Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Gluten Free 101

Living a gluten free lifestyle has been gaining in popularity recently due to associated health benefits such as feeling better, more energy, sharper clarity and so much more.
I will be up  front and state I am not a registered nutritionist or a dietitian but I have done some research on the subject and here are some general remarks that might take some of the mystique out of the terminology. 

  • A gluten-free diet does not include the grains wheat, barley, rye, or hybrids of these grains. This includes all varieties and forms of these grains, such as spelt (a type of wheat) and malt (made from barley). A gluten-free diet is called a gluten-free diet because the grains that must be avoided all contain a protein called gluten.
  • Most people who follow a gluten-free diet have celiac disease, a serious genetically-based autoimmune disease. When gluten is eaten by a person with celiac disease it triggers an immune system reaction that damages the lining of the small intestine. When the lining of the small intestine is damaged, nutrients can not be properly absorbed. Once gluten is completely removed from the diet the intestine is able to heal.
  • You may be thinking that no gluten means no bread, no pasta, and no pizza. It is true that most of these products in regular grocery stores contain gluten, but there are plenty of gluten-free options available. As you may have noticed perusing the aisles of Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or any other natural food store, there are plenty of breads, pastas, breakfast cereals, and other products labeled gluten free. 
  • There is also an abundance of grains that just happen to be gluten free including rice, corn, millet, sorghum, wild rice, teff, buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth. It would not be surprising if many of these grains are not familiar to you.
  • You might not know what teff is but you may have eaten it, especially if you have ever been to a restaurant that serves Ethiopian food. Teff is a staple grain in Ethiopia where it is used to make a spongy flatbread called injera. What about quinoa (pronounced keen-wa)? It sounds exotic but it is as simple to cook as rice and has a very mild taste — even picky eaters will love it. The same is true for all the gluten-free whole grains—they are delicious, nutritious and easy to cook.
Gluten free diets mean less prepared foods and more cooking from natural sources. Thankfully, more and more stores are stocking the ingredients to make healthy food. When shopping locally for gluten-free foods you will have the best luck at natural foods stores, although an increasing number of gluten-free foods are carried in regular grocery stores. If you do not live near a natural foods store, there are plenty of mail-order companies. Among the many companies to check out are Enjoy Life Foods (, Bob’s Red Mill (, and the Teff Company (
Sausage, Brussels Sprouts and Parmesan Pasta
Cook's notes: Kristen Porter from was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2013 so the majority of her recipes are gluten-free. This recipe can be made in 20 minutes. It's a filling dish with loads of flavor.    
Gluten- Free Mac and Cheese with Tomato  
Cook's notes: This Mac and Cheese is one of the gluten-free recipes on this site. The recipes are divided up into breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert/snacks for kids that will provide parents and grandparents some inspiration for meal planning.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Celebrating A Statesman's Birthday

If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately.  

