Foods That Mean Love

By Rachel Sircy 

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I never try to blend together my own flour mixtures. I am a working mother of a four-year-old, and I simply don’t have the money or the time to hunt down and combine all those little bags of flour to make a baking mix that might make perfect doughnuts but can’t be used to dredge a pork chop. Actually, I don’t make doughnuts or porkchops, but that’s beside the point. What I use instead are gluten free all-purpose flour blends. There are quite a few of these on the market these days, but I recommend purchasing those that can be used as a cup for cup substitute for regular wheat-based flours. Normally, these all-purpose flour blends will advertise somewhere on the package that they are cup for cup substitutes. Pamela’s Artisan Blend happens to be my favorite at the moment (You can see the little yellow dot on the front of the package advertises a 1:1 substitution with regular flour):

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The real value of these 1:1 substitutions is that you can pull out old recipes and use them again without having to have an advanced degree in food science to figure out how to make them gluten free. Some recipes are really worth making time and time again. This is my grandmother’s recipe for shortbread cookies. The title of the recipe is “Holiday Cookies” because without fail, these cookies were a part of every single holiday on the yearly calendar. My grandmother had a cookie cutter with a shape to match each holiday in question: a pumpkin for the fall holidays, Christmas Trees, hearts for Valentine’s, eggs for Easter and so on.

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My daughter and I made these cookies with my grandmother over Christmas just the way that I used to make them with her when I was little. Just the other day, HRH (my daughter) and I made some for Valentine’s day.

 

They turned out to be beautifully imperfect. HRH was really excited about the sprinkles, so she added most of them to the first four cookies. With all the cookies together, it makes a nice ombre effect.

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The best part is being able to pull out this old recipe and reminiscing about learning to make these cookies as a child while teaching my daughter how to make them. Someday, I hope she makes these cookies with her children. Sometimes love looks like a cookie…

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And it tastes like one too…

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A Knack For Unique Gifts…A Valentine’s Day Story

By:  Marianna Boyce  

“Who’s the Best in All the Land?”

Does Someone Hear a Marching Band?

image3For me, Valentine’s Day is like most other holidays.  We shouldn’t wait for a specific date on the calendar to be thankful, patriotic, giving, or loving.  We would all better benefit to celebrate these wonderful qualities on a daily basis.

Holiday or not, my husband Gerry has a knack for giving very unique gifts.  The gift he gave me in 2004 is by far, the most unique gift ever!  Stay with me a minute.  There’s a backstory.

It was my son’s sophomore year in high school.  Cody was also a marching band member.  As band parents, we chaperoned most of their trips and events.  It was no surprise when we were asked to help with their Disney trip that year.  I would be responsible for twelve students and Gerry would have thirteen.

Days before our departure, I was busy packing for our trip.  I didn’t even think about being in the Magic Kingdom for Valentine’s Day, but someone else certainly did.

Once we arrived at Disney’s All-Star Music Resort, we met our group for breakfast.  It image1was February 14, and I was still oblivious to the fact it was Valentine’s Day.  We distributed their breakfast vouchers and told them to meet us back at a popular place near the castle at noon.  This was when we would give them their lunch vouchers and verify our that group was all still alive and accounted for.

The funny thing is, instead of venturing away from us, they all stuck with us like glue.  You should’ve seen the expression on the ride attendant’s face when he asked how many, and our response was twenty-seven!  He actually accommodated us so we could all ride together.

When we exited the ride, we saw two students from another group.

They ran toward me shouting, “Mrs. Boyce, Mrs. Boyce!”  My heart was pounding because I thought someone was hurt.

When they got to me, a young lady handed me a small envelope and said “This is for you.  Happy Valentine’s Day.”  They both ran off giggling.

Our large group of clingy high school students knew exactly what it was.  It was one of those small childish Valentine cards you would buy for your second grader.  I flipped the card over and read the sweetest note on the back from my dear husband.  I also read it aloud for the kids.  They loved it as much as I did.  Of course, I saved them and thought I’d share a few with you.  If you zoom in, you can read one or two as well.

image2What I didn’t know at the time was that Gerry had purchased several boxes of these childish “Will you be my Valentine” cards.  He wrote on each one, sealed them, and secretly handed them out to about 50 of the band members at breakfast that morning.  He instructed them to hand deliver these personal handwritten cards from him, if and when they saw me throughout the day.

About every 15 minutes, I had a random band member running up with excitement they had found me.  It was like a wild goose chase for them (I was the wild goose)!

