Regaining Control … sort of

Feeling overwhelmed with to do’s this past week, I finally realized that my surroundings may be the culprit rather than the tasks at hand.  So… I squeezed in some time this weekend to organize a bit.  Starting with the long neglected cupboards and fridge, I got to work (now what to do with the stuff left on the counter?!).  Just a little preface, since I can’t consume any milk products, I really got into baking a few years ago (many bread products contain dairy).  In keeping with my Frugal Food self, I took up shopping in the bulk foods department for flours, sugars, grains, etc.  Hence, the array of labeled tubs:

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However, I had a few bulk baggies of grains that had not yet made it into a nicely labeled container.  Feeling like a complete idiot, I have no idea what these grains are now.  I think one is cracked wheat or wheat berries, but really, I am not sure.  Any guesses?  I could use some help here!

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Baking: Patience is a Virtue

Let the truth be told that while I am not an award-winning cook, I have always loved baking.  I am one of those insane people who refused to purchase a bread maker just because I absolutely loved the process of preparing bread by hand.  Yet, while (almost) all of my baked goods taste quite delicious, they are all too often, ahem, not so pretty.  I have blamed it on my bakeware, exclaiming ‘if only I had the proper pans.’  But now, I must admit that perhaps the baker, not the tools, was the source of the problem.

I received some muffin mixes to trial out from a new food allergy-friendly baking mix company, Meraby’s.  I first had some of the mix sent to a food allergy mom I know, and she promptly whipped up two batches of perfect looking muffins.  Her photos put me to shame, not a ripped apart pastry in site.  I usually lose half of the batch image-wise to stickage.  Sure, they are edible (and get eaten), but they constantly adhere to the bottom of the pan, never retaining that perfect muffin look.  If you look closely at some of my muffin photos, you could easily play a rousing game of “spot the broken muffins.”

To vary my review from hers a bit, I decided to make quick bread. Yet as the loaf emerged from the oven, I suddenly became quite nervous.  This was it, I only had one shot for the photo.  Not a dozen muffins from which at least one or two would remain beautifully in tact and photo-worthy.  Barb had already shown how perfect this mix could look, I couldn’t mess it up at this point!  Truthfully, I had to recognize at that moment my own mental shortcoming, patience.  Just leave the bread Alisa, step away from the pan.  Within the next 15 minute I returned the kitchen twice, tempting fate ever so slightly as I lunged toward the pan, but I held off.  A half hour passed, and I rushed in to discover that the pan was almost fully cooled.  I gently smoothed a knife around the edges to loosen the sides, and slowly turned the loaf, gently tapping the bottom of the pan, and…

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I know to some of you this may seem like the world’s lamest post, but I swear to you, when I saw that entirely smooth loaf of quick bread, a sight that I had never laid eyes upon, a rush of pride so great swept over me that I had to call my husband in and grab my camera.  I kid you not, I took nine different shots of the bottom of this blueberry bread (just a half dozen when I repeated this beautiful process with the cranberry orange bread).  So humor me just for a moment, as at times, it is the littlest things in life that give me the utmost joy!

Just in case you were wondering what the top looked like….

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Oh, and yes, it did taste reeeealllly, reeeeallly, good.  Egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free, and vegan to boot!  Well, if you are curious, the full review is here.

My First Meme

Just a few weeks into my first “real” blog, and I already have two meme’s on my to do list!  I am so honored.  I actually received two tags for the same meme, one from AllergicGirl and one from No Whey Mama

Here are the rules:

1. Let others know who tagged you.
2. Players start with 8 random facts about themselves.
3. Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 8 random facts.
4. Players should tag 8 other people and notify them they have been tagged.

Okay, onto my facts…

  1. I don’t have a TV, cell phone, or any other electronic gadgets beyond my computer and a few small kitchen appliances…. oh yes, and a $25 digital camera.   We had a cell phone for six months many years ago, and quite frankly didn’t like anyone being able to reach us at any time.  That old cell phone is deactivated in the car in case of a 911 emergency of course. 
  2. I am a Smallville addict.  I agreed to sacrafice the TV three years ago if my husband would find a way for me to watch Smallville, and he does.  I haven’t missed an episode yet!
  3. My husband and I have worked together for almost exactly ten years.  The longest we have ever been apart is two days.
  4. I met most of my closest friends in Lake Tahoe by having knee surgery.  It seems you aren’t truly a local until you have had some sort of orthopedic surgery.  That explains why my surgeon had an entire basketball court in his living room. Nice place.
  5. I grew up hating hot dogs, potato chips, bologna, and mac & cheese (for obvious reasons of course), but loved broccoli, oranges, kiwis, spinach, carrots, and any other fruit or vegetable served to me.  Seriously.
  6. My day jobs are as an editor and a financial analyst.  I like to be diversified.
  7. My husband and I adhere to a 1.5 mile rule.  If the restaurant, grocer, or mail drop-off is within 1.5 miles of our home, then we go by foot.  The only time we compromise the rule and head for the car, is when a shipment weighs over 20 lbs (those books can get heavy) or it is over 90º out, and it can’t wait until dark or the next morning.
  8. I have been to Europe twice, for a total of six months, but can’t get my husband to go, even though his parents are now living in England!  (a little venting on that one)

Well that part wasn’t too painful.  Now, finding eight other people who haven’t already been tagged, that is the real challenge.  I will just take my chances:

Oh goodness, I will have to stop there for now, as the ones that come to mind I know have done this meme…

Summer Oasis

With a cookbook heading to print, leaving town has been difficult. Aside from the usual busy-work, proofs back and forth in the mail require that we be here to turn them around quickly.  We found a window though, and headed off for a mid-week escape… taking our first venture to Zion National Park.  It is only three hours away, but we decided to make an event of it, and stayed one night in Mesquite, NV, midway between here and there. 