Benjamin Franklin 
to one of my favorite statesman and an ingenious inventor, Benjamin Franklin. He was born in Boston in 1706. After he retired from the printing business in 1749, he turned his attention to science and inventions. He had already invented a safer, heat-efficient stove - called the Franklin stove - which he never patented because he created it for the good of society. He also established the first fire company and came up with the idea of fire insurance. His credentials just go on and on; consider this... 
  • Franklin was a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. He had a lifelong love of swimming that began during his childhood in Boston. One of his first inventions was a pair of wooden hand paddles that he used to propel himself through the Charles River, and he wrote of once using a kite to skim across a pond.
  • He spent his later years as an abolitionist. Franklin owned two slaves during his life, both of whom worked as household servants, but in his old age he came to view slavery as a vile institution that ran counter to the principles of the American Revolution.
  • His fame soared to new heights after his arrival in Paris. Franklin capitalized on the French conception of Americans as rustic frontiersmen by dressing plainly and wearing a fur hat, which soon became his trademark and appeared in countless French portraits and medallions. Women even took to imitating the cap with oversized wigs in a style called “coiffure a la Franklin". 
  • Franklin designed a musical instrument used by Mozart and Beethoven. Among Franklin’s more unusual inventions is his “glass armonica”, an instrument designed to replicate the otherworldly sound that a wet finger makes when rubbed along the rim of a glass. He made his first prototype in 1761 by having a London glassmaker build him 37 glass orbs of different sizes and pitches, which he then mounted on a spindle controlled by a foot pedal. To play the instrument, the user would simply wet their fingers, rotate the apparatus and then touch the glass pieces to create individual tones or melodies. The armonica would go on to amass a considerable following during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Thousands were manufactured, and the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss all composed music for it. Franklin would later write that, “Of all my inventions, the glass armonica has given me the greatest personal satisfaction.”
With these stellar credentials certainly Franklin needs a worthy dish to mark his special day.  How about...  
Guinness Shepherd's Pie for Two 
Mashed potatoes, ground beef, and veggies, all cooked with Guinness beer. This is comfort food at its finest—and all in one neat pie. Luckily with this dish, comfort food doesn’t have to mean calorie bomb. Use lean ground beef and low-fat cheddar to slash even more calories and sneak in some extra vegetables if you feel like it
Although this recipe is made for two, it can easily be doubled for a family of four. The cooking time and directions may seem long, but you can make the mashed potatoes while the meat mixture is cooking. A time saver using instant mashed potatoes.  Recipe adapted from 
  • 1/2 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 TB. olive oil 
  • 1 small onion, chopped (roughly 1/2 cup)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced chunky tomatoes garlic and basil 
  • 2 cups fresh vegetable medley (carrots, peas, corn, and green beans) 
  • 1/2 cup Guinness Draught beer (it's milder in flavor)
  • 1 TB. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. herbes de Provence 
  • 1/2 cup beef broth (low sodium) 
  • 3 small potatoes, peeled and chopped (roughly 2 cups)
  • 4 TB. (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/4 cup 2 % milk
  • 1 tsp. parsley flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste 
  • 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese (low fat)
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the potatoes. Let this heat up while you cook the meat mixture.
  • In a large skillet, cook the beef until browned. Crumble and set aside and clean pan. 
  • In same pan heat oil, saute onions and garlic. Add in fresh vegetable medley, cover pan and sweat veggies for 10 minutes.  
  • Add in can of chunky tomatoes, cooked meat, Guinness, Worcestershire sauce, and herbes de Provence. Cook uncovered about 10 minutes. Add the broth and bring back to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the mixture is thick and glossy.
  • While the mixture is cooking preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have two mini casserole dishes ready.
  • By now the water from step 1 should be boiling. Add the potatoes and cook for 15-20 minutes or until soft but not mushy. Drain and cool. Mash the potatoes either by hand or with a mixer. Add the butter, milk, 1/2 cup cheese, parsley flakes, salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Once the mixture is done cooking and the potatoes are mashed, divide the meat mixture between the two baking dishes. Top with mashed potatoes then top with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Weekend Round-Up and Celebrating MLK Day

Check out The World According to Bella from WWN  
Arctic Blast Survival 
Book Review: "The Whip" by Karen Kondazian
I really enjoyed and I am also intrigued by this recent book club selection about the story of Charlotte "Charley" Parkhurst (1812-1879). Karen Kondazian, an award winning writer and actress, certainly was creative weaving a fictional but poignant story based on sparse facts available on Parkhurst. 
Throughout the mid 1880s, Charley Parkhurst lived the rough male life of a whip, stagecoach driver for Wells Fargo. He earned high praise from his bosses, his friends the other whips, and passengers for his expertise as a driver and the consistent safety of his passengers. Then, upon his death, much to the surprise of all—it was discovered that Charley was a woman not a man. The book is about a life of courage, mystery, strength, survival and the ability to embrace life no matter what is dealt to you. 
I would suggest checking out the author's page to learn more
If the book not available at the library you can download it as an e-book for a small price.

"The Whip" has won numerous awards which include:
Best Western, 2013 International Book Awards
2013 National Indie Excellence Awards winner, Western fiction category
Award-Winner in the 'Fiction: Historical' category of The 2012 USA Best Book Awards
Gold Prize in Historical Fiction & Best Western Fiction - 2013 Global E book Awards

Since I am a huge fan of the Dollar Tree I found this link informative. It shows buyers what are great finds at the store and what products to be wary of buying.

