In support of having a live Christmas tree

Cassel's Tree Farm where Ted IV is patiently waiting for us to come get him

Cassel’s Tree Farm where Ted IV is patiently waiting for us to come get him

Our family is lucky to be friends with a family who owns a Christmas tree farm.  The Cassel’s are super nice people and their daughter Sparky is like a second daughter to me since she was attached at the hip to my own daughter Skeetr for many years. We never were sure where one stopped and the other began.

This year we will be waiting to pick up our tree, TED IV, until Skeetr is home on leave from the Marines in California.  Sparky has been nice enough to tag a tree for us so when December 21st rolls around they will still have one for us to come get.

circa 1977 - Blue Spruce and cookies for Santa

circa 1977 – Blue Spruce and cookies for Santa

Growing up my family had a huge blue spruce tree every year.  Dad was an interior decorator and the blue color went best with our gold and silver balls and white lights.  My Mom was the unfortunate one who had to string those dozens of lights.  I am very thankful that TED is not a blue spruce since those spruce needles are razor sharp and I’m the one who has to put the lights on now.

TED in 2010

TED at home in 2010

So we’ll pick up TED and put him in our downstairs to enjoy over the holiday.  Then TED goes onto our back deck where we string him with popcorn and pinecone birdfeeders for the rest of the winter. After that TED gets to become branches and mulch for our growing spring garden.

I know some folks don’t think having a real tree is environmentally sound.  Well, I don’t really see how a plastic tree is environmentally sound either.  Our TEDs are raised on a local family owned farm which we support with our money.  He isn’t made in China or some other country with poorly paid workers and then shipped thousands of miles to a big box store where they put him on a shelf with all the other trees and wait for someone with a coupon to buy him.

We enjoy TED and take his picture and the cats love on him for a few weeks inside.  Then he becomes a home and feeder for birds for four months or so.  Then he becomes mulch and cover in our garden.  An artificial tree can’t do any of that.

And that space that TED used to take up on the tree farm is replanted with a new tree helping to preserve local business, enhance the environment for people and animals and to help give us oxygen and prevent soil erosion.

So, my sincere thanks to TED, TED II and TED III for being great trees.  And here’s to TED IV waiting patiently at Cassel’s Tree Farm for us to come get him.

Winter Veggies – 3 Bean Salad

In the wintertime we eat a diet that is quite a bit heavier than we do during other times of the year.  To break the routine of meat, potatoes and applesauce, I like to whip up some 3 Bean Salad.  I’m using canned beans, but you can use cooked fresh beans if you’ve got them.  It’s just a nice change of pace.

3 Bean Salad

  • 1 Can Green Beans
  • 1 Can Wax Beans
  • 1 Can Kidney Beans
  • 1 small onion, sliced thin
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 2/3 C white vinegar
  • 1/3 C corn oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp celery seed

Drain and rinse beans and mix with onion.  In another bowl mix the rest of the ingredients together well.  Pour liquid dressing over beans and toss lightly.  Refrigerate at least 8 hours before eating.

Gluten Free Frozen Peanut Butter Pie

Thanksgiving Spice Wall, designed by Alyn

Thanksgiving Spice Wall, designed by Alyn

In honor of Thanksgiving I’m putting up a recipe for one of my family’s pre-celiac diagnosis favorite desserts.  The good part is now that Mi-del is selling gluten free graham cracker crusts we can once again enjoy this fuss free dessert without messing with making a crust by hand.  But if you can’t find the graham cracker crust, just use gluten free graham crackers and follow this recipe. OR just spoon the filling into a dessert dish.  Yum.

Gluten Free Frozen Peanut Butter Pie

  • 1 C smooth peanut butter
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 C sugar
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 4 oz (half a tub) of Cool Whip, thawed
  • Gluten Free Graham Cracker Pie Crust

Blend peanut butter, cream cheese and sugar in a bowl.  Gradually add in milk.  Fold in Cool Whip, blending well.  Spread into pie crust OR into dessert glasses if you are omitting the crust.

Freeze at least 4 hours and then let stand at room temperature for 10 min to cut.  Top with cool whip and chopped peanuts.  A drizzle of chocolate syrup is always nice too.

PS.  Yes I know Cool Whip is like the most horrible non-food food in the world, but occasionally we do splurge on things such as this.  You can try whipped cream instead but make sure your peanut butter is VERY soft.

Happy Thanksgiving!

For the love of the Thrift

Thrift Store, Love the Thrift Store, It’s a Modern Stone-Age Lottery….

Woo-hoo!! Thrift Store Score!

Woo-hoo!! Thrift Store Score!

I am absolutely mad about thrift stores – as in I LOVE them!  The Salvation Army stores are my favorites, but any kind of thrift will cause me to pull over my car.

