Thursday, December 22, 2011

heading home for the holidays

A couple months ago I feared that I wouldn't make it home for Christmas. Flights are so expensive this year and I haven't adjusted to the fact that I live farther away from the Midwest again. When I lived in Chicago and flew home to Minnesota via the Minneapolis airport (which is one of the best airports, in my opinion), there were tens of flight options every day and they were all around a hundred dollars. The trip for two from San Francisco--ten times that. Ugh. I have never missed Christmas in Minnesota before, and although I know it will happen someday I'm just not ready yet. BUT my husband, thank goodness, has been earning airline miles in every way possible since he could carry a credit card, and he stockpiled them for a rainy--or snowy--day. And somehow we were actually able to find a flight that allowed us to use miles for the holidays. It was meant to be. I will be home for the holidays once again.

As I pack my things so everything is in line for our morning departure (no later than 4:30am), I want to wish you all the very merriest of holidays. And as you are surrounded by friends and family, you should try this wonderful, but addicting snack that was featured in the winter issue of Sweet Paul. It's divine.

May your holidays be filled with good food, great friends, and more love than ever. Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

today i am thirty

Today I wave goodbye to the roaring 20s and say hello to a new era . . . sort of. I guess I have always felt like I am about 37 years old. I don't know why. Maybe because my 20s weren't all that roaring, and I really didn't mind. I like to spend my evenings at home and sit on the sofa, reading or watching something mindless on the TV. When I go out, it's usually for dinner and a glass of wine and I'm often home and in bed by ten or eleven. Or perhaps I'll go out for brunch or coffee or a walk around the neighborhood or a drive through the countryside. I prefer sunrises to sunsets and new days to late nights. Now, I frequently sleep in these days but that's because the sun is blocked from our bedroom. If the sun were shining in I would be ready to go. I think I was a farmer in my former life.

Although I am not a fan of the gray hairs that keep popping up and the little wrinkle growing in my forehead, I'm excited to leave that unsettled decade behind. It's filled with so much uncertainty and fear. And though I still don't know where my life will take me, I know that if I fall I can get back up again. When I fail, it's not the end of the world. And when I have those moments when I feel so alone, deep down I know that my family, my friends, and my wonderful husband will always be there for me. I'm pretty darn lucky.

Time to begin the happiest and healthiest decade of my life . . . until 40 comes along. :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

ram's gate winery

I have been living in California for about two and a half months now. I still haven't met many new friends but I am lucky to have been able to reconnect with an old friend, Michelle, who I have known for seventeen and a half years. It's hard to not know many people yet, especially with a birthday approaching (a BIG birthday), but all I needed was Michelle to give me the most special pre-birthday celebration. It was a wine tasting, spa day, gluten free cupcake loving extravaganza that started at one of my new favorite places, Ram's Gate Winery.

Ram's Gate is a new winery outside of Sonoma and it is breathtaking. I want to live here. Michelle and I even discussed how she could take one wing, I could take the other, and we could host joint parties in the great room. We like to dream. The impressive space was designed by the architect Howard Backen and interior designer Orlando Diaz-Acuzy. It is a beautiful scene of rustic contemporary furnishings with natural textures and warm light, bringing the vineyard landscape into the winery at every turn through the massive floor-to-ceiling windows and open-air seating with a grand fireplace. It has an incredibly sophisticated but completely comfortable atmosphere that makes you want to stay and try every wine on the menu. If I could, I would. The menu offers various sizes of wine pours, including a two and a half ounce tasting glass, which is perfect for me. Then I can have a variety, because two really is better than one when you're talking about glasses of wine.

In addition to the wines at Ram's Gate, they have some amazing small plate offerings. Their gluten free selection is somewhat limited, but the staff was so friendly and helpful and after a few back and forths between the staff, the kitchen and ourselves, they helped us order the eggplant dip with crudites instead of crostini. Let me just say that the dip was amazing! It had a lovely smoky flavor and was so incredibly creamy. I could lick that bowl clean, but instead, I licked the spoon. But then they offered to bring us more carrots . . . Even better!

