Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Whining and Wishes

*Warning: Some whining may occur in the following passages.  This author apologizes that you have to listen to it, but would like to point out that it is Christmas and she feels like maybe, just this once, she is justified- but it gets better in the end, she promises!*

Christmas is going to be rough this year, but not for the reasons one normally considers.  Sure, the economy is in the tank and no one has any money.  Yes, it is impossible to plan everything so you can fit it all in.  Those two thing are frustrating, true.  However, the thing that is really bringing me down this year is the fact that I can’t eat hardly any of my favorite holiday treats.   Aunt Shirley’s fudge?  Nope.  Hot chocolate by the tree with my boys?  Nu-uh.  Egg Nog?  Not the real stuff- just that soy crap that I pretend is almost as good as the real thing (but I know better.  Just don’t tell the Ranger…)  Aunt Helen’s pineapple upside down cake?  *sigh* No.  Any of the ridiculously good treats for the Tumilty Christmas Eve smorgasboard?  No… 

The thing that is really, really getting me down this year is my inability to eat my in-law’s Christmas Eve dinner.  It used to be my favorite meal of the entire year.  A while back, they decided that the old tradition of having Beef Heart for Christmas wasn’t really working for the younger generation anymore, so we updated it.  Now it is an amalgamation of all of my favorite foods.  It starts with a huge bowl of shrimp cocktail- did you know that commercially purchased cocktail sauce often has wheat in it?  Me either until I ate some one day.  Grr.  Then we move on to the Caesar Salad, made by secret family recipe.  I dream of that salad.  I think it is/was my favorite food on this entire planet.  However, with eggs, bready croutons and parmesan cheese taken out of the picture, I am left with lettuce.  Then we move onto the main course- steaks!  Thank goodness for good, old-fashioned plain beef!  And potatoes- with butter and cheese and sour cream!  Oh, well… um…. So we move onto asparagus wrapped in swiss cheese and bacon (hey, I said it was a tradition.  I didn’t say it was healthy!  ;)  And then my second favorite food in the world- Spinach ala Lloyd.  It is spinach and cracker and cheesy goodness that my father in law invented.  Now I can have… spinach.  And then we move onto dessert.  My father in law makes the absolute best candy in this world.  Fudge, caramels, Sugar Roll (it may put you into a sugar coma, but it’s soooo worth it!) and homemade turtles.  I’m drooling just thinking about it!  Now I can have…. Um... well… the pecans if they aren’t put in the turtles.  Seriously?  My life sucks sometimes!

Tired of my whining yet?  Yeah, me too.  Some things are just gone and there is nothing I can do about it.  Others take some finagling, but I can get them back if I really try.  The family secret Caesar salad?  That’s in the gone forever pile.  But, last year they did find a dressing recipe that was Val-friendly and it was good- really good!  I do miss the croutons and cheese, but at least I get a salad.  The shrimp cocktail?  Easy enough to make my own cocktail sauce so that’s a go!  Steaks?  No change needed there.  Thank goodness I never became a vegetarian!  Potatoes?  If I bring my sour cream and use the vegan butter I’m still good there.  Asparagus?  Gotta lay off the cheese, but bacon is delicious.  Spinach ala Lloyd?  Nope.  Gone forever.  The crackers that I can have just don’t do it, and it just isn’t the same without the cheese.  I do miss that…. 

And the candy.  Oh, the candy.  No more candy.  Even if it could be made with dairy-free milk and vegan butter it just wouldn’t be the same.  The vegan butter just doesn’t have the creaminess that real butter has.  And vegan evaporated milk is essentially non-existent.  Bye-bye candy. 

But- BUT!  Yes!  There is a light at the end of the tunnel!  As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.  And someone invented a DF/GF Toffee recipe that soothes my candy-starved soul.  And one of my favorite scouts introduced me to the best allergen-friendly chocolate I’ve ever had.  I won’t admit to eating the chocolate chips by the handful- because you can’t prove it!  Enjoy Life chocolate chips are the absolute bomb- and they have them at Meijer and Target.  Normal places!  And when you use them to make this recipe for Gluten and Dairy Free Toffee…. You feel normal again. 
A little piece of heaven on a plate...
So, I guess these are my Christmas wishes for you all.  If you can eat everything you want, enjoy it!  Savor it!  Appreciate it!  You never know when that might change.  And if you fall into the same category as me, embrace it!  Accept it!  Get over it!  Moping about it does nothing but make you feel bad.  And who wants to feel bad at Christmas?  It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.  Work until you find something you like.  If you need help, email me at and I will see what I can do to help you make your old recipes fit into your new life.  Everyone deserves to be happy, and if a little food will help you find that happiness- let’s go find a kitchen! 

Thanks for sticking with me through the beginning whiny session.  And thanks for sticking with me as I take this journey.  The love and support (and occasional GF/EF/DF treats!) that I have received from my friends and family and readers have really helped to make this a great year.  Love to you all!  And Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Turkey Day!

Happy Turkey Day everyone!  Thanksgiving is my favorite time of the year.  Not because I particularly care for turkey- I'm really not a huge fan.  No, it's my favorite time of the year because it starts my birthday season!

Yes, I did say "season".  And I love it.  See, when your birthday falls so closely to Christmas, you feel like the festivities start on your birthday (or in this year's case, Thanksgiving, which is two days before my birthday) and then continues all the way through the New Year!  Of course I realize that most of the parties aren't for me.  But the lights, the presents, the seeing family and friends that you don't get to see often, and the inevitable blow-up creation that graces the front lawns of people's decorated houses- you can't beat it!  And when you start the month in a festive mood, it just gets better from there.

Growing up, my favorite birthday cake was a chocolate chip cake with cream cheese icing.  Between that and German Chocolate cake, I really didn't eat much more cake.  Well now, if it is "Val-Friendly" I eat it!  I mean, they are few and far between so I take full advantage!  My Grandma figured out that if you use the Betty Crocker GF yellow cake mix and omit the vanilla, it is really, really good!  When I was at Mom and Dad's this weekend, we made one of those, complete with frosting made with vegan butter.  It was heaven in a bowl, I tell you!  So now I've got my brain working, and I'm pretty sure that if we add chocolate chips to one of those mixes, and use the cream cheese icing recipe that I got out of my new favorite vegan cookbooks Have Your Cake and Vegan too, I can have my favorite cake again!  Soy cream cheese- here we come!  (just sounds wrong, doesn't it...)

