Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Spike's 10th Birthday

Spike, my Winter Solstice baby, turned 10 today. He has brought so much into our lives with his funny ways. Me and Brady always laugh when we think about his knack for finding small metal objects, such as computer screws, in any area you put him in. We often had to check his chubby little fists to see what he had found. Even though he is getting older, he sometimes sneaks up on me and gives me a big hug, so I guess I can deal with it.

Without further ado, Spike's Birthday Video...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas

Tonight we decorated our Christmas tree. It was a lot of fun unpacking the ornaments and watching the kids decorate the tree while Brady played a variety of funny songs.

While me and Brady have never had the kind of perfectly decorated trees that you see in magazines or on display in stores, I have thought ours were wonderful year after year. The first year we were married, when Gizmo was only a few months old, we splurged on a lovely tree. Since we were pretty broke at that point, we didn't have much money left for ornaments, but our tree looked lovely with its' many candy canes. We still have the three icicle ornaments we bought that year to symbolize the three of us. Later on, during the years were we have had curious toddlers, our Christmas trees have only been decorated on the top half.  We have ornaments that the kids have painted, ornaments from the cruises we have been on together, and ornaments that we just thought were pretty at the store. Somehow it all works together, and every year I can't help but think about where our family is now and where we have been, and I love that.

Brady topped it off with the star.
After the decorating was through, we all enjoyed a glass of Rice Nog (dairy free egg nog) which was really quite good. I tried to get some nice pictures of the kids, but instead ended up temporarily blinding them since I had turned on the flash. Oops.
 I am starting to get really excited for Christmas now....just need to finish up the rest of my shopping.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Bento for Autumn

I am cheating a bit here. These bentos were made a while ago. To be precise, this is what we ate for lunch when we went to Heritage Park. But life gets busy and other things demand to be posted, and the poor little pictures of my autumn bento box was forgotten.

However, Brady is working an overnight shift tonight so I am filling this time of quiet after the kids go to bed and before I feel ready to succumb to sleep myself with spending time piddling around on the computer. That has led me here, posting up a picture of a bento box fit for Fall.

The preparation on these bento boxes was pretty simple. (Yes, I know there is only one in the picture, you will just have to trust me that there was more) The leaves in the bottom container are tuna fish sandwiches. I cut out the shapes from gluten free bread using a cookie cutter first, and then assemble the sandwich. That way, the cutting is less messy, and you can still salvage the crusts to grind up into bread crumbs for meatballs, meatloaf, or breading something for frying. Surrounding that is carrot sticks. 

The top portion of the box has grapes and a muffin paper filled with homemade gluten and dairy free graham crackers in the shape of acorns. I am working on incorporating almond meal into my graham cracker recipe, and will post it up as soon as I finish the testing process. I bought special autumn muffin papers specifically for this, but the design does not show at all. Oh well, they worked well for muffins later that week.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Gluten and Dairy Free Pumpkin Muffins

With the weather getting colder, I have been craving pumpkin muffins. I was procrastinating on baking any since all of my previous gluten free muffin attempts have been....not so good. I did not want to spoil my fantasy of a perfect pumpkin baked good by turning out a funny looking and oddly tasting muffin. However, Gizmo started asking me about making them after seeing cans of pumpkin at the store so I decided to give it a go and create my own perfect GFCF pumpkin recipe. It took about six tries for me to get it right, but my family cheerfully ate up every attempt. I am my own harshest critic when it comes to my baking, but I think the recipe is just how it should be now.

Since I have long since discovered that the path to my husband's heart is paved with streusal, I made a streusal topping for the muffins. I included the ingredients and directions to making the topping, but it is optional, and we have enjoyed them just fine without it.

2/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 cup pumpkin
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup almond flour (I use the leftover pulp from making homemade almond milk)
1 cup rice flour
1/3 cup corn starch
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. xanthum gum
3/4 cup almond milk

Streusal Ingredients:
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. coconut oil
1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and prepare a muffin pan by using muffin papers or spraying with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, mix together the brown sugar, maple syrup, pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, and olive oil for about 2 minutes, or until well combined.

In a medium bowl, blend together the almond flour, rice flour, corn starch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking soda, salt, and xanthum gum. Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix well.

Pour in the almond milk and mix until combined.

Spoon the batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup approximately 2/3 of the way full, and bake for 23-25 minutes.

On a few mornings when I have felt particularly lazy, I have prepared a 9 x 13 inch pan instead and just poured the batter into it. This does require a few extra minutes of baking time.

