Gluten Free Product Review Round-up

Earlier this month we spent our anniversary family-style at our country house upstate, and unlike the last trip (Easter weekend began with sun AND ended with snow!) this was summery without a spec of precipitation. It was filled with fun outdoor activities like lake swimming, sand castle building, marshmallow roasting, salamander catching (and releasing), and of course eating.

kids at lake

Red salamanders at the house and lots of green ones at the lake.

Red salamanders at the house and lots of green ones at the lake.

The eating part is surprisingly easy since the gluten free section at the local Peck’s grocery store is AWESOME! Seriously, it’s better than our grocery in Brooklyn. This makes our trips a lot easier knowing we can pick up a complete stash of Udi’s products, plus cookies, crackers, cake mixes, and more instead of packing our usual fridge/freezer/pantry arsenal.

I found a couple of new items that my family loved and I want to share here. I rarely do product reviews, but I should do more because there’s nothing worse than spending a zillion dollars on a dry meh GF cookie or a weird rubbery wrap.

scary face

Am I right?! (Gotta love Photo Booth.)

Have I mentioned how sad I am about gluten free bread lately? [sidebar alert] As much as I love Udi’s and am eternally grateful for their brand, I can’t handle how crumbly and hole-y the bread can be. It’s gotten to the point where I feel bad about giving it to my kids, especially Little Guy who is particularly sensitive to stale tasting bread. Maybe poor Bunky is used to it after all these years. Sigh.

Recently we tried Glutino White Bread, and it is SOFT, seriously insanely soft. You don’t even have to toast it! Less healthy than the whole grain Udi’s, sure, but you know, sometimes you need to be able to chew your sandwich without gagging.

Glutino_Bread_White_Sandwich-250x250

So, that was sort of an unofficial review, and now for the rest from our upstate stash…

Udi’s Gluten Free Flour Tortilla Wraps 

After years of eating quesadillas (practically a food group around here) on stiff yellow circles also known as store bought corn tortillas, I discovered these beauties.

The bread might not always be awesome, but these wraps totally are!

They are enormous and soft GF flour tortillas (they also sell smaller ones). Oh, Udi’s, I know I just bad talked your bread, but you nailed these. I used them for our regular shredded cheddar quesadillas, but also for a sweet breakfast tortilla (!) which tasted like a thick crepe, using our new favorite White Chocolate Peanut Butter and sliced banana. OMG! Unfortunately, I haven’t found these in Brooklyn yet (!) but the next time we go upstate, I’m stocking up.

Even a paper plate can't cheapen the experience.

Even a paper plate can’t cheapen the experience.

Next up…

Maple Grove Farms Gluten Free Pancake and Waffle Mix

maple grove farms gf mix

Speaking of breakfast, have you tried this mix? If not, you should give it a try because it’s awesome. Plus, there’s NO added sugar, which is not necessarily true for other mixes (Bisquick, I’m talking to you). It’s super easy to make either pancakes or waffles and both have been successful for us. I used to like making my own homemade pancakes, and still do on occasion, but it’s also nice to have the convenience of a mix, especially when your kids wake you up before dawn.

Now, no trip to the country would be complete without copious amounts of Haagen Dazs ice cream. A moment of props to HD – want to know how many ingredients are in their traditional vanilla? FIVE. Cream, sugar, skim milk, egg yolks, and vanilla extract. Nothing fake, no “natural flavor” scams, nothing. Just real food.

Normally we eat it in a bowl because GF cones are not always easy to come by… except upstate where they sell these awesome ones:

Joy Gluten Free Sugar Cones

Isn't my cone model adorable?!

Isn’t my cone model adorable?!

These GF sugar cones are really tasty! They also make gluten free cake cones, by the way. One day we’ll give those a try. In the meantime, the sugar cones are rad. We all really enjoyed eating them all filled up with drippy vanilla and chocolate ice cream. The only caveat is that they leak at the bottom, but you can use your finger as a stopper, ha, or better yet melt some chocolate down there. Oh, yeah.

bunky and cone

Eating outside makes ice cream taste even better, don’t you think?

