Category Archives: Holidays

A long winter

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Out and About

Eastern WA

We ran away this weekend.   It was very long overdue.  Winter is hard here for us with the very limited light (although I easily admit that since it has been “very dry” in Western Washington terms, I’ve enjoyed it more).  This winter has been worse.  

In December a colleague of mine – my age, married with three kids (6th grade and 3rd) – was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer just before Christmas Break.  It blew my mind.  As someone who is well-connected in our community through his coaching, teaching, university studies, growing up nearby, etc – the hundreds – and literally thousands of people who have come forward to offer support for he and his family is amazing.  There are little pieces we all contribute – mostly watching over the hundreds of students at school who have had – and are having – a very difficult time with this.  My friends at work – his coaching buddies for years through baseball and football – are complete wrecks.   

And then another colleague (my age) committed suicide on the last day of February.  

I have been speechless and riddled with anxiety, grief, tears, and funny memories of my very sassy friend who killed himself and well… speechless.  

He leaves behind two boys (one 6th grader, and the other in elementary school) who adored him.  He was an excellent father.  A hilarious, passionate colleague – and beyond that – a troubled soul who struggled his whole life with depression.

And then winter dragged on.  The rain came back.  The clocks all changed.  And the stress of the year began to eat at me.

Frequently, my little band of 3 and I find ourselves on day trips or weekend “adventures”.  In the winter, with work, these “adventures” can be as exciting as filling the freezer by stocking up at Costco.  Yes, we are that exciting.   This March, even the simple pleasures of watching a movie together could not ease the pains of loss.  We thought about traveling for a few days to get away to places we have enjoyed in the past… but you know what?

I just didn’t want to work that hard.

I didn’t want to have to research/look-up everything, call restaurants, plan our adventures by a map with not only gluten-free but kid-friendly options nearby.    I just didn’t.  I don’t mind that traveling may not only sometimes be a bit more costly (because swinging through the random coffee shop or sandwich shop will not always produce a gluten-free option at a low-cost).    That’s just the name of the game.

But this time around, I really just wanted to relax.  With my kids.  And no cell phones, televisions, pesky to-do lists, mail to sort, email to answer, etc  And I certainly didn’t want to spend my vacation time with my nose in my cell phone trying to find a gluten-free option for dinner as we strolled through our afternoon.  (Hey…it’s been known to happen when we just get in the car and go!)

 

God's Eyes

 

I remember this little mountain retreat place that I had been to 8 years ago.  It is a renovated mountain camp – much like one you may have been to as a kid – but with updated furnishings, towel warmers in the bathroom, trails between “cabins” (duplex cabin-esque units) and random Chihuly blown glass art sculptures.  Oh yes, and an outdoor bar with its own waterfall.  It definitely feels like someone who wanted to go “camping” but well… not really.  

DSC_0038

In other words, it sounded perfect.  We could unplug.  We could explore.  The kids could be outside.  And the weather was 68-72F during the day with sunshine and a 32F cold (perfect for sleeping) at night.  My kind of place. :D

The best part?  I didn’t have to even think about dinner nor brunch.  Once we made our reservations, I let them know that I had Celiac and would need a gluten-free meal option.

HA!  An option!  The restaurant (on site) was a gluten-free haven.  Oh – and the majority of the food served was locally grown.   It was great – for every meal (buffet style) we ate there, I could eat all entrée mains (except one each meal), they had fresh gluten-free bread options for the asking, gluten-free dessert options (gf chocolate cake, white chocolate creme brulee, etc), all gluten-free salad dressings, all gluten-free salad options separated from the non-gf items in the salad bar, etc.  Honestly.  There was too much food.  (Don’t worry, we survived that disappointment…LOL)

In fact, there was so much available to me that I couldn’t help but find myself mystified why the two entrees (two different meals) that I could NOT eat were NOT made gluten-free as well. It would have been so easy to do.  (For the record, it was a pork rack roast and the next day, a ham.)  I mean really.  Could they not use tamari?

AND FINALLY, my Love and I laughed.  

Seriously – how many times have we traveled together when the only safe option for me were some plain leafy greens or something less than joyful for a food-lover like me?  And here I was, in a buffet-style restaurant with so many gluten-free options that my brain focused on what I could NOT have?!

