Quick and Easy Pizza Night

By Rachel Sircy

Well, truthfully, I wasn’t planning to write about this, but after I tried Mama Mary’s gluten free pizza crust, I thought I had better share my experience. My husband had been asking about home-made pizza recently – I make a pretty mean chicken pizza – but the thing is, I really don’t like to make gluten free pizza crusts. Somehow, the mixes always give you something weird. I really dislike the Bob’s Redmill pizza crust mix. It’s like dry, crusty bread. My favorite, as far as pizza crust mixes go, has always been Namaste, but even that wasn’t ever a normal pizza crust. It was white with greenish flecks of Italian seasoning in it. It was also the consistency of cake batter with the weirdly elastic properties of marshmallow cream. It was weird, but at least it was a kind of weirdness I could handle. Actually, I haven’t even made the Namaste pizza crust in so long, that I don’t know if the formula is even the same anymore.

So, when my husband asked for pizza, I really just wanted to hand him $5 and point him in the direction of the nearest Little Cesar’s, but then I remembered something. Walking down one of the aisles of the Walmart Neighborhood Market in Cayce, I remembered seeing little personal-sized pre-packaged pizza crusts that were labeled “gluten free”. I figured they couldn’t be as bad as Bob’s Redmill, and their small size also solved another one of gluten free pizza’s big problems: leftovers.

My husband loves cold pizza – I’m not such a huge fan, even in my gluten-eating days, I disliked the way that the refrigerator turned all of that luscious, gooey cheese into something like cold leather – but cold, leftover gluten free pizza is pretty nearly inedible. Not only does the cheese turn to leather, but the something that happens to most gluten free pizza crusts that causes them to become so hard that – should you be desperate enough to try to eat a piece – you have to gnaw on the slice like a wild animal trying to peel the last bit of meat off of a carcass. And, in my opinion, reheating a gluten free slice of pizza doesn’t make matters much better. The microwave may melt the cheese, but it doesn’t do much for that awful crust. I have always hated making an entire huge pizza and pretty much having to throw out the leftovers. Yes, some of you may be thinking that you have a perfect (albeit really time-consuming) recipe for gluten free pizza crust that tastes good the next day, but here’s the thing: I’m lazy. Especially when it comes to baking. I kind of hate it. I used to love to bake before I discovered that I have celiac disease, but that love died in the first few months of going gluten free and I’ve never been able to revive it. If you want to see me at my absolute worst, ask me to make a gluten free pizza crust. Or worse yet, a gluten free pie crust. In the case of the pie crust, you might have to pick me up off of the kitchen floor because I will have fallen over, weeping.

Long story short, I decided to give these little pizza crusts a try. And it turns out that they’re pretty good. I mean, they’re not the best pizza crusts I’ve ever had, but I personally think they beat Bob’s Redmill by a mile. (Sorry to beat up on you, Bob. You’ve given us a lot of great products, but your pizza is the pits.) So, I am making a recommendation: if you, like me, are lazy and want a quick and easy pizza without leftovers, try these Mama Mary’s pizza crusts. I didn’t take a picture of the crusts in the package, because I wasn’t planning to write about them, but I took a picture of the back of the package:

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And here’s the finished product:

Again, I found these pizza crusts in the gluten free section of the Neighborhood Market in Cayce. They’re not refrigerated, they right there on the shelf next to the gluten free snack bars and whatnot. I feel fairly certain, however, that almost any Walmart would carry them. Walmart is pretty good at having the same products in every store. Happy Eating!

 

 

 

Pizza: My Favorite Veggie!

By Mary Pat Baldauf

I’m always on the lookout for good, healthy, easy meals, and I recently found a winner at my local Kroger store: CAULIPOWER, a ready-to-cook, cauliflower-crust frozen pizza.

Caulipowered

CAULIPOWER pizzas are made with real cauliflower, are nutrient-rich and gluten-free. While they taste like conventional recipes – my sister compares them to our mom’s homemade pizzas — they have less sodium, calories and sugar, and are higher in vitamins than most conventional and gluten-free frozen pizzas.