I was sad to leave Ram's Gate but we still had a tour of sparkling wine caves (with samples, of course), lunch, and our spa visit on the itinerary. And Michelle made gluten free cupcakes just for me! It was the perfect pre-birthday celebration and I can't wait to start a new year of my life.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

burger night

I used to love to go out for a juicy burger topped with mushroom and swiss and a side of sweet potato fries. It's one of those meals you can get anywhere, from dives to upscale sports bars, and everyone has their own unique take on it. However, my fear of gluten cross contamination has made it impossible for me to order a burger. Sure they can make it without the bun, but most likely a bun has been on that same grill where they cook your burger once before. My cousin, who has a wheat allergy, requests that her burger be cooked on a piece of aluminum foil. Brilliant. I've tried to do the same a few times but most people look at me like I'm crazy. So I guess my best option is to try to recreate the experience at home, and maybe even try to make it a bit healthier at the same time.

I rarely make burgers at home. Heck, I rarely cook any meat at home. It scares me. I'm afraid of overcooking it and I'm afraid of undercooking it. But the truth is, I haven't tried cooking meat enough to get better at it. Time to change that. And I'm glad I did because that burger was yummy. Here's how you can make the same for your burger night . . .

Patty up the burgers and season them with a bit of sea salt, black pepper, and poultry seasoning. (I made my turkey burgers from a mix of ground turkey breast and ground turkey thigh meat.) Lay the burgers in a grill pan over medium heat and let them sizzle away. If you make a turkey burger like I did, make sure that the meat is fully cooked. Because I'm still learning, my meat thermometer is my go-to helper any time I try to cook meat. Just before reaching the fully cooked temp, top the burgers with some swiss cheese, so the cheese will get soft and gooey. After cooking the meat, my burgers were marbled in color because of the mix of light and dark meat I used. It looked a little unusual but they had great flavor.

For the mushrooms, I chopped a couple medium-sized portobello mushrooms (stems removed) and a small shallot and sauteed them in a bit of extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. I cooked them until they softened and added about 1/3 cup of Marsala wine. After the wine reduced, I took the mushroom mix out of the pan and set it aside in a bowl. Then I lightly sauteed some arugula to make a nice spicy, green bed for the burger.

And although I love sweet potato fries, I was completely out of sweet potatoes. Instead, I made some carrot "fries" by roasting some carrots in the oven, simply seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil.

It was a nice, quick, comforting dinner that satisfied my burger cravings . . . but left me wanting more!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

strawberry sh(oat)cakes

A few weeks ago I hosted a brunch for an old friend and a new friend. It was so exciting to have our first house guests over for a meal. Until now, Todd and I have never had a table with four chairs in any place we have lived together. I have always loved the idea of having friends over for a meal, and we finally have the opportunity to do so! Brunch is one of my favorites, too. The setting is casual and light and there are so many delicious brunch recipes I have wanted to try. Todd and I used to love to go out to brunch, but now it's so difficult because everyone around me orders waffles and I just want to reach over and grab a bite. I know I feel so much better without gluten but, gosh, it's torture to be around those buttery waffles! Of course, I can make similar delicious treats without the gluten, from my own kitchen, where not even a trace of gluten has ever been, so I know it's safe for me to eat.

For my Saturday morning brunch, the main event was this lovely leek bread pudding that I made with gluten free bread. While shopping for leeks at the farmer's market, I found a festive bag of mixed greens and edible flowers. Lightly dressed with a little fig and walnut vinaigrette, the salad made a tasty side, along with some chicken apple breakfast sausages that I could just heat and serve. Easy peasy!

The dessert, however, was a bit of a challenge. I found some gorgeous strawberries, so I thought I would use the strawberries to dress up my usual breakfast of Greek yogurt, honey, and granola and serve it as dessert. The only problem was that I didn't have any cute bowls. I do have some adorable teacups but we needed those for tea or coffee. (My friend, Joy, brought this tea--it was divine!)

