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Pass the Nutella

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Eosinophilic Esophagitis.  Try saying THAT three times real fast.  I have.  I have rolled the words around on my tongue so much that I can now say it without stumbling over any of the syllables or looking up and to the left (which apparently I do when I am trying to recall something).

You see, I had a biopsy recently.   (If this is all news to you, and if you actually care, you can get some back-story here.)  Well, I got the results back on Tuesday.  Eosinophilic Esophagitis.  As far as I can figure (with pathetically little input from my dunderhead of a specialist, whom I expect to be replacing very soon), there are food allergies involved.  Which means that, in addition to the gluten free aspect of the recipes you find here, my contributions may soon be even more...allergy friendly.  I have a meeting scheduled with an allergist/immunologist in two weeks, and then there will be more testing, then I will have (knock on wood) some more answers.

Don't worry...we will still be providing all kinds of seasonal, gluten free recipes.  In fact, you should be more concerned about the fact that I have somehow broken a button on my computer.  It is stuck down, and I can't get it to pop back up.  I want to tell you which one but, since I can't utilize that button, the best I can do is to hint that it resides snugly between the "H" button and the "K" button.  The fact that I have typed this entire post without really noticing that this button is no longer available for use makes me realize that, perhaps, it is a superfluous letter...

No, wait.  That isn't true.  I changed my mind.  It is NOT a wasted letter.  I only now realized that, without that particular letter, I cannot lament the unspeakable in_ustice of someone who adores food being faced with the possibility of having to cut even MORE foods from her life.

So, until I know for certain what my new eating regime will consist of, I plan on eating any and everything that I can get my hands on.  I think that this is the only feasible way of mourning the potential loss of some of my foodie passions.  I am sure that there are psychological ramifications to receiving a diagnosis that will affect my eating habits for the rest of my life.  It is to be expected.  Well, either that or I am a huge glutton.  No telling.  But for now, I will scrape the last bit of Nutella from the __ar, eat is straight off the spoon, and head off to bed.


The Mystery of the Travelling Beef

It was a dark and stormy night... wait.  Stop.  Food blogging.  Start over.

It all started with a pound of beef...

You see, I have this membership to a local food coop.  Let me clarify.  The coop, which is dedicated to providing organic food, is local.  The food--not necessarily.  Don't get me wrong.  The quality of the food is superb; the standards impeccable.  And they do occasionally get local bread and cheese... and chicken*.  All the birds I've gotten from them so far have come from Tahlequah (have fun pronouncing that if you ain't from 'round here).  But when I inquired as to where their food came from, I was told that most of it comes on a truck from Colorado, and they (the Colorado distributor) get it from, well, wherever.  I dealt with it for awhile.  It was winter and the deals were sometimes pretty good.  Better than Whole Foods prices (at times), anyway.  

But, then, a few weeks ago, I got this beef.  It was 100% Organic Grass Fed Stew Meat.  So far so good.  (By the way, if it's "100% Grass Fed," does that mean it's grass finished?  Enlighten me, if you know.)  And then, out of what has now become habit, I looked at the Country of Origin label.  Ahem.  ... Uruguay.  

Yes, you heard me right.


No, I'm serious.  Here, look.  

Exhibit A
Beef from Uruguay
Do you know where Uruguay is?  It's in South America.  On the Eastern coast of the continent.  

Exhibit B
Thank you, Terri, for finding this fantastic image for use in this post.  Your Google powers remain unequaled.
I'm sure all of our readers are well aware that we are in Oklahoma, USA.  North America.  Officially.  

Now, I've mentioned before that I don't, by any means, buy everything locally.  I buy olive oil and bananas and many other things that aren't from "'round here."  However, ... Uruguay?  We have so many great ranchers within our state, many of whom raise their cows purely on grass, and hay in the winter.  And even if our coop was unable to find a cattle rancher willing to supply them, surely there would be one in a neighboring state, at least.  But this stew meat, this modest 1 lb. package of grass-fed beef, was from a country so far away that I had to consult Google for its exact location (geography never being my strong point).  

I took it upon myself to look up the distance between Uruguay and Tulsa.  According to happyzebra.com, the distance from Montevideo, Uruguay to Tulsa is 5,500.4 miles.  For a more conservative estimate, the distance from Salto, Uruguay to Tulsa is 5,258 miles.  But wait--let's look back at that label up there, shall we?  Notice the small print at the bottom?  It says, "Distributed by Albert's Organics, Bridgeport, New Jersey..."  And don't forget that truck from Colorado. So, if these are all the stopping points, our beef had to travel from Uruguay (city unknown) to Bridgeport, NJ to Colorado to Tulsa, Oklahoma.  This meat has literally spanned two entire continents to get to me.  

