Sunday, May 25, 2008

So Long My Friend

This week we said goodbye to my friend and classmate, Barbara. This photo was taken at one of several events where Barbara (left), Flamenco Dad (seated), myself, and Bobbie (right) had the pleasure of performing together. Barbara and Bobbie are twins, and have spent their entire lives as companions, support systems, and friends--even when separated by entire continents.

Barbara and Bobbie were born almost seventy-five years ago in the city I now call home. For many years, both worked for the government as secretaries for various military officials. Their jobs took them all over the world: Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Carribean. Barbara even worked under an assistant to the US Secretary of State (can't tell you which one: she never told me). But one of the things people--myself included--found most fascinating about Barbara was her five years traveling as a performing with the Ringling Brothers Circus. She even joked that even though she worked under some big muckety-mucks in government, "Everybody wanted to hear about me riding elephants." Barbara also performed as a trapeze artist; when I heard that one, I couldn't believe my ears.

I really enjoyed spending time with Barbara and Bobbie. Outside of class and rehearsals I got to hear stories about their upbringing, their lives abroad, and all the history they witnessed. It was truly a blessing to get to know them both. Barbara passed away this week, and I'm truly going to miss her. I feel for her family, who is missing a dear loved one. And I feel for her sister most of all, who is now missing her other half. I read in the paper today that Barbara's headstone reads "Ward Twins" under her name, and has a heart that is broken in half. How fitting.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ice Cream Sandwiches

Today Zoe and I decided that we'd make a treat to usher in the unofficial start of summer. Since I'm not in much of a mood to bake today (more on that in tomorrow's post), we grabbed some dairy-free ice cream and some gfcf cookies and made some ice cream sandwiches. My daughter was in a bit of a hurry to eat hers, so rather than force her to watch longingly while I photograph her dessert, I just let her eat it. I figured I could snap a few candid shots while she had dessert and get her thoughts on the dessert. She loved it; in fact, she sat in complete silence and proceeded to slowly and deliberately devour the entire thing. I asked her more than once while she was eating what she thought of it; and she just kept right on eating. Once she was done, she told me that she liked it. And she also told me to stop taking pictures while she's trying to eat. Sorry, Zoe.

Friday, May 23, 2008

How Do You Do Lunch?

I am often asked how Zoe does lunch at school. It goes without saying that, given her dietary restrictions, Zoe can't just walk up to the lunch lady and grab a tray of what everyone else is having. We've been bagging school lunches for six years now; and as the daily routine of packing lunches developed I started to think more about waste-free (or reduced-waste) lunches. Think about it: all those years of zip-top bags and other assorted packaging really adds up.

And then I found out about Laptop Lunches. They are inspired by the Japanese Bento lunchboxes commonly used in Asia (and gaining in popularity here in the US). The company was founded in California by two moms who were looking for ways to help parents provide low-waste, nutritious lunches to their kids. Great idea, right?

There are lots of things I like about this product. First of all, everything is in its own compartment. Like many kids, Zoe HATES when different foods that don't belong together mingle with each other on a plate. Since everything is stored separately, that is not an issue. Second, organizing food this way goes a long way in teaching my kids about nutrition. When Zoe sits down to lunch every day she looks at a well-balanced meal with proper servings of fruit, vegetables, protein, etc. As someone who came from a home where good nutrition wasn't promoted, I want to reinforce the concepts of healthy eating. Next, this product goes a long way in reducing the amount of trash we generate each day. Again I go back to all those zip-top bags and single-serving products (like juice containers) that we used to use. The lunch system comes home with Zoe every day, I wash it, and we're good to go the next day. Finally, how cute is this thing? The photo above is from the company's website, but Zoe's is an adorable pink one that has a carrying case guessed it, PINK!

I'm buying one for myself to take lunch with me to school; Zoe refuses to share hers with me, even over the summer. I'll be in school full time starting in August, so I need my own anyway. Of course I can't do pink, but perhaps periwinkle blue, or multi-color.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Beta-Carotene with Dessert

I bought a gigantic bag of organic carrots at Publix last week, and have been working my way through that bag via as many culinary applications as I can. I've been cutting up some carrots daily and leaving them on my kitchen counter as a great snack food for us and the kiddies, I've served them with a delicious white bean and garlic spread, soup, name it, I'm trying it. Ayden mentioned that he was afraid he'd turn orange after eating all these carrots--apparently there was an episode of The Magic Schoolbus where one of the kids turns an interesting shade of orange after eating too many carrots. Go figure!

I decided to resurrect a carrot cake recipe that I used to make (in the pre-gfcf days), and began tweaking it so that it's Zoe (and Mom) friendly.
The results? Well, I'm of two minds about this one. The plusses: the cake came out very moist, definitely a good thing. The mixture of flour I used (sorghum, rice, arrowroot, and corn) gave the cake a nice texture, which I appreciate. The minuses: I don't know if it's because I've cut out almost all the sugar in my diet, but the cake was WAY too sweet for me this time. I'm going to bake it again with half the sugar and see if that makes a difference. Also, the cake is heavier than I remember (again, this may have to do with my dietary changes). As I mentioned, I am going to reformulate the recipe to hopefully address these issues.