We began to discuss how often in life we condition ourselves to see that we are trained to see.  In work.  With kids.  With each other.  With my Celiac Disease.  Surrounded by the food that the servers/chefs could easily answer the gluten-free question for me and there I was, stuck on that stinking rack roast.  

And there I have been all March.  Stuck on the loss of my colleague and the impending loss of another.

Walk OnEveryday my little people and I sing loudly (and out of tune) together in the car.  They always request their favorites.  I rarely am one to quote song lyrics, but their latest song has caught my mind.  The song is called “Carry On” by the group FUN.  The lyrics (in part) say this:

…If you’re lost and alone
Or you’re sinking like a stone
Carry on
May your past be the sound
Of your feet upon the ground
Carry on…

I’m sure I will have my damn-it, it’s not-gluten-free moments again.

I know I will continue to grieve the loss of my friends.

And I also know that the sun will shine, my kids will keep laughing, and we will all carry on.  There are many worse things in this world that having to avoid gluten.  I have never thought it was the end of my world.  I guess I just forgot to look up at the path ahead of me sometimes to see those little feet marching on.  So please forgive my latest absence.  I’ve been busy bringing my soul back from the depths of grief and setting my eyes on those little feet in the picture.

May your Spring be bringing you out of a dark winter with Love as well – 

~Kate

 

 

Christmas Cookies

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Gluten Free Christmas Cookies

So it’s December?  Or should I say it’s almost 2013?!  Not like you need me to state the obvious, I’m just reflecting on how much of my “life” seems to be under different categories.  I’m obviously not able to keep up with every thing (this blog included) but I’m not quite willing to let it go.  I really enjoy posting recipes and more times than not, I’m thinking about what I’m making as a blog post (after the fact) but then I never get a chance to catch my breath or write it up.  Ah, but there are such worse things in life.

After a soon-to-never-be-released comic strip on Mommy-Plans-Gone-Wrong marathon of errand running yesterday and bath time, etc, I did manage to not only make the cookie doughs but I rolled out the roll out cookie and gingerbread between pieces of parchment (4 large pieces each) and slid them into the fridge.  That way today I merely had to pull the pre-rolled dough out and put it in front of the kids for them to cut out shapes; decorate and go.  Honest to goodness, it was the best choice ever.  What two or four or forty-three year old has the patience for cookie making?  Not me, I tell ya.  But thanks to my kids, I don’t think all of my Christmas cookies will be naked from here on out.    Today we made three different kinds of Cookies:  roll out cookies, GF Joe’s Gingerbread Cookies and PB Kiss Cookies (the no flour version).

Not too shabby.

Tomorrow, me/myself/I will attempt to gather 3 toddlers and a wonderful 8-year-old around a table for the royal icing to decorate the gingerbread men.  I think I will lose my mind.  Or not.  It could be the messiest fun I’ve had in days! :D

Hope that life is treating you well.  May you have many messy happy moments this season.

We could all certainly use them. :D

Merry Christmas, All.

~Kate

It’s not too late yet! Dark Chocolate Mocha Fudge – just in time for Christmas

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Dark Chocolate Mocha Fudge

Christmas is coming!  Santa is near.   The girls can feel it in the air.

This year we’ve donated money to our local food bank on behalf of all of our nieces, nephews and family members.  To be honest, it was the best thing ever.  Each family is taking care of their own little ones with gifts, etc – but we’ve been so happy to teach the girls our reality.  And what is that reality?  Well, we may not have everything, but we have a heck of a lot more than many others in our community.  And there too, but for the Grace of God, ….  in this economy, you never know.

For the last few years, my classes and I have held special food drives for a weekend food program for hungry kids in Pre-K through 6th Grade.  (Other kids can access food programs through their family aid.)  The program (“Backpack for Kids”) sends home a backpack filled with easy-to-serve/make (pop-top cans, etc) and highly nutritious foods for little people.  The meals target little ones who may not have access to food otherwise on the weekends.  As a teacher, I know too well the look of hunger on a student’s face.  This year, the program serves 1,700 kids in our community.  That is up from 1,100 kids just last year.

600 more kids in need.

It’s a number that floored me.

I don’t need to hammer you with statistics, you probably know them.  Let’s just say, I’m happy to know that our donations will serve a purpose.  There are some great places to make a donation on behalf of your loved ones if you are struggling with what to get for someone.  Not only to I recommend your local food bank, but please consider joining us in making donations to these other organizations:

And then make some great cards to let those you love know how they’ve helped another this holiday season.  :D

And when you sit down to write your Santa letter, you could always ask for chocolates for your neighbors too.