The following recipe was recently posted on my Pinterest board under recipes to try. I liked the fact it is 236 calories and found it quite flavorful.  
Thai Chicken Salad 
Cook's notes: A healthy salad at 236 calories and 5 Weight Watcher SmartPoints
adapted from
 and recipe serves four. Note if using a store bought rotisserie chicken the calorie count will change. It's a healthy start to the week. 
Salad Ingredients
  • 1 package of cabbage slaw mix (red and green) about 6 cups
  • 2 medium carrots, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup minced cilantro
  • 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken breast
  • 3 TB. silvered almonds, toasted
Dressing Ingredients: 
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 3 TB. natural peanut butter
  • 2 TB. low-sodium soy sauce
  • 3 tsp. agave nectar or honey 
  • 2 tsp. fish sauce
  • 2 tsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp. chili garlic sauce 
Salad Directions: 
In a large bowl, combine the cabbage/ slaw, carrots, green onion, cilantro and chicken.  Toss with the dressing. Garnish with the toasted almonds.
Dressing Directions: 
In a small glass bowl, combine the lime juice, peanut butter, soy sauce, agave nectar, fish sauce, rice vinegar and chili garlic sauce. Whisk until smooth or use a blender.

Ever Ready posted a similar Thai Chicken Salad recipe in 2016.

Last, but not least, in the midst of these turbulent times its good to stop and reflect on the poignant words Martin Luther King Jr. has to offer. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Their mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. 

I am honored to participate again in this wonderful event as a book reviewer for "Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup" by Pamela Mayer with illustrations by Deborah Melmon, published in 2016. 

Jill Colella, marketing and website manager from Kar-Ben Publishing, sent me the book. Kar-Ben Publishing is the largest publisher of Jewish-themed picture books for children in the world. I was surprised to learn the publishing company is located right in my home state of Minnesota in Minneapolis.   
This picture book is targeted for ages 4-8 audience. It is the story of two grandmas, each with their own delicious chicken soup recipe and one granddaughter named Sophie. She inadvertently triggers a culture clash between the two grandmas, one is Jewish and one is Chinese. The story is about blending two cultures and coming up with just the perfect solution. The grandmothers, Bubbe and Nai Nai, are miffed when Sophie calls the dumplings in each of their soups by the wrong terminology. The grandmothers are quick to point out the differences between kreplach and wonton dumplings added to the soup's broth. Sophie realizes that she needs to come up with a plan to show her grandmas how good a mixture of a "little Jewish" and "a little Chinese"can be much like her family, a blend of cultures.

One of the things I liked about the story was Sophie was able to come up with a blended soup solution that made both grandmas happy and she included her parents in the brainstorming session. In the process each grandma realizes they could learn from one another. Since the story provided information about different cultures which promotes diversity, it's great for story time at home and perfect for schools or preschools who want to teach their pupils about different cultures and that there isn’t a “one and only” way to see or do things. As a former classroom teacher I noted the author was quite savvy providing a link to a curriculum guide with enriching classroom activities directed to the book usage, discussion questions and how the book fits in with common core state standards. Teachers so appreciate having readily available access to these type of materials.

So I saved one of the best things of the book to last. On the last two pages of the book are recipes for chicken soup, Bubbe's Kreplach and Nai Nai's Wontons, family recipes supplied by the author. Enjoy this bowl of blended soup from two cultures made with one special ingredient love, provided by the grandmothers and Sophie.
I would be remiss not to mention Deborah Melmon's detailed illustrations which compliment the text. There is so much  detail on each page lending itself to wonderful discussions. The illustrations  show differences in facial features and dress without stereotyping. The characters' facial expressions are fun and playful. Children will easily relate to the story.  I loved how playful the grandmothers were depicted after they enjoyed soup with Sophie. One grandma liked to play dress up with her and the other grandma liked to paint pictures. 
Check out Deborah's website and enjoy other examples of her work. Deborah Melmon 

Learn more about author Pamela Mayer, her published books, author visits and read her blog postings at Pamela Mayer
Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that. 
Current Sponsors: MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsors include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica Appleton, Susan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Maria Dismondy, D.G. Driver, Geoff Griffin, Savannah Hendricks, Stephen Hodges, Carmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani, Gwen Jackson, Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana Llanos, Natasha Moulton-Levy, Teddy O'Malley, Stacy McAnulty, Cerece Murphy, Miranda Paul, Annette Pimentel, Greg Ransom, Sandra Richards, Elsa Takaoka, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