As I said earlier, I can take or leave turkey.  What I can't live without is pumpkin pie.  The search for a decent pumpkin pie began almost the day I realized that I couldn't have eggs and milk- it was that important to me.  Most of the recipes I found called for something weird, like tofu, to replace the eggs.  Tofu has a time and a place, and it is NOT in my pie!  Finally, I stumbled onto a recipe that has been out since 1997.  In fact, it was printed in the November 1, 1997 issue of Vegetarian Times- but I've got a link to it right here!  If you are GF, you have to ignore the crust at the top- instead, I suggest using the Gluten Free on a Shoestring crust, and there is a link to that, plus a how-to video right here!  Oh, yum!  Oh, happy day!  Oh, happy Turkey day!  OH, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

I refuse to let my dietary limitations horn in on my fun for my holidays or my birthday.  However, since I am going to continue our annual tradition of midnight shopping, I do have to be extra careful on Thanksgiving.  The last thing I want is to be glutenated or egged or dairyied (you thought I was going to say "milked" didn't you- Ha!) and have to miss out on the fun that is the Edinburgh Outlets at midnight.  So, I'll be careful.  And you all be careful, too!  Enjoy your turkey, your pumpkin pie and your shopping-if you are crazy enough go!  And I'll see you on the flipside of 35.  Happy Turkey Day!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Eggs and Milk and Flour- Oh My!

This past week, I got a call for an “emergency cake.”  The mom had purchased a Rapunzel doll at Target and taken it to a local bakery to have them make a Princess cake- you know, the one where the dress is made of cake and icing and you stick the doll down the middle.  It turns out that you can’t make those with a regular doll- or so she was told.  The way it is normally made is by using a creepy half-doll torso with a toothpick shaped piece of plastic instead of legs.  And the only doll torso they had was dark haired.  Rapunzel  from Tangled was NOT a short-haired brunette!  So, she made a call to a friend of mine, got my phone number and begged. 

As we were talking about the cake, I asked her what flavor she wanted.  The question that invariably follows is, “What kind can you make?”  Normally, the answer to that question is “whatever you want.”  However, this was a bit of a rush job so knew I had limited time.  I offered vanilla and chocolate.  If you think about it, you realize that I have a serious handicap when it comes to baking- I can’t eat it!  So really, the only things I can tell you are good are the things I had before I was diagnosed.  That means that I am trusting my memory from almost 2 years ago.  I don’t trust my memory from yesterday!  When I make cake flavors that I have never had before, I always do a test run and trust the people around me to tell me if it is good or not.  And my husband is really kind of caked out so I’m always looking for volunteers!  I knew that I wouldn’t have the time to test run any new cakes, so she got the boring answer.  She chose chocolate.

A couple of weeks ago, the Ranger and the Mrs. and my mom and dad came over to the house to help my hubby make the car behave.  I was making cupcakes for another birthday party that day, so I kept out a few extras for the car warriors to snack on.  (Not to mention, my favorite red-headed Turtle just LOVES Aunt Val’s cupcakes!)  The Ranger tried one of the cupcakes and said, “Are you making these differently?”  I answered that I was not, but my husband piped up and said that I had stopped measuring- which was only partially true.  The Ranger told me to continue to do whatever it was I was doing differently because they were better than before.  When he left, I asked Mom about it.  I wasn’t doing anything differently, so why was it different?  Of course, she can’t eat the cake either, but in between bites of her bowl of frosting (no, it’s cool- all the cool kids eat frosting out of a bowl!) she mentioned that the frosting tasted differently, too.  Apparently the amazing Mexican vanilla that I had been using for 2 months was changing the cakes that much.  Who knew?  I didn’t!

This whole thing has kind of thrown me for a loop.  I have been kicking around the idea of opening a bakery at some point in the future.  I don’t think I want it to be a vegan bakery just because that’s what I have to eat- I mean, I’d like it to make money and not go belly up in the first month!  My thought has always been that I could supplement the vegan bakery aspect of it with making cakes on the side.  But you have that whole cross-contamination issue and the I-can’t-tell-you-if-it-is-good-because-egg-and-flour-are-the-devil thing going for me.  So, I have to figure this out.  Maybe a partner?  Maybe I just suck it up and go vegan to see if it is possible?  I don’t know.  I’ve got a little while to think.  Until I get it worked out, I think I’ll just try to figure out a name.  Any suggestions?  “Meat-Eating Vegan Patisserie” probably won’t cut it, huh… 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Holiday Hijinks...

Well, it’s getting to be that time of year again.  The leaves are falling; the temperature is falling.  Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations are in the stores- I think I may have even spotted a few Valentine Hearts in Walmart today!  Not really, but you wouldn’t be surprised, would you?  We are a holiday-loving bunch here in the United States.  Think about it- we even make up holidays!  Did you know that today is “No Beard Day”?  Not too long ago, it was “World Egg Day” and “National Dessert Day.”  Saturday was “Sweetest Day” and Monday was “Boss’s Day.”  Yes, we love us some holidays!

Of course, not all holidays are celebrated as well as others.  I mean, you don’t see items out in Walmart four months early for “National Pickle Day.”  But we love Halloween, we love the days off and the shopping associated with Thanksgiving (Don’t get me started on that one!  I’m a Thanksgiving baby, and I used to get livid when I saw the Christmas trees out, but NO turkeys!  I’m kinda lukewarm about it now- I’ve mellowed in my age…)  and we most certainly love Christmas!  Holidays mean family and food.  And of course, that’s where my world goes sideways…

When I found out about my food allergies, I bounced from doctor to doctor to try to get things figured out.  I ended up at Integrative Health Specialists in Carmel.  They did a bunch of tests and determined that my whole system was so out of whack that I was reacting to something like 70 different foods.  This wasn’t a true allergic reaction, but it mimicked one because of the “Leaky Gut Syndrome” I had acquired.  Basically, my gut was so out of sorts that it was letting all sorts of stuff into my blood stream.  This would, in turn, cause my system to attack them- mimicking an allergic reaction.  The way to fix it was to avoid all the reactive foods for 6 months.  I got this news in October 2010.  Do the math and you realize that meant that I was avoiding the foods through Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. 