I feel... a little sick about it, to tell you the truth.  A little "spoiled American."  A little ashamed.

Now, as I said, I got the Beef from Uruguay in my coop share bag a few weeks ago.  What was the fate of the grass fed Beef from Uruguay?  What do you think?  I threw it away?  Well, hell no.  Being a responsible consumer is about being responsible.  There was already enough waste associated with the now famous (just ask Terri--it's become a regular joke between us) Beef from Uruguay without adding insult to injury.  So, two nights ago, I decide it's time to pull that stew meat out of my freezer and make, well, stew with it.  I mention this (via email) to Terri.  And do you know how she responded?  I kid you not, with an actual beef stew recipe from Uruguay!  Look, look, look!  Uruguayan Rice and Beef Stew  

This, people, fills me with endless glee.  If I have never said it before, I will say it now.  Terri is a Googling phenomenon.  

My grass fed Beef from Uruguay was thawed and ready to stew for last night's dinner.  I did, in fact, follow the Uruguayan Rice and Beef Stew recipe.  If you ever try it, I'll tell you it's not like regular stew and it is definitely carb-heavy.  It calls for 2 cups (uncooked) rice plus two potatoes.  There is very, very little liquid left by the time it's done cooking.  Mostly, it's a very moist, tomatoey rice dish with some chunks of beef and stuff.  And, to tell you the truth, it was a little bland.  You'll notice there are absolutely no herbs or spices (unless you count garlic and onions) in this recipe.  I'm sure if I were Uruguayan, I would've got the technique down and it would've been fantastic.  Instead, I just added some extra salt and it was fine.  But, I must say, the beef itself?  It was excellent.  Richly flavored and not at all tough.  There is something to be said for grass-fed beef.

But now I'm left with some leftovers and a feeling that I should do something more to honor our local cattle ranchers.  I'm going to have to say something.  This coop... it could do so much better.  They're a very small operation and, as such, presumably have control over who they do and don't order from.  It's a cooperative, after all.  And they really should be buying locally wherever they can.  There really isn't any excuse.  There are other coops in town that do supply purely local products.  This one should follow suit... or at least attempt to get closer.  

This is hard for me, though.  I'm Ms. Encouragement, typically.  I'm the one who wants everyone to feel good about themselves and never wants to hurt anyone's feelings.  But, in this way, I can attempt to make the tiniest difference.  So I will.  I will send an email to those who run this little coop and I will be so, so nice.  I will include several helpful links for local ranchers they could, perhaps, contact for their meat supply, and I will hope they understand and see what good they can do.  They are, after all, in a position of power--buying power.  And their power could go a long way toward helping our local ranchers and farmers survive, and cutting some serious carbon miles while they're at it.  As I said, I truly believe they mean well, this unnamed cooperative.  But this... this is all wrong.  

I'll let you know what response, if any, I receive from said nameless coop.  You may be witness to my first real step towards advocacy.  This Beef from Uruguay may have created a monster.

*The eggs, however, were coming from Colorado, if I remember correctly.  Wherever they were from, it wasn't Oklahoma, so I stopped getting the eggs.  There is no shortage of pastured eggs in Oklahoma.


Gluten Free Peanut Butter Bites...and Tiny, Thieving Hands

There are times when the world seems to be battling against us, when the weather does not cooperate, when money is exceedingly scarce, when health seems elusive...and when these things happen, when life seems hell-bent on battling us on all fronts, we have no choice but to stand tall and fight back with all we've got.  Frequently, this involves chocolate and, if things are looking particularly grim, there might be peanut butter involved as well.

Such was the case for me this weekend.  Income flitted away too fast, the death cough held on with a vengeance, and the laundry (although now clean) is still in piles in the basket.  So clearly, it was time for bake-therapy.  (Hell yeah!)

In order to ward off the evil spirits that seem to be haunting me, I opted for some heavy-duty Baking Mojo, the trifecta of ingredients:  chocolate, oatmeal, and peanut butter.  I figured if something concocted with these ingredients failed to boost my mood, I was doomed.  Luckily, they saved my day.  Come to think of it, they perked the kiddos right up, too!

Under the guise of hawking them as a "tasty morsel," a "mere treat," I cut them into small bite-sized portions.  However, in reality, I ate four or five each time I was reaching for "just one," so consider yourself warned. 