CAULIPOWER is the brainchild of Gail Becker who made the jump from a globally recognized corporate career at Edelman to the world of entrepreneurship. After both her sons were diagnosed with Celiac disease, she was frustrated by the poor nutritional value of today’s gluten-free options and wanted to create one product that could go beyond just ‘gluten-free’ to be craveable and delicious to anyone.

“I was really taken with the idea of bringing a concept that was born on the internet to life,” said Gail Becker, founder and CEO of CAULIPOWER. “I knew there was a large segment of the population that want to eat healthier, but may not have the time or resources to make those foods from scratch. My vision for CAULIPOWER is to advocate for accessible nutrition, that’s easy and even a bit unexpected.”

caulipower

Creating a vegetable-forward meal in under 15 minutes, CAULIPOWER pizzas are available in three guilt-free varieties:

  • Three-Cheese Pizza – a delicious mix of mozzarella, white cheddar and parmesan atop a signature sauce made from a traditional blend of spices, extra virgin olive oil and garlic
  • Veggie Pizza – features ripe red, yellow and green peppers atop a thick bed of mozzarella cheese and savory signature sauce
  • Margherita Pizza – honors the classic recipe with freshly diced vine-ripened tomatoes, abundant mozzarella cheese, and signature sauce made from a traditional blend of spices, extra virgin olive oil and garlic
  • And with there is a plain crust option, too, which is a blank canvas awaiting culinary artistry.

I found CAULIPOWER by glorious accident at Kroger on Forest Drive, and I’m hooked. They also sell at select Whole Foods and on Amazon.com, as well as other grocers throughout the country. To learn more about CAULIPOWER and where to buy it, visit CAULIPOWER.net or follow them on Facebook.

Learning to Listen to Your Gut

By Rachel Sircy

This post is going to be short, since it’s basically a personal story without a whole bunch of evidence to back it up. I will start off by saying (as I’m sure I’ve said before), that I am a big believer in going to the doctor if you feel that something is wrong with you. I would strongly advise against anyone who thinks they have a gluten sensitivity beginning a gluten free diet without going through the proper tests first. There are a lot of reasons for this, but mainly the reason is that if you have celiac disease, you could also have a whole host of other problems that sometimes go along with it. If no doctor really diagnoses you, then no doctor will be looking out for your other symptoms either.

However, there are times when you need to listen to your gut. I am in the middle of learning this lesson myself. You see, some people with celiac disease can eat oats while others can’t. When I say “oats” I am talking only about the strictly certified gluten free oats. No one with a gluten sensitivity should eat just any old oats. Oats and wheat are often processed in the same factories, stored in the same silos and grown in adjacent fields. All this means that cross-contamination is inevitable in regular oats. Certified gluten free oats cost more than regular oats because they are grown in fields away from wheat and they are also stored and processed in gluten free facilities. So, when I talk about oats, I mean ONLY the oats with a label that claims that they are certified gluten free.

Okay, that being said, some people with celiac disease cannot digest even the cleanest, most certifiably gluten free oats. I am going to give you a basic run-down of why that is, though I may need some correction here. I really haven’t seen many articles on this that haven’t been really technical and scientific. There is a genetic component, I think, that is the cause of the additional sensitivity. There is a protein in the oats that is not related to gluten, but which some people are extremely sensitive to. I believe you can either be allergic to this protein in the oats or intolerant of it. (the same is true of gluten – some people are allergic, while celiacs like me are not allergic, but intolerant)

To be perfectly honest with everyone, I have thought for a number of years that I have an intolerance to oats, but I go back and forth on whether or not to eat them. There are two reasons that I have not made up my mind about whether or not to give oats up forever. Firstly, I LOVE oats. When I was a kid (many years before my celiac diagnosis), I would sneak into the pantry and grab handfuls of dry oats from the Quaker Oats box and eat them plain and uncooked, like a horse. I could eat oatmeal every day of my life and not grow tired of it. I could also probably give up desserts entirely if I just ate one of those dark chocolate chunk Kind granola bars instead. The second reason that I have hemmed and hawed about giving them up is that I figured that there was no test to prove that it was oats that I was allergic to. Plus, everything I read online about celiac disease and even about how to manage high cholesterol seems to indicate that we should eat oats. The arguments are that celiacs need more fiber in their diets and oats are the perfect way to get that fiber. The fiber that you get from oats is also really good for heart health and lowering cholesterol.

