Happy Chinese Gluten New Year

I have about a million things to tell you, but no time to do it. Between getting back on my play date game (which I was never on, apparently) and researching play schools for Little Guy (which he says have to be “blue”), I have had about zero time to update.

Fancy play date picnic.

What snacks look like when I’m on my play date A game. Of course this only happened once.

In my spare time (i.e. LG’s naps) I’m attempting to edit my novel AND take an online real estate course. By the time LG passes out at 10pm (yes, because of the long and vitally important naps) my brain is completely zapped. I’m lucky if I can stay up long enough to watch the last season of Breaking Bad, which I’m woefully behind on (no spoilers please) and gives me nightmares. I kind of wish I never started the show. It’s like a train wreck, and I can’t look away even though I really want to. At least there’s Jesse.

One of the many stretches of the show's imagination.

One of the show’s many far fetched concepts.

Anyway… another thing that kept me and my brain busy recently was Bunky’s first class trip of the year, which happened to be a celebration of Chinese New Year… at a Chinese restaurant. UGH. Sure, they have rice noodles. But most are doused in GLUTEN. I kind of freaked about this for a while. Why do class trips have to be food related? And not just food related, but completely food focused. What about kids with food restrictions, life threatening allergies, celiac? Why not take the kids to a museum or an indoor play space? But no. It had to be Chinese food.

Unfortunately, it wasn't to Lilli and Loo, the only GF chinese I've heard of.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to Lilli and Loo, which apparently has great GF options.

I had planned on making Bunky a similar menu including lo mein, but ended up giving her leftover baked ziti (always better the second day, B says and it’s true), chicken noodle soup, and GF fried rice similar to this recipe. Dessert was Turkey Hill Vanilla (GF – I called ahead and checked online), so at least I didn’t have to worry about that. Or so I thought. More on that in a bit. Here’s a clue:

Ours was not GF, obvs.

Ours was not gluten free, obvs.

Backtracking a bit, when my husband and I first heard about this trip, we were both angry and deflated. Angry about the concept, deflated that our kid might feel left out – again. We debated about not sending her to school that day. We considered giving her a choice. But neither felt right. She’d definitely feel left out if she didn’t go, right? And I don’t want her to think opting out is the automatic response

Food related activities and celebrations will be part of her life forever, and she has to learn how to navigate them, not hide from them. But I realize now how important it is that I don’t hide from them. That I teach her how she can enjoy these events. That they may be challenging at times, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid them.

Homemade brown fried rice is way healthier anyhow.

Homemade fried rice is way healthier anyhow.

And so I worked my butt off to make the trip a success, to help her feel included, amid all the oohs and ahhs over the fragrant egg rolls, fried wontons, shrimp dumplings, lo mein, and fried rice.

Sometimes being GF can feel a little lonesome.

Sometimes being GF can feel a little lonesome.

I used my best British accent when serving her our food, grabbed a soup bowl and spoon before they could gluten-ize it, and kept an eye out for flying crumbs and roving gluten-y fingers. The kids are her table were sweet, and I kept an eye out for their needs as well, but mostly my attention was on Bunky. It paid off. She had fun, I think.

She ate everything I brought, and we donated some extra soup to a friend.

She ate everything I brought, and then we donated some extra soup to a grateful friend.

I feel like I was pretty chill during the whole thing, except for one teensy weensy moment at the very end when the waiters brought out trays of gluten free vanilla ice cream in plastic cups… with gluten fortune cookies on top. I might have said, “Oh shit” but I’m not sure. I leapt out of my seat and asked for a plain ice cream. One waiter tried to pry the cookie off and hand the cup to me, but I said no.

Luckily, I had packed some Lucy’s allergy free cookies in my bag, just in case. So while Bunky waited for her uncontaminated ice cream, she happily munched on a cookie. Then I used the rest of the cookies to make her a gluten free ice cream sandwich. Score.

Lucys-Cookies1

Loving the new Snack and Go combo packs!

She was also thrilled with my stop at the local Hello Kitty store. (Oh holy moly, the store was AWESOME.)

I easily could have bought way, way more.

I easily could have bought way, way more cute stuff.

All in all, it was a success. Not every event will go so seamlessly, but it’s nice that this first one did.

Up next (as in tomorrow) – first sleepover. Say WHAT?!

(Luckily my sweet little homebody will be coming home in the evening. At least that gets me out of figuring out breakfast. Geez.)

