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March 17, 2011

Luck 'o the Irish

It seems like yesterday we were making this Irish stew, toasting our newly wedded bliss. A year later, I am thinking of making the stew again. It was delicious and only required one pot for cooking, which is all right by me! Also, I gave up beer and wine for Lent, so I can mix a little of the brew into the stew and not be totally overcome with guilt, right?

What are your plans for tonight? Making dinner at home? Going on a bar crawl? Whatever you do, have a blessed eve, and if you are out drinking, please be safe and don't drive drunk. Seriously. I love ya'll too much.

May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours, 
wherever you may roam. 
May peace and plenty bless your world,
with joy that long endures.
May all life's passing seasons,
bring the best to you and yours. 

An Irish Blessing

March 16, 2011

{Please Help} For Japan With Love

Loves, this is cross-posted to my photography blog as well. I always try to keep life lighthearted and handle stressful situations with humor, but seeing the disaster unfold from last week's earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, my heart has been aching. It's the kind of situation where you feel small and helpless. Where do you begin to pick up the pieces?

In such an active blogosphere, I follow a lot of wedding and inspiration blogs, and saw an effort emerging from Lydia at Ever Ours and Lucia at Utterly Engaged to raise money for Shelterboxes to aid in the relief efforts in Japan. Shelterbox is "an international disaster relief charity that delivers emergency shelter, warmth and dignity to people affected by disaster worldwide." They were THE organization asked by Japan to help, and were there on Saturday to start their work. Each large, green shelterbox costs $1,000 and the contents are adjusted according to the needs of each situation and region, and typically contains a disaster relief tent for up to 10 people, thermal blankets and ground sheets, water purification kit, a basic tool kit, cooking utensils, a stove, a children's activity pack, and more vital supplies.

We have every reason to help.

This is where For Japan With Love comes in. Lydia and Lucia set up this fundraiser with the goal of raising enough to purchase at least 5 shelterboxes for the people of Japan. As of this morning when I logged in they had raised just over $5,000. This is incredible. We can do more. We can keep going. Please join me in donating to this relief effort. Even if you don't know anyone in Japan, or anyone who has a family member or friend there, this is our world. We have to take care of each other.

www.forjapanwithlove.com

In addition to this fundraiser, there will be a Bloggers Day of Silence this Friday, March 18th, to raise awareness and respect and acknowledge the devastation going on in Japan. If you would like to participate, the guidelines are simple:

1.  This coming Friday, March 18th, no posts at all on your blog.
2.  Please post a blog post about what you will be doing this Friday whenever possible in hopes to spread the word and whoever else would like to join in.
You all can check out what Lydia of Ever Ours did here or Lucia of Utterly Engaged's here and do it your way if you'd like.
3. Tweet and Re-Tweet the shiznit out of the link to http://www.forjapanwithlove.com please.
4. Encourage your readers to contribute to donate shelter to Japan.

In a world where we're quick to share our dinner, our child's booger count and everything under the sun, please consider taking part, making any donation you are able to spare. Every little bit helps.

Thank you.
xoxo

March 8, 2011

Low-Fat Tuesday: Gluten Free Mac 'n Cheese That Won't Kill You

Happy Mardi Gras! Known by some as Fat Tuesday, it's the day to stuff yourself silly so you can fast tomorrow and skip the meat for the next few Fridays until Easter. For others, they're partying in New Orleans, flashing their bits and collecting beads. Which is more appealing to you, dare I ask?

Well, if your preference lies with "stuffing" as mine does, I have a treat for you today. It's been months in the making, maybe even years. Ever since my brother and sister-in-law introduced me to the joy that is homemade baked mac 'n cheese 'n chicken, I've been working on perfecting the recipe so it works for us, gluten free and delicious. It's gone through quite a few iterations including too much butter, too much cheese, not enough cheese, a recipe calling for 4 cups of heavy cream (Whaaaa...????),  and what-the-heck-is-that-oh-well-let's-eat-it-anyways. I felt the need to make tweaks that allowed us to enjoy the comfort of eating this food without worrying about our arteries screaming for mercy. We all love a little comfort food every now and then, and mac 'n cheese, to me, is the epitome of comfort food. Anything with carbs and dairy, actually.



