Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day!

Every family has their issues, there is no doubt about it, but when I was growing up I was pretty certain that my family was close to perfect. My mom and my dad loved each other dearly and I never saw them fight. I had two siblings and we lived in a beautiful suburban home with a wishing well and white picket fence. On nice days we would ride our bikes all over the neighborhood finding friends or going to the park. My mom worked on her garden and my father with his cars or on the house. In the hot summer afternoons, my siblings and I would run to my father and beg him for spare change for the ice cream man, something he could never resist.

 My father was always a strong man. In our home, there was no doubt that my mother was the boss, he even admits it, but my father was our example of what a man was supposed to be. Everyday he got up in the wee hours of the morning to hit the road to get to work near the city. Sometimes I would wake and watch him getting ready to go, doing his morning routine. I am not sure why I watched him, I guess my dad always fascinated me in some way. My siblings would tell you that I was his favorite with a snarky look on their faces and he was certainly one of my most favorite people.

He was a cobbler and work with his hands making things new that were once old and worn out. He used leather like it was butter, molding things into a beautiful fine shining finish. My friend's parents were laborers of some kind or worked in offices in stuffy suits, I was certain that my dad was so mush more skilled than anyone else's father could possibly be.

 Aside of his profession, my father could solve any problem. Whether it was a split hose or a sunken roof, my dad came up with an amazingly genius way to fix it. He didn't rely on anything other than a stack of Time Magazine's home repair books that he bought to reference in his home ownership shortly after my parents were married. I would watch my father with a pencil in his hand sketching out ideas to resolve some problem he was faced with. I loved watching my dad think.

When I grew up and had my first child, I knew what a father should be, I had watched mine my entire life. I knew what a family should be, my parents raised us in a loving and complete home. I knew what I wanted my children to have. I wasn't however prepared for what direction life would take me, undoubtedly for the poor decisions that I made.

 In 2009 my life changed completely and irreparably. My marriage was over and the dreams I had for giving my children the childhood I had had, was gone. Don't get me wrong, the decisions that were made within those few months of my life were the best decisions I had made (minus a few little scuffles) for myself and especially my children and I haven't regretted them since. But I felt for so long that I was failing my children because they would not have the father and mother, the family unit that I had had. I tried to think that everything was the best for my children and with our family supporting me and them, they would not miss what was now gone.

 I was now a single mother to two kids, one with high needs and Asperger's Syndrome. I had no delusions that I would be single and simply have to be the best that I could be for my kids. It was role I was not prepared for but with my mother and father standing beside me, I knew that my children would not suffer.

Life is funny though. I am absolutely positive that God is somewhere watching my life unfold with a glint in his eye and possibly a bucket of popcorn. Somehow I managed to run into MacLeod, someone who had been there for so long but I had never seen. He too had suffered a terrible divorce, but also had come from a wonderful and loving family. Before long my own children looked to him for support and love. I didn't think that I could possibly give my children what I had always dreamed for them, the life I had growing up in my family, but now they do. They have two parents in their home who they can see modeling a good and caring relationship and more than anything see what my dad taught me, what a father should be.

Happy Father's Day daddy, I love you so much. Thank you for looking past all my failings and my faults and loving me no matter what. ... and Happy Father's Day MacLeod, you are such a loving, wonderful father to your own kids, a love you have been selflessly sharing with my children. We love you and are happy to be able to call you ours.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Gluten-Free Birthday Cake Challenge: Sculpted Vanilla Almond Cake

Once upon a time I was a pretty fabulous baker. I made beautiful cakes of fun and fanciful design that people,  for the most part loved. I thought I was pretty good at it, alas, after some outside forces made so irreversible damage, I had to hang up my apron. It wasn't something I really wanted to do, but I didn't have many options.

If anyone knows me though, they know that its just about impossible for me to stand still. Since I was not professionally baking anymore, I thought it was high time that I start to really work on my families diet and what we were consuming. With kiddo, I had wanted to try a gluten-free diet for a really long time but had never put the time into really figuring out how to do so.

So one day I walked into the pantry, grabbed my apron and wrapped that sucker around myself once again. This time I was going to bake differently, this time... it was gluten-free!