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However, for several years now, I have cut most oats and most oat containing products out of my diet – though I’ll admit I’m not a saint. I have relapses. Each time I relapse and eat my way through a box of gluten free granola bars, or eat oat-based cereals or crackers, etc. I get sick. I start having the same symptoms that I had before my celiac diagnosis: bloating, nausea, severe stomach cramps, fatigue – you name it. My most recent relapse ended last Wednesday when, after eating granola on my morning yogurt for about a month straight, I collapsed on the couch after work and just didn’t have the strength or energy to get up. My husband panicked, thinking I was either pregnant or sick with the flu. When I told him that I had been eating oats again, he just put his head in his hands and said “Why do you keep doing this to yourself?” And I finally realized that it was time to stop. I started looking online for answers about oat intolerance and, as it turns out, there is a test for it. So, my next step is going to be to speak to my doctor and try to get tested. A printout of lab results always makes me feel better. Those pieces of paper confirm that I am not a hypochondriac and my symptoms are not just in my head.

As I get further into this life lesson, I will be writing updates. Meanwhile, if anyone out there is a celiac and you’ve been on a gluten free diet for a long time and aren’t feeling any better, try cutting oats out for a while and seeing how you feel. Oats are an excellent source of nutrition if your body can handle them, but if you don’t feel good, they may not be good for you. Just food for thought.

Gluten Free Adventures, Close to Home

By Rachel Sircy

I’ve mentioned before that if you’re a celiac and you’d like to get away for a weekend that there are cities close by that offer a haven for the gluten intolerant. Food meccas like Charleston have all sorts of restaurants that will cater to any and all of the latest trends. Since gluten free eating is still an important trend, trendy restaurants will strive to meet your needs. My favorite gluten free destination that is close to Columbia, however, is Asheville, NC. I’ve probably mentioned my love of Asheville before – maybe I’ve mentioned it a lot – but I’ll go ahead and mention it again, since I was there this past weekend.

There are, as everyone reading this probably already knows, plenty of things to do in Asheville. I keep thinking that one day we’ll go see the Biltmore or Carl Sandburg’s farm or go horseback riding. So far, though, my husband and I have never felt a need to go outside of the city center for fun. Actually, one of the biggest reasons that I like going to Asheville is that it’s one of those quintessential Appalachian towns that’s a little bit hippie and a little bit hillbilly. Athens, Ohio, where I grew up, is quite a bit like Asheville – a little bit country and a little rock and roll. So, taking a trip to this funky mountain town helps to alleviate my homesickness whenever it springs up. Also, there’s a musician on almost every corner playing pretty good music and walking around Asheville’s downtown area has the effect of making me feel that my life suddenly has a soundtrack.

Besides the effects that Asheville has on my homesickness for the Appalachian foothills and hippies, my husband and I go there for two primary reasons: first, to eat and second, to hang out in bookstores. Hanging out in bookstores is pretty much what it sounds like. We enjoy just walking around and reading the spines and back covers of books and usually we buy at least one book. We then sit in the corners of the bookstores and read. It may not sound like a lot of fun to the rest of the world, but to us it’s worth the 2.5-hour drive just to do that. Columbia, if you’re listening, we need a great independent bookstore!

Much as I’d love to go on about the bookstores, I need to talk about the first reason that I go to Asheville – to eat. Asheville is one of the cities that comes up again and again in articles and discussions of gluten free travel destinations. Every single restaurant that I’ve been to there is aware of plight of the gluten-sensitive and is more than willing to accommodate them. I know for certain that I’ve mentioned a restaurant called Posana (pictured below) in previous posts.