Boxed mac 'n cheese was a staple of my youth and college days. I loved the nearly neon orange glow that emerged from the pot once the powdered cheesy blend was mixed with milk and sludged into a sloppy mix of faux-cheese goodness. I loved it most when my mom mixed in sliced up hot dogs, and I'd top it with a little ketchup. Yes I did. I thought it was awesome.



What I make now is the grown up version, but it's just as good - hell, it's better! Beefed up with chicken and broccoli, this mac 'n cheese is just as enjoyable and comforting, less atrocious for your arteries, and has a nice, more natural orange glow to it, thanks to some cheddar cheese and quinoa pasta. If you are wary of making your own mac 'n cheese, there are some boxed GF versions out there, but I really encourage you to step out of your comfort zone with this one!

 Gluten Free Mac 'n Cheese That Won't Kill You

1 box of Ancient Harvest Quinoa/Corn Blend Pasta
2 cups of freshly grated cheddar cheese
3 cups of "no salt added" Kitchen Basics vegetable stock
1 cup of skim/lactose free milk
2 tbsp sweet cream butter
2 tbsp white rice flour
1 pkg chicken tenderloins
broccoli florets (2-3 cups)
salt and pepper
sage
oregano
Glutino gluten free bread crumbs

Directions
Spray a skillet with non-stick spray and saute the chicken until fully cooked, adding a small splash of veggie stock to keep moist. Cut into .5 inch pieces and set aside in bowl. Clean your pan and dry.

Heat water in large pot to cook pasta. Cook pasta as directed, drain, and set aside. Quinoa pasta should be soft and springy, not mushy.

Steam broccoli florets and set aside. Should be bright green and not mushy. Combine pasta, broccoli and chicken in one pan and mix.

Over medium heat, melt butter and whisk in flour. Add 1 cup of veggie stock, whisking until butter and flour has dissolved. Add remaining 2 cups of stock and 1 cup of milk, whisking over medium heat. Allow to simmer and thicken. Slowly mix in cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup at a time, until melted and creamy.

 Pour your cheese mixture over the pasta, chicken and broccoli, and thoroughly mix. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, sage and oregano. At this point, you can sprinkle bread crumbs over the top and bake for 10 minutes at 350F, or serve as is, sprinkling with 1 tsp of breadcrumbs per plate.

Yields 4-6 servings.

Notes: You can play with what you mix in, but I always recommend using at least a vegetable. We have tried arugula and spinach as well and both turned out nicely. You can also vary the cheese you use to create different flavors, like half cheddar and half pepperjack, or throw in a little mozzarella to make it a little goopy. My next experiment will be making this with spinach, tomatoes and feta. It's ok, you can drool. Have fun with it, and enjoy!

March 6, 2011

Gordon Ramsey, Passion, and the Perfect Scrambled Egg

Is there anything on earth better than Sunday mornings? It is seriously the best time of the week. It's the only morning neither of us is rushing to get up and off to work. We can sleep till 9, stay in our pjs till 11, and enjoy making breakfast and eating together and watching an episode or two of No Reservations or whatever goodness might be on the Travel Channel or Food Network. We have recently taken a liking to watching Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares on the BBC. We've caught the American version a couple times, but watching the BBC version is just a lot less grating and more interesting. You might recognize him as "that chef that yells and swears a lot on Hell's Kitchen" - well, that's Fox for you. But in actuality he's a really cool guy who is passionate about food and cooking. A lot of the time when he yells it's out of frustration over chefs with more ego than talent, or people who run a restaurant business but just don't care about what they do and the people they serve. His Kitchen Nightmares show is less about showing the grossness of a restaurant and more about rehabilitating the owner or chef's passion for cooking and food....for creating. He really hits home that the passion and creativity you put into food and cooking will reflect in how it tastes.


I'm finding more and more that the more I care about what I am cooking and putting into my body, the more I care about where it comes from and how it is made. I am also enjoying the experience of grocery shopping a lot more. I go at lunch now instead of when I have gotten out of work and just want to go straight home. I have an hour to wander, explore, read labels, and make smart choices. I went to Whole Foods on the way home from a photoshoot yesterday and it might have been just me, but everyone seemed happier. Maybe it was the warmer weather, but I'd like to think that when people are picking out food that they feel good about, it makes the world a better place.


