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Snow day!

We had a glorious winter wonderland around here today. Each time I looked out the window, it was like living in a snow globe!

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Isn’t it beautiful?

School was closed, and it was freezing outside, so I took the opportunity to get started on some Christmas gift projects. Those are secret, of course, so I’ll tell you about my dinner instead.

I like to cook from scratch whenever possible. It is much easier to eat healthy when you know exactly what goes in your food. Even so, sometimes there are more important things to do than spend hours cooking, especially at this time of year! It’s nice to have some quick-cook meals, for times when you’re tired or just want to spend more time with your family. So today, I’m not sharing a recipe, just a suggestion/idea for an easy winter dinner.

It was freezing, like I said, and I really didn’t feel like doing a lot of complicated cooking. So I made this…

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From freezer to table, 10 minutes!

I started with Conte’s gluten free frozen ravioli. I got it from my local grocery store, but it’s also available online at http://www.contespasta.com
It is delicious, and takes only 6 minutes to cook directly from the freezer!

While it boiled, I heated some marinara sauce (from a jar). Everything was ready at the same time! I tossed it all in a dish, topped with some shredded cheese, and voila! Cozy, warm dinner! Yummy!

As I sat down to watch, Frosty the Snowman came on the television. One thing I love about the Christmas season is special movies and music. I’ve already been through most of my Christmas CDs once, but I’ve haven’t watched many Christmas movies yet.

I’m looking forward to watching….
-White Christmas with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye
-It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart
-Jingle All the Way with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jake Lloyd
-Miracle on 34th Street, both versions (though I like the original best)
-VeggieTales’ Christmas videos: The Toy Who Saved Christmas, The Star of Christmas, St. Nicholas, and It’s a Meaningful Life
-The cartoon classics Charlie Brown’s Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas
-The Great Rupert with Jimmy Durante
-Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with Bing Crosby
-Barbie in the Nutcracker
-Ernest Saves Christmas with Jim Varney
-Arthur’s Perfect Christmas

Enjoy your dinner, family, and maybe a fun holiday film!

Merry Christmas!

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Galatians 1:3-5 NIV

Happy December!

This is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the cool weather, the anticipation if snow, the lights, the pine tree and baking smells, the music! I always start wanting Christmas music around mid-November, but (to keep it special) I make myself wait to play any until the day after Thanksgiving. Now the Christmas music plays from any speaker near me, Christmas gift projects are piling up at my various workstations, and I have an ambitious baking list to which I keep adding new recipes! It’s Christmastime, huzzah!!!

This year, I am reading a book called “25 Days, 26 Ways to Make This Your Best Christmas Ever.” I already Love this season, but this book has added to my enjoyment and given me new ways to celebrate! So, throughout this month I plan to share some of the many ideas piling up around my house!

The point of the “25 days, 26 ways” book is to bring back the JOY of the Christmas season to those who have lost it, and to enhance it for others. In each chapter, the author, Ace Collins, takes a different tradition or aspect of the holiday season and shares some of its history, and ways to be more focused, intentional, and worshipful with that topic.

One great suggestion is to start on December 1st reading one chapter of Luke each day. Luke has 24 chapters, which makes it the perfect Christmas season study! This study of our Savior’s life, teachings, death and resurrection is a good reminder of what we should be focusing on, both at this season and all year round: How can we show God’s grace to those around us? How can we spread peace?

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…”

Simple Christmas Cheeseball

This cheeseball itself may not spread peace, but it could be called a peaceful spread! It is very easy to put together (which will help you be a peaceful party host), and is Dairy Free, which will definitely help your dairy-allergic guests feel more peaceful at your Christmas party!

Start with my “Basic Cheese” recipe, which you can find in my post entitled “A Promise Fulfilled” (and reposted below).

The Basic Cheese
1 cup raw cashews
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup of water, divided
lemon or lime juice
garlic powder
onion powder
salt
½ red bell pepper (this is for taste and color, but is optional)

Grind the cashews in your blender or food processor. While they disintegrate, sprinkle the gelatin over ½ cup of cold water. After it gels, pour in ½ cup of hot water and stir until the gelatin melts. Add this melted mixture to the nuts and blend to mix. Add the juice of ½ a lemon or lime. Next, add ½ of a red bell pepper, chopped into chunks. Blend until smooth, then add the other spices to taste. When the seasoning is perfect, pour into a shallow container and place in the refrigerator solidify.

Once it is solid, you can make the cheeseball!

You will need:
2 cans of salmon or tuna in water
About 1 tsp liquid smoke
Nuts of your choice (I usually use pistachios or smoked almonds), smashed (not into powder, but small chunks) (optional)
Dried chives or parsley (optional)
Salt and pepper, optional

In a medium bowl or plate, combine the nuts and chives or parsley (if using) and set aside.