Everything outside is better in the summer. Salamander catching included.

kids and salamander

Have you had any fantastic gluten free finds lately? If so, bring it on in comments. I can always use some new ideas. And let me know if you try any of my suggestions. We GFers have to stick together, you know?

 

On the Cusp: One Last Summer Recipe

First, let me just update you about Bunky and kindergarten. If you’ve been following my insanity here, you know I’ve been kind of a mess leading up to the big day. Well, you’ll be happy to know all my worrying was a waste of time (as worrying pretty much always is). Day 1 went well, and though there have been some minor bumps and adjustments, things are pretty awesome. Fingers crossed it continues to be.

First day of school dress.

First day of school dress.

Fall is nearly upon us, at least here in New York. And so is apple picking season, yay!

apple picking 2013

The air is all crispy and so are the leaves. Little Guy is loving how they crunch under his feet. The look on his face when he saw the playground covered with fallen leaves was priceless. And don’t even get me started on what he thinks about pumpkins. I think I have another fall fan here.

little guy pumpkin

Fall is about pumpkins, apples, and let’s not forget about pie. Fall is savory stews and soups and maybe, just maybe, using my five year old crockpot for the first time. Fall is the time for hunkering down, cuddling up, and wearing thick socks inside (especially when you live above your apartment’s parking garage). Fall is about tucking in for winter.

But first, while we hover on the cusp of the seasons, let’s squeeze in one last summer recipe before the pumpkin recipes start rolling in. Let’s be honest, they already are rolling in, because pumpkin recipes rock, but so do ones with tomatoes. Am I right?

tomatoes

This recipe is an old standby for us, and was in our gluten days. The first time I made this GF it was a disaster. The rice pasta was slimy and disgusting. I remember shoveling it into my mouth with a forced smile. No one was fooled. I don’t think I made it again for a year. But that was way back when I didn’t know how to cook GF pasta. Or which kinds to buy. But I do now. We either use Bionaturae or Farabella penne, but pick your own fave.

I don’t have exact measurements because this is the kind of recipe you taste along the way. Some people may like more or less balsamic vinegar, for example, so start with less and add if necessary. The less liquid-y this meal is, the better.

You can also add a couple of cooked chicken breasts cubed, for some animal protein, which my husband likes, but I prefer it without. Your call.

Fresh Mozzarella and Tomato Pasta

fresh mozz pasta dinner

This was made with rigatoni out of necessity, but I think penne is better.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag of GF pasta, we like penne
  • vine ripened tomatoes, 4-6 depending on the size – or whatever tomatoes you find at your local farmer’s market
  • 1 ball of fresh mozzarella, the tastiest you can find
  • fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • balsamic vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1. Cook the pasta NOT according to the directions (ha) but the way you KNOW works. I often cook ours significantly less than the package says. When it doubt, test it after about 6-8 minutes. You don’t want it overcooked. Blecch. Drain water using a colander and run the pasta under cool water to stop it from cooking, and then add a glug or two of olive oil so it doesn’t stick inside the colander. Check out this link and this one for some advice on cooking GF pasta successfully. It is NOT necessarily intuitive.

2. Chop tomatoes into small-ish cubes. You may want to get ride of some if not most of the juicy seeds and innards so your final dish isn’t too soupy. Put into a large bowl.

fresh mozz tomato prep

3. Cube up fresh mozzarella. Try not to eat too much of it while doing so. Add to the bowl.

4. Make sure pasta is cooled (so as not to melt the cheese) and add to bowl as well.

fresh mozz pasta prep 2

5. Now it’s time to make the magic happen. Carefully add a glug or two of balsamic vinegar. Then the olive oil. Mix and taste. Add more of one or both if necessary. The balance of acid and oil is key and particular to your own palate. Trust yourself, here. You can’t go too wrong. Add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Finally, toss the chopped basil and mix gently.

Dinner is served. Easy and delicious. (As long as you’re not me two years ago gagging down squishy overcooked GF pasta. I shiver just thinking about it.)

Now, before we say farewell to summer, please enjoy my children as sand creatures.

My little mermaid.

My little mermaid.

And her mostly companion. (That’s from Eloise, if you don’t know.)

