Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Early December Glance

In my business of the season, I don't want to forget to document this chunk of our lives.  So here it is, mostly in pictures, the first half of December.

My little beauty turned 16 months old.

My foodies continued the trend of always eating.

I finally got my Haloween decorations cooked.

Seriously, this little lady is too cute.

We had some 60 degree weather which we took full advantage of ... and let our children play with toilets.

The girls did crafts.  I did too, but that will be another post.

Scott and I have been married for 5.5 years and every year I have said that I want to make stockings.  I finally did it!  Guess which one is Scott's.  It's a fun game. 

And in honor of my sweet and amazing Grandma Evelyn who went to dance with Jesus a year ago today, I made salad dressing last night and stored it in a couple her innumerable vinegar cruets. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Explaining Evelyn Part 3: Favorite Gluten-Free Resources and Recipes

I just had a good friend call me quite distraught because her daughter just got a diagnosis of being severely gluten intolerant.  It's shaking her world and I remember that feeling.  It's possible though, you just have to retrain your thinking.  Here's where I started.

Step 1: Go through your kitchen cupboards and start reading labels.  Obviously the first things that will have to go are the bags of flour and any boxed mixes that contain flour.  Gluten is sneaky though, you have to know what to be reading for as you look through ingredient lists.  Thank goodness for google though!  If you are unsure, google "Brand and Item name gluten" and you will be linked to the company page that will give you allergy information. You can also call and usually the customer service people are great.

Now check where that food was packaged.  If it was packaged in a plant with wheat, it's gotta go.  Flour dust does not settle quickly or directly below where it started.  If it was processed in the same plant, it contains gluten.  Some manufacturers even dust equipment with gluten flour to prevent sticking.  No good!

Step 2: Double check your cupboards.  You think you got it all, but things will sneak up on you.  For me it was a container of cocoa powder that I had taken out of it's original container and put in a cute canister.  It was processed in the same plant as wheat flour and was cross-contaminated.  We only learned that after Evelyn had a reaction.  How about your chewing gum, did you check that?  Most contain gluten.  How about your powdered sugar.  Is the anti-caking agent in it corn starch or wheat starch?  Did you throw out your soy sauce?  It has gluten.  Your jarred pasta sauce that contains spices, were they stored with an gluten-containing anti-caking agent before being mixed into the sauce by the company?  You need to know and you need to check.  Never assume that checking a brand once is fine.  Manufacturing practices and recipes change without notice.  Keep checking.

Step 3: Check you toiletries and beauty products.  We found gluten in our shampoo and body lotion.  In our lotion it was listed as beta glucan and in the shampoo it was wheat protein.  Also check anything that has Vitamin E in it as that can be derived from wheat.

Step 4: Don't forget craft supplies!  Play-doh, envelope glue, and some modeling clay all contain gluten.  You're best bet is to check with each manufacturer.

Once you've rid your house of gluten, you have to figure out what to replace it with.  It's healthier and less expensive to stick with naturally gluten-free foods.  Meat, vegetables, fruit, dairy (check some cheeses), eggs, and whole grains such as rice and quinoa are a great way to start.  Figure out how to cook a variety of cuts of meat and all different veggies in fun, new ways.  Nuts and dried fruit can make great snacks.

For baked goods, you just can't beat the recipes from Gluten Free Goddess.  I've tried and loved lots of her breads and desserts.

When going for premade mixes, I've had the best luck with Pamela's brand products.  I keep some bread mix and pancake mix on hand for when I don't feel like making either completely from scratch.  Pamela's has a great chocolate cake mix too.

For crackers and pretzels we love Glutino brand products.  They have the best flavor, but unfortunately a high price tag to go with it.

We don't usually ever eat boxed breakfast cereal, but when I do buy some for a treat, I like Enviro Kids.  They have organic products and I usually find them cheapest at Whole Foods.

Pasta is a tricky one.  I avoid corn pasta because it's gets really hard and the texture is  Some brown rice pasta is ok, but it's very different from brand to brand.  Your best bet is try a few different varieties and find one your family likes.  Don't go into it expecting it to take like wheat pasta because it just plain won't.  

If you are in the Kansas City area and want to spoil yourself, Kneaded Specialties is a local bakery that makes some amazing baked goods.  I'm thoroughly addicted to their lemonade cake, but also enjoy their coffee cake.

And finally, some questions I get asked often...