Pic 1

This restaurant is not only notable for sourcing most, if not all, of it’s ingredients locally, but EVERYTHING on their menu is gluten free. I don’t even know if the majority of their customers are aware of that, because the restaurant is almost always full. I mean, you can certainly get reservations and you may be able to wait for a table, but this is a pretty popular place. I point that out because usually if you say that something is gluten-free, nobody except the gluten sensitive will touch it with a 10-foot pole. I know that all you gluten-free bakers out there know what I’m talking about. But, Posana is 100% gluten free and the food is so good that people fill the place up night after night. This was my dinner there Friday night:

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Yeah, it was as good as it looks. Who doesn’t love chicken with the skin on over top of cheese grits? You’d have to be crazy to pass that up. And these little potatoes were tossed with truffle oil and cheese and served with aioli:

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Yeah, I’d never tasted aioli and I’m not sure what is in it other than mayonnaise, but it was awesome. The best part of any meal, of course, is the dessert. And this was my cheesecake:

Pic 4

It had a shortbread cookie crust and the little dollops on the side were tiny meringue cookies floating on some kind of red wine and honey jam. It was the best cheesecake I’ve had in a long time. Really, though, the best part of eating at this restaurant is knowing that the entire menu is open to me. There are a lot of restaurants these days that have gluten free menus, but if you’re gluten sensitive or a celiac, you always have to explain your situation to your server and have them watch out for cross contamination. Then, you get to pick from the limited number of items that can be made in a way that won’t make you sick and pray that no one accidentally touches your salad with the wrong tongs.

Posana is a bit fancier and more expensive than my husband and I usually eat. We’re pretty laid-back people and not entirely comfortable in any restaurant with an atmosphere more elegant than Outback. If I can’t wear my Bob Ross t-shirt in an eatery without looking out of place, then you know I’m uncomfortable. But the elegant atmosphere and the price at Posana (which is expensive for us because we’re English majors trying to make a living, which is to say, we’re broke) are worth braving every now and again because you can’t really put a price on peace of mind. There is no cross contamination in Posana’s kitchen because everything in that kitchen is gluten free. There is also no set of things that you have to choose from on the menu, no explaining to your server that you mean it this time about the croutons on your salad – because you can eat everything on the menu, croutons included. So, I highly recommend that you give this place a try if you get a chance. It’s amazing feeling to be able to eat what everyone else is eating and not be a bit worried about it.

Other places that we frequent in Asheville are the Over Easy Café and French Broad Chocolates. Of course, everyone frequents these places (and for good reason), so be prepared to wait a while. The Over Easy Café only serves breakfast, but it’s probably the best breakfast ever. They get locally grown fruits, vegetables and eggs and bacon. Also, I have yet to hear back from them about where they get the gluten free bread that they serve, but it’s the best gf bread I’ve ever had. And best of all, the waitress complimented me on my Bob Ross t-shirt.

French Broad Chocolates serves, yep, you guessed it – chocolates. They prepare chocolate in about every way I can conceive of. And the service is always good even when the place is crowded. Once, my husband and I were sitting eating our chocolates and reading the books that we got that day in one of the bookstores when a waiter interrupted us to give us 6 complimentary truffles. Apparently, the staff noticed that we were the only people in the place who weren’t on our phones and they wanted to say “thank you.” We’ve been loyal customers ever since. My husband loves their Quintessential Chocolate Cake (sadly, not gluten free) whilst I really enjoy both the concept and the actual experience of ordering and then consuming small cups of melted chocolate called Liquid Truffles. I don’t think that it gets better than that. Except for maybe this:

Pic 5

That was a flourless chocolate torte. Are you jealous? You should be, because that’s a little piece of heaven right there. I’ve asked the people at French Broad to let me live there. They haven’t gotten back to me yet, but we’ll see…

So, the next time that you feel like getting out of town and you want to make sure you’ll have something to eat when you get there, just remember that you have a celiac-friendly destination just a short car-ride away!

 

Will Sourdough Save Us? Some food for thought

By Rachel Sircy

Some food for thought: An ongoing study is looking into whether or not the fermentation that happens when wheat flour bread dough becomes “sourdough” is enough to break down the gluten proteins in the wheat and make the bread safe to eat for celiacs. According to an article in Gluten Free Living, researchers in Europe have been studying the breakdown of gluten in sourdough bread. Celiac test subjects have eaten sourdough wheat bread on several occasions with no tell-tale auto-immune response, which could mean that a sourdough wheat bread might be created which would be safe for celiacs to eat. Right now, it’s not an option, though, so don’t go out and buy yourself a sourdough loaf if you’re gluten sensitive.