With no time (or money) to shop for cute bowls, I turned to my cookbook of the year again, Super Natural Every Day, and that's when I had the idea for . . . strawberry sh(oat)cakes! OK, I know it sounds stilly but it's very me. With a few adaptations to make them gluten free I had the most perfect desert. It was a brunch filled with great food and great friends, who I hope to see again very soon.

(adapted from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson)

85 grams chopped walnuts
300 grams rolled oats
125 grams teff flour
100 grams gluten-free, all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt
45 grams flax seeds
70 grams sugar
70 grams (or 1/3 cup) extra-virgin coconut oil
85 grams (or 1/3 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F with a rack in the top third of the oven. Measure out your walnuts and pop them into the oven until they are lightly toasted (about 10 minutes). Meanwhile, butter a standard 12-cup muffin pan and then use your kitchen scale to measure out the dry ingredients. In a large bowl, combine the oats, flours (teff and all-purpose), baking powder, salt, flax seeds, and the lightly toasted walnuts. (This is all of the dry ingredients except for the sugar.)

In a small bowl, beat the eggs and set them aside.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the sugar, coconut oil, butter, and maple syrup. Stir the mixture and heat until the butter and coconut oil have just melted and the sugar is dissolved. Pour the mixture into your bowl with the oats and stir to combine. Make sure that the mixture isn't too hot and add the eggs. (You don't want to cook the eggs.) Stir the mixture together into a wet dough and spoon the dough into the muffin cups, nearly filling them.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Take the pan out of the oven to cool for a bit and then remove the oatcakes and set them on a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

To turn your oatcakes into strawberry sh(oat)cakes, put a dollop of Greek yogurt that has been lightly sweetened with honey on your oatcake and top with sliced strawberries. Enjoy!

Yields 12 Oatcakes or Sh(oat)cakes  : )

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

happy thanksgiving!

This will be my first gluten-free Thanksgiving and only the second Thanksgiving meal I have ever made. I feel pretty lucky that there are grocery stores that make gluten-free pie crust and bread crumbs. I can't imagine trying to make all the traditional favorites without those shortcuts. And I don't know if I could handle a Thanksgiving without stuffing. Though it is just Todd and me for Turkey Day, I had him request his favorites. We must have turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, some sort of greens, and pumpkin pie. I'm not an experienced chef and still need recipes for the foods that I don't make everyday, which would pretty much mean anything on our Thanksgiving menu. The first holiday meal I made, I turned to the Barefoot Contessa for all my recipes. It turned out well, but I want to try something new, with less butter. This year, I thought I would sample recipes from the great Giada de Laurentiis. We are in California, after all. So here's the menu:

Ciabatta Stuffing with Chestnuts and Pancetta (I'm using gluten-free bread crumbs and Irish bacon.)
Pumpkin Pie (in a gluten-free, pre-made pie crust from Whole Foods)


I have been prepping all week for the big celebration, starting with the chestnuts for the stuffing. I could not find chestnuts in the jar, as Giada's recipe recommends, so I purchased whole chestnuts. Yikes. I had no idea what to do with these things. Roasting chestnuts sounds so festive but after researching on the web and finding way too many stories about chestnuts exploding in the oven, I just didn't think it was a good idea for me. So I steamed them to remove the skins, which worked surprisingly well (only a minor injury to my thumb after fighting one shell).

Another make-ahead recipe is the sweet potato gnocchi. I have wanted to make gnocchi for quite some time. I decided to make the full batch and freeze everything so we have some on had for a quick mid-week meal. I followed Giada's recipe but substituted gluten-free, all-purpose flour. I found that I needed a lot more flour than the recipe calls for, but maybe it was just too humid for me to be attempting gnocchi. I heard that's bad for these little buggers.

Though gnocchi are traditionally boiled (as Giada suggests), I once read about someone pan frying them. I believe it was on Heidi Swanson's blog, actually. Ever since I tried the frying method, I can't go back! I hope this will work. I tossed the gnocchi in the freezer and haven't tried them yet. If they taste good, I'll post the updated recipe. Thankfully, Todd eats anything I make. He's such a great sport.