MCBD Links to remember:

Friday, January 13, 2017

Healthy Friday with a Serving of Good Bones

Chicken Enchilada Quinoa Style
Cook's notes: An easy, one-skillet recipe with the flavor of chicken enchiladas complete with juicy shredded chicken, onions, red peppers, corn, black beans, and plenty of melted cheese paired with quinoa. Not only is it a time saver not to have to roll enchiladas but quinoa is healthier than carb-heavy flour tortillas. Trust me you won't miss the traditional enchiladas. This casserole is delicious!
Recipe serves six and was adapted from and
  • 2-1/2 - 3 cups shredded chicken (use about half of one store bought rotisserie chicken to save time; or roast or cook your own)
  • 3 TB. olive oil 
  • 1 cup sweet Vidalia or yellow onion, peeled and diced small 
  • 3/4 cup red bell pepper, trimmed, seeded, and diced small; reserve a few pieces for garnishing
  • 1 cup quinoa (I used white)
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup red enchilada sauce
  • 1 cup corn (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika (regular paprika may be substituted)
  • pepper and salt to taste 
  • 2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend-low fat
  • 1 cup diced Roma tomatoes
  • 1 ripe Hass avocado, peeled, seeded, and diced small, optional for garnishing
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, finely minced, optional for garnishing
  • In a large skillet or saucepan, add the olive oil, onions, and sauté over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, or until onions begin to soften. Stir intermittently.
  • Add the red pepper and sauté over medium-high heat for about 3 to 5 minutes, or until peppers begin to soften. Stir intermittently.
  • Add the quinoa, stir it into the vegetables, and let it toast for about 30 seconds.
  • Add the water, reduce the heat to low, cover pan, and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until all liquid has been absorbed.
  • Add the shredded chicken, enchilada sauce, corn, black beans, cumin, smoked paprika, pepper, salt and pepper. Combine thoroughly and cook uncovered over medium heat until all ingredients are warmed through, about 8-10 minutes. Stir intermittently. Taste and check for seasoning balance. Add more salt, pepper, or spices if desired.
  • Reduce heat to low, evenly sprinkle in the cheese and add tomatoes. Cover pan and cook until cheese has melted, about 4 minutes.
  • Evenly sprinkle with avocado, cilantro, reserved red pepper for garnishing, and serve immediately. Recipe is best served fresh but will keep airtight in the fridge.

Good Bones
by Maggie Smith
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

"Good Bones" from Waxwing. Copyright © 2016 by Maggie Smith. Reprinted by permission of Waxwing magazine

There is history behind this poem that has captured our turbulent times. I was mesmerized reading the back story of this simple heartfelt work that grapples with pain, injustice with unfairness and disillusionment. It has surged in popularity. Three days after a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Smith’s poem, “Good Bones,” was published in the literary journal "Waxwing". A reader moved by the poem’s message posted a screenshot on Facebook, where a Brooklyn-based musician read it and passed it along on Twitter. As the poem traveled across the Web, its celebrity endorsements got bigger. Articles about the poem in the Guardian, Slate and elsewhere  helped propel its spread. So, too, did shocking news: “Good Bones” spiked when British politician Jo Cox was murdered and again in the days following the presidential election.
It’s impossible to know how many people have read the poem, though one estimate in August put the number at nearly  a million. The poem has been interpreted into dance by a troupe in India, turned into a musical score for the voice and harp and been translated into Spanish, Italian, French, Korean, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. Closer to home, Smith says that she has gotten many requests for the work to appear in church bulletins and for her to read it aloud. “It’s my ‘Freebird,’ ” she jokes.
The evolution of her poem plus some back story was written up in the Star Tribune January 12, 2017. Take some time to check this story out.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Kitchen Tip and Kid Friendly Groundhog Day Ideas

Kitchen Tip:
My wooden utensils needed a face-lift.

Wooden utensils do have one downside: they quickly lose their attractive glossy finish, are prone to cracking, and are generally a little fussy to take care of. Here are a few simple steps to help you avoid replacing them every few months.

