10.22.2014

Grain Free Pizza Crust Showdown

Pizza night used to be a regular occurrence around here. Craig's got a pretty good crust recipe so I'd just ask him to whip up a batch whenever we had a movie night. Of course, that isn't quite so easy these days. I did find a pretty good mix (local store brand) but the first time I saw it, it was on sale for $1. That must have been an intro price because now its $7. I could probably make something similar with a variety of gluten free flours but since I've been seeing all these grain-free/paleo/low-carb crust recipes on pint erst, I thought I'd try that first. But I wanted to try at least 2 to hedge my bets. Nobody wants to starve on pizza night! And luckily, we didn't.


Assemble and Baking Process:

The cauliflower based crust recipe was from The Lucky Penny Blog. I used the optional almond meal but I didn't cook the cauliflower in the microwave because I don't have a microwave. Several commenters also skipped that step so I thought it would be fine. Despite never having "riced" cauliflower before, this came together pretty easily. I think I should have cooked it a but more pre-toppings. I know, she tells you its important but my edges started burning before the top was golden. But it looked like a pizza coming out.

The almond meal recipe was from Eat Fat Lose Fat (the Holy Grail Version) using part cheddar and part mozzarella. I had to use the oven directions because, again, no microwave! This was a bit odd to put together. I think I should have worked longer incorporating my cheese into the other ingredients but it was awkward with a hot bowl. Next time I'll melt the cheese in one bowl and put it into another for mixing. And I think I needed more almond flour because hers looks like a crust while mine looked like melted cheese. And when it was time to flip, it stuck.I ended up having to scrap some off the silicon sheet (yes, it stuck to that!) and mush it together to reform a crust. And while my oven normal runs cool, I almost burnt this with several minutes remaining on my timer. But once I put it all back together and added toppings, nobody was the wiser.

Current Edge: Cauliflower. While I haven't crunched the numbers, I'm pretty sure the almond meal version is more expensive since it has more cheese and almond meal in it and made a small crust. It was also a slightly more frustrating process.

Looks: 

Hey, its pizza. Without grain! While I had a bit of trouble with the almond flour crust, once topped and baked, they were fine. My cheese wasn't fully melted but that was more because my kids were sitting at the table whining and Craig had to leave for a meeting in 20 minutes more than a result of either recipe. (Note to self: don't try 2 new recipes on a weeknight when your husband has to be somewhere at 6pm)

Cauliflower on the Left, Almond Meal on the Right

The Important Part/Taste Testing

So I was really hoping the cauliflower would win the taste test but nope, hands down favorite was The Holy Grain Almond Flour crust. All 4 of us gobbled it up and we would eat it again anytime. It had a really nice texture and flavor. I ate it with a fork and Jonah's was cut into small pieces but Lucy and Craig ate theirs with their hands like a regular old pizza.

Jonah and I liked the cauliflower one too although not as much. Craig ate a few bites but wanted to know what I had done to it before he finished up (he just doesn't trust me anymore) and Lucy refused to eat it after I told him -and therefore her - that it contained cauliflower. But keep in mind she's 4 and highly biased against cauliflower. I should have held out longer before spilling the cauliflower secret. Again, Jonah's was cut little so he could pick his up but I struggled and used a fork. It just didn't hold together but in hindsight since I used 1 tablespoon of almond meal and almost 3 cups of cauliflower I probably should have used another egg or at least an egg white.

Verdict: 

I actually think I need to try both again, or maybe try mixing them. Both recipes are unique, at least for me as I'm new to grain-free cooking. I'm a pretty good cook but this grain-free is a whole different world and it was really hard for me to judge if I was on the right track. If I tried either one again, I think I would get a much better result. If I had to pick only one recipe to keep, it would be the Holy Grail one, no doubt about it and I think with a bit more mixing on my part, I wouldn't have had the issues I did with it falling apart initially (it did fine once it was fully baked). But I am curious to try a combination. I wonder if using only 1.5-2 cups of cauliflower and upping the almond meal and cheese would help create a crust that had the flavor and crunch of the almond meal but the stability of the cauliflower. I guess we'll need another pizza night to find out!