Last Friday our SAs were having a pre-Black Friday sale and everything was 50% off.  I picked up a few things for future craft projects but my favorite thing to come home with me was the mail sorter above.  I’ve been wanting one of these for AGES but the price tags on them made them out of my league.

So this one was a whopping $3.99 regularly, but I got it half off so for $2.00 this baby is mine!  I may be persuaded to give it away as a gift at Christmas as is since it is in perfect condition, but more likely I’ll be redoing it in a beach theme for my office.  I’m forever misplacing my bills and blog notes.

 

Grandpa Larry’s Gluten Free Apple Crisp Recipe

Time to call Larry, we're making crisp!

Time to call Larry, we’re making crisp!

I still had a few deer apples left from my last batch and needed to use them up.  I decided to make a batch of apple crisp instead of more applesauce.  This is a hit at our holiday gatherings, especially with Grandpa Larry who always asks for seconds so I’m naming it after him. It is definitely good with ice cream, but also good with milk.

Grandpa Larry’s Apple Crisp

  • 6-7 apples, peeled, cored and sliced (or enough to fill your baking dish)
  • 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 C oats (we use Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 2 T Gluten Free flour (optional)
  • 1/4 cup cold butter
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Optional:  raisins, dried cranberries, currants plus orange juice, apple juice or brandy
  • Optional: walnuts, pecans

This is a throw together kind of recipe and my measurements are guesses. You can really modify this a lot to suit your needs.

  1. 30 minutes before beginning, soak dried fruit in juice/brandy if using.
  2. Preheat oven to 400F
  3. Put prepared apples into 9×9 non-metallic baking dish (or whatever size you are using)
  4. Add dried fruit and nuts if using.
  5. In separate bowl mix flour, oats, butter, spices, brown sugar and vanilla together with your hands or a pastry cutter until they resemble crumbs.  The flour really doesn’t do much here so if you don’t have any, don’t sweat it. Just don’t substitute corn starch. It doesn’t work here.
  6. Sprinkle crumb mixture over apples.  (This amount will not cover the dish, we don’t like tons of topping but if you do, double it.)
  7. Bake at 400F for 30 min or until apples are soft to a fork and topping is brown.  This time can vary considerably depending on what type of apples you are using so start checking around the 25 min mark.  If it is browning too fast, drop the temperature a bit.
Get the milk!

Get the milk!

Variations to this are unlimited. I like to add plums to the apples or sweet cherries.  Fresh or dried.  Most days I just throw in what I have and it is always tasty.  I don’t put sugar or seasonings in with the apples but you could if you like more spice and sugar.  Dots of butter on the apples give a richer dish as well.

Finding Cheaper Gluten Free Foods

Buying gluten free foods usually means that you are paying more per ounce than a similar gluten filled product. Whether the package is the same price and a smaller box, the same size and a higher price, or, my favorite, a smaller package and a higher price, the results are the same: eating gluten free is more expensive than if you were following a regular diet. As a celiac or gluten intolerant patient, this distinction is important because in order to remain healthy we have to stay gluten free and that has an impact on our monthly budget. There is no getting around the fact that we have to pay more, but there are ways to narrow that gap and make eating gluten free only a little less expensive.

Before I get started, I’d like to say that I’m not going to tell you to cook at home more and not use packaged or processed foods because not all people who eat gluten free can do that, and there is the issue that staples, like pasta, are 3-4 times as expensive as those made with wheat. There are also times when you get caught out and need to grab something to eat and don’t know what the choices are.

First, when you are in your regular grocery store check and see if there is a discount rack. Date coded products that expire soon, damaged packages, day old bread, items that aren’t selling, and post-holiday closeouts (think Easter or Halloween candy) wind up here. Discount racks are one of my best places to find large quantities of gluten free foods like pasta, soup, cereal, cookies, snacks, and cake mixes, often at 33-50% off. Stock changes often. If you find something you like go back and buy more A.S.A.P! I’ve bought something, tried it in the parking lot, and gone right back into the store to buy more. Don’t pass up a good deal if you can. Your bank account will thank you.

Next, if your grocery store has a separate gluten free section, browse the shelves whenever you go shopping. Before the last remnants of an item are moved to the discount rack, they are often marked down on the shelves first.

Buying in bulk is the other strategy for saving money when purchasing gluten free foods. I do this in two ways: through a local health food store and on-line.

The local health food store offers a discount of 15-25% when ordering full case lots of a product. Though the retail price in this store is a bit higher than my grocery store, for something that we use a lot like pasta, the savings are still significant overall. If you have any independent grocers in your area call them and ask if they will offer you a discount. You have nothing to lose and dollars to save.