Put the solidified cheese (it will be soft, but not runny. Kind of like velveeta, or jello) in a larger bowl and mash it up a bit with a fork or potato masher. Drain the salmon or tuna and add to the cheese. Add the liquid smoke (to taste. This stuff is strong, so if you haven’t used it before, go lightly. I usually use about two capfuls.)

Keep mashing and mixing it all up. (Hands work well for this job, although it gets kind of messy!).

At first it will seem like you are not making any progress, but do not despair! Keep going! Your persistence will be rewarded! Eventually all the ingredients will combine into a lovely paste. Taste it to check the seasoning, and add salt and pepper as needed.

Use your hands (or spoons or spatulas) to form the mixture into one large ball, or two smaller ones (or a bunch of bite sized balls!).

Roll the balls in the nuts, place on a dish and refrigerate until serving. You can serve this right away, but it is better if it has a little time in the fridge to firm up.

If you are a nut-free person, just leave off the nuts. Or, roll in sunflower seeds, or crushed crackers or chips.

EnJOY!

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“B” is for…

“B” is for….

BUTTER!
I made it myself!
With cream, in a jar that I keep on a shelf.

The cream comes from cows
Oh so gentle and mellow
Their milk’s always white, but the butter is yellow!

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No matter how many times I see it, the transformation from white cream to bright yellow butter is always amazing. It is incredible that simply agitating the cream for a while causes that thick, white liquid to separate out into a yellow solid and a thin, clearish liquid! You can experience this wonder of God’s design in your own kitchen, without any special equipment! All you need is cream and a jar. I used about 2.5 cups of cream, and a gallon jar. Pour the cream into the jar, put on the lid and shake! (This is fun for kids to take turns shaking, and see who will have the jar when the cream “breaks” into butter and buttermilk!).

If you have a stand mixer, you can use that if you prefer. It will take a while, so be prepared to let the machine run 10-15 minutes. Make sure to use the splash guard, if you have one (and to stand by and watch closely if you don’t!) because the butter breaks suddenly, and the resulting buttermilk is Very sloshy!

After you have butter, you need to squeeze out all the leftover buttermilk, and wash the butter. If you leave a lot of milk in the butter, it will go rancid quickly. Form the butter into a ball, and submerge in cool water. You can work it around with your hands or a paddle or spoon to squeeze all the milk out. Keep changing the rinse water until it runs clear–then you know all the milk is out! Now is the time to salt your butter and knead the salt in. You could also add honey or herbs at this point, for fancy butter!

Enjoy!

The milk used in this butter is from 100% grass-fed cows; they never eat anything else. It is also fresh, unpasteurized, so that it retains all its vital nutrients. That is why the butter turns such a nice shade of yellow. If you try this with store bought, pasteurized cream, the butter will usually turn out white (and not nearly as tasty!). I am blessed to have access to fresh-from-the-farm milk, which makes it possible for me to enjoy dairy! (I cannot drink pasteurized milk without ill effects.)

For more information about fresh milk, http://www.realmilk.org is a great resource!

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 NIV)

Le Fou, I’m afraid I went shopping.

A dangerous pastime….

I know.

Especially GROCERY shopping, when one has food allergies. This particular trip was fraught with more-than-usual peril, for a couple of reasons. First, I was hungry. We all know the Most Important Rule of Shopping, right? Well, I broke it. Second, I was craving pizza. No, not craving pizza, CRAVING PIZZA!!!. And doughnuts.

My sensible brain knew that this meant I needed to examine what I’d been eating lately and see if some gluten had accidentally slipped in. (Later, I did just that and discovered the culprit: a snack bar I’d bought for grab-and-go mornings without reading the label carefully enough! This is my number one reason for not shopping while hungry or tired.) But my sensible brain was out to lunch or otherwise not functioning, due to those selfsame cereal bars, no doubt.

As a side note…I read a fascinating article in the most recent issue of Living Without magazine on the topic of gluten sensitivity and depression. As mentioned in the article, unreasonable sadness and lethargy, brain “fog” and body aches are some of my first indications that I’ve accidentally eaten gluten, but I often don’t notice them until the more obvious symptoms show up. I found it an interesting read, and a good reminder of things of which I should be aware.

Anyway…back to my shopping trip. See the verse up there at the top? I firmly believe it! And I believe that it applies to little, everyday things as much as to big, life changing things. We are “worth more than sparrows” and our Heavenly Father cares about our daily lives. My “heart’s desire” at that present moment was Pizza. At least, I thought it was. Another wonderful thing about God, though, is that He knows us better than we know ourselves….