10.20.2014

My top 3 Gluten-Free "Emergency" Meals

We rarely eat out and when we do, I like it to be deliberate and special. Deliberate does not equal desperate and calling Craig to pick up Chic-Fil-A because the day got away from me. And we are starving doesn't eq So I like to keep a few meals as spares. I don't often include them in my meal planning because I save them for when I need something easy.

They use ingredients I can easily keep stocked, normally have on hand or can have Craig pick up at the dollar store that he drives by on his way home from work. I like ground beef for these recipes because even if it isn't thawed, I can brown it by scrap off the outside of the frozen chunk as I go. Julia Child would probably not approve of that but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Unfortunately, a few of my favorites had to be abandoned when I gave up Gluten and beans (goodbye tuna melts and lentil casserole!) but others were fine or could be saved with a tweak or two. Here are my current go-to meals.



Breakfast for Dinner - German Pancake/Dutch Baby

We love breakfast for dinner around here but most fun breakfasts are not GF friendly, or they can be made that way but then I'm searching for a dozen different flours and suddenly my quick easy dinner ceases to be so. Eggs are obviously GF but since I eat eggs for breakfast 90% of the time, I need something a little different for dinner. German Pancakes are just different enough to work and the are fun. Who doesn't love puffy foods?
  • 1/4 cup butter (this can be reduced to a smearing of the pan or even some coconut oil for non-stick purposes if you're cupboard is low but its better with lots of butter)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (1/4 teaspoon if you are using salted butter and if you're gf you might be. Silly people putting gluten in butter, why?)
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour (I make my own from coconut flakes I buy in bulk from Tropical Traditions)
  • 6 Tablespoons arrowroot (or cornstarch)
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 cup of milk 
Preheat oven to 425. Put 1/4 cup butter in pan (9x13 or large dutch oven) inside to heat/melt while you make the batter.

Whisk coconut flour, arrowroot, and salt together. Add eggs and milk and whisk to combine. Take pan from oven, quickly add batter and replace. Bake for 15-20 minutes until cooked and puffy and edges are starting to turn golden brown.

It may fall when removed from the oven, that's okay. I like it served with lemon juice and some sort of sweetener (powdered sugar is the less healthy option, maple syrup if I'm being better) but the lemon is optional. You can add fruit to the center before you cook it but I prefer to serve it with fruit on the side. If I'm working with what I've got on hand, its often canned fruit or frozen fruit made into smoothies. And I once served it with cottage cheese so now my kids expect that but too. Kids are funny like that.

Cheesy-Beef-a-Roni

This is based on these recipes from heavenly homemakers but tweaked to be GF and cheaper/less meaty. I've also made a half batch using leftover taco meat.

2 Tablespoons Taco seasoning (I use homemade)
16 ounces brown rice pasta (Trader Joes and are brands we use and like)
6 cups of milk
2 cups of Cheddar cheese
1 lb ground beef

Get all your ingredients measured and ready. Heat milk and pasta over medium heat, stirring pretty much constantly until pasta is cooked. This will take about the time the package says to cook the pasta, plus maybe 2-3 minutes. In a separate pan, brown meat. Once brown, add taco seasoning - while still stirring the pasta/milk. If meat gets done before pasta, you can turn it off. Once pasta is done, turn off heat and add cheese to pasta and stir until cheese is melted. Then add meat/seasoning mixture and stir to combine. Add some veggies on the side and you've got a meal (we almost always have carrots on hand or I grab something out of the freezer).

Super Nachos

I'm don't even really have a recipe for this. It's basically taco salad but with a kid friendlier name. We also called them haystacks growing up because you start with a stack of tortilla chips, add taco meat and whatever you have on hand that might be somewhat taco-ish. Lettuce, tomato, cheese, salsa, sour cream, thawed frozen corn. Back when I ate beans, I'd keep canned black beans on hand so I could make this even if I didn't have meat available. I don't make a dressing for this (which is fine because it's not a taco SALAD, its super nachos ;-) and I find the sour cream and salsa are enough but you could if you wanted.