Amazon and other on-line retailers offer a huge variety of gluten-free products at very competitive prices. With little more than a few mouse clicks you can shop, compare, and buy. With services like Amazon’s subscribe and save, you can save even more money on products you use regularly. If I can’t find it local, or need it often, the Internet is where I got for gluten free needs.

Buying gluten free foods will most likely always remain more expensive. Being a consumer in a niche market this is unlikely to change. I hope that these ideas help you save a little time while staying gluten free.

Homemade Bubble Solution

Homemade Bubbles

After going through quite a few containers of bubbles last year we knew that there had to be another way to make them that would be easier and create bigger bubbles from supplies we could keep around the house.

Enter the homemade bubble solution using Dawn dish soap.

This solution is easy to make and lasts a long time.  In fact, the longer it sits before being used the bigger and stronger the bubbles are.  Mix some up in the Winter as a reminder of the coming Spring.  When it is time to go out and enjoy the sun the bubbles will be ready to float jubilantly in the warm air.

Ingredients:
1c. Water
1/3c Dawn dish soap.
2T Glycerin

Mix all of the ingredients in a container with a neck wide enough for your bubble wand and then go out and blow some bubbles!

Do Oats Contain Gluten?

In a word, no.  However, oats do contain a chemical known as avenin which is a compound found in wheat that can cause problems for avenin sensitive celiac patients.

What seems to be a more common issue, however, is cross contamination of oats with wheat, barley, or rye when harvesting, storing, and processing oats because of the similarity of these grains.  This was made apparent to me when speaking with the staff of Arrowhead Mills, who take great precautions to insure their gluten free line is not contaminated, and was told that they cannot guarantee their oat products are gluten free because of shared fields and equipment.

If you are a celiac patient or other who would like to continue to have oats in your diet, try Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Oats.  I have been eating these since my diagnosis without any issue.  Bob’s Red Mill sources these oats from farmers who grow only oats, and then test the final product using the R5 Elisa test to insure the oats do not contain gluten.

If you would like to read more about gluten, see this post: What is Gluten?

Sources:

Diversity in Oat Potential Immunogenicity: Basis for the Selection of Oat Varieties with No Toxicity in Coeliac Disease
Peroral Small Bowel Mucosal Biopsy
Can Oats Be Taken in a Gluten Free Diet?  A Systematic Review
Gluten Contamination of Commercial Oat Products in the United States

Lego Sunblock

My wife and I enjoy playing board games together and are always looking for something new to try. One day, while out shopping, the Lego line of board games caught our eye when my wife saw Sunblock on sale for $10 at a local toy store. Not familiar with the Lego games she read some reviews and thought it was interesting enough to give a try, especially at this low price.

In Sunblock players take turns rolling the dice and taking the action indication which includes: placing umbrellas of different colors on the beach or moving one of several trashcans, the large striped umbrella, or their own beach chair. Whenever a player knocks over any of the umbrellas or is unable to place a new one, they are out of the game, and play continues until only one person is left on the beach.

Game play is deceptively simple and we have found you are competing not only against the actions of other players, who are constantly trying to make the next move more difficult, but also against your own patience and dexterity. Rushing to place or move a piece can result in an umbrella being pushed over and that player being out. Of the dozens of times we have played, only one game has ended because an umbrella could not be placed. The rest of the time we knocked over an umbrella. To win: be careful and take your time.

Simple, fast, and fun are the three words I’d use to describe this game. Sunblock has become one of our first choices when we sit down to play a board game.

Pick up a copy of Sunblock and join the Lego beach party.

Sunblock
Players: 2-4
Ages: 7+
Playtime: 5-15 minutes.

Kids and Gardening

Gardening with children has been one of the great pleasures of the unexpectedly early spring of 2012 that came to Pennsylvania.  This is the first year where both of my youngest children are finally old enough to spend time together in the garden where they can be handled sufficiently by one parent.   As either of my wife or I help the children play and learn about the garden, the other can work on bigger tasks like weeding or moving compost.  After spending much time whispering the gardener’s lament, “There is always next year.”, the garden is finally in a place where we will have what we want while also increasing the amount of quality time we have with our children.

The fun part about having the children out and gardening is how naturally they take to it.  Whether they are digging for dinosaur bones, our very own pair of Dr. Scott the Paleontologist, or helping to transplant strawberries, they don’t need encouragement.

Having spent time volunteering with a local community organization helping to build garden space in Harrisburg, children’s desire to be out, garden, do hard work, all while learning amazed me.  Not only with my own children, but also with those children from the city, there was little need for support on my part.  They only required instructions to start the project and they jumped right in including planting apple trees, hauling mulch, or shoveling manure,

If you want to teach children to garden, the job is made easy for you.  Lead them to a space where they can dig, plant, and grow.  With a little guidance along the way they will take care of the rest.