Monday, July 28, 2014

Product Review: Happy Dance Baking Company Blondie Brownies


Happy Dance Baking Company Blondie Brownie

While I was out and about today, I drove past the Lynnwood Farmer's Market (north of Seattle, folks) and made a quick turn to find myself a parking spot. Even though it was raining small kittens and puppies, I thought, What the hey! You just never know what you'll find at a farmer's market. Treasures lie around every corner.

And specifically at the corner of yum and delicious. I found this amazing little treasure. After perusing the standard farmer's market stands of kettle corn, beautiful flowers, and tantalizing produce, I came upon a couple of cool finds: Lynnwood Farmer's Market has a Harley stand (awesome!) and an allergen-free baker...Happy Dance Baking Company.

Happy Dance Baking Company was started by Jen Fosnot just a few years ago, but her journey into allergen-free eating started nearly a decade earlier. Jen's daughter was diagnosed with severe allergies to gluten, yeast, eggs, soy and dairy. She looked around for assistance, but back then, there weren't many products lining the shelves, certainly not like there is now, and she lived in the Midwest where they are just starting to catch up to understanding about allergy-free eating. A large portion of the country is gaining in this knowledge, but as all allergen-free eaters know, not a day, week, or month goes by when someone asks you what gluten is or why you don't eat dairy when they have lactose-free milk

Partially devoured...
Jen turned to her trusty kitchen and turned her whole family into allergy-free eaters, whether they liked it or not. It was a matter of safety for her daughter who had to carry an epi-pen in the event of exposure and often dealt with issues such as hives, as many food-allergic/sensitive people do. She refused to give in to stale, dry fare and eventually came up with some pretty incredible recipes.

Now, I have tried a lot of gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, egg-free, allergen-free foods in my lifetime. I've been eating allergen-free for nearly two decades. I, too, turned to my kitchen to get good food in the early years, although now, the shelves do stack better quality products when I need or want something in a pinch. Thank goodness that technology and the sheer number of bakers have more than quadrupled since my early allergy-free eating years. Not all of it's good, but Jen and the Happy Dance Baking Company knows what they are doing!

At her farmer's market stand, she had a plethora of baked goods including peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies (about the size of a softball), drizzled chocolate chip cookies (yum!), two kinds of brownies, a mini-muffin loaf, and several other varieties of cookie softballs. I say that lovingly. They were huge! Most of the price point ran from $3 to $7 - not bad considering she favors organic, all-natural ingredients, including coconut oil, several different gluten-free flours, organic chocolate, and organic sugar. It seems most of the ingredients are on the organic list, except those that would be hard to find (if at all) such as organic arrowroot.

I wanted to buy them all, but I settled for the nearly-all-organic blondie brownie bars - a four-pack for $7. If her other stuff is comparable to these blondies, I am in love. I've made blondies and I've bought them, but these were really outstanding. A nice crisp bite to the chocolate drizzle with a nice soft, moist and tender blondie underneath. Studded with chocolate chips and a nice soft texture, what more could you ask for? Not too sweet, not too gooey, just a nice soft, moist bite with a little chocolate snap. These were divine. I would highly recommend you tap dance your way to Happy Dance Baking Company today.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review: Roadfood by Jane and Michael Stern (9th edition)



I was recently asked to join Random House's Blogging for Books program and much to my surprise, this was the first book I chose! A great read about the joys of eating all across our great country in everything from dives to diners to truckstops and more. Roadfood.com is the lovechild of Jane and Michael Stern (assisted by a whole lot of eaters, support writers, and forum chatters) who created the concept of eating great local/regional cuisine that you find out on the open road. Most everything is going to be cheap ($), relatively cheap ($$), or basically inexpensive ($$$), but good food and a great experience. Each quintessential place on the blog is featured with details about what was eaten and the great thing about it. There's price point offerings, ratings, and pictures to make your mouth water (and sometimes, not). Roadfood the book, now in it's ninth edition, features the same great diatribe with a Top 100 list, a cross-section of the United States breakdown by region, a cross-reference section in the back for easy dining, and a little bit about how to use the book (which ends up being pretty self-explanatory - Where am I? What's great to eat around here?). All around, a pretty great book concept with some interesting detailed observations and eating experiences. One slight miff (and I might be biased here), nothing in Colorado made their Top 100 list, but two in Seattle did. Apparently, they haven't spent enough time in either place. Happy reading and then, eating! 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

GoodReads Review: Under the Wide and Starry Sky

Under the Wide and Starry SkyUnder the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Robert Louis Stevenson has made a dramatic impact on our global history - in literature, as well as poetry, essays, and so many other versions of the written word. To hear an historical fictional account of his life, his love and his work was truly inspiring.