I was surfing the web on some of my favorite gluten-free blogs and came across The Daily Dietribe's Gluten-free Cake Contest to celebrate blogger Iris's 30th birthday! What better opportunity to post a new cake recipe and showcase a new favorite cake of mine?!

This year, MacLeod got to have his first ever gluten-free birthday cake. Per my old professional baking days, I had to follow a theme for the party down to the cake. The party was a Snatch theme, a movie we both love. The party was at a local bar and I went early to set up wall decor, a roulette wheel and table, a table with "Snatch wearables" that included some costume items for guests to look like Snatch characters, the cake table and a number of posters printed from the movie. It looked just FABULOUS and he was so surprised.

MacLeod loves my Bacon Cake, which I also make gluten-free now, but I wanted a cake with a little more crowd appeal, so I went with another one of my favorites, Vanilla Almond Cake with chocolate ganache filling. Making casein-free ganache was a new one for me, but I got no complaints from the cake eaters. 

Hopefully my cake is Iris-worthy! Happy Birthday lady, love your blog!

Vanilla Almond Cake with Chocolate Ganache Filling

2 ½ C GF flour blend (see recipe for flour blend)
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ C Earth Balance spread
1 C unrefined sugar

1/4 C agave syrup or honey
2 eggs, or egg replacement
¾ C Rice milk
1 tsp GF Vanilla

1 tsp GF Almond Extract

Ganache Filling

2 C Ghirardelli 60% Dark Chocolate Morsels (or other Gluten-free chocolate chips)
1 C Rice Milk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2- 9” cake pans with shortening and dust with flour blend. 

In a bowl, whisk together flour blend, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine margarine and sugar and mix on medium speed until grainy. Add eggs, one at a time while blade is still running. Stop machine and scrape the sides of the bowl to thoroughly combine the sugar mixture and eggs. 
Combine rice milk and vanilla in a measuring cup. On low speed, add ¼ C of flour mixture to egg/sugar mixture. Allow the flour mixture to combine and then add ¼ C of rice milk to the bowl, while still running. Alternate wet and dry until all ingredients have been added. Scrape sides of the bowl and mix for 30 seconds to completely combine. 

Pour the batter evenly into the prepared cake pans and bake approximately 30 minutes or until golden around the edges and the cake springs back when you touch the center. 

Rest 10 minutes in the pan and then remove and cook on a wire rack and decorate. 


Place chocolate chips in a heat resistant bowl with enough room to add milk. 
In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the rice milk until it is hot but not boiling. Pour milk over chocolate chips and allow to set for about 5 minutes to melt the chips. Stir the mixture until the chocolate is completely melted. Allow it to cool to a spreadable consistency. 


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gluten-free Bento Lunches, Part 3: Stuffed Bread Characters!

So as I head towards bento amazingness, I am learning a number of different techniques for making the average sandwich a little more interesting. A few days ago I decided that I would give a go at stuffed sandwich characters. I set off with wonderful instruction from Bentolicious. I am not even going to try to replicate instructions because her's are perfect and so easy to follow, they are truly AH-mazing. You can find her tutorial here. 

I will totally admit my first effort was pretty ugly. My bread had an airhole in it and the filling first oozed out then ultimately exploded. It was such an incredible mess and made for a less than savory lunch. My homemade gluten-free bread was a little more airy than usual so it made the first effort trying. I set off this morning, new loaf of bread, with the determination to make a stuffed character sandwich. This time out I think I did ok. I could definitely still use more practice but kiddo launched off the bus yesterday afternoon yelling "I looooved my sandwiches mom!" So I think I managed to do ok.

My suggestion for stuffed sandwiches is to start off with some bread that you don't mind possibly wasting. Inevitably the first or second go around will be not so great. I did three before I managed to get these little bear sandwiches. Also be very careful how much filling you place in the middle, too much and it will either not seal or will ooze. As mentioned in Bentolicious's tutorial, warming the bread a wee bit can help, something like 10 second or less.

I am going to keep on working on my characters, I want to make some recognizable characters for my kiddos one of these days!

