredo with great success.  (Although, with the chicken allergy, these are now actually Turkey Noodle Soup and Turkey Alfredo at my house...I am just too lazy to train myself to call it something else after 39 years.  I'm just happy that I actually got around to modifying the recipe.  I really missed noodles!)

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Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes on a Crisp (Almost) Autumn Day

Around our parts, the past weekend had the decided feel of Autumn!!!  I responded to the brisk breeze with the need to make something warm and spicy.  In the interest of full disclosure, I feel the need to publicly declare my love of pumpkin.  I adore pumpkin.  So, what better to kick of this glorious change in weather than with PUMPKIN PANCAKES!? 

I modified my old recipe to make it Gluten Free and Vegan, and let me tell you...you won't miss anything.  It is really amazing.  And, yes, I confess, I really DID eat the first pancake folded in half, dripping with syrup, while I stood over the kitchen sink.

Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes
Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes

3/4 c. sweet sorghum flour
1/2 c. potato flour (NOT potato starch)
1/4 c. brown rice flour
1/4 c. teff flour
1/4 c. oat flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
3 tbs. ground flax seed
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3 tsp. Ener-G Egg Replacer, mixed with 6 tbs. warm water (mix well before adding)
2 tbs. oil
1 c. + 2 tbs. almond milk
2/3 c. canned pumpkin

Combine the Ener-G Egg Replacer and warm water, set aside.  In a large bowl, combine all the "dry" ingredients and mix together.  Add pumpkin, almond milk, and egg replacer.  Pour mixture into approx. 4-inch rounds on hot griddle.  Flip when the surface starts to bubble.

This will make about 12 four inch pancakes.  I normally double the recipe and have a few left over that I can refrigerate and then microwave the next day for a quick "school day breakfast."  The cooked pancakes keep just fine for about 6-7 days in the refrigerator.  For longer storage, store in zippy bags in the freezer.

I have been known to make up several batches on a weekend just so I can make sure to have some on hand during the week.

Also, my daughter has used these as the base for several sweet "snacks," topping them with Nutella, pumpkin butter, and honey butter.  Seriously, I have no idea where she gets these ideas.  Right...moving on.

My next fall inspired recipe will be Gluten Free Vegan Molasses Cookies.  Did I mention I love Autumn?

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Carrot Cake Oatmeal, or "How to Deal with a 5:30 a.m. Carrot Cake Craving"

The inspiration for carrot cake oatmeal came to me around 5:45 on a Tuesday morning.  It was not really a conscious decision, "Hm, I think I will make some...yes, yes, that's it...Carrot Cake Oatmeal!"  No, it was more like, "Huh, geez, we got a lot of carrots.  I should probably use those before they go bad..."

The kiddos adored it, the sweetness of the carrots meant that we did not need to add much sweetener (yah!), and my mind quickly started reeling at all the ways I could tinker with it...dollop of sweetened, whippeed cream cheese in top, anyone?

Two generous servings whip up really quickly (and, yes, I am considering making a baked version of this, the only problem is that carrots react with baking soda and result in the carrots turning green...they are still perfectly fine to eat, but not as aesthetically pleasing...).


Carrot Cake Oatmeal

Ingredients:
1 c. gluten free oats
2/3  c. shredded carrots (approx. one largish carrot)
2-4 tbs. agave, honey, brown sugar, or other sweetener of your choice (depending on how sweet you like your oatmeal, and how sweet your carrots are!)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. vanilla
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of salt
2 tbs. raisins and/or shredded, unsweetened coconut (optional)
2 tbs. toasted pecans or walnuts (optional)

Directions:
In a large, microwave safe bowl, add gluten free oats and just enough water to cover the oats.  Add the shredded carrots (the carrots will release additional water in the oatmeal), and remaining ingredients.  Microwave for 1 minutes, stir, then microwave another 1 minute or so (this depends on your microwave, so check after 30 seconds).

Depending on your idea of "sweet" and the sweetness of your carrots, you may need to add additional sweetener.  Or, in the alternative, if you plan on going with the sweetened cream cheese, you may want to go easy on the sweetener in the actual oatmeal.  You decide...I promise not to judge.

I also made on batch of oatmeal with a dollop of whipped cream cheese, for this you just take 2 oz. vegan cream cheese, 2 tsp vegan butter, and 1 c. powered sugar and whip with a hand mixer, then dollop on top of your carrot cake oatmeal or, better yet, bury it in the center of the oatmeal and let it melt a bit and cling to spoon as you delve in!

This is one of those super easy recipes that can also help ward off a mad carrot cake craving at 5:30 a.m. on a Tuesday...not that I know anything about that.




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Back to School and Baked Spice Oatmeal

My mind has been preoccupied with all things "Back to School."  We have successfully purchased new clothes...and backpacks...and underwear...and shoes...and lunchboxes...  So now I obsess over what to put in those new lunchboxes, and what to have for breakfast on those hectic school mornings, and what snacks to pack, and how to provide "treats" when the other kids bring birthday goodies...