I received cards that entire day and well into the evening.  I felt like a Disney Princess!

Gerry’s goal involving the students in the fun was for an important teachable moment: material things are not needed to make someone feel special.  For me, this gift is the best and most unique in our 31 years of marriage…and it only cost him about $8.00.  The effect?  Priceless!

image4Thoughtful gifts for no particular reason are great; however, this unique gift wouldn’t have worked well on say… April 8th.  It had to be given on February 14… at Disney World… by 50 of our awesome 2004 band students.  “Who’s the best in all the land?  White Knoll High School Marching Band…” along with my very loving and thoughtful husband!

 

This year, my gift to Gerry is being able to share this true and very unique story with the world!

 Happy Valentine’s Day Sweetie! 

 I Love You!

 

 

Sweet Valentine

candy-3936989_1920By Rachel Sircy

Well, just like Halloween, Valentine’s Day presents a special challenge to the gluten-free eater. For those of you out there with children with celiac or who may have classmates or friends with food allergies, this can be an especially challenging time of year. Valentine’s Day can be fun, but being left out of the celebration can be heartbreaking for school children. There are metric tons of candy on virtually every store shelf in the country but figuring out which ones are actually safe for celiacs to eat is so difficult that it’s almost depressing.

Many major brands (like Hershey’s and Nestle, etc.) have certain candies and chocolate bars which are only gluten free in certain seasons and in certain shapes and sizes. For instance, Hershey’s milk chocolate bars are gluten free ONLY in the 1.55 oz size – all other sizes, shapes and varieties of the Hershey’s plain milk chocolate are NOT gluten free. The same applies with Nestle’s Butterfingers. The regular and fun size bars proudly proclaim that they’re gluten free, but all other sizes, shapes, and varieties are not gluten free. Hershey’s and Nestle aren’t alone. Jelly Belly Jellybeans are all technically gluten free, HOWEVER, they are sometimes packaged by different companies, and the Jelly Belly corporation cannot vouch for these other companies. They tell you that you must look closely at each individual package of Jelly Bellys and call the packaging facility on the back to find out if this particular package is gluten free or not. Honestly, I feel like I need a flow chart, a food scale, a calculator, and possibly a Ph.D. to keep up with some of these candy companies.

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It’s really important in light of all of the confusion to teach your celiac (or allergic) children to resist temptation. Easier said than done, right? Temptation often gets the better of adults, let alone kids. The best way to ensure that your child stays safe while unsafe candy and wheat-based cupcakes are free-flowing is to make sure that they have their own safe-to-eat treats. I wrote in the summer about the Be a PAL program. PAL stands for Protect A Life. This program teaches children how to be a safe friend for others with food allergies by helping to make sure that these other children stay safe from dangerous foods and also from food-allergy bullying. Even if your child doesn’t have food allergies, you can help protect and reach out to other children who do have potentially dangerous allergies by being intentional when purchasing candy and treats for school parties.

I’ve said all that to say this: I am going to provide a list of companies who strive to make products that are safe for everyone:

  • Enjoy Life Foods: Hands down, this is the absolute best company for food allergy sufferers. ALL of the products made by this company are allergy friendly. They are free from all of the 8 major allergens (including gluten of course), and they are delicious. I have been a loyal customer since the early days of my diagnosis. They are expanding their repertoire lately, and they have Valentine’s candy packs which would be perfect for parties at your child’s school. They also have baking mixes,
    snack bars, cookies, you name it.

https://enjoylifefoods.com/our-foods/valentine-chocolate-minis/

  • Yum Earth: The gummy candies and lollipops from this company are organic, free from nuts, chemical dyes, high fructose corn syrup, and are vegan. They also come in fun heart-shapes for Valentine’s Day.

https://shop.yumearth.com/Organic-Valentines-Day-Gummy-Hearts/p/YUM-018334&c=YumEarth@Valentines

  • Glutino: One of my primary go-to gluten free brands. I love their pre-packaged cookies AND their cake mixes AND their crackers AND their chocolate covered pretzels…the list could go on for a while. If you’re thinking of making gluten free cupcakes for your kid’s school, I would suggest you use the mix from this brand. The downside of Glutino products is that they are not necessarily free of the 8 major allergens. HOWEVER, their website does state that the ingredients label on the package that you’re purchasing should have all possible allergy contaminants listed in the ingredients section.