I did not do very well with this.  I got very cranky.  VERY cranky.  But I followed through with it (for about 4 months- it was all I could take!) and I did feel better for doing it.  But it really pointed out to me how much we associate the ritual of food with holidays.  My in-laws traditionally have Caesar salad for Christmas Eve.  Real eggs, real cheese, really huge croutons.  Really off limits now.  My Grandma has had to switch her butter out with my vegan substitute, and no longer has a reason to make me pickled eggs.  My Mom’s sugar cream pie is non-existent to me now.  Now, I look forward to scrutinizing everything people make and asking for specific ingredients.  And I hate to do that, because if they think they have made it “Val-safe” but missed even one little ingredient, I can’t eat it.  I feel like I’m rejecting people and they feel like their efforts were for naught.  You don’t realize how personal cooking is to people until you have to repeatedly turn the items that they have slaved over down.   

But, you do what you have to do.  Some things, like my Mom’s aforementioned sugar CREAM pie, is forever dead to me.  But other things I have found ways around.  A great example of this is the Caesar salad.  I figured out that the dressing could be made without any ingredients that I can’t have and it is suitable.  Is it as good as the original?  No, no, no.  But I get to go through the ritual of eating it with everyone else- and that helps.  Another is my favorite- pumpkin pie.  I’ve found a few recipes that are workable, and I’m trying to figure out how to fix the issues that I have with the ones that I have found.  When I do, I’ll be sure to share.  Until then, here is a link to the recipe that I use now:  Gluten Free Goddess Vegan Pumpkin Pie  

The other thing that has made my holiday season is Soy Egg Nog!   It’s made by Silk, but doesn’t have the sliminess that I think their soy milk has.  It has no egg, no dairy and I think it tastes like true nog.  Ahhh, happiness in a glass! 

So, if I see you at the holiday table and I don’t eat your food, please don’t be hurt.  Trust me, I’d LOVE to eat it!  Instead, I’m happy to share my pie, or my nog with you.  I’m also just as happy to watch you eat the real thing.  I won’t be jealous much, I promise!  (Did you know it is National Cross Your Fingers When You Lie Day?  ;)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Happy Monday!

It’s a GREAT day!  Why you ask?  So many reasons!  Among them: 
1.  The sun is shining!
2.  My boy didn’t scream when I left him at preschool
3.  I got all of my shopping done when the same boy was at preschool
4.  I saved more than I spent at Meijer- I love coupons!
5. Oh, yeah…  I HAVE A NEW NEPHEW!!!!

The Ranger and the Mrs. had their baby early Friday morning.  Mom and baby are doing well- and that little boy has his Aunt Val wrapped around his little pudgy finger!  I can’t show you pictures because I used to work for the Department of Child Services and I am paranoid about kids on the internet.  (Which is why you only know my kids as C and T.  It’s possible that I am totally overprotective and slightly insane, but I’m willing to chance it! Anyway…)  But if I could show you a picture of him, you would agree with me that he is the most adorable baby  boy!  Perfectly round and pinchable cheeks, little dark eyes that stare into your soul.  Oh, I’m in love!!!!

Because the little man was born, all heck broke loose in my life for the last couple of days.  But it has been so much fun!  I got to see all of my nieces and nephews that live in the state over the weekend, and the new baby’s big sister stayed with Aunt Val for a night before she went to Grammy’s.  When Grammy (my mom) came to pick her up, I got to introduce her to my new favorite obsession- Puccini’s gluten free pizza!  Puccini’s is a local chain in Indiana, and they were my favorite pizza place before my body revolted against me.  They have some unusual pizzas, but they are faaaantastic!  And their buttermilk herb dressing is homemade and worth its weight in gold.  So, not too long ago when Puccini’s started selling GF pizzas, I was in heaven!  The first pizza I got, I didn’t even get around to sitting down before I inhaled the entire pizza.  I mean the ENTIRE pizza.  In one sitting, er, standing.  And I was so happy, I didn’t even care that everyone in the house was staring at me in horror…

So, when Mom came up to get my little Turtle girl, we ordered pizza.  I don’t think she was expecting it to be as good as it was.  She took one bite and her eyes got really big.  She finished chewing and said, “This tastes like real pizza! “  Oh, yum, don’t I know it!  But her reaction got me thinking.  Just because we can’t have the “real” thing, doesn’t mean that we should settle for something that just isn’t good enough.  And I guess I really don’t.  I am constantly trying new recipes and ideas and products to get the taste or texture that I am desperately craving.  Nature’s Pharm in Castleton has been a true lifesaver in this- introducing me to Organicville Ranch dressing, and even carrying items that I have requested- like Organicville mayonnaise.  If you have issues with eggs and dairy, Organicville is the closest thing to the real thing I have found.  I even dipped my Puccini’s pizza into the ranch, just like the old days!

I have noticed that my mood often follows the food that I have eaten. If I am somewhere that doesn’t have a lot of food that I can eat, I tend to get grumpy- I’m sure it’s a blood sugar issue… ;) And when I have had good food and have been well fed, I am a happy girl! Between the Puccini’s pizza on Friday, the smoked meat goodness at my in-law’s house on Saturday, the Pizza King nachos that I snuck yesterday and the meal tonight that I’m looking forward to making, I’m in a great mood! Now, I’m off to eat a piece of crustless Pumpkin pie. If you’re lucky, maybe I’ll share the recipe next time…  Happy Monday!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Move Over Martha Stewart- There’s a New Domestic Goddess in Town!

I’m feeling pretty darn proud of myself.  In the last month, I have given Martha Stewart a run for her money.   I have canned pear jelly and homemade salsa.  I have frozen chicken stock and tomato juice.  I have made my own barbeque sauce.  I have broken down chicken legs and thighs and baked multiple loaves of homemade bread.  And last night I recreated a soup that I had at a friend’s house and fell in love with.  Yep- I rock. 