Always hand wash wood utensils with soap and warm water. Unfortunately, the harsh detergent and heat in the dishwasher will wreck the wood in just a few cycles. Dry wooden spoons with a towel instead of letting them air dry. Residual moisture from washing will get absorbed into the wood, causing the wood to swell and crack over time.

And then once a month or so, rub in a little mineral oil with a soft cloth. This will restore the warm polished look and keep the wood in good condition.
Mineral oil is a food safe product that won't go rancid the way olive oil or other cooking oils would. It gets absorbed quickly, leaving wooden handles smooth but not greasy. Since you're only using a teaspoon or so at a time, one bottle of mineral oil will last a long time. It's readily available at kitchen stores, drug stores, grocery stores and online.

What a revelation finding a Teddy Bear Graham site with plethora of ideas using packaged teddy bear cookies and other packaged cookies. More assembly than baking using these ideas.  Perfect for the young chef in your house.  
Consider these delightful groundhog ideas
Create these delicious groundhogs by using packaged Nutter Butter Cookies  
Check out this link for some 30 creative groundhog ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

8 Biggest Food Trends for 2017

An interesting article worth sharing from Business Insider
Whole Foods has released its predictions for the top trends and products that will dominate the food industry in 2017. The experts who made the list are in charge of tracking consumer behavior and buying food and other products for the 365 by Whole Foods stores.

Here are eight of the top trends they identified:

Purple food — including purple cauliflower, sweet potatoes, corn, and asparagus — is becoming more mainstream.
Wellness Tonics-Tonics with botanical that have roots in alternative medicine will be popular in 2017, according to Whole Foods. The most popular ingredients right now include kava, tulsi/holy basil, turmeric, apple cider vinegar, medicinal mushrooms (like reishi and chaga), and adaptogenic herbs (maca and ashwagandha). Some of the hottest products right now with these ingredients include Kor organic raw shots, Suja drinking vinegars, and Temple turmeric elixirs, according to the company.
All Things Coconut-We already love coconut oil, coconut water, and coconut milk, but this health food-favorite comes in many other forms yet  Whole Foods reports they are likely to get only their fifteen minutes of fame in 2017.
Creative Condiments-look for black sesame tahini, habanero jam, ghee, pomegranate molasses, black garlic purée, date syrup, plum jam with chia seeds, beet salsa, Mexican hot chocolate spreads, sambal oelek or piri piri sauce, Mina Harissa, and Frontera adobo sauces (ancho, chipotle, and guajillo varieties.

Alternative Pasta-Alternative-grain noodles are growing in popularity, according to Whole Foods. They are made from a variety of plant-based products such as quinoa, lentils, and chickpeas, spiralized veggies, and kelp.

Fresh oven-ready meal kits and vegetable medleys are on the rise as people look for quick, easy, and cheap ways to make home-cooked meals. 
Japanese Food beyond Sushi-Japanese-inspired eating is on the rise, and it doesn't look anything like a sushi roll, Ponzu, miso, mirin, sesame oil, seaweed, Japanese-style pickles, and plum vinegar are some of the ingredients in Japanese food that are growing in popularity.
BY Products-Companies are making better use of waste. "Whether it's leftover whey from strained Greek yogurt or spent grains from beer, food producers are finding innovative — and delicious — ways to give byproducts new life.

Cook's notes: Coconut Oil
I am not quite sure why people think there is something magically healthy about coconut oil. For several years now, coconut oil has been marketed as the new wonder oil, a cure-all with health benefits ranging from antimicrobial properties (such as fighting viruses and bacteria, including HIV), to fighting cancer (by supporting our immune system), to reducing heart disease (by reducing cholesterol and benefiting our arteries), to promoting weight loss, to treating hyperthyroidism, to many other things. Its uses are also varied—it’s a cooking and baking oil, an ingredient in many packaged foods, and a component used in biodiesel fuel, soaps, and skin products.

The bottom line is that coconut oil is devoid of vitamins, minerals, and most other nutrients. It is pure fat, and worse than that, it’s over 90% saturated fat. The same saturated fat that raises our cholesterol, clogs our arteries, and contributes to our heart attacks.
An alternative product overlooked is coconut flour. It’s a great gluten-free option, more easily digestible than regular white flour, and high in both protein and fiber. I found it at Trader Joes and Whole Foods.
Check back tomorrow for a a few recipes that contain coconut flour.