So I will start tackling these conundra one at a time and sharing my ideas here so that, hopefully, it will benefit someone else and perhaps said person will have one less thing to keep them up at night.  Yes, I am totally taking one for the team here.

So, the first thing I have to gush over is baked oatmeal.  I love oatmeal, and I firmly believe it is a heck of a lot better than over-processed sugar in a box ahem, I mean cereal.  And I have developed sneaky ways to make my children like oatmeal, and Baked Spice Oatmeal is one of them

Baked oatmeal is something like a slightly crumbly, warm oatmeal bar cookie.  You can cook it on a Sunday, let it cool, pop it in the fridge, and them microwave it for about 40 seconds during the busy mornings, add a splash of milk (or soy milk, if you prefer, like me), and dig in.  A hot breakfast in about the same amount of time it takes to pour a bowl of cold cereal.  And, the best part, it that the baked oatmeal stays lovely in the fridge for about a week, so you could very well have a whole week's worth of breakfasts ready with minimal effort!

Mmmmm...oatmeal!


Baked Spice Oatmeal


Ingredients
3 c. gluten free oats
1 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 c. soy milk (or almond milk)
3 tbs. ground flax seed + 9 tbs. warm water, whisked together
1/2 c. melted vegan butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. dried fruit (I like cranberries, but apricots, raisins, currants, or coconut would all be lovely!  You can also add some toasted almonds, if you are so inclined.)

Directions
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2.  In a large bowl, mix together oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt.
3.  Stir in soy milk, flax/water combo, melted vegan butter, and vanilla extract.
4.  Stir in dried fruit, and nuts if so inclined, and spread into a 9x13 inch baking dish.
5.  Bake in preheated oven for approximately 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown and set.

Serve hot with a splash of soy milk.

Later this week, I will be posting another hot breakfast option:  CARROT CAKE OATMEAL!

A slightly blurry sneak peak!

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Our Late Summer Blues

We've been going through a bit of a rough time, Terri and I.  It seems as soon as summer hit, the whole world flipped upside down and we've been trying to set it right again ever since.  

If you've been following along at all, you know about Terri's recent diagnosis with eosinophilic esophagitis. This revealed such a slew of food allergies that just learning how to work around those things which she can no longer eat has had my dear foodie friend temporarily stumped.  We've had some close calls, too.  The most recent episode required the use of her now mandatory EpiPen and my rushing my friend to the nearest hospital.  We got there fine, the EpiPen did it's job, and the doctors seemed to know how to handle it all. Still... there's nothing fun about sitting in an office bathroom, watching your friend shudder uncontrollably and gag repeatedly, trying to keep her throat from closing up on her.  We tried liquid Benadryl, which did nothing, and finally decided on the pen, which she employed herself.  I feel a little guilty about that.  I was hesitant to stab her and I think she could see it in my face, even through her suffering, without me saying a thing.  If it happens again, Terri, I promise not to be too scared if I know it will save your life.  I won't say I'll like it, but I will do what needs to be done, I swear.  

In my world (the part of it that doesn't directly include Terri), time has been swallowed up by home renovations and trying to keep my garden from dying a sad, crispy death.  It's been a long, hot, exhausting haul, feeling always behind the 8 ball and dragging my sore, sorry ass to work with a groan every Monday after the weekend's work.  To say it's been hot is, as I'm sure most of you know, the understatement of the century.  We're at nearly 30 consecutive days of over 100 degree weather, and there's no sign of it ending anytime soon. 

Okay, maybe not THIS hot, but still...
Fight as we may, there have been a few casualties in the garden, though much fewer than we would have expected.  The tomatoes, for instance, are a topic of constant discussion lately.  People in our area are reporting that their tomato plants, while green, strong, and full of flowers, are bearing little to no fruit, and we are no exception.  One theory is that the excessive heat is causing the flowers to drop off without ever being pollinated.  I don't know.  That might be it.  All I know is, we've got over 30 tomato plants and the only ones producing with any fervor are the cherry tomatoes.  From the rest, I believe we've gotten a total of three tomatoes so far.  Maybe we're all just impatient and maybe the tomatoes will wow us in weeks to come.  I hope.  All I can do is hope...

Our other casualties, the onions, were victims of friendly fire.  We got a soaker hose, you see, to fight the heat and lack of rain, and this has done wonderfully well for most of our plants.  But, while the onions' tops looked lush and healthy, we discovered one day that the roots...the onions...were rotting.  In a panic, we pulled them all up and salvaged as many as we could.  Onions, apparently, do not like wet fee.  Sigh.  Live and learn.