The story of Robert Louis Stevenson - Louis - and Fannie Osbourne's lives, as they collided and then collaborated, is a monumental tale about two people, their predispositions (a little pride, a little prejudice), and how love truly can be a force that changes lives, if only you are willing to follow your heart and take the risk to love fully. Not only did this theme play out within their relationship, but within themselves, as well. Each had a dire situation to overcome which was somewhat self-imposed (Louis' desire to write against the wishes of his father and his diminishing pocketbook and Fannie's desire to be free to be an artist and create a life of happiness amidst the persecution of divorce, adultery, and long before women's suffrage or rights), based upon the love they felt within themselves for what they truly were and who they wanted to be. The inspiration of this intimate love story follows the life and adventures of a sickly Louis and a fiery Fannie each not wanting to stop until their life is truly their own, something they achieve together.

A beautifully written character-driven book with little to no angst or external hardship beyond the contrary of their lives, it's masterfully told, beautifully set forward with interspersed prose and poetry written by RLS himself (and a little Fannie too), and achieves the ultimate goal: captivate you into living life alongside a set of dreamers who dreamed their lives into reality. Sometimes, it is about love, and sometimes, it is about passion.

Beautiful story. Highly recommended.

Rated PG-13 for theme, sexual situations, and some language.


View all my reviews

GoodReads Review: The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of DespereauxThe Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sweet and charming, The Tale of Despereaux weaves a lovely tale about a mouse who loves another and to what lengths he will go to preserve that love. With metaphoric meanings of love, light and dark in this book primarily written for children from a narrator's point of view (who speaks directly to the reader), Despereaux finds his way into the heart of the readers as well as his one true love.

Rated PG for mildly dark thematic material.

Audiobook side note: This book is captivating to listen to. It's really well read, nice tone, with little drag. Great way to listen with kids.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 3, 2013

SPIRAL APPLE BREAD WITH CARAMEL APPLE GLAZE




Lovingly adapted from InspiredbyCharm.com to make gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan. But all kinds of yummy.

Makes 1 loaf

Bread
2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour with added gum (I used 2/3 cup EACH millet flour, brown rice flour, and cornstarch PLUS 2 tsp xanthan gum)
¾ cup warm milk of choice (I used coconut milk)
2 tbsp unsalted butter, vegan butter spread (like Earth Balance), or palm shortening, melted
2 tbsp sugar
1 ½ tsp instant yeast
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
2 apples, peeled, cored and sliced


Topping
¼ cup unsalted butter or vegan butter spread, melted (I used olive oil spray)
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ cup sugar


Glaze
2 tbsp unsalted butter or vegan butter spread
¼ cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp apple cider
½ cup powdered sugar, sifted


Place flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and yeast in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Stir to combine ingredients.

In a small bowl, add melted butter/shortening into the warm milk. Then with mixer on low, add this mixture to the flour mixture until combined.

Mix on medium for about 4 minutes, then transfer dough into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let rise in a warm area for 45 minutes or until doubled in size-ish.

Lightly grease an 8- or  9-inch round pan. Starting at the center of the pan, place a dollop of dough, as big or as little as you want. Then put a few apple slices around the dollop. You can overlap them – I did. Take another apple slice and spread some dough on one side with a knife or spatula and place against one of the other apple slices already in the pan. You can make them a little offset from each other or perfectly symmetrical – your choice! Do this in whatever pattern you like. It’s fun! Keep doing this until you are close to the edge of the pan, making sure to leave about ½ cup of dough for the edge of the bread. Using the last of the dough, spread small amounts around the outer side of the apples that are closest to the edge of the pan and smooth with a spatula or knife or leave rustic, if you like that.

This is after the second rise and baking. Yum. The dough will fill in any gaps as it rises. 

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for 20 minutes. I like to warm my oven using the warm setting and then turn it off and place my dough in there for a final rise. If I do this, I just use a tea towel to cover it – no plastic in the oven. Both options work well, depending on where the dough is being proofed.

Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, if the dough isn’t already in it. If the dough is proofing in there, then remove the pan at the end of the rising time, leaving the towel on top of it, and then preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown-ish. (Gluten-free stuff doesn’t brown all that well, depending on what flours you are using. To get a more golden crust on your bread, you can try several things: egg wash, spray with olive oil or a bit of butter/vegan butter, or a vegan cream wash will all help the crust brown. But seriously, how brown do you need something to be? It will still taste delicious either way!)