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The other interesting part of this study has to do with the bacteria used to ferment sourdough, Lactobacillus. Apparently, it is a powerful way to start breaking down the proteins in wheat that are commonly known as gluten. (For anyone not yet aware “gluten” is not really a single substance, but a group of amino acids that are commonly found together and which are lumped under the name “gluten.”) Some researchers believe that they may be able to find a way to create a medication made of lactobacillus, or of something similar, which could actually break down the proteins in gluten in food being consumed by a celiac patient. This would mean that celiacs may someday be able to consume wheat bread and take a capsule to stave off any reaction to it. I wouldn’t start looking for such a product just yet, but perhaps there is a light at the end of our gluten-free tunnel!

(FYI: There are many products on the market today which claim to be able to break down gluten. I actually discussed some of these products in an earlier blog post, but let me repeat what I said before:  None of these products are actually safe for celiac patients. Gluten-Ease and other such products are merely for people who believe that they may be sensitive, or who have a mild-sensitivity. They are NOT safe for anyone who has an auto-immune reaction to gluten. They may give some peace of mind to a celiac who thinks that she may have accidentally consumed some gluten, but they do not actually work to stop an immune response from happening.)

 

 

Three Easy and Giftable (and Gluten Free) Treats

By Rachel Sircy

For all you last minute people out there (like myself), I have three ridiculously easy recipes to share: Chocolate Fondue, Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies and two types of chocolate bark (so I guess I really have four recipes.) Provided you make sure that the ingredients that you’re using are gluten free, these treats are simple gluten free gifts or desserts that you can give go celiacs and non-celiacs alike. I promise that no one will know that these things are gluten free. I’ll give you hints in each of the recipes as to which ingredients you need to be careful with.

  1. Chocolate Fondue: One year for our anniversary, my sister-in-law brought my husband and I a plate of fresh strawberries and two small bowls of chocolate fondue. It was a simple, elegant gift and the best part was that it didn’t clutter up our house afterward. Rather than giving ornaments or little trinkets, try food. It’s great while it last and the best part is, it doesn’t last forever.

 

Ingredients:                1 Cup Heavy Cream

                                      12 oz semi or bittersweet chocolate (I prefer Ghiradelli chocolate baking bars or chocolate chips. They aren’t super expensive and the quality of chocolate is just better than most other common brands in my opinion. Plus, Ghiradelli dark and semisweet chocolate are made without gluten and in a clean factory. NOTE: the same is NOT TRUE about Ghiradelli white chocolate bars or baking chips. They are not celiac safe per the Ghiradelli website.)

                                      1 tsp. Vanilla

Method:       Heat Cream in pan (careful not to boil) until very hot. Add chocolate and vanilla and stir until melted.

For Dipping choices, you can use fresh fruit – strawberries and bananas work well. You could also use cookies (store bought or homemade, just as long as their gluten free) and marshmallows. Actually, you can pretty much dip anything in chocolate. I would eat my own hand if it were covered in a good chocolate.

  1. Peanut Butter Blossoms: Probably everyone has this recipe because these are the easiest cookies ever to make. But, I thought I’d share because sometimes I find that those really simple things that everyone knows how to do are the things that nobody writes down the recipe for and then people like me – who don’t know how to do them – get stuck. Everything in this recipe should be gluten free as long as you stick with pretty simple peanut butter (don’t go for the weird flavored stuff they have out now, though some might be GF) and DON’T let anyone use your PB! I always take a permanent marker and write GF all over my peanut butter jars when I get them home from the grocery store.

 Ingredients:               1 Cup Peanut Butter

                                      1 Cup Granulated Sugar

                                      1 Tsp Baking Powder

                                      1 Egg

Method:       Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream Peanut Butter and Sugar together in a bowl. Beat in Baking Powder. Add egg and mix until well combined. Roll into balls (smaller is better) and roll in white sugar. Place on baking sheet and press with fork. Bake 10 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes on baking sheet, then cool if you want plain cookies. If you want to make the PB Blossoms, however, transfer the cookies directly to a plate after they’ve rested on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. This will ensure that they cool more slowly, but won’t make them soggy or anything. Use your favorite type of Hershey’s kiss (read the label to make sure it’s GF, but I think most kinds of Hershey’s Kisses are) and press them into the still warm cookies. The Kisses will melt, but then they will re-solidify when cooled. Letting them melt initially, however, makes them softer and makes them stick better in the PB cookies.