http://www.glutino.com/products/

  • Schar: Okay, so as far as gluten free convenience food goes, I’ve saved the company with the tastiest stuff for last. I have actually eaten myself sick on both their Chocolate Dipped Cookies and their Honeygrams. Actually, their Honeygrams are so delicious that whenever we have a family cookout with s’mores, even the non-gluten-sensitive people ask for them. If you get put in charge of bringing the graham crackers to your kid’s school, try this brand. You can find them at Walmart, and even though they’re a bit pricier than regular graham crackers, they’re totally worth it. They also have a very intensely specific FAQ section on their website. FYI: this company focuses on celiac disease, not necessarily other allergens.

https://www.schaer.com/

Well, I hope this list of gluten-free (and some allergen free) candy, etc. helps out with your child’s Valentine’s Day! Happy February!

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! 🙂

My Forever Valentine

By: Katie Austin

It’s that time of year when heart-shaped candy boxes and red is in abundance. It seems everywhere you turn there is something to be purchased to show your loved ones you care.

Is it just me or does this year seem to be flying by? It seems like yesterday I was celebrating the holidays with family and friends.

By the time February rolls around, I am looking forward to warmer days. We do see those periodically in the south but I want to see them stay longer. I think because of that, Valentine’s Day sneaks up on me. I am already looking forward to spring and then summer.

So, now that Valentine’s Day is here, what do I write about?

Two years ago, I wrote about the meaning of Valentine’s Day and how this annual tradition began. As I sat at my desk pondering ideas for this blog post, I thought above love, family, friendship, and how very blessed I am in all of these categories. Then it hit me: an opportunity to turn this article into something special for someone special.

There are so many wonderful people in my life and I could easily write about how each one of them has impacted my life. But there is one person who has truly stood by me and picked me up when I was down. For better or worse he has been there every step of the way.

My valentine

My husband, Mike, has been with me through the many highs and lows in my life. He was by my side as I battled cancer and all of the side effects that come along with it. He told me I was beautiful when all I could see was a bald, frail woman fighting cancer. He has been right by my side through this journey and the many other times that I have tripped and fallen down. And not just figuratively – I took a spill at the Avon Walk and he helped dust me off and asked if I was ok!

I love that he is honest when I ask for feedback. Yes ladies, he does repond honestly if I ask whether or not an outfit looks good on me. LOL.

I love that we find the craziest things in a commercial or in real life to make us laugh. I laugh the hardest when I am with him.

I love that he is an amazing cook. He can cook just about anything (and without using a recipe)!

I love that he cares as much as he does for Brandon, myself, and our family and friends. There isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for any one of us.

I love that he is smart. Really, this is an understatement.

I love him more with each passing day. He is more than my husband. He is my best friend, confidant, the person I look forward to waking up next to every day. I love spending time with him! He is my soul mate and I am incredibly blessed to be his wife.

Wishing my husband and my Every Woman Blog family a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

10 Interesting Facts About Valentine’s Day

By: Alison Puzia, Guest Contributor

Happy Valentine’s Day! Impress your friends, co-workers, and your special someone with these fun facts about Valentine’s Day.

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1. The history of Saint Valentine is shrouded in mystery.

Some stories suggest that Saint Valentine third-century Roman priest. At that time, the emperor, Cladius II, had made a law prohibiting young men from marrying, as he felt single men made better soldiers than men with families. Saint Valentine, it is said, ignored the ban in favor of true love, and performed many marriages in secret. When the emperor discovered this, he had Saint Valentine sentenced to death. Other legends say that Saint Valentine was killed by the Roman Empire for helping Christians escape from prison. While in prison, he wrote a letter to his true love, and signed it “your Valentine,” a phrase still used today.

2. The oldest known love poem was written around the year 3500 BC.

The poem, inscribed in a clay tablet, was found in Nippur, an ancient Sumerian kingdom in modern-day Iraq. An ode from a groom to his future bride, the poem discusses how captivated the groom is by the bride, and lists everything he loves about her.  The table with the inscription is currently housed at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

3. The phrase “wearing your heart on your sleeve” originated from a Valentine’s Day Tradition.

To determine who their Valentine would be, young men and women in the Middle Ages drew names from a bowl. They would then attach the name to their sleeve, and wear it there for an entire week. Hence, they were wearing their “heart” on their sleeve!