For the topping: Mix cinnamon and sugar together in a small bowl or use a premade cinnamon-sugar mix. Once the bread is removed from the oven, brush loaf with melted butter or spray with olive oil and then sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.
Let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then remove from pan and place on a cooling rack to finish.

While the bread cools, melt butter in a 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Stir in ¼ cup brown sugar. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly; reduce heat to low. Boil and stir 2 minutes. Stir in cider. Heat to boiling; remove from heat. Cool to lukewarm, about 30 minutes.

Gradually stir powdered sugar into glaze mixture. If the glaze becomes too stiff, stir in additional cider, ½ tsp at a time. If the glaze is too thin, add more powdered sugar. Once the bread is completely cooled, drizzle glaze all over it, then eat. Yum.

The bread will last for about two minutes – it’s that good. But if you do have leftovers (really?!), then place those sad little bits in an airtight container until someone finishes them off, which will be in about two more minutes. If they last longer than that, you might be able to hold onto the leftovers for about 3 days, but as with all gluten-free yummies, the texture may change. Just reheat them for a little bit in a microwave or oven and they should be delicious once again. Or just eat it all that night. You choose. J


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Two Gluten-Free Pizzas, One Delicious City


Gluten-free pizza from Jet City

Product Review: Jet City Gluten-Free Pizza and Z Pizza on Capitol Hill

              
As most of you know, I love to try new things. Gluten-free, delicious new things. Well, Jet City Pizza and Z Pizza are now delivering – gluten-free, that is.

So, let’s talk about these two pizza joints and what they have to offer those of us in the food sensitivities world. The good, the bad and the ugly…or the delicious!

Jet City Pizza (www.jetcitypizza.com):

This traditional wheat-based pizzeria now offers a gluten-free crust that is soft, pliable, moist and delicious! One of the better gluten-free crusts I’ve ever had from a pizzeria, Jet City says they buy the crusts from an outside source (dedicated gluten-free) and they strive to keep all the ingredients and toppings away from glutened sources. The bake the pizzas on dedicated equipment and use separate utensils for cutting and topping the pizzas. And the best part is: they deliver! I love having delicious food brought to my door.

Good news on the vegan front: another eggless, dairy-free crust on the market! They offer dairy-free cheese as well (the brand was unconfirmed), but at the time of this post, they were out. They had some on order and try to keep it in-store at all times. I did notice that when you order online, this isn’t an option to choose from, but call the store and someone will get you hooked up for a delicious dairy-free offering.

I was most impressed by the softness and crunchiness of the crust – sort of halfway between a crispy, thin crust and a soft and chewy thick crust with plenty of flavor. Jet City cuts big slices like a New York style pizza, so I had a great time folding my pizza in half to take a bite. With plenty of locations around the city and a craving for a good gluten-free pizza, Jet City really delivers!




ZPizza on Capitol Hill (www.zpizza.com):


This lovely establishment has a great concoction of standard pizzas and crazy, delicious pizzas with gourmet toppings and artisan flavors. And good news for the dairy-free and vegan world – they offer Daiya cheese and vegan offerings!

I’ve been here twice and the pizzas are fabulous, the crust is pretty good, but hands down, the toppings are what make the pizza. The Tuscan Mushroom is a lovely combination of cheesy goodness with mushrooms, onions, thyme and truffle oil. And the Daiya cheese makes it divine!

I love the staff at ZPizza too. They are sweet, helpful and always friendly. When I called to find out more info about the makings of the g-free pizzas, they were all too happy to offer their knowledge. The gluten-free crusts are made off-site by an independent gluten-free company and when they are prepared at ZPizza, they are kept away from the wheat products as much as possible. Although the crusts are baked in the same oven as the wheat pizzas, they are placed on dedicated pans and the staff use dedicated utensils for cutting and topping the pizza. The possibility of cross-contamination is still there, but they are working hard to minimize it.

The rice-based crust has some basic other gluten-free ingredients and good news for the vegans out there: it’s completely dairy, egg and animal free. Now you can have your pizza and eat it too!