Really, the truth is that I don’t rock.  Really, I’m a cheapskate.  I make salsa because I can turn $10 worth of raw ingredients into multiple jars of salsa.  And we eat multiple jars of salsa.  I figure that we save on average $15-20+ every time I make salsa.   I made the barbeque sauce because I forgot to put it on my grocery list and I had a bunch of ketchup from a good coupon deal.   I break down chicken legs and thighs because they are about 75 cents a pound at Meijer and you can’t beat that price.  But, it’s difficult to get the leg/thigh combo into a pan and if I split it up I can make multiple meals out of it.  See?  Cheapskate.

I only canned the pears because the Ranger has a couple of trees in his backyard and I hated to see them go to waste.  Mrs. Ranger can only preserve so much with the babies around- plus her full time job.  And I don’t have a job (a paid one, anyway) so it’s easier for me to do it.  However, the canning is one thing that I think I would do even if it wasn’t cheaper or to save the fruit from going bad.  A couple of years ago, my grandparents had a bumper crop of tomatoes.  My grandmother has put her time into canning over the years and refuses to do it anymore.  So, I decided to give it a shot.  My mom walked me through it, and my grandpa gave me his supplies.  I will tell you, there is nothing cooler than using the ladle- THE ladle- that my grandpa and grandma used for years.  It is the perfect size for dumping the exact amount in the jar, and they were so protective of it that it still has their name on it.  You know you are special when you receive a gift like that.  I smile every time I use it!  When I see those jars lined up on the counter, I feel like I am part of some crazy inter-generational thing.  I know that at least three generations have got to some point in the canning process and thought to themselves, “I’m freaking nuts for doing this, and I’m never doing it again!” only to find themselves thinking the same thing the next year.  It’s like child birth- you forget how it is until you get into the middle of it again…  I love knowing that I’m a part of a line of people who are all a little nuts, and have been for many, many years!

There are other reasons why I suddenly became Holly Homemaker.  With all the allergies that I have, sometimes it is just easier to make things in my own kitchen.  When I do , then I am 100% certain that the ingredients in whatever I am making are not cross-contaminated, are safe for me to eat, and can be pronounced.  (Seriously, have you ever looked at the ingredients in store-bought chicken broth?  What the heck is autolyzed yeast?!?)  Not to mention, the things that are OK for me are often labeled “Vegan” or are made by some hoity-toity company that charges an arm and a leg.  Trust me; being gluten-free isn’t cheap.  Add the rest of it and your grocery bill can easily jump 30-50%. It kills me that my bread is $6, when I can often get the rest of the family’s bread in a 10 for $10 sale- and their bread is twice as big as mine! (Not to mention, it tastes better.  What a rip!)

God’s timing is perfect.  If I hadn’t had the FMLA issues with my maternity leave that forced me to quit my job and become a stay-at-home mom, there is no way that I would be able to make the things that I do.  My lack of a (paid) job has allowed me to experiment in the kitchen, search out hard to find ingredients and research different products sold in different places.  And I’ve been able to share that information with several people, all of whom I hope I’ve helped.  So, I get to help people and my family gets freshly made bread and homemade salsa.  And for those times when my experiments go horribly awry, the pizza place is on speed-dial.   It’s a win-win situation for all involved- especially for the pizza place!  J

Monday, September 19, 2011

Crankiness on a Monday Morning

I am cranky.  C-r-a-n-k-y.  Well, really more frustrated because I’m not an aunt again yet.  So, that makes me cranky.  As a result, you get to hear about my serious dislike of soy milk.  Not all soy milk, mind you- some of the organic versions really aren’t that bad.  But the brand Silk, the one I have 2 ½ gallons of in my fridge, is nasty.  You might ask why I would buy something I so obviously abhor.  Well, two reasons:  1. I always forget how nasty it is and 2.  I had a coupon- well, 2 coupons.  So, I have this crap, and now I have to drink it because I promised myself that the day that I didn’t use something that I bought because I had a coupon was the day that I threw my coupon binder in the trash.  

I’m not one of those crazy women who buy 54 bottles of mustard , even though their family doesn’t eat mustard, or like that one lady who bought 14 boxes of cereal that her son didn’t like but told him that he had to eat it because she had a coupon.  Yes, I have a binder.  Yes, I may be slightly addicted to couponing (seriously, you can’t beat the rush of saving 70+% when Marsh has triple coupons!) but I will not buy something that I won’t use.  Because my binder is beautiful and I put waaaay too much time into it to toss it.  So, I have to drink that sh%t.

As I said earlier, some soy milks are marginally acceptable.  It does seem that the organic brands don’t have the sliminess and aftertaste that Silk seems to have.  And I will admit that the chocolate versions are pretty tasty.  Personally, I like rice milk the best.  It is thin in texture compared to soy milk, but it doesn’t have any sort of aftertaste that you have to mask.  I can make gravy with it and it tastes like gravy.  And it is also suitable for cookie dunking.  The oreo clones from Kinnikinnick dunk into an ice-cold glass of rice milk rather well. 

The biggest thing that rice milk (and soy milk) has against them is that they aren’t really milk.  My grandpa once asked me how you milk a soy bean.  The answer?  Very carefully.  Cow’s milk has an almost velvety texture that you don’t really realize you like until it is out of reach.  In search of that texture I have tried several different types of milk alternatives.  Almond milk has a better texture, but a funky taste and coconut milk is just disgusting all-around.  For kicks, I even tried hemp milk- fitting, I know!  I took it on a camping trip to make The Ranger try it, too.  That was the camping trip when a VW minibus parked in the campsite next to us.  I was pretty sure that my people had come for me.  Hemp milk and a VW bus- coincidence?  I think not…

I know that I am not alone in my struggle to find a suitable milk substitute.  There are lots of people that are lactose intolerant or allergic to milk.  In fact, many celiacs are unable to digest milk for a good while after their diagnosis because the disease destroys the villi in the intestine.  It just so happens that the part of the villi that digests and absorbs milk is on the very top, so it is the first to go.  However, once the disease is diagnosed and a proper diet is followed, the villi heal and most celiacs are then able to have milk.  Unfortunately for me, my issue is an allergy.  I will never grow out of it or fix the issue- I can’t even do goat or sheep milk.  (Hey, when you are desperate, you are desperate!)  