I love all the satisfying food on Thanksgiving, but most of all, it's just a great reminder of all the things I'm grateful for . . . Too many to list here, but no doubt that all of these people are on my list.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

taking time to smell the roses

I love to go for walks. Not only is it great for my physical well being, it is necessary for my mind and spirit. I have not been as diligent about my daily walks after moving in, though I have no excuse for staying inside all day. I just still do not know the neighborhood that well and there are no straight roads. We're pretty close to the Berkeley hills but near the bottom. If I want to stay on flat land, I am walking through a business district, which isn't terribly relaxing and I always get distracted. I end up running errands instead of taking time away from the mental running. If I want to stay on the quiet, residential streets, then I have to climb The Hills. Armed with my cellphone (including GPS, just in case) and my Pumas, I decided that today was the day I needed to climb. Google maps was showing a fairly straight route to a park about a mile away. This seemed like a good goal for a first attempt. After a warm up around the block, I approached the hill. It seemed to go on forever but only 25 minutes had passed. Through my huffing and puffing I finally reached the park that had the most beautiful surprise, The Berkeley Rose Garden.

I had no idea that such a place existed. But I think it's better that I literally stumbled upon it. Apparently there are 3,000 rose bushes with more than 220 varieties. The garden is nestled into the hillside in the shape of an amphitheater with roses in every seat. The best part about a hillside of rose bushes is that you can see beyond the tops from a lookout space above the garden. Without the obstruction of trees you can see clear across the bay and it is breathtaking. Thankfully there was a bench to catch me.

After a stressful week, this was just what I needed. And now I have the perfect walking trail where I can take some time to stop and smell the roses.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

the cat next door and--oh, deer

Although I keep myself busy trying to get settled into our new home, I have to admit that the days can get a little lonely here. Todd has been swamped at work, so I rarely see him Monday through Friday. And it's always a challenge to start over again in a new city, but in my past moves I have has always been starting a new school or a new job--some new social situation to force interactions with the local crowd. Let's just say that I haven't reached out to my local community yet. I have, however, seem to have bonded with my neighbor's cat.

I call her (or him) Kitty. When I open my windows in the afternoons, I often see Kitty playing around. She always stops and stares at me. First, she would run away. Now she sticks around for a while. One day, I even sang to her. Cats usually find music soothing. And she curled up in a ball on the sidewalk, almost ready for a nap. But then she ran away again.

I thought marriage would save me a future as the crazy cat woman. I guess I was wrong.

At least Kitty keeps me company. My Mom helps, too. I call her every day, which helps me feel like I still exist in the real world of people instead of my world with Kitty. As I was chatting with Mom about the day's events, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Something moving outside my glass front door. It vaguely resembled . . . a horse's butt.

I ran to the window but didn't see anything. I really am going CRAZY. Mom kind of thought so too, and I can't blame her for that. I decided I needed to get out of the house for a bit before I went completely insane.

I walked over to the original Peet's Coffee & Tea, which is only a few blocks from my apartment. Treated myself to a fabulous decaf soy latte. Coffee is often the best medicine. I picked up a few supplies at CVS. A new hairbrush, so I can finally toss out my brush with a handle I reattached with packing tape. I swung by the grocery store too. My hands were pretty full.

I got back to the apartment and this was waiting outside my door. Oh, deer.

That ain't no horse. Whew. Maybe I'm not going crazy. Maybe. But I was so nervous I could barely get through my front door. Thankfully, I was able to make it in without too much commotion. I have never seen a deer that close before, much less a buck. Would a buck ever charge a person? Those antlers seemed so big. And way too close to my glass front door. I don't think the security system would help here.

I guess a deer is pretty harmless. I think, like me, he was a little lonely too because as I was typing this the deer nearly knocked on my front door. Unfortunately, the new place isn't quite ready for guests so I had to send him home.

But thanks for stopping by, Bucko.

