Wednesday, June 25, 2014

30 Dairy-free Dinners

During the winter, Enna had these poor chapped cheeks.  I wasn't too concerned as it was winter and windy and cold.  However the chapped cheeks never fully went away. It made me wonder if they were a result of a food intolerance or an allergy.  I have read in a number of places that dairy consumption can trigger eczema, so I decided on a dairy elimination diet for Enna and I to see if there was any improvement.

I am not going to lie.  It was hard and rather painful to be gluten-, corn-, soy- and dairy-free.  We eat a lot of dairy.  In the mornings, I have a smoothie with fruit, yogurt, and a dash of cream.  Alongside the smoothie I have my baked oatmeal (made with milk and butter) that I serve with another splash of cream (because I am a cream junkie, obviously).  Need a pick up between meals?  I often grab a slice of cheese or two.  So many of my recipes call for dairy (or are just so much better with dairy).  Our steamed vegetables?  Slathered in butter.  Lunch consists of dinner leftovers, so lots of dairy.

The easiest transition was actually the baked goods.  Those I could easily substitute coconut oil for butter and coconut or almond milk for cow's milk which is what I did for our morning oatmeal.  I tried making diary-free smoothies using coconut or almond milk but, they weren't that good.  I gave up after a day or two.  For dinners, I spent a couple of nights searching through our recipes to come up with a master list of dairy-free options (of which there were not very many).  Using this list, I planned our weekly meals.

The elimination diet lasted two weeks.  After that, I introduced dairy for one day: smoothies, cream on oatmeal, and cheese.  Then we avoided dairy for two more days to monitor for any reaction.  My reaction?  I feel so much better with dairy in my diet!  (Surprising?  Maybe.)  I was really craving the fat.  I felt more hungry and drawn to more sugary or carbohydrate-heavy foods because I wasn't filling up on fatty, delicious cream and cheese.  I tried to replace the fat with other good fats such as coconut and olive oil, but it wasn't the same.  As for Enna, her cheeks cleared up sometime in the second week.  However, when we introduced dairy again, there was no reaction.  The cheeks remained clear.  She greeted cheese like a long-lost lover, drained her smoothie with alacrity, and consumed unceasingly the vegetables drenched in butter; the very same vegetables she spurned when only adorned with olive oil.  At the same time we eliminated dairy, we also eliminated strawberries and peanuts.  We have yet to introduce those two foods back into her diet, so it is possible that one of those foods could be the culprit.  Or, you know, it could just be dry skin.  I might just need to be a bit more diligent about applying the lotion to her face.

In any case, on the off chance you need some dairy-free meals in your life, I am sharing the list that I compiled.  Unfortunately for you vegetarians out there, it is rather meat-centric.  This was not intentional.  It instead means that all of my vegetarian options rely heavily on dairy.  If you have any yummy gluten-, corn-, soy-, dairy-free vegetarian recipes (ha!), please share!  I obviously need to round out my repertoire.

Italian burgers--obviously without the stuffed bits.
Braised chicken in tomatillo sauce
Halal cart style chicken and rice (sans sauce)
Faux pho (made without the 5-spice)
Sweet potato foil packet tacos (without the cheese.  *sob!*--however the sweet potatoes do a good job in adding a creamy texture)
Beef Daube Provencal
Pot sticker filling sautéed with rice noodles
Spaghetti
Chicken curry
Chicken pot pie
Lettuce wraps
French chicken in a pot
Chicken salad
Stir fry with choice of meat (chicken/beef/pork)
Turkey burgers
Pot roast
Salisbury steak
Meatloaf (subbing the milk/yogurt for coconut milk and without glaze)
Beef chili (ground beef or stew)
Sesame brown rice salad with chicken
Orange herb chicken
Lemon chicken breasts
Thai crockpot chicken or beef curry
Ham fried rice
Hamburger soup
Korean burgers
BBQ chicken
Fajitas
Sweet and sour chicken
Black beans and rice with avocados



Friday, June 20, 2014

Candies

The candies were kept in a crystal jar on the linen covered dining room table in my Grandmother's house.  The individually wrapped hard candies gleamed yellow, pink, and orange, deceptively alluring.  I say deceptively because I knew from previous experience how these candies did not alight the tastebuds with sugary pleasure but rather threw them into a state of confusion. "What is this taste?" they seemed to cry.  The candies contained not sugar but rather some artificial sweetener, in addition to the obvious artificial coloring and flavors, to make them friendly to diabetics, which included Grandmother.  Grandmother might have found these candies a welcome substitute to regular sweets, but I did not.