At least that is what Zoe did.  She and I were talking about the food bank (she’s been there with me to drop off donations, etc a few times).  She asked me if the three neighbors near us would be going to the food bank this year.  I told her I didn’t know, but that I didn’t think so.  So then she asked if they had any ‘ersheys (aka “Hersheys”) in their houses.  (Can you tell what we were out of?  No chocolate in the house can be a disturbing thing.)

Since I told her that I wasn’t sure, she then added “chocolate for the neighbors” to her Santa letter.  Personally, I think fudge is better.  Especially at Christmas time.

So have no fear, if a donation doesn’t fit your last-minute gift-giving plan, try making this fudge.  I’ve sent some along with my Love to work for his Christmas party and they were a hit.  Today, I’m making another batch – more for the neighbors and this time, I’m going to make some salted-caramel mocha fudge too.  Yum!

This recipe is based on my mom’s fudge recipe.  Her recipe rocks and was so easy to adapt to add coffee extract, etc to make it a mocha flavor.

Dark Chocolate Mocha Fudge with a Toffee crunch topping

Makes one 8×8″ pan – Printable 2 page recipe here

Toffee topping:  (you can substitute GF toffee bars if you’d prefer)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • sea salt  (approx. 1 teaspoon +) for sprinkling

Directions:

  1. in a shallow pan, place the olive oil and sliced almonds over medium heat.  Swirl to prevent burning, but toast the almond slices.  Remove from the heat and roughly chop.  Set aside.
  2. Place a piece of parchment paper on a cutting board.  (Use a piece about as long as a cookie sheet – which will be more than long enough for this small batch of toffee.)  Cover with half of the toasted almond slices.  (Actually, place a pile of sliced almonds on the parchment and spread them out a bit  – about to a 8″ square or so.)
  3. In a deep pan, using a candy thermometer, bring the water and sugars (white and brown) together to a boil.  Cook, stirring the middle of the pan but without scraping the sides (you can swirl the pan a bit if needed), until you reach a temperature of 285F.
  4. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and add the baking soda and vanilla extract.  Again, stir these ingredients in but do not scrap the pan.
  5. Quickly pour the mixture over the almond slices on the parchment paper – but don’t scrap your pan!  (Scraping will actually make your toffee crystallize and not be smooth).  Cover the top of the toffee with the remaining almond slices and sprinkle with sea salt.  Set aside to cool (which won’t take too long).
  6. Crush or chop the toffee into bits.  (About 1/2 of this toffee recipe easily tops one fudge recipe.)
  7. Make your fudge.

Dark Chocolate Mocha Fudge

Makes one 8 by 8″ pan

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 2/3 cup of milk
  • 3 Tablespoons instant coffee
  • 12 regular sized marshmallows
  • 1 stick of butter (1/2 cup or a quarter pound)
  • 1 large package dark chocolate chips (10-12 ounces)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coffee extract – OR – 1 teaspoon vanilla extract + 1/2 teaspoon coffee extract
  • Sea salt for sprinkling

Directions:

  1. Butter the bottom of your 8×8″ pan well.
  2. Cook together sugar, milk, instant coffee, and marshmallows over a medium heat.  Stirring constantly, bring it to a boil, then turn the temperature down a bit.  You want to keep a low boil – but too high of a temperature will cause the sugar to form large bubbles that pop  and become lava-like burn potential while boiling – be carefully!
  3. Stir constantly over this low boil for 5 1/2 to 6 minutes.  (Longer and the fudge will be hard, not long enough and the fudge won’t set.)  (Cook until soft ball stage or between 235-240F)
  4. Remove from the heat, add the butter, dark chocolate chips and coffee extract.  Stir until well incorporated.
  5. Pour into your prepared pan.
  6. Top quickly with the chopped toffee pieces and sprinkle a little sea salt over the top.
  7. Allow to cool/set before cutting into pieces to serve or share.

And don’t forget to walk some over to your neighbors as well.

After all, chocolate is for sharing, right?

Merry Christmas, All!

~Kate

PS.  Thanks for the fudge recipe, Mom!  I’ve had it for years in my recipe book from you… and don’t think I’ve ever dared to make it. Not that it’s hard… I just knew that I would eat the whole pan!  Thank goodness for little girls (who love chocolate) and neighbors, right?