 

  1. Peppermint Bark: This has been a staple for me for years. No matter how much you make it, people will never turn it down. And you can do slightly different things with it. Sometimes I make it with just white chocolate. Sometimes I drizzle dark chocolate over the white chocolate for some contrast and once I even made it with just dark chocolate, and it wasn’t half bad. I know that lots of people make Peppermint Bark, but like I said, people will never turn it down. And, in chocolate barks like this, the quality of ingredients can make all the difference. I’ve had really fantastic Peppermint Barks and some that were not so great. I ate them all, of course, but you remember the really, really good ones.

 Ingredients:                12 oz white chocolate (Alas, Ghiradelli is my favorite, but it’s not celiac-safe. According to what I’ve looked up on their website, Nestle Toll House white chocolate chips claim to be gluten free and that is generally what I use. It’s a slight sacrifice in quality, but it’s better to be safe than sorry)

                                      5 Candy Canes, Crushed (Bob’s candy canes are gluten free and their peppermint candy canes are pretty delicious)

                                      ½ Tsp Peppermint Extract (I used Pure Peppermint oil that I bought at Earthfare. It was kind of expensive, but it will last for a long time and it has a great, strong flavor.)

                                      4 oz Semi-Sweet or Bittersweet Chocolate  (Optional)

Method: Melt white chocolate in a large double boiler, when it is melted, add peppermint extract. Spread chocolate out over a cookie sheet covered in wax paper and sprinkle candy cane bits onto the chocolate. Let cool in refrigerator or freezer. When white chocolate is cooled, melt dark chocolate in a double boiler and spread over the cooled white chocolate, if desired. Cool and then break apart the bark into bite-sized pieces.

  1. Cookies ‘n Cream Bark: This is one that I kind of came up with myself because my favorite candy bar used to be Hershey’s Cookies and Cream candy bar. This was something that I had to give up when I found out I had celiac disease. Necessity (or junk food cravings) is the mother of invention. So, I just put the two ingredients that I really loved together and it worked out wonderfully. Here’s a picture of the bark and the big chunks of cookie in the strata:

Ingredients:                 12 oz. White Chocolate Chips

                                      1 package Gluten Free Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (I always use Glutino Brand, but you could also use Kinninnick and I think Schar Brand and Walmart both have their own GF chocolate sandwich cookies)           

 Method: Crush cookies in a bag. Melt chocolate in double boiler, add the crushed cookie bits and spread out onto a cookie sheet line with wax paper. Chill in the fridge or the freezer.

 

Hopefully, these help with any last-minute GF guests that show up at your house or with anyone you need a small, last minute gift for. Merry Christmas!

 

 

Experimenting with Tradition, Part 2

By Rachel Sircy

Last time I wrote about how my mother found a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend to make our beloved egg noodles for the traditional Midwestern chicken and noodles dish (creatively titled, eh?). Well, here is a picture of it cooking on the back burner:

Noodles cooking on the stove

Noodles cooking on the stove

 

It doesn’t exactly look tasty, but it worked for us. I was so worn out from cooking by the time we sat down to eat that I didn’t even bother taking a picture of the noodles on my plate. But the noodles were actually not half bad, they just weren’t that pretty while cooking. The pot below is the pot of regular chicken and noodles. It looks a bit more appetizing.

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Ready to eat!

It’s difficult to try to recreate certain ingrained traditions, but I think that Mom came pretty close to doing it this year. The noodles were of a pretty good consistency that first day, though gluten-free concoctions don’t keep well and by the next day, they had fairly well dissolved in the liquid. I didn’t take a picture of that either. I think you would all thank me for that.