I always forgot this of course when faced with the gleaming candies in the elegant jar.  Every visit, I would take a piece, carefully unwrap it, and hope that my memory had served me wrong.  Each time, I met with bitter disappointment.  I would take the partially eaten, sticky candy from my mouth to dispose of it.  Common sense and etiquette would dictate that I discard the partially eaten candy in the trash bin.  I do not know why I did not do this.  Perhaps, I was embarrassed of my Grandmother, a woman of the Depression era, finding my needless waste.  Perhaps I was just a child, and children often act insensibly.

In each of the upstairs rooms, there was a latched, small square door, situated a foot or two off the floor.  On opening the door, you saw a small shoot that led to.....somewhere, anywhere, or nowhere.  Not knowing the destination made it magical.  The shoot could open into Faerie, or Narnia, or just end in a great abyss of Nothing.  I would take my partially eaten candy which was sometimes wrapped back up in its original cellophane wrapper, or sometimes not, and send it down the shoot silently wishing it "God Speed" to its unknown destination.

Much later, when I was older, I learned that those small latched square doors were openings for laundry shoots, and that the destination was the basement laundry room.  I wonder, now, what Grandmother thought when she saw those pieces of yellow, pink, and orange candies cemented to her dirty laundry.                


Attempting to start something new here: Flashback Fridays.  This is where I will write down a memory of mine.  A memory I value and want recorded.  I want these efforts to be something more than what one would find in my journal entries, since my journal entries (when I kept them) are rather prosaic, dull, and itinerary like.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My kids: side by side.

Parenthood.  It does a number on your ability to remember things, probably stemming from lack of sleep and resultant loss of brain cells.  As a mother of two now, I will occasionally look at my second child and try to think back on what happened with child number one at the same age.  Is this sudden clinginess the age, or is it personality based?  Was Finn sleeping better yet by now, or no?  When did all those wretched teeth come in?  Things as silly as hair thickness may get me a bit worried.  (Enna has quite a bit of hair, but it is baby fine and thin.  Of course I am paranoid and shallow enough to think it might always be like this.)  Surely, Finn's hair was thicker by this point, wasn't it?  You get the gist.  

For kicks, It thought it would be fun to put some side by side pictures together of Finn and Enna at the same ages.  I went into the archives expecting that I would need to be selective, only to find that I had very few instances to choose from.  I thought I was doing a pretty good job of taking pictures of my second born, but the evidence suggests otherwise.  Oops!  Might need to make that more of a priority in the future.  *cough, cough*

I did manage to come up with two comparisons: one at 6 months and the other at 16.  For some reason, I am actually surprised by how dissimilar they look.  There is such similarity at times in behavior at each of these ages (i.e. their sense of humor, games they like to play, etc.) that I expected it to somehow manifest itself in looks too.  In terms of differences, Enna, at 16 months, is much more adventurous, stubborn, and a bit more verbal.  Some of that could be personality, some of it is sex (girls tend to develop verbally earlier), and some of it could stem from the fact she has an older brother to copy.       




I perused the archives of this blog to see what I wrote about when Finn was 16 months.  There was so much cuteness, but there was so much that was hard.  This age is just so physically demanding with the nursing and the lack of sleep and the still wanting to be held and be a part of things.  This time around though, I have some perspective and know that life won't always be like this.  Finn, right now at 4, is really, truly wonderful.  (I couldn't say that about 3.)  And as cliche as it sounds, that time flew by fast.  I look back at these pictures of cute little Finn and wonder where the time went.  (Not sleeping!  That was for certain.)  Looking at these pictures almost makes me want to rouse my kids from their sleep and smother them with kisses, but that is crazy talk.  I will never get in-between my children and their sleep.  Instead, I will sign off and join them.  I know where my priorities are.    