In the interest of full disclosure, the tiny hands that seem to invade the photos are, in fact, not my hands.  (I actually have rather large hands.)  (They're not my hands either, regardless of what you may have heard about their smallness...)  The two hands shown herein are actually attached to two of my children.  My children have also declared their respective hands to now be "famous" since they are featured in this blog.  If you wish to further their delusion, feel free to tell them how famous they are in the comments section below...they would be delighted to hear from you.  (Oh, please do this.  Her kids are rock stars.  I can attest to this personally, as being one of the privileged few to have met these mysterious hand model/taste testers.)  Actually, I would be delighted as well.  Comments remind me that I am not just talking to myself...although I do a fair amount of that, too. (This comment has been removed by Angela in an effort to restrain herself.)

Peanut Butter Bites

1/2 c. sweet sorghum flour
1/2 c. sweet rice flour
1 c. gluten free oats
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/2 c. chunky peanut butter
1/4 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
35 Hershey's Kisses, unwrapped (please DO unwrap them, however, before you place them on the squares.  Otherwise the tin foil gets in your teeth.)

1.  Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Grease a 13 x 9 x 2 baking pan.
2.  Cream butter and sugars, add egg and vanilla.
3.  Add peanut butter and milk.
4.  Add flours, xanthan gum, baking soda.
5.  Stir in oats.
6.  Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and set in the middle.  
7.  Let cool in pan, and top with evenly spaced Hershey's Kisses while pan is still warm.  
8.  Cut into 35 squares once fully cooled.

I do promise to post some healthier options soon, once the healthier fare is a bit more abundant.  In fact, I had intended to post my recipe for gluten-free Strawberry Shortcakes but, honestly, I needed chocolate and peanut butter to get through this past week, and sometimes you just gotta roll with it.


Sweet Potato Chips and Lessons from an Everlasting Root

Here we go again--another one of those weeks.  We're living really close to the bone right now...so close it feels like I've created my own personal Great Depression.  I'm having to cut out luxuries (like the Kings of Leon concert last Friday...sigh...) and really take inventory of what I can use up in the kitchen without buying more.  This past weekend, of course, was opening day of the Cherry Street Farmers' Market.  I couldn't go to that, either.  That hurt.  That was supposed to be my fresh produce for the week.  But, nope.  Not this week, honey.  Good thing I've still got a few green things tucked back in the freezer, and enough dry beans and rice to get us through.  I'm not starving, that's for sure.  It's not everything I wish I was eating, but the food we preserved last summer has stretched further than I ever thought it would.  

My husband, for example, at a loss for what to throw together for dinner Saturday night, said, "well, we've got that sweet potato."  That sweet potato.  (And, please don't call it a yam.  It's not.  They are entirely different creatures.)  That monstrosity of a root vegetable which we'd bought marked down at the tail end of last year's growing season, since the farmer we'd bought it from was trying to move her bigger specimens.  Apparently, no one wants a sweet potato roughly the size of a baby (no, not a baby's arm.--a baby).  Which this one was.  Me, I'm adventurous (sort of), and I'm always up for a bargain, so I bought it up, brought it home, placed it in a cool, dark place (our cupboard), and forgot about it.  Not because it was out of sight.  No, it was just one of those things that became part of the scenery, something we always nudged to the side to get to the canned tomatoes in the back.  Because, really, what do you do with a sweet potato that big?  Unless you're feeding company the size of a football team or the population of Tuvalu

So yeah, we still had that sweet potato.  How it survived the whole winter and into this spring without withering to a wrinkled husk like any other potato would've done, I can't tell you.  Perhaps sweet potatoes are just that storage-friendly.  But survive it did, able to fulfill its destiny as our last resort side dish and leading to joys and wonders that saved the entire weekend from being a complete bust.  

Saturday, we cut off half the tuber and turned it into oven-baked sweet potato fries, made in my usual manner.  I crank the oven to 400/425 degrees Fahrenheit, cut up the potato into small French fry shapes, coat in olive oil, sprinkle with a little seasoning salt and throw it in the oven for around 20-30 minutes...that time is an estimate.  You want it slightly crisp, done all the way through, but not burnt.  You know.  Like fries.  

See, I mostly play with my food.  I don't do much in the gourmet sense of cooking.  I just try to make stuff I like that isn't a mega pain the butt...and if it is a mega pain the butt, it's something that's well worth it (like making your own homemade Swedish meatballs...heaven).  So that little paragraph up there is my whole sweet potato fry recipe (the instructions for which I'm pretty sure I actually got from Terri at some point, in a frantic "how do you to this again?" phone call, like the ones she gets from me frequently).  Everything's eyeballed.  I hope you're okay with that.  I am.