All in all, as hot as it's been, and as little time as I've had to tend to the garden properly, the rest of the plants are doing well.  The sweet potato vines, of course, are in absolute heaven, since they like it hot--the hotter the better, I hear.  And we've even managed to start a late Three Sisters patch that is thriving under our nightly rainmaking ritual.  We planted corn, green beans, and pumpkins (big carvers and little sugar pie pumpkins) a couple of weeks ago, and I was so afraid that the scorching sun would kill our darlings.  But the nightly watering seems to be working.  The seedlings have all sprouted, big and strong, looking like they could take over the world.  That's one recent delight I am glad to have experienced.  Nothing brightens a tired heart like watching your babies grow.  

There have been a few more spots of joy in this long stretch of days...  

We recently learned that our favorite Garden Variety Mama is expecting a little one of her own.  We are so thrilled for you, GVM, and wish you a healthy, happy pregnancy.

Also, rumor has it that this very same bloggeress, GVM, will be getting her kraut on any day now.  We hope to see posts on her fermenting adventures soon.

Our kraut finished fermenting a week and a half ago (July 11), though the evil time-vacuum prevented me from posting about the blessed event.  Terri received a jar, which she devoured in no time flat, and I've got a jar and half left in the fridge.  At this rate, I'd better get krauting again soon!  

There will be more recipes to come, fellow devourers, we promise you that.  We thank you for your patience, we love you for your support, and we respect you for sticking it out with us.  You're all troopers, you know. When the world outside threatens to incinerate all your best laid plans, and your foodie world has changed the rules of the game without warning or apology, it's good to know you're not alone...and that this, too, shall pass.  

~ Angela

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Stone Fruit Patchwork Pie

Ripe peaches, dripping with juice, and plump sweet cherries, and (just this once) I threw in a few plums and apricots that were hangin' out in the fridge...it is a Stone Fruit Patchwork Pie, right?  This recipe was adapted from a recipe I have had for ages, but I had to update it to make it gluten free and vegan.  I passed the gluten-y version on to Angela to use, but this incarnation tastes just as fabulous.

Let me assure you, this may be the the most forgiving recipe I have adapted.  You can use whatever stone fruits you have on hand (peaches, apricots, cherries, plums, or nectarines) or some mixture of all of them.  I have made the pie with frozen fruit, in a pinch, but honestly, with cherries in abundance and peaches ripe for the picking, there is no excuse not to take advantage of the summer's bounty.

As an aside, this is also an awesome time to be putting up some of that bounty for winter, if you haven't already started.  This weekend I froze some cherries...


 (Why is it that once all the hard work is done, THEN the helpers show up?)



I also diced up peaches to make a couple of pints of peach freezer jam!



And then I settled down to make my masterpiece...



Stone Fruit Patchwork Pie

For the Crust:
1/2 c. oat flour (can use gluten free oats that have been whirled a bit in the food processor)
1/4 c. sweet rice flour
1/4 c. corn starch
1 tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c. ice water
1/2 c. tapioca starch (or cornstarch, if you prefer) for rolling out dough

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a 9 inch pie pan or a 9" x 12" rectangular cake pan.

1.  Mix the flours, corn starch, sugar, and salt in a medium sized bowl.  Cut in vegan butter (I used Earth Balance).



2.  Add the ice water and mix until combined.


Put the dough in the fridge while you prepare fruit.

Fruit Filling:
 4 c. stonefruit
3/4 c. sugar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 c. cornstarch

1.  Peel and cut up stonefruit.



2.  Add sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch.  Toss well to coat fruit.


 3.  Pour into prepared pan.

Roll out the dough, using tapioca starch to keep it from sticking.


Cut into random shapes (a pizza cutter works well for this).  Take the pieces of dough and arrange over fruit.  Cook approx. 35-45 minutes, or until crust starts to brown.

This quickly became my family's favorite summer time pie, and it whips up really quickly, tastes amazing the next day, and stores well in the refrigerator.  What more could you ask for in a pie?

Gluten free pie crusts are notoriously obnoxious to move after rolling them out (since gluten is what makes things nice and pliable), but this patchwork top takes care of that problem nicely.  No more attempting to transfer a perfectly rolled crust only to have them crack!  You may decide to make all of your pies as patchwork pies.  I wouldn't blame you at all.

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Sauerkraut Straight Up

This cabbage is a beauty underneath
A couple of weeks ago, Terri brought me two heads of cabbage out of her in-law's garden, and I knew it was time. Time to kraut.

What, you don't kraut? Oh, honey, we gotta' get you krauting! Why? Well, first let's say that you, like me, happen to love sauerkraut. It's tangy and sour and gives this fresh zingy brightness to all that it touches. Kraut on dogs, on brats, on Reuben sandwiches (the mention of which tends to make me swoon). Kraut with your mashed potatoes. Kraut on the side of anything, straight up and unadulterated. Hell, I've even heard of people putting kraut on pizza (vegan or otherwise)! Or, let's say you're not sure about this whole sauerkraut thing, having only tried it when you were eight years old and your grandma made you. You hated it then and haven't bothered to try it since, but you happen to be vegan now, or one of the lucky people recently diagnosed with a serious dairy allergy (ahem, I know no one like this, of course) and you have heard that you can get the same kind of digestive health benefits from eating lacto-fermented vegetables (such as the aforementioned sauerkraut) as you would from yogurt or kefir, and you'd like to give it another chance. If either of these sound like you, even a little, and if you have a touch of DIY spirit, then I propose you grab a couple of cabbages (green, purple, whateva') and come with me. We've got some krauting to do!