I love breakfast. I don't know what it is, maybe it's that I still have an entire day ahead of me when it's done, but I love waking up, preparing, and eating breakfast. One of my favorite summer jobs in college was working for the Air Force at a recreational facility being trained and getting to be the breakfast chef for the latter half of the summer. I loved having a wide open griddle to make omelettes and bacon and breakfast sandwiches and homefries. It was pure joy. The kind of joy that some days makes me think it would be wonderful to open a breakfast joint in a small town and just do my thing. So every Sunday that I get to make breakfast is just wonderful to me.

Last weekend Sean showed me this video that he'd found of Chef Ramsey preparing "perfect scrambled eggs" for his wife. We watched, salivating, as he put together a meal that looked simply fantastic. I had to make it. I would never think to consider serving "tomahtoes" and mushrooms for breakfast unless they were in an omelette, but it just looked sooooo good. And I trust that Chef Ramsey knows what the heck he's talking about. Here's the video:



I picked up the ingredients last night: eggs, butter, creme fraiche, tomahtoes on a vine, and mushrooms. We had a loaf of Udi's multigrain bread for toasting, as well as olive oil. I also threw in some Applegate chicken and apple breakfast sausage. I cooked everything just as Chef Ramsey did in his video (with 4 eggs and I threw the sausage in the pan with the tomatoes and mushrooms) and all I can describe it as is perfection. I don't think I'll ever go back to my old method of pre-whisked, partially-burned scrambled eggs again. You simply must try this at home!

So, my loves, what's your idea of the perfect breakfast? 


March 3, 2011

Reader Question: How and Where to Dine Out GF

I received a lovely email from Samantha from Massachusetts yesterday about being new to the GF lifestyle and tips for dining out. I often forget that though Sean was diagnosed 4 years ago and a lot of GF living comes second nature to us now, there are still new cases being diagnosed every day and it can be just as daunting now as it was 4 years ago. Here's her Q and my A:

Samantha wrote:

Hi,

I just stumbled across your site when I googled "gluten free chicken soup recipe" and I've been thoroughly enjoying reading almost every blog entry you've written! 

My boyfriend and I just found out last weekend that we both have gluten (and dairy!) sensitivities, and our doctors want us to go on gluten and dairy free diets. We both love cooking, eating, and trying to do both organically, and were really really upset when we heard this news. Since then, I've been trying to find recipes and foods that we can still eat, and your site has been helpful! I saw that you went on vacation to visit relatives in MA, we live in MA too, I didn't know if you ran into any local-type restaurants in the area that you can recommend that serve GF options? I saw some chain restaurants on your Dining Out page, but I didn't know if you knew of any others or had any tips for us for eating out? From our perspective, there is no where we can go any more for dining out - besides chains - and no food we used to enjoy while eating out that we can eat anymore either :(

Thanks!
Samantha




Dining out has to be probably the toughest part of having Celiac or dietary restrictions. While at home you have control over every ingredient that goes into your meal, while at a restaurant, you can never be 100% positive unless it's a dedicated gluten free location (which sadly, is rare).

What Sean and I do is usually reserve dining out for nights we're in the mood for pizza, so we go somewhere that provides gluten-free pizza, or we go somewhere that is a bit more "upscale" than say, Uno's. When you go somewhere a little bit fancier, chances are you have a chef in the kitchen who not only really knows what they're doing when it comes to dietary restrictions, but also cares. Sean really enjoys getting a good steak when we go out, so it's much easier to get steak, potatoes and a roasted vegetable and be assured that it's safe to eat. Here are some tips and then I'll get to some local suggestions for you.

1. Google is a great tool. When we're looking for a new place to try out, we always Google "Restaurant X Gluten Free" and see what turns up. Or we'll search a specific city/town/area and "gluten free". Yelp.com and message boards usually come up quickly with people's experiences dining out and needing these special diets. It's pretty easy to see right away if a restaurant is safe to try, or more of a risk. You can also call ahead if you're not sure and the hostess can give you a better idea if they can accommodate you.

2. Check out the menu - thankfully most restaurants post their menus online now, so you can scope it out ahead of time. They don't list every ingredient, but again, you can get more of an idea of what you're heading into. If they have a dedicated gluten-free section of the menu, even better!