Now to the wonders.  Because, you see, though baked sweet potato fries are always a joy (I do love them so), they're kind of old hat to me by now.  Not that I've perfected them.  There is little in my world that's perfect.  But I've made them often enough, and they usually turn out pretty good.  The wonders, however, happened when my husband had a stroke of genius on Sunday night, when our dinner options were low and the need for culinary creativity was reaching an all-time high.  He asked again...

"Do we still have that sweet potato?"

There had been some debate the night before, followed by some brief, unsatisfying Googling, of what to do with the remains of a raw, cut sweet potato.  I read that we couldn't just refrigerate it, because for some reason that would make the flesh bitter.  It could be frozen, but only if it was cooked (which it wasn't).  In the end, we left it on the counter and went to bed, me reasoning that it would either go bad or be fine.  It was fine.

So, yeah...we still had that sweet potato.  The second half of it, anyway.  And I tell you, friends, these roots, when left to their own devices (and kept out of the light and damp) do not die.  This one didn't, anyway.  

Now, the stroke of brilliance.  My husband wanted to make chips.  Not a particularly new idea, I understand that.  But we'd never made them before (not with sweet potatoes, anyway...we'd made regular white potato chips, which are wonderful, wonderful things when made in your own skillet).  The next question was, what to fry them in?  I'd given up canola oil a few months ago, after learning that it's not the wonder oil I thought it was (I get resentful when I feel duped), and had been relying primarily on olive oil, butter, and animal fats.  But I didn't have a vat of old-fashioned lard lying around, and olive oil can't take that kind of heat*.  I did, however, have a new container of coconut oil, which I had bought primarily for the purpose of pan frying, (potentially erroneously; I'm still trying to figure this which-oils-are-safe-to-cook-to-what-temperatures thing) but which I'd only used once and was still not quite familiar with.  We decided to try it.  

The chips turned out beautifully.  There are a few kinks we need to work out, of course.  First, the thickness. Ours were pretty irregular (we were hungry and in a hurry and were using the slicing side of cheese grater.  Sue us.), so it was quickly obvious that if they were too thin, they burned, if they were too thick, they never crisped up.  As you can see, some of ours were a little of both.

Second, the temperature of the coconut oil.  It is supposed to withstand heat up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, but we weren't using a thermometer.  We learned that you have to keep it at or just above medium heat, otherwise it starts smoking (an indication of carcinogenic badness that must be avoided at all costs--just sayin').

When they came out of the pan, we sprinkled them with a little salt to bring out their sweetness.   There was just the barest hint of coconut flavor, which pared well with the sweet potatoes,  and if it's any testament to the success of this sweet potato chip experiment, we ate them nearly as fast as we cooked them.  I had to scrounge all the prettiest ones at the end, just to take a picture for you.

There you have it.  The joys and wonders of a native root vegetable that lasted us an entire winter of neglect and presumption, and which managed to create a handsomely portioned side dish for this family of three for two meals.  As always, the bounty puts me to shame.  I learn again--take nothing for granted.

*I may actually be wrong about the fryability (pretty sure that's not a real word) of olive oil.  If you go to the link in that statement, it appears that extra virgin olive oil may be just as suitable as coconut oil.  Hmm... I will have to research this further.


Easter Egg Colorings from Nature...Not a Lab

I recently came across some old notes from my great-grandmother, scrawled in faded pencil on a scrap of paper and tucked inside a book.  This past weekend, as I fretted over Easter plans, I reached for an old cookbook to look over a WWII era recipe for potato candy (that is another post, I promise) which was popular during that era of food rationing, and the scrap fell out of the book and onto my kitchen floor, like a whisper, and I--a great believer in "signs"--decided that it was old knowledge meant to be shared.

I have read more and more lately about the speculated dangers of food dyes so, in light of Easter...

 ...and all those eggs just begging to be tinted, this little nudge from Grandma seemed particularly timely.

Long ago, before Super Centers and Red 40, there was (presumably) someone who thought to him or herself, "You know, this bit of animal hide that I am using to cover my loins would be so much more attractive in a nice lavender hue."  ...and thus natural colorings were born (or something to that effect).