Hopefully soon I’ll be able to work on the recipe posts currently simmering in my brain. There’s GF gnocchi (not homemade), one pot dinners, and Risi Bisi, a rice cooker dream.

How do you handle non GF friendly events and outings? Do you bring your own food, eat beforehand, or skip it all together? If your kid has celiac or a gluten intolerance, how do you help him or her feel included?

Allergy Free “Watermelon” Sugar Cookies

watermelon cookies icedTime is not on my side, despite what the Rolling Stones say (yet the fact that they are still touring maybe it is for them). So when I see a recipe that looks this fun and takes minimal time and effort on my part, I get excited. That’s right. I dork out over boxed cookie mixes and food coloring, but whatever. You try not eating three of these in a row. Bunky left the lake up at the country on a gorgeous afternoon (when we had to rush home for Little Guy’s nap) just so we could bake these together. The power of sugar. It’s wrong, I know, but yet so right. Or at least helpful in a pinch.

I was inspired by Pinterest, of course. But for the first (and only?) time my version came out looking almost exactly like the originals.

Watermlon-Sugar-Cookies from A Lot On Your Plate

Pic from the original recipe: A Lot On Your Plate

I opted to use less food coloring so my watermelon icing is more pink than red, but Bunky didn’t care. In fact, we then made light purple and yellow icing, too, just for fun. Even though, as far as I know, there are no melons with a lavender interior. Too bad.

Bunky icing cookies

Here’s the “recipe” which really isn’t much of one. Just buy a box of allergy free sugar cookie mix – I used a Cherry Brook Kitchen one, but just make sure that it says Gluten Free Dreams on the box, because one time I bought their allergy free (peanut, dairy, egg and nut) yellow cake mix and assumed (stupidly) it was also GF, but it was NOT. All hell broke loose (inside my brain and heart) when I realized this crucial error AFTER letting Bunky lick the batter (which tasted SO good I should have known something was wrong). Anyway… we survived that bump in our GF road, but it still kills me to think about it. There is not much worse than glutening your OWN kid (big sigh).

Moving along, here it is, in all its simple and summer time glory:

cookie close up

Allergy Free “Watermelon” Sugar Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of allergy free sugar cookie mix
  • 1 container of Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines vanilla icing* (I can only confirm these are GLUTEN FREE, not ALLERGY FREE as there is definitely soy in both, not to mention a butt load of chemicals, but then again this is not a health recipe)
  • green and red food coloring (always check ingredients for allergy information)
  • chocolate sprinkles (always check ingredients for allergy information)

* When in doubt, make your own icing depending on your allergy needs. Yes, it’s more work, but there’s no need to take any chances. Confectioner’s sugar and butter with do the trick, but so will a butter substitute.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven and cover a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper.
  2. Prepare sugar cookies according to directions on the box.
  3. Add as many drops of green food coloring as you can stomach. We used about 5, I think. Mix well.
  4. Scoop out the batter and roll into balls and place on cookie sheet. Flatten slightly.
  5. Cook for required time and then allow to cool COMPLETELY before icing.
  6. Prepare your icing by adding drops of red food coloring to a portion of the frosting. Mix well and decide how red you want your “watermelon” to be.
  7. When cookies are completely cool, generously frost them using a spoon or butter knife and then add sprinkles.
  8. Serve immediately (obviously) and store remaining in an airtight container. They will not last long.

watermelon cookies on blue table

Spring is in the (Country) House + Ramps

We returned to our country house this past weekend to celebrate my husband’s birthday, which was on Monday. He and Bunky are just a week apart. My two (crazy) Tauruses. Stubborn as bulls, but loyal as anything. (Have you read Molly’s astrological post on her blog, Sprue Story? Hilarious and spot on.) Since opening up the house to renters via Home Away, we have been pleasantly surprised by how popular it has been. So popular that we have to take advantage of the open weekends. This was the perfect opportunity.

Sharing a rocker on the porch. So sweet until it wasn't.

Sharing a rocker on the porch.
So sweet until it wasn’t.

Spring is a little delayed in Sullivan County, especially up top of the winding gravel road that leads to our home. The small green leaves that had daintily dotted the tree lined highways grew more sparse the higher we ascended, similar to how the snow lay thicker in the winter, but the warm weather and cerulean blue skies couldn’t have been more perfect.

blue sky house

Side view of the house.
Isn’t that sky insane?