Another food tradition that I especially wanted to recreate today were the frosted Christmas cookies that were always on my grandmother’s table this time of year. I wanted to have them while we put up our Christmas tree, which is always something of a special family party at our house. We turn on the Peanuts Christmas soundtrack and Bing Crosby and take it easy. Our Christmas tree is pretty plain as far as Christmas trees go. My husband and I are extremely sentimental and so we don’t have that sort of catalog-ready tree with all the matching ornaments and gorgeous bows. We don’t even put garland around our tree. Honestly, we wouldn’t have room for garland. We have the multi-colored lights that we loved when we were kids and at least one ornament to commemorate every year that we’ve been together. Many of the ornaments on our tree were handmade by my husband’s late grandmother – like this one below:

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Since Grandma Sircy has passed away, I have started trying to carry on the tradition of making a holiday ornament for everyone in the family. Here is a shoebox full of my efforts for this year:

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Knitting some memories

Really, I had no idea how seriously people can take the whole decorating thing – I mean, changing out themes and color schemes every year. During the holidays, my husband and I like to be kids again. We surround ourselves with things that we enjoy and things that we remember. Picture 5So, we have Grandma Sircy’s lovely handmade ornaments, we have ornaments from my husband’s alma mater, Centre College, we have an ornament for every Christmas we’ve ever spent together and a whole lot of Spiderman ornaments for some reason (though my husband made the sacrifice to leave them off the tree this year to make way for a growing number of princess-themed ornaments). Now that we have an almost-three-year-old girl – whose birthday happens to be just three days before Christmas – we have a lot more pink on our tree. And, plain as it is, I think our tree is a pretty wonderful sight.

 

Anyway, all this is to say, that around our house, tradition is pretty important and this includes food as well as decorations. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has made shortbread cookies from scratch for just about every holiday on the yearly American calendar. These cookies are the best I have ever tasted. Seriously, I know that there are a lot of people that would say that their grandma cooks best, well, I have to say that I’m pretty sure that I can provide quantifiable evidence that my grandma can bake better than yours. Taste one of her frosted shortbread cookies and see if I’m kidding. Or her homemade butterscotch pie – a recipe that originally came from a cookbook printed in 1959, the days when nobody felt guilty about eating butter, and that she improved upon. That pie is so good it’ll make you want to slap anybody’s momma – it doesn’t even have to be your own. Well, I was homesick for some of those cookies. Unfortunately, I am no baking prodigy. My shortbread (even before I started baking gluten free) was always either greasy or dry to the point of tasting like vanilla ashes. And so, I have found that sometimes we must sort of set aside tradition and do what we can do.

That is where this wonderful book comes in:

Picture 6

I know that a whole lot of people are familiar with the Cake Mix Doctor, Anne Byrn, but for all you gluten-free people out there in Columbia tonight, she has a gluten-free book. Actually, I think she has a few gluten-free books out now. I have the first one that she came out with and I have to say that almost every cake that I’ve made out of this book has been awesome. I say almost because I wasn’t crazy about the coconut pound cake or the sweet potato pound cake, but other than that, this book is the bomb. I think the deal is that I really just don’t like pound cake. Anyway, she had a recipe for slice and bake sugar cookies that you can make from a yellow cake mix and *Hallelujah* here they are:

They are really, really good. Of course, they’re not Grandma’s shortbread cookies, but they’re what I could do. My mom worked on Thanksgiving to pull together egg noodles to bring back a dish that we thought we’d lost. They weren’t like the noodles that I remember her making when I was younger, but they were a pretty good substitute. And that’s what I have done here. I’ve made a pretty good substitute, not quite the real thing, but then I could never make my grandma’s cookies anyway – only she can do that. My friend’s daughter used to tell us, whenever she’d helped make something we were eating – “you know, I put a lot of love in that.” Really, that’s what makes my grandmother’s cookies and Grandma Sircy’s ornaments so amazing. You can’t duplicate a grandmother’s love, and so you can’t duplicate anything that she does for you. And, I’d like to think that since I made these cookies for my husband and my daughter, that even though they came from a box (and the frosting came from a can) that there’s a lot of love in them too and that that love overrides the fact that I kind of cheated making them. Maybe I’m kidding myself about that last part, but maybe not. Don’t tell me if I am kidding myself. I like the illusion.

Suggested Christmastime Reading: Isaiah 9:6 and A Christmas Carol