Mini merman.

My mini merman.

Oh, I will miss summer.

beach family

But here’s hoping fall will be pretty great, too.

End of Summer Lament and a Lunch Box Review

flickr photo credit, Eladesor

Such a beautiful lush summertime pic, right? Not Bunky, but looks like it could be.
flickr photo credit, Eladesor

I know it’s not the end of summer yet, but I’m already starting to feel the heaviness of fall as it lumbers closer. The encroaching darkness, the end of summer rot, and I’m not talking about the stench of trash in our Brooklyn neighborhood. Gardens have reached their peak and are starting their inevitable slide down. There’s an overripeness to late summer, almost obscene in its abundance, and yet the edges of flower petals are starting to fray, the first leaves are beginning to fall.

I am a sucker for spring, for beginnings, for budding trees, and the hopeful yellow of daffodils. Don’t get me wrong, I love summer. LOVE it. But, spring wins for me because of its glorious contrast to winter, and because it means summer is coming. I should probably just live in the moment more, but it’s not really my style.

Am I over thinking this or what? But I can’t help myself. I always get a little down as September approaches, a habit from being a kid, and now probably because I have one about to start kindergarden.

She looks ready, right? Right?

She looks ready, right? Right?

I have very mixed feelings about the impending start of school. Part of me is looking forward to a break from Bunky’s endless refrain, often spoken in a whine on repeat, “play with me” and a little excited to have some one on one time with Little Guy, who usually just gets dragged along to big kid playdates, big kid playgrounds. Not that he minds so much… Okay, let’s face facts, it will be way easier having one kid at a time.

But – but (!) when Bunky went off to her brief sojourn to camp last week, I totally teared up. I’m such a sucker, I know. The truth is, this summer has gone by in a flash and wasn’t nearly as challenging as I had feared. Thanks in big part to our wonderful trips to the country house and to my dad’s beachside home, not to mention my husband’s flexible real estate schedule.

I’m just not quite ready to dive into the chaos and exhaustion of school. Scrambling to make lunch and snack every day by 8am, worrying about conflicting nap and pick-up schedules, and dealing with ALL the tiresome but necessary GF food wrangling I will have to manage. But the clock rolls on despite my anxiety, and maybe – here’s hoping – that the school year will prove smoother than I am anticipating. Kinda like summer.

Well, at least there is the whole buying new lunch box accessories to perk me up. Hello, retail therapy! We actually all had fun looking through the Planet Box website and selecting a new case for Bunky’s Rover (red rocket), a fresh set of magnets, and a mini version called the Shuttle for Little Guy. How cute is this?!

alien shuttle

Perhaps you remember my slightly spastic lunch box post back in September? I manically photographed a week’s worth of lunches and described our two new purchases, Planet Box and Laptop Lunches. At the time I didn’t know which product would work best for my family. Both seemed pretty awesome.

The main difference is that Planet Box system is one piece of stainless steel with compartments built in while Laptop Lunches has containers that go inside of a plastic lunch box. Ultra cute carry cases not included.

Our Laptop Lunch box. Totally didn't use those utensils.

Our Laptop Lunch box and case. Totally didn’t use the utensils. Or that napkin.

Below is a pic of the Planet Box Rover. The circular canisters inside are called the Big and Little Dipper. Cute, right? They can be placed inside or outside in the carrying case pockets.

PlanetBox-Rover-Complete-Set-Open-Black-Carry-Bag-Lunchbox-XL_1_large

Here is the Rover in action, Bunky’s Valentine’s Day lunch from last winter. Gotta love a pretty frosted cookie. Fortunately, the kid actually eats her veggies, too. Unfortunately, those are the only veggies she eats. Ha.

valentines day planet box lunch

Check out my cute little pre-K graduate enjoying her Laptop Lunch at home.

graduation day lunch

Ultimately, while we used and liked both products, the Planet Box Rover worked best for us. Laptop Lunches has a great bento system – and both are dishwasher safe (yay!) – but ultimately the plastic one was harder for my kid to open. Which is kind of a deal breaker, especially for kindergarten where B will be eating in a busy cafeteria (gulp) with minimal teacher assistance.