So, I get cranky.  Then I deal.  I either eat my GF cookies with rice milk, or my new favorite way, with coffee and it works just fine.  So, I’ll survive without the nice cold glass of milk that I’ve been craving for a year and a half.  But I’d be a LOT happier about it if I was holding a baby…  J

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Great Baby Watch of 2011

It’s high alert time!  We’ve battened down the hatches, cleaned the house,  packed the bags, found books and magazines to read to pass the time, routed the way to the hospital, prepared the baby’s room, purchased the extra food, and made plans for the boys for when the trip to the hospital has to happen.  We are prepared and ready to go!

“But wait!” you say.  “Are you pregnant?  Are you due?  Seriously, you don’t look a day over 2 or 3 months…”  Ha, ha- very funny.  Oh, HECK no!  I’m not pregnant - nor will I ever be again, so you can just get that out of your head!  And I give the credit for my waistline to Trader Joe’s Cherry Chocolate Chip ice cream…

The Great Baby Watch of 2011 is for Ranger Rick and his wife.  Mrs. Ranger is about to bless us with another niece or nephew, well, any time now!  And when one of us gives birth, it’s a family affair.  Seriously, when I had my oldest, I was a little miffed that I didn’t get to be at the party in the waiting room.  It seemed like much more fun than the ordeal I was going through- and they had food!  So, for the second, we just had the party in the room with me!  (although they still wouldn’t let me have any food…)  So, with this baby, we have plans and back-up plans and back-up, back-up plans to make sure that we are duly represented in the waiting room.

Here’s the plan:  When the Ranger and the Mrs. are heading to the hospital, they bring Baby X’s sibling with them to meet with my Mom and Dad at the hospital.  The sibling and my Dad head over to “Kid Central”-which is my house- where Dad will watch the boys and my niece so Mom and I can go sit at the hospital and cause trouble, er, I mean, make sure that the doctors know what they are doing, er, I mean, sample all of the treats in the vending machines.  Yeah, that’s it!  Because we are pretty sure that the baby simply can’t be born unless we are there for moral support- it’s impossible!  So, we gladly do our part.

When Baby X’s sibling was born, I had just found out about my allergies.  Hospital cafeterias are somewhat difficult to maneuver through when you have to avoid wheat, eggs and dairy- and vending machines are next to impossible!  So, I learned to bring my own snacks.  It is even more important now that both Mom and I have to avoid gluten.  So, this is what is in my bag of snacks:
     1.  Kinnikinnick Chocolate Animal Crackers- great for the inevitable 3AM chocolate attack
     2.  Kinnitoos Oreo Clones- because nothing soothes the nerves like pulling cookies apart and eating them    piece by piece
     3.  Peanuts- the ultimate portable protein snack
     4.  Banana Chips- close enough to candy to make you feel like you are eating something naughty
     5.  Peanut Butter and GF Bread- just in case an actual meal is needed
     6.  Rice Crispie Treats- made with non-dairy butter and Gluten Free Rice Krispies, they travel and keep as  well as their delicious gluten-full alter-egos. 
     7.  Lots of quarters- for the occasional potato chip bag, bottle of water or can of pop you can’t live without.  Just watch out- the vending machine is “the debil!” as the Waterboy’s mom would say.  Lots of hidden ingredients that you wouldn’t think about that will make you sick.  Be extra careful with those quarters because the last thing you want to do is feel bad when you are partying, er, I mean, offering moral support…

It is possible to survive a hospital waiting room with allergies- it just takes a little bit of foresight and planning.  Combine that with the fact that a hospital cafeteria will most likely have some of the “healthy” options (like fresh fruit) that will be ok, and you are set!

Our bags are packed, we are READY to go!  I promise to mostly behave….  The Great Baby Watch of 2011 continues…

Monday, September 12, 2011

Meeting the Family- Protecting the Innocent

I’m going to get a little sentimental, I’ll warn you now…  September 11, 2001 scared the dookie out of me, and I get a little jittery each year on the anniversary.  Additionally, I am listening to a book called The Hiding Place, which is about what one family endured as part of the Dutch resistance during World War II.  And I’m about to become and aunt again- like, any second now, so family has really been on my mind lately.  Being a little sentimental is going to allow me to do a few things:  1. I can give my brothers the “blog names” that I brilliantly came up with this weekend (because we must protect the innocent you know…) 2. I can process a little bit about what I am feeling right now and 3. I can get to my actual point.  Let’s start at the top.  Hehehehe…

Protecting the Innocent...

If you haven’t figured it out by now, family is very, very important to me.  Although I don’t see my brothers as often as I would like (or should, with one living 7 miles away…) they are a huge part of my life and I am ridiculously proud of them.  You haven’t heard much about my oldest younger brother yet- but his wife is the one that made some seriously good GF cupcakes when I went to her Tupperware Party (If you want to have a party, email me and I’ll hook you up- she’s an amazing Tupperware lady!)  He is a fireman in a town very close to me, so we are going to call him “Fireman Sam.”  Fireman Sam was on my mind a lot yesterday, with all the 9/11 stuff happening.  Frankly, what he does terrifies me to no end, but it doesn’t surprise me that it’s what he chose to do.  We come from a long line of firemen on both sides of the family- and he does his job really, really well.   I’ve often thought that I am thankful that I got the allergies and not him- allergy cooking at firehouse probably wouldn’t go well.  The first time he brought them tofu, they probably would have thrown him down the fire pole chute!  I don’t tell him enough, but I’m very proud of “Sammie.”

You’ve heard a little bit more about my youngest brother.  He just recently switched jobs and is now a park ranger, so we will call him “Ranger Rick.”  Ranger Rick often teases me about all the  unusual stuff that I eat, but he is always the first to help me figure out how to make what we are eating work for me (“They’ve got rice…”)  He often calls me with recipes that he or his wife have made that are free of allergens for me, or can be converted easily.  And he’s always on the lookout for desserts for me.  Seriously, you can’t beat that!