In the meantime, here's a photo of Attempt #1. Pardon the photo: the lighting was just not good at the time I took the picture. Oh, and I almost forgot the frosting...yeah, that was also too sweet for me. I guess I should be excited about the fact that I may have finally turned a corner on my sweet tooth, but a tasty piece of cake with a cup of tea would have really hit the spot today.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Date Night

I assisted my sweetie at a wedding this Saturday. Flamenco Dad was hired to play for the ceremony and coctail hour at this particular affair, and I was to help with moving equipment from the ceremony area to the cocktail hour area. I also got to help with cueing him on music changes during the course of the ceremony. It was lots of fun, and the venue was gorgeous! It was at a beautiful historic hotel in town, a lovely century-old building with a definite Spanish influence. The ceremony was very nice--thanks in no small part to the musical accompaniment; but also because it's always so heartwarming to see a young, in-love couple about to embark on a lifelong journey. I heart weddings! Ah, romance...

Anyway, after our wedding business was done FD and I went out for dinner. We made arrangements with my mother-in-law to watch the kiddies, and we went out for tapas. Going out for tapas is so much fun! In the first place, what's not to love about sangria? Also, since you order small plates of different bites of food, it's a great social meal. Everyone picks out a few things they'd like to try, and the table just digs in. Now, doing a meal like this gfcf requires some careful planning; but it's not impossible. One of the great things about Mediterranean cooking is that the foods that are the focus of this style off this cooking are gfcf-friendly; lots of fresh produce, lean proteins, some grains. The best advice I can give is to scour the menu ultra carefully and ask lots of questions to your waiter. The restaurant where we ate this time is one we've visited before, so we instantly gravitated towards certain items.

One of my favorite things to order for tapas is artichokes; roasted, marinated in olive oil, with a mix of herbs. Also, tortilla is very tasty--I occasionally make this at home. Basically it's an omelet made with onions and potatoes that are very thinly sliced. On our latest trip to the tapas restaurant we shared some braised lamb shank that was served with a tomato sauce that had some vegetables and fava beans. Oh, and I almost forgot about paella. This place also serves several varieties of paella; some are vegetarian, some are not, some are even made with black rice (the kind with squid ink--okay, I'm not a fan of black rice, but my husband loves it). I did take a few bites of the dessert my husband ordered, but I diverted my eyes and focused on the berries that served as colorful garnish on the plate. It was a sweet finish to a sweet evening.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Plate of Crumbs Doesn't Make A Pretty Picture

I live in a home of eaters. I'm not gonna lie...we enjoy getting our grub on around here. The kids are growing quickly, and with that rapid growth come some pretty big appetites. Why do I bring this up? Because I baked a lovely loaf of gluten free bread, of which I desperately wanted to take some photographs, which my children quickly tore into. I think that before I take anything out of the oven (or in this case, the bread machine) that I need to have my camera at the ready in my kitchen. This loaf of bread? Did not stand a chance with my wee ones.

I picked up a package of Namaste Bread Mix. It's free of gluten, casein, potato, soy, and lots of other stuff. Now if you're egg-free and yeast-free, this bread is not for you; since I'm yeast-free, I had to pass on it. But I must say the bread smelled divine. I was pleased to see that it had a nice crust on the outside and a tender--and according to Zoe, chewy--inside. I put all the ingredients in my bread maker and pressed go. I find that with gfcf breads, I get better results if I set the machine to the whole wheat/dark settings. If using a bread machine, check your manufacturer's instructions. The bread mix has instructions for both oven and machine, so I may try it in my oven next time and see how it turns out. The kids loved it. Zoe has had it with PB and J as well as ham and soy cheese, and she thought it was awesome. Even Flamenco Dad and Ayden got in on the action; they ate it toasted with some Earth Balance spread, and I got thumbs up from both my guys. Next time I'll get a photo of the actual bread; all I've got right now is a sad looking plate of bread crumbs.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Many Thanks

Thanks to everyone who sent good vibes my way during the hell that was the end of the semester. I truly appreciate it. I made it through the semester unscathed--and I'm going to toot my own horn for a minute and share the fact that I had a 4.0 semester. Woo Hoo!

This week I have a bit of a break while I prepare for summer school. Since I've now moved on to the university ( as opposed to the community college where I had been studying) I have a big 'ole pile of new red tape and a whole new bunch of administrative types to deal with. I'm nearly done, thank goodness. I do have to attend an orientation this Friday, finish up with registration, and fork over lots of money. I never like that last part; but learnin' costs money, and I've got to fork over the duckies if I want to get my learnin' on. I'm taking three courses this summer (provided I can finally register for them, of course): Classical Mythology, Early American Literature, and Religions of South Asia. Now that I've finally seen the last of math and science, I get to finally take courses that I find interesting. Good times.

During these last few days of peace, I decided to do some house cleaning. That end table with the one-inch thick layer of dust was finally dusted. I also gathered up some baking supplies to work on a few loaves of zucchini bread, some cookies, and some muffins--gotta leave the family well stocked. Once things get underway this summer, I may be a bit pressed for time.