Makes 16 muffins.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gluten and Dairy Free Zuppa Toscana

This recipe was one of my first triumphs against food intolerance. I am pretty sure that everyone who has been told that they should stay away from a particular food starts making a mental list of all the things that they can not have. Even though I was not all that upset when I found out that I would need to avoid casein in addition to the gluten which I had already stopped eating, I did start that list. Lasagna was the first item on the list, closely followed by cheese enchiladas. Surprisingly, I was okay with that. Then, however, I thought about zuppa toscana. My heart dropped a little. Zuppa toscana is a household favorite. Everyone enjoys it, and it is simple to prepare, not an easy thing to accomplish.

Over the next few weeks as I wrote up menus and did the grocery shopping, I found myself pondering what substitutions I could make to the original recipe to replace the heavy cream. Soy creamer was a possibility, as well as making extra-thick almond milk. I ended up using canned coconut milk, and I think I actually prefer my casein-free version more than the original.

  • 2 lb. bulk Italian sausage (check the label to make sure it is gluten-free)
  • 2 large potatoes (I use really large ones from Costco, so if you have smaller ones, just chop up how much you want)
  • 2 Tbsp. Better than Bouillon Chicken Base (or equivalent bouillon cubes)
  • 8-9 cups of water
  • 1 bunch kale (about 9 cups chopped)
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup sweet rice flour (not absolutely necessary if you don't have it, but does thicken up the broth nicely)
In a large pot, brown the sausage and drain the excess fat. Remove the pot from the heat while you skin the potatoes and thinly slice them. If the potatoes have a large diameter, you may want to cut the potato in half lengthwise before making the thin slices....trying to eat an enormous piece of potato is not an attractive look for anyone. :) Add the potatoes to the pot and cover with water. In a small bowl, whisk together the sweet rice flour with a small amount of water, then add to the pot. Add in the chicken flavoring, and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for approximately 20 minutes.

While waiting for the potatoes to cook through, wash and coarsely tear the kale. Ripping up the kale is a great job for little helpers, just make sure that the coarse stem doesn't accidentally make its way into the soup pot. Princess really likes helping with the kale.

Drop the kale into the pot and stir it around a bit. Pour in the entire can of coconut milk and stir until it is fully blended. Simmer for about 5 more minutes and serve.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Happy (late) Halloween!

I thoroughly enjoy Halloween each year. Getting costumes ready for all the kids can be  stressful, but worth it once I get to see them all dressed up. Gizmo helped out with her costume a lot this year, from coming up with the design to doing some of the sewing. She was very proud of how it turned out. But enough of my chatter, and onto the pictures. I had an awesome afternoon photographing the kids with my early Christmas present (thanks, Brady), a Nikon D3100.

Squirt the Mummy

Princess the Witch

Spike the Vampire

Gizmo the Demon

Saturday, October 29, 2011

This is the Place Heritage Park

This past week we went on a field trip to This is the Place Heritage Park, which is a replicated village from the mid 1800s. Many of the buildings are authentic, and have just been re-located to the park, while others are replicas. There are many fun things to do, and we were very glad to meet up with two of the homeschooling families we know when we arrived, so the kids got to enjoy the park with their friends.We had a blast, even though the weather was particularly cold.

The first building that we went to was a small log cabin that was relocated to the park. The people working at the park act out the part of people actually from that time period. The woman in this first house had a baby and a toddler with her (both decked out in historical garments!). She told us that 13 people lived there. It was amazing how many people could fit into such a small one-room home. The older boys of the family slept in the attic space, which was only accessible by a ladder on the outside of the home. While we stayed there, the kids all got to try out there hand at some old time chores and games. Princess loved pretending to do the laundry, Gizmo had a fun time trying to walk on stilts, and I could barely get Spike to leave the plow. As for Squirt...since it was so cold he stayed bundled up in the stroller for most of our time at the park.
This building once housed a family of 13!
The ladder leading to the attic.

We were there a long time, and all of us had favorite things that we saw. Spike was enamored with the blacksmith shop, and watched with wonder as the blacksmith showed his skills. I loved the home that was devoted to wool. The woman inside showed the kids how to prepare wool for spinning (the sheep the wool was from were in the backyard!). In the back room of the home there was a large loom that she demonstrated using. Princess very sweetly whispered to me that she wished I had a sewing machine like that. All the kids in the group loved the school building. The school marm showed them what discipline would exist in the time period, and helped them write their names in the deseret alphabet.  The barbershop was very interesting with talk of leaches and bloodletting. The friendly barber explained the colors of the barbershop pole to the kids, which I thought was very interesting (red-blood, blue-veins, white-cleanliness).
Blacksmith shop.
Gizmo volunteered to get a shave.