I could tell you a long story about all the things I found in the store that I considered special blessings for my frustrated heart, but it would take a loooooooong time. I shall give you, instead, the condensed list:
1. Red grapefruit, which is one of my Favorite things, was on sale!
2. A lovely ranch dressing for my salad
3. Many of the things on my shopping list were on sale.
4. Salted Caramel Häagen Dazs bars…require no comment.

And the pièce de résistance…..

5. When I got to the specialty frozen foods section, whence I meant to buy a frozen pizza from Udi, if it didn’t cost an arm and a leg, I found……

Not only were the pizzas ON SALE (and you and I both know what a rare occurrence that is!), but they also had a NEW item from Udi…….Flour Tortillas!

Almost overcome with excitement, I checked out and hurried home!

If you are eating gluten free, you’ve probably experienced several attempts at a “flour” tortilla; those frozen brown things that crumble when thawed, or those stiff ones that wouldn’t even dream of rolling up. Maybe, like me, you’ve even made your own. Homemade ones can be pretty good, but only fresh out of the pan. What you don’t eat, you may as well make into chips because they’ll be chips tomorrow whether you like it or not, amiright?

Not these. These are Amazing. They came frozen, but I stuck them in the fridge to thaw, and tasted one as soon as I could! I couldn’t believe my mouth…chewy, dense, flexible….exactly as I remembered gluten flour tortillas! (and no, I don’t work for Udi)

I made this….

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See how they folded over without cracking?!??!!!? I put those under the broiler with cheese sprinkled on top, then folded them as I put them on the plate!!!

They are amazing to eat. So….real. And “real” is what I was really wanting, that day in the store.

Does it surprise you to hear that I haven’t yet eaten the frozen pizza?

That guacamole on top is easy-peasy, too. I’ve been seeing a lot of über complicated guacamole recipes lately, and I just don’t understand.

“Oh, Bert! Why must you complicate things that are really quite simple?”

Why, indeed? Try this one. Mary Poppins would approve.

1 avocado, peeled and pitted, mashed or diced just as you like (or more than 1, to have enough to share!)
Some:
Cilantro
Lime juice
Salt
Pepper

Optional:
Tomatoes, diced
Onion, diced
Jalapeño, diced finely

I say “some,” because guacamole is really a matter of taste. Start with a little. Taste. Add more. Taste. Repeat until it’s good! The “optional” ingredients are all good, but you can make good guacamole without them. I like tomatoes, but my last batch didn’t have any and it was still mighty tasty! If you’re feeling Really lazy, throw in a jar of salsa!

Thanks for sharing my day of delightful blessings!

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. (Psalm 37:3 NIV)

Love Every Day!

Happy day after Valentine’s Day!

It is interesting to me how different people choose to deal with a day devoted to love. Among my unattached friends, some ignore the day altogether, others have parties with other singles, and some sit at home being sad. A few “celebrate” anti-romance by making “Singles Awareness” cards, sarcastic messages with a black, black, and more black color scheme, in an attempt to assuage depression with humor.

Personally, I love Valentine’s Day. Love is so much more than flowers, and chocolate, romance and jewelry. It does not require cards, presents, or a candlelit dinner for two (though those things are nice). Love includes everyone, not just those who are married or dating. We all have people in our lives to whom we can show love.

This day, this month, this year, I encourage you to focus on this kind of love that we can show every day, to every person we meet:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV)

I have a poster in my room to remind me of this focus. I replaced the words “love” and “it” with my name, thusly:

__________ is patient, __________ is kind. __________ does not envy, __________ does not boast, __________ is not proud. __________ does not dishonor others, __________ is not self-seeking, __________ is not easily angered, __________ keeps no record of wrongs. __________ does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. __________ always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV)

Love every day!

I just started my second reading of Eric and Leslie Ludy’s book, When God Writes Your Love Story. I highly recommend any book written by either of the Ludy’s, but this one especially. It has a good message, excellent suggestions, and is very encouraging. (This is my second reading because I raced through it the first time, so eager to see what was next, I didn’t take time to stop and answer the thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter!) If you, like me, are waiting on God to write the next chapter of your love story, this book is for you! Read, enjoy, and relax.

While you read, eat cheesecake. I just made one, with a recipe from Living Without magazine (which is a great magazine, by the way). I replaced the cranberry swirl with raspberry jam and apricot jam (half and half), with great success. Enjoy!

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You can find the recipe here: http://www.livingwithout.com/recipes/Dairy-Free-Cranberry-Swirl-Cheesecake-3194-1.html

Happy Blogbirthday!

Happy birthday to my blog!
It’s about one year old!
I’ve had lots of fun!
And there’s more to come!

