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.

Picture 2

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:

Picture 3

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:

Picture 4

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

 

 

 

Experimenting with Tradition

By Rachel Sircy

I spent the better part of Monday driving to Ohio to spend Thanksgiving with my family. My mother is, like me, a celiac. Each holiday ends up being an adventure in trying to figure out how to enjoy all the traditional foods that we miss. One that we have been working on for a number of years is a sort of Midwestern favorite, chicken and thick egg noodles. This dish is similar to chicken and dumplings, except that instead of dumplings, the dish contains homemade egg noodles which are wide and thick and puffy like dumplings. The first Thanksgiving after I was diagnosed as a celiac, my mother attempted to make these noodles for me, but because we didn’t know much about how to work with gluten free flours (and because at that time there weren’t very many all-purpose gluten free flour blends available) the noodles didn’t stick together well once they were in the liquid. They disintegrated into mush and I was left holding a bowl of chicken flavored goo. It was so gross and so disappointing that I cried.

My mother has always been famous for her version of these noodles. The week of Thanksgiving always found my family having to eat dinner in the living room because our kitchen table was covered with stretched out egg dough and then by cut and drying noodles. A few years after I was diagnosed, my mother found out that she also has celiac disease. She continued to make regular egg noodles for everyone else while she and I sat back and had to watch everyone else eat what we wanted so badly.

This year, my mother made her classic noodles for everyone else, but she also made a small batch of gluten free noodles from an all-purpose gluten free flour for us. The brand of flour that she used was actually the Walmart Great Value brand. I had no idea until this year that Walmart made its own brand of gluten free flour.

Walmart Great Value brand gluten-free Flour

Below are the resulting noodles which have been dried and which my mother has frozen. We are hoping that the drying and the freezing will help the noodles to withstand being in the chicken soup base. Even some of the best gluten free noodles will disintegrate if left in liquid for too long. Whenever I make chicken noodle soup, for example, I always try to buy Tinkyada pasta (available at Walmart and other grocery stores) which have a great ability to stay solid even when surrounded by liquid. However, even when I undercook these noodles, they eventually become pretty mushy after a day or so.

Dried and frozen noodles, ready for cooking!

Our other plan for these noodles is to add them to the chicken soup base shortly before they’re served. My mother (who is notorious for cooking too much food) also refrained from making a ton of noodles and just made what she thought that she and I could eat on Thanksgiving day. Unfortunately, a lot of gluten free foods at this point aren’t good when leftover. They just don’t last well. So, we’re trying to make sure that don’t leave them in the soup long and that we eat the entire batch quickly.

I would love to share the recipe but, to my surprise, my mother doesn’t use one. I am ashamed to say I have never actually helped her or watched her make these noodles before. My great aunt taught my mother to make these noodles when she was a young woman and the recipe is simply this: think about how many people you want to serve and crack one egg per person into a mixing bowl. Add a little bit of salt (Salt to your taste since there is no measuring in this recipe) and add flour and mix until the dough feels ready to roll out for cutting. The dough should feel dry (doesn’t stick to your hands) and slightly stiff when it is ready to roll out. Roll the dough out on whatever surface is large enough to contain it. For the whole Thanksgiving crowd, my mother has to use the entire kitchen table. Let the dough sit for 15-20 minutes and then use a pizza cutter to cut into strips for noodles. At this point you can cook the noodles right away or you can dry them over night and store them in the fridge for a few days if you want to make them ahead of time.

So, in my next post. I will update you to let you know how this year’s experiment went. Here’s to experimentation and innovation!!

Put down the phone!

By Jeanne Reynolds

I’m pulling out of Ricky’s on Sunset Boulevard in West Columbia with a brand-new set of tires, heading back to work at the tail-end of the Thursday lunch hour. I’ve driven maybe 100 yards when whoosh! The red SUV next to me swerves suddenly into my lane.

I slam on brakes and jerk the steering wheel hard right, narrowly avoiding a collision. Really glad for those new tires right now.