I started my sauerkraut a week ago, but I'll walk you through the steps to get it started. Making your own sauerkraut is so easy that, if you've ever been intimidated by the thought, you're about to start kicking yourself. Anyone can do this. (I'm doing this, so it's gotta' be true). Let's start with your ingredient/supply list.

You will need:

5 lbs. cabbage, shredded (approx. 2 heads, give or take)
3 Tbs. coarse salt (Kosher or coarse ground sea salt are the top preferences)
A large glass or ceramic bowl/crock/vessel big enough to hold 5 lbs. cabbage*
Something to weight the cabbage down (gallon jug of water, large heavy duty plastic bag of water, etc.)

Keep in mind, if you decide to go with purple cabbage, you will end up with hot pink kraut. Some people love this. I'm not quite so into hot pink, but I hear it all tastes the same, so if that's your bag, I'm not gonna' stop you.

Another thing to mention, right at the start, is that, aside from the initial slicing of the cabbage, once you start your sauerkraut you want to keep metal out of the entire process.  At least, that's what the "experts" seem to say, and I'm not expert enough to argue with them.  Even if you're just fishing out a bite to taste, use plastic or wood so you don't mess it up.  I have found that chop sticks work quite well for kraut tasting.  

First things first, you've got to shred your cabbage. Some people say it's so much faster if you use a food processor. I say these are lies, all lies. The first time I made kraut, I tried using my food processor. By the time I lugged the damned thing out of the cabinet and got it set up, halved the cabbage, cored the cabbage, and cut the cabbage into small enough wedges to fit into the little food processor's feeder shoot (whatever you call that thing you feed your victims... I mean veggies... into), I could've been done shredding my cabbage with my bare hands. In fact, the food processor was such a pain in the arse that I ended up slicing the rest of my cabbage with a knife halfway through the process, anyway. So, do it however you wish, but I'm sticking with my knife and cutting board.

The thing about slicing cabbage into shreds is that half the work is already done for you. The stuff practically shreds itself as you slice. The hardest part is slicing the head in half and coring it. 

To execute this initial step, place the head on a cutting board, grab a big, long, sharp knife, and start slicing through the center. It helps if you do this with the core down, so you've got some momentum by the time you hit the hard part. Once you get the head split in half, start cutting out the core. I do this by cutting at an angle on either side of the core, in a V shape. See?

Coring Cabbage

Once you've got it cored, the rest is easy. Just cut the halves into manageable sizes (quarters are usually fine) and start slicing, as thin as you like. Then, place all of this in your big bowl. It's okay if you have to mound it up on top and you're thinking there's no way this will all fit. Once you get it salted, it will wilt and fit just fine. You can see how mine looks here. 

5 lbs cabbage in a punch bowl
Next, you mix your salt in with your cabbage. Go ahead and stare at your overflowing bowl o' cabbage again. Yes. You're going to need another bowl. It's just too much stuff to mix in one bowl without spilling it everywhere (unless the vessel you're using is super massive, in which case please tell me where you found such a monstrosity). I grabbed the ceramic crock from my crock pot and put half my cabbage in that. Then I sprinkled half the salt over each container of cabbage and went to work with my clean, washed hands, turning and mixing in the salt, so it was distributed fairly evenly throughout. Once you've got all your salt mixed into all your cabbage, go wash the clinging bits off your hands and wait about twenty minutes (give or take) for the salt to do it's thing. Go read a book or something (Terri would undoubtedly suggest Game of Thrones [Hell, yeah! ~territo keep you company, whereas I'm currently enthralled with The Passage or a great little gardening book I found called Eat More Dirt).

When you come back to your salted cabbage, it should be somewhat wilted and, if it was a nice fresh cabbage, should have started to make a generous amount of juice. If there isn't much liquid yet, do this next step anyway, and I'll help with that in a minute.