3. As soon as your server greets you, alert them to your allergy. Sean finds it VERY important to say he has a "gluten allergy", not just "wheat". He has had servers put white bread or breadsticks on his plate with his meal. If they aren't sure what you mean by that (although it's more common than not that they will know and understand nowadays what that means), you can either inform them that you can't have anything with flour, bread, or beer, or invest in dining cards from Triumph Dining which you can hand to your server to clear up any confusion ($35.95,http://www.triumphdining.com/products/gluten-free-restaurants-menu-cards).

4. If you're not sure of a menu item, just ask your server. They will usually take a minute to go check with the chef. For instance, a lot of meat come with a glaze, marinade, or sauce. Those are usually what
contain gluten in a meal, if anything. Just ask if they can double check the ingredients before you place your order.

The good news is it is much easier now than it was even 2 or 3 years ago to dine out. Please don't be afraid. It just takes some research and trial and error (hopefully not a lot of error).

We are actually both originally from the South Shore so most places we have good dining experiences with are in that area, but I hope to keep adding to my Dining Out page as more and more places become gluten-free friendly. Here are a few of our favorites:

PF Chang's - China Bistro, just expanded their gluten-free menu
Burton's Grill - locations in Boston and Hingham (Derby Street Shops), they actually have gluten free buns for their burgers, and GF beer!
Phin's - Scituate Harbor, great for brunch!
Barker Tavern - Scituate Harbor, can accommodate gluten free (this is where we had our wedding reception)
Mill Wharf - Scituate Harbor
British Beer Company - we've dined at the Pembroke location, but there are others
Nebo - North End, Boston
The Elephant Walk - Cambridge

I hope these tips are helpful to anyone who is nervous about dining out. There are options, you just have to do a little research. As for dining establishments, Samantha mentioned that she is specifically searching for GF-friendly places to eat in the MetroWest area of Massachusetts. If any of you have suggestions, please feel free to comment here!

March 2, 2011

Losing Weight - Back to Basics

20 pounds. Yep, I'm admitting it right here. The exact amount of weight I put on over the course of my first married year...20 pounds. Gross. I knew it was bad when even on the days I blow dried my hair and put on makeup and picked out a cute outfit and I still didn't feel great. We all want to feel great and alive and comfortable in our own skin. Sometimes, you just start losing control and before you know it, you're at a place you never wanted to end up. I'm there, I'm admitting it, and I'm doing something about it.

I joined Weight Watchers last Friday, because I know one of my main problems isn't actually eating healthy food, but rather the amount of food I eat. Portion sizes are tricky and can really add up when it comes to how we eat. There are so many other mental things that go into how we relate to food, it's too much to discuss here right now, but I am making an effort to go back to basics, re-learn how to not eat like every meal is my last meal, and to find recipes that are not only healthy, but taste great. Remember, eating healthy and gluten free does not mean sacrificing taste!

My main goal in finding and trying these new recipes is to keep it real. By that, I mean none of that 100 Calorie Pack, Lean Choice, Healthy Balance, Smart Cuisine crap. It's cheap and processed (which means probably full of gluten anyways) and not good for you. If it has more than five ingredients and I can't pronounce them, I'm not eating it. I'm stripping my food down. It's more than just eating what tastes good, it's about making good investments in your food. You can choose to buy the stuff that's cheap and full of added sugar and will make you feel like crap - or - you can pay a little more, eat something more real, be nourished, and be empowered by the fact that you made a good decision....a good investment in yourself. You are worth it.I am worth it.

So, attempting to make a healthy and delicious dinner last night, I had one of those "epic fail" nights. I found a recipe for spicy porkchops with pineapple salsa and decided to make it with brussels sprouts, which I'd never made before. Well, I didn't grill the porkchops like I was supposed to. I baked them because it's still too darn cold to go light some charcoals out on the back patio. Grilling the porkchops would have balanced the pineapple and cilantro flavor a bit better and wouldn't have tasted like plastic. I'm sorry, Sean. I hope you never need to eat a peanut butter sandwich for dinner again. And having never made brussels sprouts before, I didn't realize how quickly they'd cook and turn mushy. Big fat freaking oops. I am not a bad cook, and I am good at picking out recipes, but some nights, it just doesn't work. Like I've said before, you have to just try, try again.

I don't want this blog to become a weight loss journal, so please call me out if I start talking about how much water I drank each day and how you don't need to know how many points are in my Sunday breakfast. But know that I will be posting recipes with regard to this lifestyle change, as well as some indulgent recipes, because what is life if you don't enjoy treats every now and then?

xoxo
Shannon