Gizmo the dunce.
 Spike being punished for not having the correct answer.        

 The entire area was beautiful to walk through. It was just too cold for us to do everything, so we might go back in the future when it is warmer out.
A playgroup area with small homes and stores. We practically had to tear the kids away from here. That little guy in the middle is Squirt.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halloween Bento Boxes - Part 2

It sure has been a busy month. Fall seems to be the time of year when field trips are extra plentiful, and being out and about means packed lunches, so here we go with another Halloween bento box post. These are some that I packed since we were meeting up with the homeschool swim club.

Finished Bento Box.

I assembled the bottom tiers first, which were filled with fruit. I put cantaloupe balls, green apple cubes, and black plum cubes on cute Halloween food picks that I got at the party store. Any food is funner to eat when you eat it off a stick...if you don't believe me, go find a kid and ask them. I was going to use blackberries instead of the black plums, but the store didn't have any fresh ones, and the frozen ones turned too mushy when thawed. Luckily, I had picked up the plums on a whim. In the little black muffin paper, there is honey-peanut butter fruit dip. Since Squirt is still pretty small, he did not get Halloween food picks. He absolutely loves cantaloupe though, so he was completely happy.

This is all the fruit boxes. You may notice that some of the containers are not bento boxes. I was watching my nephew that day, and also making a bento for my husband who was working from home since I was not going to be there to make his lunch. Unfortunately, I do not have any spare bento boxes, so I had to make do with boring containers.

For the bat boxes, I cooked some carrots and peas in a quick beef gravy using beef bullion and sweet rice flour. After ladling it into the boxes, I placed a bat cookie cutter on top and carefully spooned sushi rice around it. With wet fingers, I pushed the rice down flat, and then spooned black rice into the bat. And what exactly is black rice you may ask? I had never seen it until a week ago while browsing the bulk section of the nearby health food store. It also went by the name Forbidden Rice. I looked it up when home and found out that it is high in fiber, rich in iron, and loaded with antioxidants. The "Forbidden" name comes from the fact that in ancient China, the right to eat the black grain was reserved only for the emperor and a few lucky individuals. Pretty interesting considering I was only interested in it for the color at first. So anyway, after getting the rice all situated, I carefully lifted the cookie cutter out, and was left with this...

Since I was not sure just how well they would hold up, I asked the kids to try and not swing them around too much. During the car ride, Princess was playing with hers, and considering she had it upside-down I was sure that the rice would be completely jumbled up. To my surprise, when I opened it up the bat was still intact and looking pretty much like it did when I packed it!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Black Island Farms

Yesterday we went to our annual field trip to Black Island Farms. Black Island Farms is a local vegetable farm. In the fall, they have a huge corn maze along with giant slides made of hay bales, a petting zoo, and all sorts of fun stuff. The kids' school arranges the field trip, and we have now been homeschooling long enough for them to start asking when we are going as soon as the cold weather kicks in. We spent several hours there, and I took many, many pictures. My apologizes if you are on dial-up....

The first thing we did for the day was wait for a big tractor to come and take us to the fields. The girls found a cozy spot to sit and wait.
On our first stop, our unconventional tattooed and ear-gauged farmer/guide, N8 (Nate), popped some carrots out of the ground to show the kids. Here he was showing them a carrot that had gotten confused and started going to seed. He did an awesome job of making it fun for the kids and parents. He said if we ever wanted to give the kids some truly hard work, to send them to the farm to work for a day.
And then we were off to the pumpkin field. Squirt found a pumpkin he liked. He even tried to bite it.

Princess found her perfect pumpkin. She specified that she wanted a small one, because she is small.

Gizmo and her friend.

The whole crew. This was seriously the best I could do at getting all four of them to look at me and smile.
Princess heading down a big slide.
The big kids and a homeschool friend heading down a big slide. I love Gizmo's face in this one.
While the bigger kids were going down slides, Squirt enjoyed one of the carrots that Farmer N8 had dug up. I don't remember the name of the variety, but whatever it was...he loved it.
One of the fun attractions at Black Island Farms is a big sandbox filled with corn....a corn box. It is amazing how something so simple can be so much fun.

Squirt could have played in it all day long.

Princess on the little train.
The boys on the train. Squirt was a little unsure, but Spike was in absolute big brother heaven.
Spike always pulls weird faces at me. :)