For today's lunch I served up homemade goldfish crackers (gluten-free), 1/2 a sliced apple in wedges and the other half with a not-so-perfect checkerboard design. The character sandwiches are rather small so I made one medium and one smaller, one filled with meat and cheese and the smaller one filled with Nutella for a dessert-y touch. For a little protein and veggies we have ham rolls with baby carrots.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Summer Pinto Bean Dip

I recently decided that my slow assent into dairy-freeness is not going to be as slow as I first anticipated. Since I have a slew of odd medical maladies that I am working on eliminating, I thought it was probably best to eliminate the things I know already cause problems to my body. After a bout of hives last week, I decided the time was now and it would be cold turkey. 

Normally I am not one of those people who really craves things like cheese dips or longs for tasty treats in the grocery isle. I like to think that I have a pretty good sense of what is good and not good for my body. I have long eliminated artificial colorings and additives to what we eat. Since I have talked about it since we went gluten-free, I didn't think it would be a challenge to eliminate dairy completely from my diet. I did however underestimate how strong a hold cheese has on me. 

Folks, I am in serious cheese withdraw here. I didn't realize, but basically EVERYTHING I ate contain some sort of cheese or creamy sauce. So for the last 5 days now, I have been jonsing big time for cheese. Last night MacLeod sat down with what he calls his "dog food dip" which is comprised of spicy Italian sausage, salsa and cheese. I nearly clocked him. 

I am just trying to remind myself that I know this is for the betterment of my body, which is thanking me already as evidenced by the lack of GI discomfort and hives. Its not something anyone is making me do... nope, its for my own good. Repeat, again and again. 

So in substitution of the cheesy GI hell dip, I came back to a favorite bean dip that never fails me. It's low in fat, high in fiber and super in flavor. I whip this together and grab of bag of  (gluten-free) tortilla chips and I could seriously eat the whole bowl. I had some friends over the other night for game night and was about to tell tell "umm, yeah, I love you guys, but your really gonna have to step away from my dip now."

So I will cling to my bean dip while I move into a second week totally dairy free. Heaven help me! 

Summer Pinto Bean Dip

1- 14oz. can pinto beans
2 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 Tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4-1/2 small jalapeno pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 lime

  1. In a food processor add beans, tomatoes, cilantro, pepper, salt and ground pepper. Squeeze the juice from the lime to the other ingredients. 
  2. Pulse the mixture until it is just starting to get smooth. 
  3. Serve with toasted bread of chips. 
*It is important to chop the cilantro before adding it to the processor or the springs of herb and just going to get stuck around the blade and not in the dip. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Asperger's Parenting: Managing the Meltdown

The Red Feather

“No it’s not that one, MINE was very fluffy and about this long.”

I wished Saturday evening that I had known about the red feather and all it had meant to kiddo after tolerating an afternoon at a kids party. I had to step out of the party with MacLeod to deliver a cake. When I got back, the kiddos seemed to be enjoying themselves and I didn’t hear anything about any problems.

We left the party and headed to the grocery store to pick up a few items to make for dinner. In the seafood section there was a bin with ice that had been used to hold raw shrimp. The kiddos immediately started to play in it. Ack! I yelled, “Ugh! Get your hands out of there that was holding raw fish!” There was a sanitizer pump, so we directed them to it. But I noticed that kiddo had a wet red feather… I could almost see the fishy bacteria growing on it. I told him to toss it and he glared at me and yelled “NO, I WON’T!” I told him to come over to me and said that it was in raw fish, he HAD to throw it out. He screamed in my face “NO!” MacLeod was not keen on his being disrespectful and told kiddo he needed to toss the feather and sanitize his hands. Kiddo screamed again, spiked the wet feather to the floor and started to stomp off. Yes, this was all in the seafood section of the grocery store and yes, people were looking. Silly, I had some strange idea that it would blow over and we could grab what we needed.