Just over one year ago, I started this blog, something I’d been wanting to do for several years. I’m so glad I did–the experience has been quite entertaining! And now it’s time to celebrate!

What better thing for a celebration but cake? Specifically…

Monkey cake!

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My mom and I created this particular monkey for my grandpa’s birthday. He (the monkey) is gluten free, dairy free (except for the ears), corn free, soy free, and delicious!

He’s made of:
1 Betty Crocker gluten free vanilla cake mix
2 Kinnikinnick gluten free chocolate doughnuts (ears)
2 chocolate macaroons (eyes)
1 string of raspberry “licorice” (fruit rope)
1 batch of frosting (recipe below)

Gluten free, Dairy free Frosting

Ingredients:
1 cup shortening (I use Earth Balance)
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar (corn free!)
1/4 cup milk (cow, rice, coconut, whatever!)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/2 cup cocoa powder (for chocolate frosting)

Method:
Mix together shortening and powdered sugar with a stand or hand mixer. Once well mixed, add milk and vanilla (and cocoa, if using) and mix well again. If it’s too dry or stiff, add more milk a little at a time until it looks like you want.

Enjoy, and Celebrate!

Christmas Goodies

Merry Christmas!

It finally feels like Christmas to me, today. School is out! Vacation is here! We had a dusting of snow earlier this week!

Tonight is my first night off of the Christmas holidays, and what am I doing? Cooking, of course!

Today I made Chex mix and pear jelly! The Chex mix is delightful, and dairy and gluten free! (Just substitute 1/4 cup of olive oil for the butter in the recipe on the box, and add a little extra salt. Tastes just as good, and you don’t have to wait for the butter to melt!)
The jelly is still boiling in the pot, but last time I stirred it, a little got on my finger…it tastes pretty yummy!

Tomorrow: cookies of many kinds! My baking list is ambitious (it always is!), and I may not make it through all of the deliciousness, but it is fun to have many options!

…Hey, I’m back. Thanks for waiting! I had to go jar up the jelly. This is the first time I’ve made jelly! Can you tell I’m a bit excited about it???

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As I stirred the jelly tonight, I was thinking about what I was doing at this time last year. (not Exactly this time…I’m the polar opposite of a numbers genius…just this season). I was a student then, working hard in an online court reporting school, so I was looking forward to a double vacation: no work AND no homework!!! Then I got a phone call, informing me that, due to a change in academic progress requirements, I was being dropped from the court reporting program. Merry Christmas. Without boring you with a long saga of the joys and frustrations of learning machine shorthand, it is hard to explain how frustrating this news was. I spent hours on the phone, talking to strangers far away, trying to convince them to fix the problem, do something different, or at least understand and pretend to care about what a third of their students were going through. (Those of you who know me know how much I enjoyed that stressful experience…) As person after person gave me a resounding, “TOO BAD!” I realized that God must have a different plan for me.

Just after that, a friend sent me an email, one of those forwards that circulates every so often. Usually I just skim through, but this one had a message for me. Somewhere in the middle it said, “When it seems that God is taking something away, you don’t need to try to hang on to it. He is getting your hands empty so He can fill them with something new in His plan for you!”

I decided to be excited, and to look for these new things God was bringing into my life.

I have now been a full year as a free, non-student. As I stirred the jelly some more, and checked on the Chex mix in the oven, I began making a mental list of blessings I have had this year that would not have been possible had I still been in school:

Time to try many new cooking experiments, like pear jelly!
I was able to take an assignment interpreting a week-long overnight outdoor school, which was an incredibly memorable experience! If I had needed to focus on homework, I couldn’t have gone on that trip.
I just bought a new car, which I can afford because I am not having to pay for school.
I got to relax and play in the summer, instead of practicing shorthand all the time!
I have the time and energy to work on a special sign language teaching project with my boss this year, which I am really enjoying!

These are just a few that came quickly to mind. There are many others!

Have you seen the movie, Joseph, King of Dreams? (That seems like a non sequitur, but it isn’t. Trust me.). There is a beautiful song in that show that is one of my favorites. Here are some of the words:

I thought I did what’s best, I thought I had the answers,
I thought I’d found the surest road, but that road brought me here.
So I put up a fight and told you how to help me
And just when I have given up, the truth is coming clear
That you know better than I, you know the way
I’ll let go the need to know why, for you know better than I…

Look it up on YouTube, it’s pretty!

Not only is it pretty, but the message is a good reminder. It is so very easy to get discouraged or sad when things don’t go the way I hoped or planned. It helps me to remember that God is in control, and that His plan is the best one!

My plan for tomorrow is cookie baking! But if God has a different plan, that’s okay. I’m excited to see what He wants me to do!