  • This recipe calls for wheat flour, can I just substitute gluten-free flour?
    • Sometimes.  If it just wants a couple tablespoons to thicken a sauce, substitute with some tapioca starch or brown rice flour.  If it's a baked good, don't bother.  You're better off finding a gluten-free recipes for it.
  •  I used to just keep whole wheat, all-purpose, and bread flour on hand, can I just get gluten-free versions of those?
    • No.  Gluten adds a lot of distinct characteristics to food.  It's a binder.  It allows it to be light and fluffy.  It thickens things.  It does a lot of things that you just can't mimic with one kind of gluten-free flour.  So you have to mix heavier gluten-free flours with medium weight flours with starches.  Each kind tries to do the job of some part of wheat, sometimes better than others.  So often recipes will call for 3-6 different kinds of flours so that you can attempt to recreate what wheat can do in a recipe.  
  • What about oatmeal?
    • That one's tricky.  I say (and so do most doctors) that if you have Celiac go without it for 6 months then trial gluten-free oats.  The protein in oatmeal is ridiculously similar to gluten, and therefore some people are too sensitive for it.  Be sure to buy the gluten-free variety though if you do use it.   
  • I see xanthan gum in lots of gluten-free recipes.  What is it?
    • Um, it a weird really expensive powder that you add to baked goods to keep them from falling apart.  You use about 1 tsp for each cup of flour.  Here's what wikipedia has to say about it and why I didn't even attempt to explain it more than I just did. 
      • Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide, derived from the bacterial coat of xanthomonas campetris, used as a food additive and rheology modifier, commonly used as a food thickening agent (in salad dressings, for example) and a stabilizer (in cosmetic products, for example, to prevent ingredients from separating). It is produced by the fermentation of glucose, sucrose, or lactose by the xanthomonas campetris  bacterium. After a fermentation period, the polysaccharide is precipitated from a growth medium with isopropyl alcohol, dried, and ground into a fine powder. Later, it is added to a liquid medium to form the gum. 

 My last advice about this (besides to breath because it really will be ok, hard, but ok) is to make new traditions.  You may have a favorite family recipe or tradition of making cut out Christmas cookies.  It won't ever taste the same or work the same gluten-free.  Try as you might, you just can't replicate it.  So find a new favorite recipe and a new tradition to keep that is gluten-free.  It will be much less stressful. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

First Snowfall

This has been a much anticipated day in our house.  Evelyn has been talking about snow since we bought a winter coat for her a couple months ago.  The only way I could convince her to even try the coats on was to let her know they were to stay warm in the snow.  Therefore, every time we put the coat on her, she asked if it was going to snow. 

When I looked out the window this morning and saw snow, I ran downstairs to tell her and see her reaction.  Usually I stay in bed a little longer (my husband is a saint) to savor some kid-free time in the morning, but I did not want to miss this.  She did not disappoint.  She ran around the house in a rather spastic manner, thrilled to see snow on the ground. 

So before daddy even left for work the girls were decked out A Christmas Story style to check out the first snow of the year.

Belle would just cry if you left her because she couldn't balance well enough in all her garb to follow after you.  I shouldn't have laughed at her, but I did.

Checking it out.
Tentatively standing on the porch, unwilling to attempt steps in her bulky state.

My nose is cold.  What is this?

Hi Mom!  I'm adorable!

Evelyn made snow angels...

cleaned off the steps...

and ate the snow.
Annabelle stood in one spot for a long time.

She eventually decided to get in on the fun.

Attempt at a posed picture.

Clearly, Evelyn loves snow.

Belle and I got cold and went inside.  I told Evelyn she could stay out back though and she promptly decided to start clearing snow off of everything out there.

I'm still trying to figure out my new camera.  Focus is obviously something I must work on.

There we go.

Even after she came back inside, she just wanted to stare out the window at the snow.

Monday, December 5, 2011

It's Messy, but Here It Is

This last week has been absolutely CRAZY.  I never want to move ever, ever again.  It's one thing to accomplish it as a young couple, but throw two crazy kids and a 100-year-old house that needs renovations into the mix...ay yi yi. 

So it's messy.  And it's not completely unpacked.  And nothing is hung on the walls.  But it's livable and it's starting to feel like home.  And I'll pretend I didn't almost start crying when I dropped off my key to the old house yesterday.  I love this house so much more than our old rental, but that was HOME.  It was home for a lot of things including the birth of Annabelle.  Sniff, sniff.  Moving on.

Here is your first little tour of our home. 

Front door.  Yes, I decorated for Christmas before I was even half unpacked.  I <3 Christmas. 

If you take a right when you come in the house you see our living room, complete with hot glue gun on the floor because I was up crafting last night instead of cleaning.

The Christmas tree that was the perfect size for our little abode when it was purchased now looks a bit Charlie Brownish with our high ceilings. 

Evelyn thought the bungey cord looked like an ornament hook.  And Elmo looks like he's being subject to some kind of torture beneath the tree.  So there you have it. 

If you take a left from the front door you see our dining room. 

And my beloved kitchen.  When you have to make almost all your food at home from scratch, a spacious kitchen becomes a huge luxury. 

Check out my designer backsplash. 

Off of the dining room is the mud room/ laundry room.  I told you it was messy. 

Now heading upstairs.  At the top of the stairs straight ahead is the bathroom.

To the left is the master bedroom that doubles as an office.

To the right are the girls' rooms. 

Off of Evelyn's room is what we refer to as the annex.  It has become a bit of a catch-all. 

Headed up to the third floor now is the toy room.  This room makes me all kinds of happy.  All these toys are no longer in my living room.  Score.

Off the toy room is the guest room. 

And here's what the areas I didn't photograph look like.  It will all get clean, eventually.