My heart is beating hard, my hands are shaking and I can barely breathe. I look over to see if the other driver is acknowledging she nearly caused a wreck. An apologetic wave? A sheepish smile? No, because her right hand is raised to face level, holding what looks like … a phone.

Now, just before her ill-timed move, I noticed the car in front of her appeared to move into the left turn lane abruptly without signaling. Ms. SUV was following too closely to start with and I’d guess wasn’t paying enough attention to brake in time, thanks to her irresistible mobile device.

With one hand now pressed to my forehead as I try to calm down, I make it safely back to the office. And here’s the really ironic part: The National Public Radio news program I’m listening to as I navigate those last few miles is running a story on the dangers of technology and distracted driving. Yeah, tell me about it.

Friends, this time of year more than any, please put down the phone while you’re driving. Between all the extra errands we’re trying to cram into our lunch hours, the million things racing through our mental to-do lists and the scheduling squeeze of kids’ activities and holiday social events, most of us are distracted enough. Add in the now-early nightfall, and we really need to have two hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road.

If you don’t care about me in the next lane, think about how a cast on your leg will ruin your special holiday party outfit, or how a big bill from the body shop coupled with a hefty ticket will put a crimp in your gift-giving budget.

And it could be much worse than that: 9 people die every day because of car crashes involving distracted drivers.

Think it can’t happen to you? If you’d been riding shotgun with me on Sunset last week, you might reconsider.

 

Time to Kiss and Make Up

By: Jeanne Reynolds

The company I work for has locations in both the United States and the United Kingdom. As our communications team worked together last week deciding what kind of internal story to do for the Fourth of July, I started to feel awkward. I mean, there we were talking with our British colleagues about celebrating a holiday that says, to them, “Nyah, nyah, nyah!”

OK, it’s been more than 240 years since that ugly parting of the ways and most people on both sides of the Big Pond would agree we’re now BFFs. So I thought let’s look at it another way: the great gifts each culture has given to the other and things we love about each other.

That led to some pretty interesting research. For example, American as apple pie? Umm, not so much. We can thank the early English settlers for bringing that to our shores. And if, like me, you think everyone in England enjoys a big roast goose on Christmas (hello, Charles Dickens), then we’re both a little outdated. Brits long ago went cold (well, hot) turkey and adopted America’s native bird for their feasts.

And there’s so much more to love. The British sent us the Beatles and Cary Grant. We shared Elvis and Paul Newman. One of theirs invented the World Wide Web, one of ours created Google. We gave them the magic of Disney and they gave us the delight of Downton Abbey. We both love Jane Austen (theirs) as much as Mark Twain (ours). We’re equally dazzled by the royal family and Hollywood celebrities.

If two of the greatest powers on earth can successfully move past a tumultuous past to a shared future, I wonder if we as individuals can do the same in our own relationships. Of course, a couple hundred years and fighting side-by-side in a couple of world wars surely smoothed the way for the U.S. and the U.K. to become pals. Still, it’s hopeful to think bitter divorces, gut-wrenching breakups and long-standing family rifts could eventually evolve into more cordial relationships and mutual appreciation.

For now, hurry up and cut me a piece of that apple pie. There’s an old Cary Grant movie about to come on and I don’t want to miss it.

4 Healthy Recipes to Try This Independence Day

By: Kristen Nida, Guest Contributor

Hosting a Fourth of July celebration this year? You’ll have to try these four quick and easy recipes for your holiday festivities. Not only do they take little time to prepare, leaving you more time to enjoy with your family and friends, but they are also healthy!

Barbecue Pulled Chicken: A Fourth of July cookout isn’t complete without barbecue.
This BBQ pulled chicken recipe is a unique reinterpretation of pulled pork that slow-cooks chicken in tangy tomato sauce. Whether served over mashed potatoes or served as a sandwich, it is sure to be a hit. Click here for the recipe.

Creamy Spinach Dip: This healthy, fresh take on classic spinach dip is irresistible.
The low-fat ingredients in this tasty recipe will save you over 80 calories in each serving. This versatile dip can be served with pita chips, fresh vegetables, or even spread over a sandwich. There is an option for everyone! Click here for the recipe.