We didn’t make any plans beyond a trip to the farmer’s market, which is a lesson we learned in the fall, and instead made it our goal to enjoy some quality relaxation surrounded by nature. Too bad the kids and bugs had other ideas.

The kid part is obvious. I knew things wouldn’t be all zen with a spirited preschooler and a banshee screaming toddler – Little Guy’s latest trick when frustrated. But the bug thing threw my husband for a loop, perhaps because he is one sweet tasting dude. According to the bugs. (Hey, this is a family blog.) Fortunately the mornings and early afternoons were bug free, as it seems the bugs (unlike my kids) like to sleep in. So we had plenty of time to enjoy the outdoors. Fortunately there was cable TV, which we don’t have in Brooklyn, to take care of the buggy afternoons. Let’s just say Bunky and Little Guy got quite comfortable on the couch.

tv boy

Literally, first thing he did was go for the remote. I blame it on his sister.

I’m making it sound like we hid indoors, which is not entirely true. Just on Saturday during my husband’s “Project.” My husband likes projects. Loves them. Like, this country house? It’s a nesting doll of projects, dozens of them all squeezed inside his brain. This weekend’s birthday project was on a smaller scale (unlike the drainage ditch he built a few weeks ago). He wanted to create a picturesque spot for the fancy (read: pricey) fire pit he bought. Shockingly, he finished it in less than a day.

This is me talking to my husband, right now: “Honey, you were right. Okay?!” I’m not so great at admitting I’m wrong, but I told him I’d be thrilled to do so if in fact he actually finished his project on time. Which he did. And it looks pretty awesome.

fire pit rocks

Little Guy is REALLY into rocks.

Little Guy is REALLY into rocks.

family fire pit

The next day was the local farmer’s market (nearly an hour’s drive away) which was extra special because of the Ramps Festival. What are ramps, some of you may wonder? Well, if you’re a foodie you already know cause they are like the shit to talk about and cook with in early spring. But they aren’t really that fancy in person. They are wild leeks, or as wikipedia says, “an early spring vegetable with a garlic odor and onion flavor.”

Don’t get me wrong, they are GOOD. But before this weekend, I thought they were just another pretentious ingredient at hip Brooklyn eateries – which they may well be, but they are also growing in our backyard! Seriously! My husband got all Little House on the Prairie on us and dug some up with a shovel and presented them to me like a bouquet. Check out his food photography. It’s no joke.

ramps on deck

After chatting with the very nice woman at the farmer’s market whose small stand WAS the Ramps Festival, I had a good idea of how to prepare them. A little internet research confirmed what she advised, which was to keep it simple.

You can eat the leaves and the bulbs (once you cut off the tip of the root). But first it’s kind of important to make sure you’re actually eating ramps and not lilies of the valley, which they closely resemble and are POISONOUS. My husband was like, oh no these are definitely ramps. But I decided to do my own research, just in case. I found this great article which has a very thorough description (with photos) about what those other less edible plants look like, along with some recipe advice.

After reading it I felt pretty sure I wasn’t going to kill myself, but I kept sniffing the leaves and the bulbs, just in case. Fortunately the whole house smelled like an onion, which is a dead giveaway (no pun intended) since the bulbs of lilies of the valley have no offensive odor. Here is my own little ramp tutorial:

Preparation

Wash your ramps in warm water and then cut the tip off the root. Similar to the green onions they resemble, there is a thin clear membrane over the stalk. Just peel it down. It should come off pretty easily. Chop those suckers up, but keep the white bulb pieces separate from the green leaves since they cook at different rates.

Method

I sauteed mine in butter and olive oil. You could do one or the other, but this time being indecisive worked in my favor. Just start with the white bulbs first because they will take a bit longer to cook. Saute them for about a minute or so before adding the chopped green leaves. Stir and and cook together on medium low for another minute or so until wilted down.

Ramptastic

I ate mine straight out of the bowl and they were warm, fragrant, and delicious. Way more subtle than onions, a bit sweeter than leeks. Even my husband who stays away from anything in the onion family stared longingly at my bowl because they smelled that good. He tried two small pieces and declared them amazing.