What you want to do is press all the cabbage down to where the liquid covers the top and none of the cabbage is poking out of the liquid. You do NOT want your cabbage (kraut) being exposed to the air (for long). The salty liquid (brine) is your kraut's protection. You see, the salt inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria, while allowing the beneficial bacteria (namely lactobacillus) to invade and conquer. So, in order to accomplish this balance, you must have enough liquid, and you must have a way to weight the cabbage down so it is completely submerged in said liquid. Lots of people will tell you to use a plate to weight down your cabbage.  If a plate will fit into your vessel, by all means start pressing the cabbage down with the plate, adding the rest of the cabbage back into your big bowl and pressing until it all fits in one container. If the plate thing isn't working for you, you'll have to find another setup. Here was my compromise:


Sauerkraut under weight - top view

Sauerkraut under weight - side view




























What you're looking at is a large, gallon size plastic bag (I went with a freezer bag because I was paranoid about trusting a regular bag not to break), full of water, sitting on top of my kraut, which is covered by plastic wrap (not sealed tight, just enough to keep the cabbage from floating up) and a plate.   The plate is to help compress this all in the first couple of days, but as my kraut gets lower in the bowl, the plate will go (because it won't fit all the way down in there) and it'll be just the plastic wrap and gallon bag of water.  To go entirely plateless, you can get a large, heavy duty food grade plastic bag filled with water, and just set it right into your vessel so it fits the form of whatever it's sitting in.  I imagine something you'd have to knot at the top, but which isn't so specifically square like my Ziploc bag.  There are ways.  I trust you'll come up with something.

Now, let's address the possibility that your cabbage hasn't made enough liquid to cover it yet.  This is what happened to me. But I vaguely remembered that it can take up to a day to accomplish this, especially if your cabbage has been chilling in the fridge for awhile before you made your kraut, since cabbage tends to lose moisture during storage. I also remembered that if it still hasn't made its own liquid after a day, you can add some brine and call it good. Which is what I ended up doing. But first, I made a horrible mistake.

Sauerkraut exposed to air too long

Do you see the black spots on my cabbage? Yeah... see, this is what happens if you get busy and forget to check on your juice-less cabbage. This is also what happens when you have to reinvent the wheel every time you do something, like I typically do.  My poor naked cabbage, with its pathetically inadequate amount of juice, sat under its weight (but otherwise exposed) for three days.

Luckily, kraut has a forgiving soul. I simply pulled off the first inch or so and tossed the bad stuff. Underneath, all was still well. I made my fervent apologies to the surviving kraut and went to work making some brine to cover it up properly. 

If your kraut doesn't produce enough of its own juice to cover by THE VERY NEXT DAY (don't do what I did and assume it's taking care of itself), heat up 4 cups of water to warm-enough-to-melt-coarse-salt-in in the microwave, then stir in 3 ½ Tbs. salt until melted. This is your brine. If it's warm enough to cook cabbage, please don't pour it over your kraut yet. Wait until it's cooled off. We do NOT cook our kraut.

At this point in my process, I had another mishap.  I remembered reading somewhere that you should press a towel into your kraut, you know, to keep it from floating over the top  (which sounded more rustic, and perchance more practical, than my plastic wrap). This was stupid. The towel, after a couple of days, absorbed all my brine and wicked it into the air to evaporate. Don't do this. Now, I've added more brine and gone back to my original setup of plastic wrap (you could probably use cheesecloth, if you wanted) to keep the kraut from floating to the top of the brine, and the gallon bag o' water to weight it all down and keep it submerged. If you're using a plate, you still need to weight it down. You can use the bag of water or a gallon jug full of water or anything else heavy enough to keep the kraut compressed and submerged. Then I place a clean dish towel over the top of the whole thing (not touching the brine) just to keep gnats and dust and such out. We don't want dusty, gnatty kraut. Ew... [*shudder!*  I hate bugs! ~ terri]

If you lose brine over time, I'm sure you've learned by now you can always add more. Just be sure to check it daily.

Also, if you start to see mold growing on top of the brine, just scrape it off and toss it. It won't hurt you or the kraut. Keep going.

There is no exact deadline for when your kraut is done. It's all a matter of taste. You can start tasting it after about three days, but don't expect much. I'm at a week at the time of this writing, and I don't think it's ready yet. The longer it sits, the more the flavor develops. At the moment, it's definitely sour, but it's got a little too much cabbage bitter, which I hope will mellow as the sour heightens. I think it might take another week. But it might take longer than that. Some people let their kraut ferment for a month or two. I haven't yet had the patience for that, and I don't know what it tastes like after such a long process, but you can feel free to do it however you want.

When you think the kraut is finished, put it in tightly lidded jars with brine covering the top inch-ish of each, and store in the refrigerator for several months. I know you can also can or freeze it, but it keeps so long in the fridge that I've never seen a reason to preserve it any other way.

I'll check back in when my kraut is "done" and I decide to jar it up.  If all goes well, some of this delicious digestive tonic will be going to this redhead I know who could use a little kraut in her life. [so then I can blog about making some sort of vegan, gluten free Reubens! ~ terri[Dude, if you figure out VGF Reubens, you gotta' let me in on the taste-testing.  I'm just sayin'. ~ angela]

Cheers!