So here we are, three weeks and counting to the first day of school. I can’t believe my baby is starting kindergarten. I mean, I remember when I started kindergarten. Geez, it’s so easy to feel old when you’re a parent. Every milestone reminds you of your own. I suppose it’s probably best for me to concentrate on things like lunch boxes and school letters so I don’t think too hard about how fast my little girl is growing up.

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

What I Learned in the Country

country house drivewayIt’s been a whirlwind summer, truly. When I said my posts would be sporadic, I didn’t realize a more accurate term would be non-existent. But it’s not all that surprising considering this very un-mathematical equation:

No school + not much camp + minimal babysitting hours + 2 kids = NO free time

I can barely compose a decent email these days. That said, I somehow managed my FIRST ever guest post! Okay, fine. The truth is I wrote it before school let out, but still.

Check out “My Momtourage” post at Stephanie Sprenger and Jessica Smock’s awesome collaboration, The HerStories Project, which is their collection of tales all about friendship and new motherhood.

Back to summer, we’ve been enjoying ourselves (minus the tantrums and sweaty walks home from the playground). But the best part by far has been the two weeks spent at our country house in Sullivan County, New York.

The timing was perfect since we may have missed the NASTIEST, sweatiest (+ smelliest) NYC weather (so far), by complete and utter chance. It was hot in the country, but not unbearable. And, there was this lake:

lake family

We were lucky enough to have 2 sets of friends visit us while we were there. One family came all the way from South Korea! Not just to see us, obvs, but still it was great that they dedicated some of their annual trip to hang out.

I could easily go on in annoying detail about our daily activities, but instead I decided on a List. I love lists. You wouldn’t know it from this blog where I tend to babble via paragraphs, but lists are very big for me. Sadly, they are usually very boring To Do lists, or worse, grocery shopping lists, but this one is way more exciting. Um, I hope. And here it is, in no particular order:

What I Learned in the Country 

I’m really, really, afraid of bears. I think I spotted one in the woods moments after we arrived, but I’m hoping all my clapping and loud whooping noises scared it away. It certainly scared my husband.

Freshly picked berries and peas taste best right off the vine.

fresh peas

Food tastes better when eaten outside (and with wine).

centerpiece

How peaceful it is to look up at the sky through a sunny maze of leaves while lying on a blanket under a tree.

Freshly picked flowers can last weeks. They’re so pretty, and super fun to pick.

fresh picked flowers

This one’s super obvious, but how good are roasted marshmallows?! And even better with good pals.

roasting mellows with pals

How wonderful it is to have dear friends who you can not see for two years and yet fall right back into a rhythm together.

lake long shot

Who knew lacrosse could be so much fun? And don’t even get me started on wiffle ball. Seriously.

lacross sillies

Kids don’t need so many toys. Not when a real tea pot is available.

tea time

Turns out baby pools and fancy sprinklers are also overrated. A garden hose works just fine, especially when a toddler is aiming at his mom and big sister.

I had no idea I was such a lake person. And a digging trenches in the sand at the lake person. So much more satisfying than at the beach where holes refill with every breath of the tide.

little guy and the lake

Farms come in all sizes and my daughter can’t walk without complaining whether it’s only 2 or 40 acres. However she did LOVE feeding the chickens and ducks.

root and roost farm

Root and Roost farm: 2 acres of farming goodness

Pigs can’t sweat. And they smell. No wonder they’re misunderstood.

pig big

Some turkeys are so ugly they’re beautiful.

turkey

I’m a city girl, mostly, but the country is growing on me. (Except for the whole bear thing.)

Wild daisies in our backyard.

These wild daisies grow in our backyard.

My daughter might be more country than I thought.

gardening girl

Her flower picking outfit.

Her perfect flower picking outfit.

And my son might be more sporty than I thought, especially coming from such unsporty parents (with the exception of wiffle ball).

little guy lacrosse

To be perfectly honest, the idea of two weeks holed up in an isolated country house with my nutty kids kind of terrified me, and a few moments were a bit touch and go, but mostly, it was wonderful. What a gift this house is to our family.