At any rate, nature gave us some perfectly awesome natural ways to color food, clothing, etc., without the dreaded Red 40.  So, on the off chance that you might want to color your eggs without the artificial nastiness this year, I am sharing some of Grandma's wisdom:
  • RED:  grate 2 c. red beets, add 1 tbsp. vinegar and 2 c. water and boil 20 minutes.  Let cool before using.
  • YELLOW:  4 c. yellow onion skins, add 1 tbsp. vinegar and 3 c. water and boil 20 minutes.  Let cool before using.  (Note:  you can use 3 c. dried chamomile flowers in place of onion skins, if available.) 
  • BLUE:  2 c. blueberries, crushed, add 1 tbsp. vinegar and 2 c. water and boil 20 minutes.  Let cool before using.  (Note:  I tried this with one 16 oz. bag of frozen blueberries I had in my freezer--because, honestly, if I had fresh blueberries I would rather just eat them--and it worked beautifully.)
  • LAVENDER:  3 c. red cabbage, add 1 tbsp. vinegar and 2 c. water and boil 20 minutes.  Let cool before using.  
You can mix the primary colors to make other colors, as well.  

If you decide to try the natural coloring, check back and let us know how you thought they compared to the man-made poison colorants.


Season One: Spring Gardening Adventures in Green Country

The weather here in Green Country has been its typical fickle self, making each of my tromps out to the garden a different experience than the last.  Many people (normal, sane people... ahem) wait for nice, sunny days to get out and start playing in the dirt.  But not me... no sir, I fancy myself an urban food gardener, unafraid of a little cold and wet... 

Or I could just be a fool... the jury's still out.

Last Sunday loomed chilly and overcast with intermittent drizzle spritzing through the air.  This signaled to my overzealous mind that it was the perfect day to sow some lettuce seeds...and some spinach...and why not some onions while I'm at it?  So, I suited up in my jeans and sweater, coat and gardening gloves (which are so small they're nearly kid-sized to fit my tiny hands) and headed out to the yard.

And it was...really, really nice.  Yes, it was definitely chilly (it didn't clear 45 degrees that day, and in my world that's chilly), but the chill fell away as I set to work and my body started moving.  And it was quiet.  There was the random shout of a neighborhood kid now and again, and the occasional bird call, but otherwise it felt like the clouds had swallowed up the developed world and told us all to hush.

At one point I noticed a flock of birds gathering in the pecan tree above my head.  Were those starlings or crows?  They were too high up to see clearly, and I'm no master of bird calls.  They seemed to be having an important meeting, however, and I watched them for a time with reverence.

Our entire garden plot is covered over with hay mulch.  We uncover the rows as we plant them, and use the remaining hay as borders and walkways.  I set to pulling off the mats of recently unbailed hay to get at the soil below.  When I did, I saw what I initially took to be a very large earthworm curled up in the dirt.  Hooray! I thought, knowing earthworms are a gardener's best friends.  But then I paused and looked closer.  Curled... coiled is more like it, and the brown is a little flatter, a little scalier than the skin of your typical earthworm.  No, my friends, this was a very small, very brown snake.

I picked it up (remember, I had on my gardening gloves--otherwise I never would've had the nerve) to relocate it under a patch of straw that wouldn't be disturbed for awhile.  I thought I would have to move quick, that it would slither and fight, but it hardly moved a muscle.  It was asleep, dormant from the cold.  I could only confirm it was alive when i tipped my hand to release it to its new bed.  Then it woke up and slithered away, deep under the mulch.

Now, I'm going to assume this was a harmless garden snake of some sort, because I didn't have the heart to kill it (would you believe me if I said I thought it was cute?), so I let it live blissfully asleep under the straw... and because, as I went along, uncovering and planting, uncovering and planting, I found two more. They were each just as cold-dormant as the first, and just as obviously alive when the vertigo of being tipped over signaled their brains to wake up.  I let each of them go unharmed, showing them the same courtesy as the first with their new, snugglier garden accommodations under the hay.

So, please, if anyone sees these pictures and happens to know that, hey, WAIT! Those are baby copperheads!  Or any other creature with a similar reputation, do let me know, will you?  I have no desire to be maimed or murdered for my benevolence toward my serpentine brethren.

This weekend, on the other hand, was in the 80s and uncomfortably warm.  But no snakes this time (I assume they went hunting or something... I don't claim to know the minds of serpents), and it felt like real spring, and my onions and spinach had started to sprout, so I didn't complain.  Spring is a crazy, crazy time.  Mysteries abound and real food is around the corner.  Next weekend, finally, I'll be able to go to the farmers' market and buy food from real farmers, those experienced professionals who know how to get something out of the ground (or the greenhouse) before May.  I will watch and learn, friends.  And, of course, I'll tell you all about it.  


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