The gluten-free crusts come in medium or large (get the large for leftovers!) and you can sub Daiya for any of the cheeses. It is primarily a thin, crispy crust with a decent flavoring on its own. The one downside is it seems to get a little burned on the edges as they cook it. Still pretty good, but next time, I’ll ask them the bake it a little less. I’m not a fan of the charred edges. Overall, the pizza is pretty darn good! And if you sign up for their newsletters, you get coupons, freebies and birthday offerings. Yum! Another great gluten-free offering.                      
Gluten-free pizza from ZPizza

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Product Review: Udi's Gluten-Free Tortillas


One of my favorite things is to peruse for new items while walking through great stores like Whole Foods. I love to try new things. I’ve found a whole treasure trove of fun adventures simply by walking slowly and looking around, instead of the more often used get-in-get-out, don’t-spend-$200 method.

Today, I took the slow route at Whole Foods. And it paid off. I found several new items, even if they were just new to me. One of them was something new by the infamous gluten-free Udi’s brand.

Udi’s sort of revolutionized the way gluten-free eaters eat. Before that, we had some decent products. Okay, most of them were cardboard and resembled Styrofoam. Alright, I’ll be fair. Not all of them. But when Udi’s brand hit the market with their blend of mostly tapioca starch products, gluten-free eaters could buy bread that would stay together in a sandwich and make great toast. They were even good just out of the bag.

My family is from Denver and I travel back there often. This is where I was introduced to Udi’s gluten-free bread. I happened to be in a Whole Foods (shocking!) in Boulder where my family was getting sandwiches to go. I dismissed it as an option (as most gluten-free eaters do, especially all those years ago when gluten-free eating was sparse unless we made things ourselves), but then I decided to ask the sandwich maker if they had gluten-free bread. They did! I was still skeptical, but I thought, oh, what the heck. I ordered my sandwich on the bread and hoped for the best. What I got was pretty unbelievable. I didn’t take any pictures, so you’ll have to take my word on this, but the bread slices were enormous! Bigger than even a traditional wheat loaf and soft, brown, and heavenly. The texture was astounding! I nearly passed out with glee and eagerly asked the sandwich maven where they got this bread. Did they sell it here? Where can I buy it? Can I have more please??

Well, that was my first introduction to Udi’s. When my family and I happened into an Udi’s cafĂ© in Olde Towne Arvada, we found this delightful bread and many other fun gluten-free foods there, as well. What I learned later was that the bread they made for the stores like Whole Foods for their sandwich department and for the Udi’s cafes were made in special-made pans so they would be bigger than traditional bread, even of the wheat variety. And they were fresh daily, not frozen. That changes the texture quite a bit. Even so, Udi’s bread gave us an option that we didn’t have before – yummy gluten-free bread.

My intro to Udi’s and Udi’s cafe was many years ago and Mr. Udi (technically, it’s his first name, but that’s what I called him when I met him in one of his cafes) has since sold the commercial manufacturing aspect of his business to a large conglomerate that I have been assured is gluten-free dedicated. He has kept his cafes up and running, but the menus have changed a bit and you can’t buy as many gluten-free goodies in-store as you once could. But the food is still good, if you happen to be in the Denver area.

To round this story out a bit, here’s the interesting part: when I met Mr. Udi all those years ago, he mentioned that he was working on trying to figure out how to make a good gluten-free tortilla, but hadn’t perfected it yet. He was determined though, he said. But not until the product was Udi-worthy. It had to be great. And it seems he made good on that promise.

Back to the present day, as my jaw dropped over the newly-found Udi’s gluten-free tortillas, I hesitantly picked up the packaging, pretty sure they would be like most of the other gf tortillas – pliable, but rice-based and hence, prone to break, fall apart and be a bit dry. I don’t eat a lot of corn, otherwise, most g-free eaters I know simply eat corn tortillas. Always a good option, but for those of us who don’t eat corn or don’t like corn tortillas, our options are minimal.

Now, I will say, there is a decent gf tortilla on the market made by Sonoma that combines several flours, including rice, tapioca, teff, buckwheat, etc. I have tried the two they made and they’re pretty good, but as most of you know, if we have one sensitivity, we have many. I don’t often eat the Sonoma ones because there are a few ingredients that do not jive with my body. Other than Sonoma’s tortillas, I really haven’t found one that I liked very much, warm or right out of the packaging. The products are just…okay.

Pan back to Whole Foods: I actually saw two new varieties – Udi’s and Engine 2’s Brown Rice Tortillas. I manhandled the Engine 2 tortillas in the packaging and they seemed to me not that different than the Sonoma tortillas, or more like the more common Food for Life brown rice tortillas or even the Trader Joe’s brown rice tortillas. So setting those aside, I manhandled the Udi’s packaging trying to get a better look at what was inside. What I saw was a white tortilla (very much unlike the brown of the brown rice tortillas) that looked very familiar and very much like a traditional wheat tortilla.