Kiddo was standing near the meat counter and I approached him, he started to tug at tuffs of his hair and hit himself in the head. Within moments he was on his back on the floor, kicking his shoes across the aisle. I knew that he was done. I picked him up off the floor as he bucked and put him inside the shopping cart. I said to MacLeod, “let’s move!” Grabbing one more item on the way, we headed straight to the checkout. Kiddo was sitting Indian-style in the cart, shoeless, tugging his hair. I leaned down to try to talk to him, putting my hand on his shoulder. He screamed “DON’T TOUCH ME!!!” Ok, too soon, I backed off. The rest of the trip, including the check out took us another 5 minutes, and he sat quietly while we went through the line.

Suddenly, as MacLeod was paying he looked up at me and said “mom, how do you know that stingrays are dangerous? Just because people have been injured doesn’t mean that they are really going to hurt you, they might be protecting themselves.” What?! His face was clear, tears gone, anger gone and a look of wonderment back in his eyes as he contemplative the nature of stingrays.

It’s just like that. One minute he is far away from me and I can’t reach him. Then he comes back.

Later that night I called my mom. She had been at the party early on, but left right before I had gotten back to it. I called to see how things were while I was gone. She said that when she arrived kiddo was having a meltdown. Lil Sis had taken his red feather and lost it and he needed to find it. He said he hates her and wanted to hit her if she didn’t. So my mom took kiddo inside and started hunting for it. He asked the server at the restaurant “Have you seen my feather?” They had not, only had a pile of some other feathers which were clearly NOT the same. As I had told my mom we try to do, she redirected him to playing with a ball with another child. He didn’t lose sight of his lost feather issue, but he wasn’t falling apart about it. Eventually he found the coveted feather and was right as rain.

Had I known the feather meant so much, I may have addressed the wet fishy feather issue a little differently. Sometimes you can change things that affect the outcome, sometimes it is just going to happen.
I know that people look at kiddo and think, “wow, look at that boy having a tantrum. His parents must spoil him to death or not discipline him at all.” Yeah. No that is about as far from the truth as can be. My child has Asperger’s. I am not a terrible mom and his life isn’t horrible. I know that when he has a meltdown, sometimes there is nothing that I can do. I have to be able to be ok with knowing that and work through it with him or simply wait. I also have to take ridicule from people who think that they are either a much better parent than me or know better how to handle the situation. That’s ok; I know my child and I love him. I know that I am doing the best that I can and he is going to be just fine. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Gluten-free Bento Lunches, Part 2: Laptop Lunches

So my first jump into bento style lunches was with Laptop Lunches, a bento system that is sold together or in parts. The two kits that I purchased were complete systems that included four inner compartments, stainless steel fork and spoon, outer case and a carrying bag. At the store they retailed for $39.99 each.

Early last year upon visiting my kids school for lunch, I had made my mind up that I was going to stop with school lunches, even though it made life much easier. If it was something that I looked at and was revolted by, why on earth would I allow my kids to consume it. I started to put together lunches for the kids, but I just found that I was using so many plastic baggies and containers, I really wanted something that was a unit.  I admit I had been pretty hard up to get these containers for a while. I had seen them in my local Wegman's Grocery store and kind of coveted them.
I really think the Laptop Lunches systems are a great buy. After using them for almost a year now, I have found them to be pretty indispensable. The containers are easy to clean (just be VERY careful about the dishwasher if they fall down by the element, they are a melted mess) and very durable. It makes it pretty easy to portion out your kid's lunch across the daily meal requirements, ie vegetable/fruit, protein, dairy etc. The system even comes with a really nice booklet to help you get started. It talks about the environmental benefits of using the system and includes some nice recipe ideas too. 

While I do love the system, I do have a few complaints. I sort of wish that all the containers came with lids. I would like the option to be able to use each space lidded or not. For instance if you put two crunchy snacks in with a sandwich or some veggies, the un-lidded snack would get all soft or soggy. I also think that for the $39.00 that the system should come with the water bottle or cooling pack. While I do think that the kit on it's own is worth the money because you really get a great deal of use out of it, lets be honest, $39.00 for a lunch box is not cheap. I think I would also like to have the company offer a few different size containers than what is standard. I would like to be able to have the freedom to be a little more bento-y with my lunches, but the containers as they are are pretty size restricting for cute food design. 

All in all, I think that Laptop Lunches are great place to start for bento. It gives you a clear idea of how to portion and get started. Its my go-to system when I am a little short on time.