Friday, May 30, 2014

Technology has weakened me

Last week our air conditioning broke.  Its last breath was a hideous screeching metal on metal noise that is simultaneous with the destruction of machinery.  At first, I was not overly concerned.  The season was still early which meant lower temps and open schedules for repairmen.  However, I obviously had no experience with the horror that is HVAC negotiations.

Working with HVAC companies is akin to negotiating with terrorists.  They know that you will do anything short of (or perhaps not) selling your first born child to get your house cool or warm again.  The situation is like this: First a person comes to diagnose the situation ($).  After diagnosis, he orders the part ($$$ and more time).  Then he comes again a different day to do the actual repair ($$).  Have a diagnosis from another company but want the work done by someone else?  Doesn't matter.  The new company will insist on an initial diagnosis.  (In fairness, I sort of understand this policy, but aggravating when you are dealing with a matter of urgency.)  You want it fixed before their next scheduled opening, weeks from now?  Sure, but it comes with a really hefty "after hours" price tag.  HVAC companies are out to bleed you dry.

Mr. F. thought the problem was perhaps the motor of the AC.  This was confirmed by the repairman we first called to check out our unit--a repairman from the same company who installed the unit to begin with.  We had hopes that because we were using the initial company, they would put their records to good use and know what model parts would be needed, etc. so the repair could be expedited.   Mr. F. had a picture of the model number to send to them if requested.  (They did not.)  The repairman came woefully ill-equipped.  He stopped by at the last minute of the day despite us being the second job on the list.  He did not have the right motor.  He would need to order it.  It was a holiday weekend.  Five days later was the earliest it could be replaced.

Mr. F. was confident he could replace the motor if he could find the correct part to order.  But it turns out you just can't order AC parts like you can with other appliances.  You have to be in the business.  Or you have to know a guy.  Turns out, we know a guy.  We were able to buy the exact motor we needed for a fraction of a price.  Only......Mr. F. had to make a 9 hour round trip drive to get it.  But hey!  Even factoring in gas, etc., we were still coming in less than half the quoted price.  And we were looking at having the AC fixed in a day or two vs. five.  Win.  Mr. F. makes the drive, gets the motor, installs it...........only to find that the motor isn't really the broken part, but the compressor instead.  The first repair man was a complete idiot.

The compressor fix was a bit out of Mr. F.'s skill set.  It is also a whole lot more expensive to replace.  We made some more calls in an attempt to find a better repairman.  One that could get the job done sooner rather than later and who might actually know what he is doing.  We recieved a recommendation, and our AC is completely replaced a week later. We are also significantly poorer.

So, that is a rather long, convoluted story which may or may not be interesting to you.  However, that isn't what I really want to talk about.  I want to talk about how I survived (or didn't) said week without AC.

I would have thought I could live a week without AC without much incident.  AC is a pretty recent innovation, and my parents didn't live in places with AC for most of their lives.  I, myself, have spent some time living in places with no AC with seemingly no ill effects.  One can manage.

To put it bluntly, I could not manage.  Two days later in AC bliss, and I am still suffering from PTSD from the week without.  And when I talk about the week, I am really only talking about the 3-4 rather hot days. (The other days were rather blissfully cool).  I am suffering PTSD from 4 days sans AC, and those 4 days were enough to send me over the edge.

We live in a town house.  Town houses are the most inefficient energy designs in the history of the world, I think.  The thermostat is on the middle level so the first level is always very cool and the top level is always warm.  The bedrooms of our townhouse are on the third floor.  Of course.  Mr. F. and I could probably manage with the heat, but our kids could not.  They slept like crap.  You might ask, "Why didn't you just camp out on the first floor where it was cooler?"  Yeah.  That could work......if you had any children other than our own.  Remember this post?  My children need darkness to fall asleep.  In fact, we had to close up the windows and pull down the blinds and close the curtains and doors and then try to put them to sleep in what is basically an oven with a fan, because they could fall asleep in the heat better than they could fall asleep with light.  Too bad they couldn't stay asleep though.  The result was I spent 3 hellish, hot nights not sleeping.  The last night before our AC was due to get fixed, was the hottest yet, so we decided to escape to a hotel.  We figured we wouldn't be getting any worse sleep, and at least we would be cool.