Hmmm…this could be interesting. I dropped the $5.49 bag of 6 in my basket and went off the pay the piper.  

Well, I am like a kid at Christmas when I buy new things. I can’t wait to try it! Or play with it! Yes, I do play with my food. It’s a tortilla! It’s meant to be flat or rolled or curled around something. It’s kind of like playing, right?

I ripped open the bag and felt the texture, pulled it apart and took a bite. Mmm! The flavor was what stood out to me the most. It tasted like a tortilla should not – not chalky or bland or flavorless, which many of the gluten-free flours can impart, shall we say, interesting flavors. Not here! And it didn’t have that all-too-familiar rice flour extra chewiness. This white flatbread was delicious and flavorful!

The texture of the cold tortilla (Whole Foods stores them in the cold case near the sandwich counter…I’m seeing a pattern here!) was a cross between a corn tortilla – sans the corn – and a soft wheat tortilla. It was pliable and tender and only began to crack under pressure which I attribute to the lack of a filling and it being cold. Even a wheat tortilla will do this – from what I remember. I was amazed! A good texture is a tough thing to accomplish in the gluten-free world, especially if said gluten-free item has been refrigerated.

Amazed!

I got home and having not had my fill yet, I made an egg scramble to toss inside a warmed tortilla to see how it stacked up to the wheaty variety. Amazed! The texture was soft, pliable, and held together like it should’ve been a wheat tortilla. Made me kinda want to look at the packaging again, just to make sure. Yep. Still gluten-free. And amazing.

My final test was the last bits of the scramble and the mostly-gone tortilla shell – I took the tortilla and wrapped it around several times with the little bit of eggy goodness inside, just as you would a breakfast burrito. Amazed! It held together, everything stayed in place without cracking, crumbling or falling into the pits of gluten-free crumbly-ness. Amazing! It may have taken Mr. Udi many years to perfect the gluten-free tortilla, but it is pretty darn-near perfect. Delicious and amazing.

Now that I have gotten my tortilla-amazement on, I can happily dream of other adventures.

Happy eating! 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Gaining Higher Perspective




What is higher perspective? Is it a place where you can see from a better vantage point? Or is it simply a better vibrational state where everything looks more expansive?

The latter.

To gain higher perspective, you have to increase your awareness of what’s around you, what you are and what is you, but not you. It’s about increasing your vibration so you can see more clearly. And on top of that, you begin to see everyone and everything as the expansive beings they are. It allows you to stop judging what’s not you, stop judging what is you and stop judging all together. It’s the ability to see as the Angels do – from a higher perspective.

The Angels have the ability to see life as an all-encompassing destination – a journey unfolding and re-creating itself, time and time again. It’s because of their expansiveness and the sheer amount of unlimited awareness they have. They are still them, yet they are intimately connected to each and every one of us – without attachment. It’s a unique perspective. The ability to be all and everything and yet, not. How do we do it?

That’s a tricky question. First of all, we’re not Angels. Well, some of us encompass the Angel version of energy, but we’re not made as Angelic beings. We are us – you you and me me. It’s a natural state to not compare yourself to something you are not. Now, on the very amazing flipside, we are Angel energy because there is nothing in this beautiful Universe that we are not, so how can we not be all-encompassing Angels?

It’s a matter of creation. We were made as we are, the souls that each of us is in our own unique way. Stop comparing and just become. Take on Angel energy and allow yourself to begin to see through your eyes the way they see. It’s like stepping into another body, but still being yourself. You see from a more encompassing viewpoint. It’s not about rising above, it’s about embracing, enveloping, and becoming – allowing the energy in to transform you into a place of sheer understanding. It alleviates the need to judge, compare, or worship because you become it and LOVE being it. Does that make sense?

It will.

Step up further into yourself and allow yourself to broaden through your awareness. It’s like watching through the periphery instead of singular, central focus. You can still laser in when you need to and focus like the dickens, but the majority of your viewpoint will be peripheral and wide. It allows you to see more, experience more and begin to encompass the energy all around you as you. Take this energy in and you become more of it. Push it away and it will charge at you anyway.

Love it. Hold it. Embrace it.

It’s becoming you; why not nurture it? 




Friday, August 3, 2012

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Angels of Pleiades: Trusting in Flow

The Angels of Pleiades: Trusting in Flow: Trusting in flow can be one of the scariest things you can do when you don't know what's going to happen, how something is going to flow...