So, as I contemplated my family, I started to realize how many people in my family have gluten intolerances.  I don’t remember how I got hooked up with her, but when I found out about my food allergies my dad’s cousin became a walking gluten library and all-around life saver for me- she and her son are both GF.  Then my mom figured out that she is gluten intolerant.  Then my cousin let me know that they are trying her son on a GF diet.  Then just the other day my husband’s cousin emailed me for help with gluten because her son was diagnosed with Celiac disease.  As I am telling my mom about that, she tells me that two more of my extended family has discovered gluten intolerances.  And we won’t even count the number of people that I know but aren’t related to who have GF issues- it’s depressing!   It’s a freaking epidemic, I’m telling you! 

It really is heading toward being an epidemic.  The number of cases of Celiac Disease and gluten intolerances has grown exponentially over the last few years, and no one knows why.  There are theories that include everything from better medical information and diagnosis to the idea that the wheat that we eat now has been so altered from its original state to allow for multiple harvestings in a year that it has so much more gluten in it.  I really don’t know- all I know is that I can’t eat it, and that stinks.

What terrifies me is that it is hereditary and often affects multiple members of families- ask my mom.  My poor boys have GF people on both sides of their gene pool.  My 5 (soon to be 6!) nieces and nephews have just as much of a chance of inheriting it.  And if any of them had to deal with this, it would break my heart. 

So, I often thank God that he gave this to me.  Yes, you read that right- I’m thankful for this crap. But I can’t always say that I’m happy about it.  And sometimes I get downright cranky about it…  However, I was raised to believe that you are never given anything you can’t handle.  And already I have been able to give information, advice and comfort to people who are lost or confused or don’t know exactly how begin- both in and out of my family.  That has to be the reason I was given this, ahem, gift, right?  So, if the day ever comes that one of my nieces or nephew has to give up their Cheerios and Oreos, they will know that Aunt Val has got their back- and a cookie that they can eat, too!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hippie Camping

Not exactly how we camp, but...

My family spent the past holiday weekend camping with my parents and my younger brother and his family at Waveland Lake, up by Crawfordsville, IN.  We sat around and talked, we ate, some of us swam, we ate, some of us fished, we ate, my youngest son broke my nose with his head, we ate, we went hiking at the Shades of Death State Park, we ate, I mutilated some poor fish when my dad tried to teach me to fillet, and we ate some more (but not until I washed my hands.  Fish are slimy!)

Ever since my youngest was about 4 months old, we have gone camping every year on Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day.  Sometimes it is hot; sometimes it is cold.   This year it rained on every Sunday we were camping, and this past weekend we endured a 40 degree difference in highs from Friday to Monday!

Packing for the crazy weather aside, the hardest thing about camping (other than the ridiculous trails that my brother keeps sending us hiking on- I still hurt and I didn’t even do that hard part!) is feeding me.  Unlucky for my mom, but very lucky for me, Mom and I share the same gluten intolerance so that definitely helps.  What also helps is that we share the responsibility of bringing meals between the three families represented.   With three different brains working on it, we can figure out meals that translate into GF/DF/EF pretty easily.  For instance, this year my family contributed tacos and burritos- ever that quintessential camping meal, right? ;)  It works though- my oldest son loves “burrrrrit-oes” as he calls them;  my youngest loves a good deconstructed taco (everything just piled on a plate) and my adorable red-headed niece is a big fan of her Aunt Val’s Mexican rice.  Mexican cuisine is the first thing I always point to when people say, “How do you do this?” because it is naturally mostly gluten-free- especially if you stick with corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas.  It is also easy to leave off the dairy ingredients, and as long as you stay away for the huevos or anything breaded, you miss the egg component as well.  To add to the “feeling normal” aspect of it, there are a few dairy-free sour cream replacers that really do the job.  My favorite is by a brand named Tofutti and is called Sour Supreme.  The stuff adds the creaminess that I used to get with cheese to just about anything I put it in.  I miss cheese…

  Along the same lines as our taco contribution, my brother’s family brought a Taco/Ranch burger that was really, really good!  If I had been able to put a slice of pepper-jack cheese on the top….heaven!  My mom and dad contributed pork barbecue to the party.  Using Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce and letting the pork cook all day in the crock pot, Mom made some of the best barbeque I’ve ever had.  And she found some rolls made by Schar that we used for buns.  Sooo yummy!

So all in all, I was thankful that hiking at the Shades of Death didn’t do me in- I had too much good food to eat!  Adding all the fun we had, the chocolate soy milk that was really, really good in coffee and the care taken to make sure that I had everything I needed (including graham crackers and dark chocolate for s’mores) it was a fantastic camping trip- for everyone but that poor, poor fish…  

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Like Father, Like Daughter

My Dad and I are two peas in a pod.  Some of my fondest memories from growing up are of things I did with him- mushroom hunting, racing slot cars, trains and RC cars, playing baseball outside with my brothers, Walley Ball in the garage, fishing over at the neighbor’s pond, etc, etc.  I could go on and on and on!  

Dad's Graduation from Indiana Wesleyan

To this day, we still have things that we do much the same way.  We both lose gas caps.  We read a lot of the same books and listen to books on CD during long car trips.  I remember once when I was riding in his old beater truck- I believe it was aptly named “J.T”, which stood for “Junk Truck”- the door fell off as we were going down the road.  Funny enough, the other day my door fell off, luckily not while I was going down the road. (Another story for another blog, I’m afraid…)  I half cut my thumb off the other day while cooking and a band-aid wouldn’t stay on because it was bleeding too much.  How did I fix it?  Duct tape, of course!  One of my mantras in life is that Duct tape fixes everything, and I learned this from my dad.  As I was wrapping my thumb with a wad of paper towel and the ever-useful grey tape, I thought to myself, “My dad will be so proud of me!”