Not expecting much, we were pleasantly surprised for all we could get for our money in this entertainment filled little border town.  Flagged with three casinos, all run by the same company, a treasure of inexpensive food and activities awaited.  Unfortunately, we were just staying one night, and then off to the park.  We will be pack though.  They have a mid-week $99 special that includes two nights at the Casa Blanca (roughly a 3-star I would say) for 2 and either a round of golf for two or two swedish massages in their spa.  Okay, if that doesn’t sound like enough, every time you stay with them you get this insane coupon book that includes 2-4-1 buffets, free money to gamble (the only time we gamble), and a ton of other fun stuff like go carts and mini-golf (no we don’t have kids, that’s for us!). 

Anyway, my husband swore off buffets long ago, but when he saw that we could both eat for $12, we “had” to go.  I was nervous.  Not only do I loathe buffets, but a cheap buffet?  Well, it turned out to be pretty darn good, and there were just enough dairy-free/vegan options to keep me satiated.  If you are traveling between Las Vegas and Utah, Mesquite will keep you entertained and well-fed for a night.  All in all, we spent less than $50 in Mesquite, which included a hotel room for one night, a dinner buffet, breakfast (scarily large), and some free gambling. 

Of course, the next day we set off for a full day hike in the park.  Escaping the summer heat, we headed up the Virgin River, a true oasis.  You follow the river up the canyon for a half hiking, half wading through water venture.  It was a blast, and the best hike ever for a hot summer day.  Because most of the hike is well shaded by the canyon too, no sunburns were suffered!  The park was breathtaking, and I wish I had more photos, but I am new at this stuff.  We came face-to-face with a family of bighorn sheep (alas, I left my camera in the car) on a mini overlook hike.  That was very cool, if not a little close for comfort.  Below is a picture in some shallows of the river and one of many little lizards we saw….

I also loved how environmental the park was.  Heading up the canyon, no cars were allowed, only their quiet propane buses that ran with ease.  You park and let you feet, bike, or the buses do the work for the day.  It made for a very serene environment all around.  Of course, recycling abounded, and not a speck of garbage could be seen on the ground.  People seemed to show the park respect, which was nice.  While admission to the park is a bit steep ($25 for the two of us and our car), it did include parking, all day use of the buses, free museum/movie access, and a very affordably priced cafe.  We were amazed to see a menu that had hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, and Garden burgers for $4 to $6, and they weren’t half bad. 

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Obviously, I have taken a detour from the kitchen, but wanted to share our travels, which I suppose included some frugal foodie action!

Mini-Meals for Tummy Troubles

Every so often a little bug gets the best of us and a queasy stomach is the price we must pay.  Yesterday was my day for tummy troubles as a bad bout of nausea left me low on the productivity scale.  Sharing this grief with my husband, I can only assume it was something we ate when lazily going out for a quick bite the night before. 

gingersoothersparkling.jpgRegardless, I have never been one of those people who doesn’t eat when nausea hits, quite the opposite really.  I find that mini-meals of comfort foods seem to soothe the savage beast just enough to keep me functional.  Some oats were my breakfast of choice, soon followed by a ginger chaser…. I picked up a bottle mineral water and mixed it 50/50 with some Ginger Soother.  That did the trick for a short while and by splitting it up this way, I was able to make my one bottle of ginger beverage last the day.

When the urge for more solid foods struck, I knew that it had to be something bread-y.  I had a package of Gluten-Free Essentials Multi-Grain Bread Mix on hand for review.  Admitedly, it is a bit pricier than I would spend myself.  I rarely purchase mixes, but rather I buy grains and flours in bulk (I actually have some xanthan gum on hand for GF baking too!) as I love preparing baked goodies from scratch.  Nonetheless, on a day like this, a mix that allowed me to whip up tasty bread in ten minutes (seriously), was nice to have around.  Ten minutes you might ask?  Well the folks at Gluten-Free Essentials told me that this mix makes great “wagels,” so I decided to give them a shot.  Ready in no time, I topped these babies with a little almond butter (I know, I’m addicted) and enjoyed some comfort food…

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With much more batter to be used up, I fired the rest of the batter in some mini loaf tins, and boy did they rise… really, they put my yeast/wheat breads to shame…

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Later in the day my need for greens kicked in, so I grabbed a couple of slices of this mini-bread (I ate one before taking a picture), slathered them with Earth Balance (the 37% – I think – light tub is dairy-free/vegan and frequently on sale in major grocers), and piled all of our left over green beans on a plate with just a teaspoon or two of salad dressing for flavor…

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Of course, what  would my afternoon be without a soothing smoothie… 

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Really, this was a standard throw together one, one banana, 1/2 cup frozen chopped organic strawberries, 1/2 cup frozen chopped organic nectarines (when organic fruit is on sale, I stock up, chop it and flash-freeze any we won’t eat within the week), 1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (you really don’t need added sugar when the fruits are nice and ripe), and a tablespoon or so of flaxseed.  It was a very banana dominated beverage, but that suited my tastes and my tummy, just fine. 

While my tummy troubles seem to be alleviating ever-so-slightly, it was nice to have these calming foods on hand for small, easy bites that get me through the day.  Particularly during a season when warm comfort soups just aren’t on the menu!