The sleep wasn't worse, but it wasn't better.  Enna was up every 1-2 hours.  All. Night. Long.  And I couldn't let her fuss or cry, because Finn and Mr. F. needed to stay asleep.  It was ghastly.  But hey!  It was cool, which preserved what little sanity still in my possession.  The culprit?  Slivers of light coming in from the edges of the blackout curtains all night long.  Light from the dratted parking lot lights.  I am sure Enna kept thinking it was morning time and she should get up.  *Bangs head on wall*  This is why we can never leave our house.

I am a bit ashamed of how poorly we managed.  I feel like my forebearers are looking down at me shaking their heads at how unhinged we get when faced with the elements.  "You weaklings!  We crossed the plains!  In the dead of winter and the heat of summer!  Wearing petticoats and long dresses.  You shame our memories!"  What can I say?  My privilege has made me weak.

Things should be better now with our AC fixed, right?  Well, not really.  I now have two sick kids* on my hands.  Sick kids who are sleeping like crap.


*Sick because they didn't sleep for a week on end.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Picture Perfect Mother's Day

Everybody on Facebook posted all these happy, joyous updates on Mother's Day which were calculated to spread love and warm fuzzies.  My status, on the other hand, was "Mother's Day is such a joke."  Obviously, I am the feel-good friend that you want at any party.

You could say that my day was less than idyllic.  Hopefully, my children won't remember the Mother's Day where I completely lost it and then spent hours prone in a dark room avoiding everyone.  It turns out that changes in hormones plus exhaustion (brought on by a sick child) is a recipe for a depressed Lady Susan.  Add to that a neck muscle spasm that partly crippled me, and you should have a clear idea of how my Mother's Day actually went.  It was the sort of day I would normally choose to forget and scratch from records expect for 1) Mr. F. who masterfully took care of the kids and dinner while I was "indisposed," and 2) the children who were so concerned and sweet to me after I came down.  Finn made sure to show me his artwork that he made me special for the day.  I guess I will keep them around after all.


Mr. F. and Finn enjoyed a Father/Son campout the Friday night before Mother's Day.  They made me a leaf rubbing.


Thumbprint flower made at church.  Finn requested I leave the room so it could be a surprise.

And My personal favorite:


"I had a hard time drawing mommy, so I drew Humpty Dumpty instead."
 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Maple Nut Granola, Oat-free

I have been mourning the loss of granola in my life ever since I discovered that uncooked oats (or dry cooked as the case may be with granola) don't sit well with me.  I don't think I can overstate how nice and convenient it is to have a cold breakfast option, especially when traveling.  As we don't eat store bought cold cereal (almost impossible to find a kind that meets all of our allergy requirements and is filling), granola is our only option.  And then, to have that snatched away from me?  Not cool.

Of course now with Paleo being the Next Big Food Thing, there are a number of nut and seed based granola recipes to be found on the internet.  I was checking out a handful, trying to come up with a recipe that called to me, when I decided that I would make my own based on my favorite oat based version in King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking.  The recipe took very little tweaking.  I cut down on the sweetener (as there were not 7 cups of oats to absorb it) and subbed the wheat germ with flax seed meal.  I also added some crispy brown rice cereal to lighten it up on the texture front and thus making it not paleo.  Can't say I am sorry about this.  Also, since it is mostly nuts, I baked it for only 1 hour at low temperature vs. the 2 originally stated in the recipe.  Two hours would have resulted in burnt nuts.  Not tasty.

I used to think that I didn't really like dried fruits in my granola.  As it turns out, I just needed the right sort of dried fruit.  To me, the key is balance.  I like tart fruits (my favorites are dried cherries, cranberries, and pluots) to counteract the sweetness.





Maple Nut Granola, Oat-free

Ingredients
1 cup unsweetened coconut
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chopped cashews
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups puffed brown rice cereal
1 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pluots
1 cup chopped cranberries
1 cup chopped raisins

Directions
Preheat the oven to 250.