Something else I learned from my dad is that a trip to the dentist should be topped off with a trip to the ice cream store.  When I was growing up in Greensburg, there was a Cow Palace that was in the same parking lot as my dentist.  Every time Dad took us to the dentist, we ended up stalling the required time for the fluoride treatment to set, and then we’d head over to Cow Palace.  They sold a gallon of milk in a bag that you put in this weird contraption so you could pour it out, and they sold the best ice cream in town.  Sadly enough, that Cow Palace in Greensburg went out of business ages ago, although there is still one in Shelbyville.  When I was at Franklin College (Go Grizzlies!), I brought lots of my friends to Shelbyville for the best ice cream around.  And when I had to take that stupid biology summer course, I always stopped on my way for a Swiss Chocolate Almond milkshake to make me feel better about feeding worms on my summer break.  Trust me; that was almost as bad as going to the dentist…

Because ice cream was linked with making things better in my head, I felt that it was especially cruel that I couldn’t have any when I most desperately needed it during the dark days of this adventure.  They do have soy ice cream, coconut ice cream, almond milk ice cream and I’m sure others, but they just didn’t have the creamy texture that I so desperately craved in my ice cream treats.  Even covered in vegan hot fudge I made, it just didn’t do it.   

Fast forward to about 3 months ago.  Chris and I had taken the boys to Broadripple and decided to get some ice cream.  We went to this little place we found on the Monon called Brics.  As I finished ordering for the boys, the gal says, “And what about you?”  I say, “None for me- can’t have diary.”  She shocks me by pulling me to the back room and showing me a small freezer full of dairy-free ice cream that I had the choice of to put on my gluten free ice cream cone!  She went on to tell me that they always keep a stock of dairy-free choices in the store and try to keep the GF cones as well.  Every time I have been there, they have never disappointed!  And, they introduced me to my favorite diary-free ice cream- Trader Joe’s Cherry Chocolate Chip soy ice cream.  I’m telling you, it is heaven in a bowl with the perfect texture- and reasonably priced as well.

So now, when we go out for ice cream as a family, Mom gets to have some, too.  And when the world is just ticking me off, I have the ability to have a bowl of yummy goodness in the comfort of my own home.  I also recently learned that Hershey’s Shell doesn’t have anything that I react to in it, so the Trader Joe’s vanilla soy ice cream has a special place in my heart right now, too.

Not long ago, we had a party for one of the boys at my Mom and Dad’s house.  I took ice cream for everyone and my own ice cream for me.  I offered my ice cream to anyone who wanted to try it.  A family friend looked at me with a slightly disturbed look and said, “Val, if it doesn’t have milk in it, then it just isn’t ice cream!”  That may be true, but it sure takes the sting out of going to the dentist!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hippie Eggs

One day I really wanted scrambled eggs.  I mean, really wanted scrambled eggs.  Which is funny because I never really liked eggs until I was told I couldn’t have them.  So, I got out one of my trusty cookbooks for allergy-free cooking- The Everything Food Allergy Cookbook.  In it, there is a recipe for “ Egg-less Scrambled Eggs.”  A little tofu, a little turmeric, and I had a suitable substitute for scrambled eggs.  I mixed in some onions, mushrooms and a little vegan cheese.  Then I added some gluten-free toasted bread on the side and I was in heaven!

Hippie Eggs with Spam

 Of course, T- my youngest- also wanted some scrambled eggs, so I fixed him the real deal.  And then I fixed him another. And another.  And another.  As fast as I could cook the eggs, he would eat them and ask for more.   Finally, we ran out of eggs!  So, I forked some of my “eggs” onto his plate.  Suddenly, he wasn’t hungry anymore….  The plate was spilled on the floor a few minutes later and Biscuit the dog came running over to see what wonderous food had been dropped from the sky.  I’m not kidding you, Biscuit took one sniff of the turmeric-laced forgery and ran and hid in the other room!  That’s when I had to ‘fess up to myself: Tofu-Turmeric eggs are NOT eggs.  Not even close.  But it got me through the craving and that was what mattered. 
Note:  Yes, the above picture has Spam in it.  Yes, Spam is gluten-free.  Yes, there is a story behind why I was eating Spam.  No, I don't do it frequently, and no, I'm not going to tell you the story today- that's a whole separate post. Oh, the shame! :)

I’m a firm believer that if I’m going to get through this- and by “this” I mean live with these allergies for the rest of my life- I’m going to have to engage in a little trickery.  A sleight of hand, if you will.  Fool my eyes and I am halfway to fooling my brain.  Smooshed tofu turned yellow by the tasteless spice totally looked like eggs (well, maybe I had to squint a little bit…) and I survived another day happy and content with my lot in life. 

The longer I go without eating “the real thing”, the easier it is for me to accept the substitute.  Some days I am absolutely convinced that I have stumbled upon a carbon copy of whatever dish I am trying to replicate.  The people around me are less convinced.  But, you know, I’m ok with that.  They can have the original of whatever it is, and I’ll be happy with my substitute.   The dog and I’ll be over here enjoying our gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free treat!

  Biscuit!  Biscuit?  She really is a smart dog…

Friday, August 26, 2011

They’ve Got Rice- You’ll Be Fine!

You know, you are going along, happily living your life and minding your own business.  Then one day, fate decides to have a little bit of fun:  BAM- You can’t have gluten!  THWACK- there goes dairy!  SHAZAAM- eggs are now the devil!  

Suddenly, going out to eat is a major traumatic event.  Pitch-ins at church are a cause to cry.  Family meals are a mine-field.  You want to remain as “normal” as possible and you don’t want to cause trouble for anyone.  You don’t want to draw attention to yourself.  You don’t want to hear, “Oh, goodness!  Your life sure does suck now!” or “Just a little bit won’t hurt you.  Surely you can just have a small piece.”  You resist the urge to say, “Yes it does-and don’t call me Shirley” and most of the time you resist the urge to eat whatever goodie is proffered by the well-meaning friend.  But sometimes you don’t.  And those times, you pay for it; your husband pays for it; your kids pay for it.  Because it turns out that eating even a small, tiny, minuscule taste of the delicious and forbidden treat not only gives you a stomach ache and those other symptoms never to be discussed on the internet, but it also turns you into a stark-raving b$#@* about 24 hours after you eat the glutinous/milky/eggy delicacy. 

