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!