~ Angela

* A note on finding the perfect setup for fermenting your kraut. You will often be told to use a large bowl and a plate that will fit just inside the bowl. I have found that this is almost an impossible combination. In my searches, nearly all the big bowls I found (large salad bowls, punch bowls, the crock from my crock pot) are either too small for an average plate, or too wide. Also, if a plate "fits perfectly" at first, as the kraut loses mass and the plate has to sit further and further down, this prefect fit is quickly lost.  It's maddening. But don't make yourself crazy over it.  It doesn't HAVE to be a plate.  It can be another bowl that will sit inside (like nesting bowls), a lid from something, or a food-grade plastic bag.  I use a glass punch bowl I found at Goodwill and various combinations of plastic bag full of water, plate, and whatever else I can find.  Just keep the kraut compressed and covered in brine and it will do it's work.   

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My Cocoa Smoothie Addiction - Revealed!

Angela and I have NOT abandoned you.  I swear.  We have simply been tending gardens, and freezing food, and figuring out how to cook with all the new food-allergy-related restrictions.  But, never fear, I am finding my footing and have several recipes in the works right now!

For my part, I have frozen six quarts of blueberries and four gallons of broccoli, as well as about three gallons of cauliflower.  I also made  up about a quart of turkey stock (without garlic...I have had to resort to making my own, because I cannot find a brand without it!).

As for my plans for THIS weekend, I hope to freeze a few strawberries this weekend, and also freeze some shredded zucchini for zucchini bread.  (Hmm, I may have to go ahead and make a nice batch of vegan/gluten free zucchini bread, while I am at it.)  Oh, and most likely I will make more turkey stock.

I have also been freezing (and then promptly using) between one and two gallon bags worth of bananas every week.  I use them in my smoothies, but if I just leave the bananas on the counter they tend to get eaten (or half eaten) by the kiddos.  However, I have found that if I peel the bananas and cut them into rounds, then put them in a single layer on a cookie tray in the freezer, I can bag them up for future use.  Then, just like magic, there they are, right where I left them, uneaten!  Go figure!  I have now decided that I should hide all of my favorite foods in the freezer to keep them safe from little fingers!

I have also developed an addiction to Cocoa Smoothies, which does not really have a recipe, but it basically goes like this:

(First, and apology:  I keep finishig off the addictive little beauties smoothies before I have a chance to take a photo, but I will make another batch tonight and post a photo then.)

Cocoa Smoothies

1 large banana
1 heaping tablespoon of cocoa
Approx. 2 tbsp. agave (or honey, if you prefer)
2 c. flax milk (or other milk, milk-type, milk-ish product of your choice)
If you want, you can also add a tablespoon of some sort of nut butter
Two big handfuls of ice

Whirl it all around in your blender, and drink up!  If it seems a bit thick, add more milk, if you like it sweeter add more agave.  You get the gist!  This makes two of those conservative "that's what they allege are servings" or one nice "over-sized glass serving"...your choice.

I have to confess, I am addicted to the stuff.  Especially with the summer heat that seems to have a firm hold around these parts.  I like mine straight up (no nut butter)...it reminds me of a slightly melted chocolate milkshake (without all the allery issues)...just creamy, chocolaty goodness.  This makes me happy.  The kids loved it, too!  We also made several fruity versions, too, but that is a post for another day.  For now though, it is Friday, and my fridge is full, and I have another Cocoa Smoothie to make (and photograph).

~Terri

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Simple Succulent Blueberry Sauce

Blueberries
This is sort of a drive-by blog, but I made the most glorious blueberry sauce yesterday and I had to tell you about it.  Unfortunately, I completely forgot to take photos.  So, thank you, Creative Commons, for bailing me out yet again, and to the_girl for taking this lovely image and sharing it with the world.  

Now, onto that blueberry sauce!  It's berry time, and Terri and I have found ourselves with a veritable cornucopia of blueberries lately.  We will be freezing most of these to be used in future baked goods and smoothies, and potentially making a whole lot more blueberry sauce after yesterday's experiment.  

It was Father's Day, so I wanted to do something special for breakfast.  With our glut of blueberries on hand, I thought I'd try my hand at French toast with blueberry sauce.  The sauce turned out to be so simple, it almost makes itself.  


Simple Blueberry Sauce

11 oz. (approx.) of fresh blueberries (I'm sure frozen would work just as well)
1/4 c. sugar (I used evaporated cane juice, but regular white sugar would work)

* If you're making this sauce to go with pancakes, French toast, or the like, start the sauce first.  It can simmer while you prepare the rest of your breakfast.

Rinse the berries (if they're fresh) and put into a small sauce pan.  Sprinkle with sugar and stir, smashing a bit as you go, with a wooden spoon (preferably).  You want the berries to release their juices, but you'll want some of them to remain whole for that oh-so-desirable burst-in-your-mouth effect later.  After you've smashed them up, let them sit a few minutes (10-ish), then cook them over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they start to simmer.  Turn the heat down and keep them at a low simmer, still stirring occasionally, until the sauce is a rich, deep purple and is as thick as you want it.  Mine took about twenty minutes.  The longer it cooks, the thicker it gets, so for all you control freaks out there, the power is all yours.