Red, White & Blue Popsicles: This easy, 3-step recipe is as quick to prepare as it is tasty to eat.
Juicy raspberries and blueberries are in season and this recipe takes full advantage of that. The natural sweetness of these fruity popsicles is unbeatable and the colors scream Independence Day, perfect for the occasion. Click here for the recipe.

S’mores Banana Ice Cream: The lightest, quickest “ice cream” you will ever prepare!
S’mores, bananas, and ice cream are each so delicious on their own. The only way to make them better is to combine them into one tasty treat! The best thing about this recipe is it takes only four minutes to create this dessert for your family and friends to enjoy. Click here for the recipe.

Local, Family-Friendly Fourth of July Celebrations!

By: Meg Cowan, Guest Contributor

The Fourth of July holiday isn’t complete without a celebration! From running a 5k, to enjoying a parade, or even boating on Lake Murray, there are tons of local family-friendly options. This Fourth of July, kick back at the following Independence Day events in the Midlands:

Lake Murray’s Star Spangled Celebration
July 1, Annual Boat Parade starts at 12 pm

Spend a day on Lake Murray, beginning with a festive boat parade. Fireworks start at approximately 9:15PM, launched from both Dreher Island and Spencer Island.

https://www.lakemurraycountry.com/things-to-do/events/columbia/Lake-Murray-Fireworks-Celebrations

Star-Spangled Symphonic Salute by the Lake Murray Symphony Orchestra
July 3, 8 pm at Saluda Shoals Park

An evening of patriotic music and fireworks with the Lake Murray Symphony Orchestra!

https://www.lmso.org/star-spangled-symphonic-salute

Born in the USA Four Miler in Columbia, SC
July 4, Race starts at 7 am

Compete in a four-mile race around Forest Acres Lake and Golf Course!

http://www.strictlyrunning.com/BUSA/index.html#Participantinformation

59th Annual Lexington County Peach Festival
July 4, 9 am to 11 pm at the Gilbert Community Park on Rikard Circle in Gilbert S.C.
Fireworks at 10 pm, field behind Gilbert Primary School

Featuring a parade, recipe contests, live entertainment, fireworks and, of course, peaches!

http://www.lexingtoncountypeachfestival.com

Independence Day Fireworks at Lexington County Blowfish Baseball Games
Games July 3 & 4

Watch the Lexington County Blowfish play some ball, and stay for the celebratory Fourth of July fireworks at the end of the game!

http://www.goblowfishbaseball.com

Love Is in the Air – or Is It in the Wallet?

By: Azure Stilwell

Valentine's Day

It’s that time of year, the time where couples celebrate being a couple and single people try to find ways to avoid the day altogether. Valentine’s Day is not a favorite holiday of mine. I find it to be very commercialized and overrated. My husband and I have a hard enough time remembering our anniversary, so forget about Vday. I know those who are in romantic, loving relationships just cringed at the thought of letting a chance to get flowers go by, but I have a funny story about that.

My husband and I had been married a couple of years when for the first time ever he decided to send me flowers for Valentine’s Day. He sent me beautiful roses, a complete surprise because we don’t buy into the holiday or flowers for that matter. I decided to call and thank him. He proceeded to tell me it was a complete spur-of-the-moment decision (which probably means his coworkers were discussing what they had bought and he felt bad) He then went on to let me know that he looked at his bank account and realized he didn’t have enough to cover the cost, so I had to transfer money to his account. It was probably one of the funniest and most “us” moments we have ever had. We still laugh about it every Valentine’s Day!

We decided long ago we are just not mushy romantic people. We are more practical, in the way I find it so attractive when he folds the laundry and he loves it when I cook him dinner. For us, those little things are as – if not more – romantic than the big things.

So for all of you single people out there dreading this holiday, just know that not all couples buy into the hype. And if that doesn’t make you feel better, then buy yourself some flowers and call it a day – but make sure you have the funds to cover it first! 🙂