That’s what happened to me, anyway.  I’m convinced that my family thought I was half out of my mind when I came home with the diagnosis, but they completely rallied around me anyway.  They have all been supportive in their own way.  My husband encourages me to fix the entire family meal GF/DF/EF and eats whatever I fix, however I fix it- never, ever complaining (even if he probably should.)  My grandmother always has something that I can eat when I go to her house, and planning the holiday dinners has now become an exercise in creativity for us.  My grandpa is constantly quizzing my parents on what items I have found, and trying to find me new and inventive things to eat.  My sister-in-law makes some ah-may-zing GF food for me when we are together.  My father-in-law goes out of his way to make meals that have components for me, including finding a special bread mix that I continue to use to this day- Hodgson Mill Gluten Free Bread Mix.  My mother-in-law makes me birthday brownies.  My brothers make fun of me.  Its cool- if they didn’t, I would think they didn’t love me anymore!   And my mom became gluten intolerant herself.  If that’s not love, I don’t know what is! ;)

As we go along, I am learning to be more out-spoken about my needs.  And I have found that people don’t mind catering to the issues that I have.  Even my brothers are looking out for my welfare.  My sister-in-law decided one day that her pregnancy required a trip to the China Buffet.  Mom and I were in one car and they were in another.  We followed them, not knowing where we were heading, and parked in front of the restaurant.  About the time that Mom gets the words, “Can you eat anything here?” out of her mouth, my brother motions for me to roll down my window.  I roll it down and he yells, “They’ve got rice!  You’ll be fine!”  See?  He loves me!

Even friends at church have my back.  One gal makes a fabulous quinoa salad that normally calls for feta, but when she brings it to a pitch-in she brings a small “Val-friendly” bowl so I can eat it as well.  The amazing woman who often brings food for the women’s bible study is always finding gluten-free goodies for me, and hooks me up with peanuts or other fun treats when we go on road trips.  Another friend will always make sure that we go somewhere I can easily manipulate the food when we go out to eat as a staff- without me having to utter a word.  These are little things that these girls do because that is who they are- but it means so much to me that someone works so hard to make sure I can enjoy whatever activity we are doing. 

Allergies be darned, I am such a lucky girl!  Nothing warms your heart more than a family member or friend taking it upon themselves to do something special for you to help you feel normal- except maybe your brother yelling, “They’ve got rice…” 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A-blogging We Will Go...

Hippie by default?  Meat-eating Vegan?  Let me explain…
If you are a hippie or a vegan, please don’t be mad at me.  It’s just a good way to explain the funny curveball life has thrown my way.  Besides, I love hippies!  And vegans!  They are great people (for the most part) and they often have food I can eat, and you can’t go wrong if you can feed me! 

This crazy ride all started about a year and a half ago.   I went to the doctor with some icky symptoms and a general feeling that something was just not right with me.  I was napping 2+ hours every day, sleeping long hours at night, having frequent migraines, feeling depressed and all around sick and tired of being sick and tired.  (There are more graphic symptoms that do not belong on the internet- ick.  However, if you feel like it will help you, let’s talk.  Just not in public.)  My doctor started with blood tests,  and the results prompted a visit to a specialist and then an allergist.  Every time I talked to a different doctor, they had more test results that took more food away.  When it was all said and done, and I was WELL past my insurance deductible, it was determined that I have an allergy to wheat, dairy and eggs, and I am gluten intolerant.  (Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats.  Darn.) 

I grew up spending parts of each summer in Wisconsin, eating my weight in cheese.  My favorite snack when I was growing up was bread and nacho cheese dip.  I could take or leave eggs, but I sure like cake and cookies- which requires eggs! (Not to mention chocolate chips and flour- those are things that I now call “Dishes of Death.”  Double Darn.)  Seriously- what the heck happened to me?  A common theory is that a major event can trigger the onset for the gluten intolerance.  Maybe having that come out brought the other symptoms to light.  I really have no idea.  But, what I do know is that I can trace the beginning of my symptoms showing up with frequency back to the time when my second child was born.  It’s a good thing I love that kid!

So, now I can describe myself as a gluten-free, meat-eating vegan.  Think about it- true vegans don’t eat any diary or eggs.  Hey, me neither!  But I do eat meat.  Meat-eating vegan.   The hippie thing is how my husband describes all the “weird” food I now eat.  Seriously, would you even attempt Millet (a grain)  if you didn’t have to?  Most people don’t put tofu on their grocery list unless it’s on a dare…  So, Chris   says I’m a hippie by default.  As I said, I like hippies- nice people- so I take it as a compliment! 

Over the last year and a half, I have tried desperately to stay “normal.”  I miss cookies.  I miss cakes. I miss bacon-double cheeseburgers from A&W and taco pizza from the Pizza King in Greensburg.  I miss CHEESE!  So I try to find a substitute for all of them.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  My husband said I should be writing it all down, and that I should share it with the world.  The whole, “If you help just one person, it’s worth it” thing.  Personally, I think he’s hoping that if I write it out to you, then I’ll stop talking about it to him.  Little does he know, this will backfire horribly.  Who else am I going to bounce ideas off of?  Mua-hahahaha!

So, I’m giving it a shot.  We will see what happens when we actually get into the swing of this, but I’m thinking that this is going to be a place to share the positive things I have found- and hopefully spare you from a personal experience with the negatives.  Most of this won’t be my own ideas, but instead a roadmap pointing you to fabulous things I have found.  For instance, the first thing I’m going to share is that if you haven’t been to, you should go there.  Right now.  Seriously, I’ll wait.  Nicole, the author of the blog and a cookbook by the same name, is down to earth, friendly and my gluten-free hero.  When it all just sucks so badly that I can’t stand the thought of one more bowl of rice, I go get a dose of her humor and sarcasm.  And her recipe for pie crusts, and chocolate chip cookies, and flat bread, and about 2 million other amazing recipes she has.  I’ll let her make them up, and I’ll send you to her.  As long as you promise to come back to me.

So, that’s it, in a very long and wordy nutshell.  If there is something you need to know, or you want me to discuss, share it in the comments section, or send me an email!  I’ve been thinking about writing this for about a month and I’ve got approximately 5 ideas.  It might get dicey after that…  Isn’t the internet grand?  J  But if I can help just one person…