It wouldn’t have been hard to eat the entire bowl, but I didn’t want to get a ramp overload, so I forced myself to save half. The next day I made myself a ramptastic lunch by frying up two eggs and tossing it in a bowl with my leftover ramps and some basmati rice. A sprinkle of salt, pepper, and a dash of red pepper flakes and I was in ramp heaven. I would have taken a picture but I was too busy eating. And watching repeats of NCIS. Little Guy was napping and Bunky was out with her dad. Ah, bliss…

Other highlights of our trip included a sweetly serious discussion with Bunky about her dolls, Ariel and Sleeping Beauty, who she told me were getting married. Then she asked with a touch of concern, can two girls get married? And I was like YUP. She was very happy about this and told me all about their wedding cake.

lady loveThen there was LOTS of strawberry, vanilla, and cherry vanilla ice cream. We love Haagen Dazs, gluten free and natural. Our local supermarket even had gluten free wafer cones! Insane! We ate the entire package and Little Guy had his first cone. He had no problem with the licking part, but was a little confused about what to do with the cone. So I ate it for him. One of the benefits of being someone’s mom.

He prefers to drink his ice cream dregs from a bowl.

He prefers drinking his ice cream dregs from a bowl.

I also made my husband some of these delicious fudge brownie cookies (also found in our local market, so cool) and chocolate chex mix, his new favorite treat. Which is convenient because it’s SO easy. A recipe will come soon, though you probably know it already. I think we’re a little late to the chocolate covered Chex party.

Yes, that's a llama in the background.

Yes, that’s a llama.

Since our house is all booked up through June, we won’t be going again until July. Plenty of time for my husband to dream up some more projects.

Taking a Stand

pie baked

I don’t take stands very often. To let you in on a little secret, I’m a little bit ambivalent when it comes to stands. Which is terrible, right? Taking stands is important, I know. Well, I’m going to take one now. Are you ready?

My stand is to stop GFGF. Don’t know what that means? Oh, but I think you do. It’s the comment many people say after sampling a homemade or store bought gluten free treat. “Oh, this is good for gluten free.”

Good for Gluten Free. It makes me nuts just to type those words. Why can’t a GF cookie just be good? Or how about really good, or awesome? Every time someone GFGF’s it proliferates the falsehood that GF is somehow lesser. It creates an unnecessary comparison of the two and the unspoken sentiment is that G is “normal” and GF isn’t. People say GFGF because they think they’re being kind, complimentary even. I know they don’t mean any harm, but it makes my list of things NOT to say.

Check out my VERY first homemade pie crust ever – GF or otherwise. Rolled out in front of a class of four-year-olds at Bunky’s preschool. I was sweating up a storm, but it turned out great.

pie unbaked

The masterpiece, before baking. Bunky is the girl in bright pink with excellent posture.

I made an apple pie for the class’s Thanksgiving Feast. I used this recipe for the crust and it was awesome. Not for gluten free, but in and of itself, awesome. Yet, I was the perpetrator of GFGF here, because in my excitement I said to B’s teacher: “You’d never know it was GF!” She agreed, but I wanted to bite my tongue afterwards. I should have said, “The pie came out great,” and left it at that.

My tray of allergy free pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, gobbled up in minutes.

My tray of allergy free pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, gobbled up in minutes.

The truth is, if I really want GFGF to stop, then I also need to change what I say.

Another way to help eradicate the myth that GF is less tasty is to bake delicious treats for people. My plan is to bake yummy holiday cookies and breads for Bunky’s teachers and staff at school. If I wasn’t so tired of pumpkin (yes, it’s true!) I might have made more of Nicole Hunn’s Pumpkin Chips Ahoy cookies. There is a frozen roll of these in my freezer for when I’m ready to pumpkin again. Which might actually be this afternoon now that I’m looking at the picture.

IMG_1494

Every year my cousin Peeps gives out baked goods as gifts and this year she is making them ALL gluten free. For everyone. The reason she’s doing it is partly practical, because this way she doesn’t have to worry about cross contamination, but also it’s because her GF creations are super tasty and there is NO NEED to make a G equivalent. Take that all you GFGFers! Check out her guest recipe posts here and here if you want to try some exciting and unusual flavors in your holiday baking.

[By the way, if you’re looking for original holiday gifts, Peeps has beautiful handcrafted bibs, totes, and clutches for sale at her Etsy site. The girl is crafty in and out of the kitchen!]

Do you share my irritation with GFGF, and if so, how do you handle it? Take a stand with me. Come on, it’s for a good cause. And besides, taking a stand by yourself isn’t nearly as much fun as taking it with your friends.