In a large bowl, mix together the coconut, nuts, salt, cereal, and flax seed.  In a separate bowl, melt the coconut oil and then add the maple syrup and vanilla.  Pour this over the larger bowl with the nuts and seeds.  Mix well.

Pour the granola onto two, parchment lined baking sheets.  Bake in the oven for 1 hour, occasionally stirring.  Let the granola cool, and then add in the chopped fruit.  Place in an airtight container, preferably a glass one from your childhood.*

Yields something shy of 12 cups.


*My mom kept all of these Skippy peanut butter jars from my childhood.  Growing up the jars housed peanut butter obviously, and then homemade dried fruit and fruit leather.  Now, I find them to be the perfect size for whipping up smoothies in the morning and of course, holding batches of granola.  They are a full quart size, not like those misnamed quart mason jars which really only hold 3 1/2 cups.  Also, the mouths are wonderfully wide.  

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sewing: Yellow and Gray Dresses

When I started this whole "learn how to sew some wearable clothes" quest, I knew that learning to sew knit fabrics would be a priority.  Let's face it, 90% of the clothes my children wear are knit and 50-75% of my clothes are knit.  We wear knits.

However, I found knits to be super intimidating.  The fabric is super stretchy!  Wonky hems beware!  I also was under the impression that you needed a serger and a coverstitch machine to sew knits well.  While they are definitely assets,  a number of folks out are writing tutorials and patterns for those of us with only plain Jane sewing machines.  (Check out Rae's Kniterviews, Sewaholic's list of knit tips and links, and Tilly's guide to sewing knits on a regular machine).  I took some notes regarding stitch length and width, acquired some ball point and twin needles, and started with an easy fabric and an easy pattern.  

The pattern I chose was the PlayDay Dress from Heidi & Finn.  I really like the simple, clean look of the Heidi & Finn patterns.  The PlayDay dress seemed perfect: not a lot of pieces or embellishments and therefore a good beginning pattern for me to sew.  The dress also looked comfortable to wear.  (I am a firm believer that children's clothes should be comfortable first and foremost.)  I honestly wouldn't mind a version for myself.  The pattern itself was also written quite well with easy to follow instructions and pictures.  For fabric, I chose an Interlock knit since it acts more like a woven fabric and isn't super, duper stretchy.  I ordered it at Fabric.com, and it is lovely: nice, soft, and cozy. 

It became apparent when I was checking out fabric to purchase that I would have enough fabric for two dresses, in inverse colors.  So, I made two.  The first dress was the yellow one.  It came together smoothly enough except I sewed the side inseams with a 1/2" allowance vs. the 3/8" the pattern called for.  That mistake made for really snug arm holes.  I also had some issues with attaching the pockets.  It was finished right as the weather turned cold, so Enna has worn it only once or twice.  The grey dress came together more smoothly as it was my second try, and I finished it right before Easter.  I hope we get a lot of wear out of them this summer. 

The one thing I would change about the pattern next time is to change the neckline.  It is too wide for my liking and slips off the shoulders.  Unfortunately, I cut out the pieces for both the yellow and grey dresses before I realized my dislike.  On the yellow version, I stitched it up after it was completed (hence the puckering at the shoulders).  On the grey, I stitched the neckline up an inch on both sides after attaching the neck binding but before attaching the shoulder straps.  This method worked pretty well.

While, I still feel more comfortable sewing woven fabric (it is, after all, what I am most used to), the thought of sewing knits no longer fills me with dread.  That is a success story in and of itself.  I definitely have more plans for knits in the future.




Cost
Pattern: $6.95 for 12m-5T sizes
Fabric: Organic Cotton Knit Interlock two 1/2 yards--$10.98
Thread: ?? $4.00 for two spools (yellow and gray) of Gutermann polyester.
Buttons: ??

Total: $10.97 per dress (minus button cost)

A couple of sewing blogs that I follow include the cost of the item.  I find it extremely helpful and illuminating and will try to remember to include the information in my sewing posts.




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