When it's all said and done, it should look a lot like this:

Blueberry Sauce by wentongg
Another brilliant save via Creative Commons

A few short notes on this:  

First, many recipes call for a tablespoon or so of lemon juice.  I didn't see the point, so I left it out.  We didn't miss it in the least.  But, I imagine, if you were not going to eat the sauce right away, and attempt to jar and refrigerate it for future use, the lemon juice might keep it fresh longer or keep it from discoloring?  I can't imagine blueberry sauce discoloring, but I haven't tried storing it yet, either, so if you have ever had your blueberry sauce/jam/syrup turn weird colors, let us all know in the comments.  

Second, I would definitely double or triple this recipe if you're feeding several people.  This made enough sauce for my husband and I, so I'd say, what with his going back for seconds and thirds, it makes enough for three people.  My son bowed out of the blueberry sauce (his loss!) and went for the maple syrup instead.  There's just no accounting for taste.

Third, if your gastro-imagination is lacking, I would like to suggest that this sauce would be fantastic on pancakes, ice cream, waffles, cheese cake, or any other thing you can think of to top with saucy, sweet blueberry goodness.  Also, this could be a straight syrup if you strained it through cheesecloth to remove the blueberry bits.  I see absolutely no reason why this would ever be necessary (why on earth would you miss out on that bursting blueberry sensation?), but... to each her own.  

Happy saucing!

~ Angela

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Learning to Feed Ourselves

There's something happening here. Okay, you can quit with the Buffalo Springfield. This ain't a war protest. But, perhaps, it's a call to arms. Because there is something happening, right here in Oklahoma, and all over the country.  People are learning to feed themselves again.

If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you know that we've been rather enthusiastic about a certain contest to grant five communities a fruit orchard, complete with irrigation and help with the planting. From what I can tell, Edy's Fruit Bars teamed up with The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation and, voila!, the Communities Take Root program was born.  For the communities who enter, this presents an amazing opportunity, and it's a sign of something larger moving through the land.

This hits home for Terri and I in particular because, in this current batch of contestants (this seems to be an ongoing thing... like American Idol... only better), we can vote for one of our own.  Turley, Oklahoma is currently in 4th place.  If they can stay in the top five until May 31st, they can win an orchard of forty trees (40 trees!) for their community.  We don't live in Turley, but they are our neighbors.  And they have been struggling for a very long time.  So long that it almost looked like the end of the line for them.

Turley borders North Tulsa and is one of the poorest areas in Green Country.  They just lost their only school and are fighting now to keep their post office.  The medical clinics in the area have all shut down.  Most of the residents have no health coverage and so end up in the emergency room when something goes really wrong, as it often does.  Health, it seems, is not a right of the underprivileged.  These are our neighbors, citizens of Tulsa County, just like us.  But, as it goes in the eternal war of the classes, most who live south of Admiral Place pay no attention.  North Tulsa and the suburb of Turley might as well exist on another planet.

That is, until recently.  There are some bold moves happening in our “underprivileged” side of town.  People there are getting wise to the injustice of the situation.  They're starting to work together to transform their community into something good and strong.  It seems they've figured out that if they don't do it, nobody will.  They know their children deserve better.  They know they deserve health and education and a community that cares for them.  To this end, a foundation has been formed called A Third Place.  Click on the link to see what they've been working on and what they're up against.  Look at their plans.  These aren't the plans of the meek, the tired, the beaten-down.  These are plans born from strength of spirit and motivation.  This is human audacity at its finest.  They're starting with nothing... less than nothing in a lot of cases, but they have drive and they're on a mission to save themselves.

This is where the fruit orchard comes in.  Turley, Oklahoma is located in what is known as a “food desert.” Per Wikipedia (see food desert link), a food desert is defined as "a food environment unsupportive of health; it is defined by barriers which restrict access to healthy foods."  This means that real, nourishing food is virtually unattainable for the citizens in this area, and what food is accessible and affordable is highly processed, cheap, and nutrient devoid, the kind that leads to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and countless other health problems.  Life on Ramen noodles, mac n' cheese, and hot dogs.  Remember college?  That was eating posh.  So what is this driven community doing about it?  They've built a community garden.  And they're working their hides off to expand it.  Forget hard times and bad luck and being ignored and swept aside... screw government programs that disappear just when you need them... they're going to grow their own food.  And a nice big fruit orchard would fit in just perfectly.

This is a concept that seems to be spreading.  Not just with disadvantaged communities, but everywhere.  All over the country, community gardens and backyard gardens and small farms and ranches are popping up.  It's as if we're all waking up from a very bad dream in which we were held hostage to a system that fed us weak plants from dead soil and the meat of sick, tortured animals, and tons and tons of bleached, processed grains.  We gorged ourselves on this “food” but it didn't nourish us, and the more we ate the sicker we got.  We started dying slow, painful, horrible deaths from incurable diseases.  And the doctors told us we were dying of malnutrition... but we didn't know how because there was all this food... 