Monday, October 24, 2011


I love granola. It's how I start every day. It's comforting to have a morning routine that nourishes you and gives you the energy you need to face the day. I have purchased many granolas over the years but when I went gluten free in April and couldn't find any packaged gluten free granola in my local grocery store, I decided to make my own. It not only tastes better, but you can control the ingredients and make a healthier version, free of preservatives. For a recipe I turned to one of my favorite food bloggers, Heidi Swanson, the voice behind She has so many wonderful recipes and such a fresh and friendly approach to cooking. Her blog helped me overcome my fear of the kitchen and inspired me to be more creative with my food.

My granola recipe is a hybrid of two granola recipes by Ms. Swanson--the "granola" recipe in her most recent cookbook, Super Natural Every Day, and the "grain-ola" recipe in her first cookbook, Super Natural Cooking. The version below is my favorite at the moment now but you can always adjust the ingredients to your taste. One note of caution, though: If you like chewy things in your granola, I would recommend adding them in the last 10 minutes of baking time or even when you are finished baking. (I tried adding dates once and they were so hard after baking that I nearly broke a tooth.)

(adapted from Heidi Swanson's "Granola" and "Grain-ola")

4 cups rolled oats (I use Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Rolled Oats)
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2/3 cup banana chips (chopped, or slightly crushed to bite-size pieces)
grated zest of 2 oranges
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/2 maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F / 150 degrees C. (If you are using a dark baking sheet, preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.) Mix the oats, walnuts, coconut, sea salt, banana chips, and orange zest together in a large mixing bowl. In a small sauce pan, mix the coconut oil and maple syrup together over low heat, stirring continuously, until the coconut oil is melted. Pour the mixture over the dry ingredients in the bowl and mix together until everything is coated. Transfer the mix to a baking sheet in an even layer and pop it in the oven. Stir the mix every 10 minutes until the granola is golden brown. It should take about 40 to 50 minutes. Allow the granola to cool completely then store it in an airtight container.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

the quake

Most of the boxes are finally unpacked. Most. And I was just starting to feel settled in to our new home in Berkeley, California. I will admit, I have been homesick for the Midwest--even though their temperatures are dipping well below zero overnight and it's only October. But I love mitten weather and cozy sweaters, and we have summer weather over here! However, I am slowly getting over the homesickness and am starting to enjoy the daily sunshine with no jacket necessary and the fabulous farmer's market that happens every Thursday, just a block from my house. And the beautiful park right across the street, where families and puppies are always playing. But just when I started to feel settled in, the world began to shake . . . literally.

During my first earthquake, I was driving home from a doctor's appointment, proud that I had finally mustered up the courage to drive through Berkeley. (Pedestrians and cyclists darting onto the street from every direction! So scary.) I parked the car, came into the house, and called my mom, as promised, to let her know how everything went. Then I noticed a text from Todd. He wanted to know if I was OK, if I was frightened from the earthquake. Earthquake?

Earthquakes were my biggest fear when we moved here. I grew up in the Midwest and earthquakes are so foreign. You only hear about the worst ones and the photos look like Armageddon. And after all, it was Thursday, October 20, 2011, only one day before the end of the world--for the second time--according to Harold Camping. Or was it his third ending? I can't keep track. Anyway, I called Todd to tell him I was OK. I hadn't even felt the quake because I was in the car. He felt relieved but said that he had to attend and afterwork function and would be home later than usual.

Knowing I would be home alone, I ate an early dinner and retired to the sofa to watch TV. (Yes, we finally have television installed!) Then at 8:17pm, everything started shaking. The windows were rattling and the rumbling was growing. At first I thought it was just the little kid who lives above us, going through his usual 9pm stomping routine, but then it started to shake more. It sounded like a high-speed train pounding toward our house. Then, it stopped. I didn't know what to think. Was that another earthquake? The house stopped shaking but my bones continued to tremble. I checked the Web to see if another earthquake had been reported. Nothing. Then I checked Twitter and there were already accounts from UC-Berkeley students about the second earthquake, or aftershock, as they say. Perhaps that is why this area is the incubator for social media. It's how we get our news.

Thankfully we are all safe and Todd make it home about an hour later. It was quite the welcome, California. Thanks.