4. The tradition of giving chocolates as gifts was created by Richard Cadbury in the late 1800s.

The British chocolatier was an artist; he decorated his chocolate boxes with pictures he created. Often, he would use his own children as models or include scenes from his holiday travels. These decorative boxes were prized by the Victorians and given to loved ones as gifts. They recycled the boxes, using them to hold buttons and other trinkets. Cadbury’s original boxes are now considered collectors’ items. Today, more than 36 million boxes of chocolate are sold annually for Valentine’s Day.

5. The oldest known Valentine’s Day card was written in 1415.

The card was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife. After the Battle of Agincourt, the duke was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Because of his imprisonment, the duke could not talk to his wife, so, to communicate his love for her, he wrote her a Valentine’s Day poem. The card has been included in the manuscript collection of the British Library in London.

6. In the 1800s, chocolate was thought to cure heartbreaks.

In fact, doctors would prescribe chocolate to patients who came in complaining of a broken heart. The chocolate was thought to soothe the pain of a broken heart. Today, doctors know that chocolate may not heal the pain of unrequited love, but it may help heart health. Eating one piece of dark chocolate a day can reduce blood pressure and LDL cholesterol by 10%. As a bonus, the antioxidants in dark chocolate can protect the body from aging.

7. Halloween isn’t the only holiday with superstitions attached to it.

That’s right, many people embrace Valentine’s Day superstitions. Many of these superstitions are associated with the first bird an unmarried woman sees on Valentine’s Day. Seeing a goldfinch indicates that the woman will marry a rich man, a sparrow means a poor man, a crossbill means an argumentative man, and an owl means that the woman will remain a spinster her entire life. These bird-Valentine’s superstitions stem from the British belief that birds, especially lovebirds, mate on Valentine’s Day.

8.  Verona, Italy, known for being Romeo and Juliette’s hometown, receives about 1,000 letters addressed to Juliet every Valentine’s Day.

The tradition of sending letters to Casa di Giulietta, Juliette’s Verona home in Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliette,” has been going on for centuries, when people left notes on what was assumed to be Juliette’s tomb. Letters of heartbreak, unrequited love, and other love-related stories arrive in Verona from around the world. The city receives so many letters, in the 1990s it created an organization, called Juliette’s Club, to reply to the mail. During the week of February14th, the town hosts a week of events called “Verona in Love.” Valentine’s Day decorations are put up all over the town, including a huge red heart painted on the ground of the central piazza dei Signori. Juliette’s Club selects the most beautiful letter received in the last year, and awards a prize to the author.

9. About 220,000 people will propose on Valentine’s Day.

This is about 10% of the annual total. However, despite this high rate of engagements occurring on Valentine’s Day, February is not the month with the highest number of proposals; December is. About 15% of proposals occur in December, with a high number on both Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

10. Men typically spend about twice as much than women do for Valentine’s Day.

The average man spends about $150.00 for Valentine’s Day. This number includes gifts, dates, flowers, chocolates, etc. This is double what the average woman spends for Valentine’s Day- $75.00. About 17% of these men will buy jewelry for their Valentine, but only about half will buy a card. In fact, 85% percent of all Valentine’s Day cards are purchased by women. Though not big on card purchases, men make up for it with their flower purchases. 73% of Valentine’s Day flowers are purchase by men. Overall, the National Retail Foundation estimates that Americans will spend $15.7 billion on Valentine’s Day.

Saint Valentine

By: Katie Austin

452631_97838694It’s that time of year when heart-shaped candy boxes and the color red are all over the place. Originally, I was going to write about Valentine’s Day gift options, since there are so many to choose from; whether it’s an object you can find in a store or a token that you make at home! However, I found myself wondering how and when this holiday began? I just had to know and I thought some of you might be interested too.

Before I started my research, I thought that there was only one saint associated with Valentine’s Day.  However, I was wrong! The Catholic Church recognizes at least THREE different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. He defied Emperor Caludius II by performing marriages for young lovers in secret. According to another legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him while he was in jail for helping Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. Before his death, he is said to have written her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.

Candy heartsDo you know how the tradition of passing out valentines started? The first known written Valentine appeared sometime in the 15th Century. In Britain, by the middle of the 18th Century, it was common for friends and lovers to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes.  As technology advanced, printed cards began to replace written letters by the turn of the 20th Century. I had no idea that printed cards dated back to 1900! Fascinating!

For more Valentine’s Day information, visit Wikipedia (I love this site!) and history.com.

As always, I will leave you with a related quote.  Nothing like a little Shakespeare on Valentine’s Day! 🙂

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.” – William Shakespeare

Wishing my Every Woman Blog family a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

~ Katie