And now, in the light of day, we're remembering... we can't depend on any big impersonal "system," not a government system nor a corporate system, to feed us in a way that will keep us strong and healthy.  We have to do this ourselves.  We can do this ourselves.  We can heal our bodies and our homes and our despondent state of mind and go another way.  We can get our hands dirty.  We can grow and raise our own food and, finally, take back control over our lives.

The strongest element of the human spirit is our ability to band together to make a change, to help each other through.  The people of Turley and the other communities out there who are coming together to feed themselves are proof of that.  They are the models of how we should all aspire to be.

It never ceases to amaze me how those of us who have the least manage to inspire us the most.

If you want to vote for Turley, OK to win a fruit orchard, or if you just want to see how this contest plays out, go to Communities Take Root and see what a difference you can make.  We only have until May 31st to vote for this go 'round.  Time is almost up.  Vote daily.  Absolutely every vote counts.

If you want to see what others are doing (and what opportunities there may be to get involved), check out the following links:

http://www.communitygarden.org/

http://www.heifer.org/#

http://teachtogrow.org/home


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The Reluctant Vegan...

Well, I had my first round of allergies tests today to see what was making my Eosinophilic Esophagitis worse.  Today's tests were for food allergies.  (I am sure you can tell, this does not end well.)  So far, I have confirmed allergies to: sunflower seeds, garlic, buckwheat, milk, eggs, beef, pork, chicken, walnuts, and pecans.  So, you may notice that the recipes that I post do not have these ingredients (much to my teeth gnashing dismay.)  I will be working with some recipes that I love in order to work within my new food parameters.  This is foodie hell.  I am not kidding here.  So, if you DO happen to have any kind words, feel free to leave me a comment.

On the bright side, at least I can hint shamelessly of my need for one of these cool bracelets from Allerbling...

Gift Ideas for a Red-Headed Foodie with Food Allergies

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Strawberry Shortcake Trifle


It is May, and that means STRAWBERRIES!!!  When I declared that it was a Strawberry Day, my oldest child requested a trifle, my middle child pleaded for a strawberry shortcake, and my youngest demanded blueberries and strawberries mixed together.  As I was contemplating how to weave together their "requests," Angela called to inform me that she had gotten four goose eggs from the farmers' market and that it was my job to use them well.  I had not cooked with goose eggs before, but there is a first time for everything...and I had a foodie plan forming.  (Insert maniacal laughter.)

As expected, the sound of me puttering around in the kitchen brought the pitter patter of little feet and the frantic grasping of little hands vying for the "cooking chair" and the prime spot in front of the mixing bowl.  It may have resulted in one or two of the more zealous sous chefs being expelled from the kitchen.  Hey, cooks are short tempered, everyone knows that!  (But if this harshes your warm fuzzy vision of mother and child in the kitchen together, just skim over that part.)

First, for the short cake!  I wanted something tender, but strong enough to hold up to the weight of the berries and the rich custard, so I decided on almonds!


Shortcake
1 c. sweet rice flour
1 c. sweet sorghum flour
1 c. ground almond flour (I just grind it in the food processor until finely ground)
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
3/4 c. cold butter, cut into pieces
1/3 c. buttermilk (or soured milk)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a 9 inch pie pan, and set aside.  Combine all the dry ingredients, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles crumbs.  Add buttermilk and stir until a dough forms.  Spread the batter into the pie pan and bake for approximately 15 - 20 minutes, or until set in the middle and the cake starts to turn lightly golden.  Cool on wire rack; meanwhile...

Next, it is time to start the strawberry and blueberry filling...okay, this part was easy; you just, well, cut up strawberries and fresh, whole blueberries.  How easy is that? 

Finally, for the custard:

Just so you know, my kids were amazed at how much bigger goose eggs were than "regular" eggs...


Custard
2 goose eggs (or 3 large eggs...as my kids call them "regular eggs")
2 c. milk
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
Pinch salt 

before you start cooking the custard, prepare a large bowl 1/2 full with water and ice and place it in the sink.  Then begin cooking...

Crack the eggs into a medium saucepan...



Then add the milk, sugar, and salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.  


Cook until the egg mixture coats a metal spoon...


Then remove the pan from the heat and place the pan into the ice water, and continue stirring for 2 minutes to cool.  Stir in the vanilla and pour the custard in a bowl, cover the custard with plastic wrap to keep a skin from forming on the custard.  Refrigerate until ready to assemble and serve.

Assembly
You can leave the cake in the pie pan.  Cover the cake with the berries

 
and drizzle the custard over the berries.


I meant to take some to Angela as a "thank you" for the eggs.  Unfortunately, we ate it all.  Um, yeah, sorry Angela!

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