I'm not realizing these aren't very pantry-ish since they rely on fresh milk, cheese and eggs. I almost always have those on hand anyway but I'd love to add a few more to my rotation, especially ones that rely more on pantry items.

 So what are you're favorite pantry/emergency meals? 










photo credit: Mel // Left of Centre via photopin cc

10.13.2014

Opera Resources for Preschoolers: The Magic Flute

I picked opera as our music to work on this year and so far its been going really well. All of us are enraptured by it. The big shocker in that statement is how I'm able to include myself in that. I'm really trying to use these first few "gimme" years before school actually starts to focus on the things I feel weak on. I'm 99.9% positive that I'll never neglect math and science in our homeschooling times because those are my subjects and I love them way too much to let them fall through the cracks. But poetry? Classical music and composers? Picture study? Those are the things I don't feel confident about. So that's what we're starting. I can gain confidence when they are too little to see my fears. And so far it's working!




We started with The Magic Flute at the recommendation of a Classical Opera Teacher and fellow Charlotte Mason lover I was able to talk to at a recent CM conference. I came into this knowing absolutely nothing about the Magic Flute (or opera in general). But it hasn't let us down.

I'm not an expert, just a mom in a family who is known to start belting out "Pa-pa-pa!" at least once a day. I'm listing the resources we used in the order I introduced them because I think that was part of the key to our success. We started with a few songs, then the story then the longer musical versions.

You'll also notice that they tend to focus on Papageno and ignore Tamino and Pamina which might seem odd if you've only read the plot. But even my princess loving girl realizes that Papageno is the fun one. He's just such a kid-friendly character and his scenes tend to be low on the intensity level. Okay, disclaimers over - now on to the good stuff.



The Classical Child at the Opera album has a couple selections from The Magic Flute and it's available on Spotify which is a huge plus for me. Free is nice. I just started by playing those three
songs in with our other kid music. In a couple days, both kids were singing along because yes, they are just that catchy. 



For the full story, we read The Magic Flute: An Opera by Mozart. I know there are others (this one and it's in this collection which I hope to own someday) but I haven't read them. This one worked well with my young ones. Jonah could sit through it before he even turned 2 (but he really loves books so if you have a more wiggle worm listener, it might take you 2-3 sessions to finish). I think it would be great for an elementary student as well. The story is simplified but still makes sense, the pictures are colorful, fun and not too scary.



The Met's 2006 family version, a cut version sung in English (as are all the resources I've listed here) is my personal favorite of the bunch. We mostly watched with the Papageno scenes which I've shown below. And now when I turn on the computer, Jonah will often sit next to me and ask for Papageno.

 I can't say it is a very traditional production. The costumes and set design is very modern and at times, bizarre. One of the reasons I didn't like some of the other clips is the ladies of the night costumes, while not strictly immodest, have some interesting embellishments that I don't particular care for (as seen here). I'd really suggest you watch any of these beforehand as they do deal with the ideas of suicide and the, uhm, "making of baby chicks." I'm fine with how they are handling in this but you might not be.







There are more available on YouTube which you can easily find by searching and we've watched a couple but Nathan Gunn (the baritone who plays Papagano) really steals the show so the ones with him are the best. We've watched each of the ones above at least a dozen times each.

You can also watch the whole thing directly from the Met here for $3.99 for a month or for free if you sign up for a 7 day trial. We haven't yet but I'm thinking about renting it as a special treat for an upcoming family night.



The BBC video is one I wasn't sure if we would watch but then the kids got sick and we were all stuck in bed so it was this or another episode of Dinosaur Train. Truth be told, this one is a bit weird. The kids knew the story already and were still asking who or what the fat floating man was. On the plus side, you get to hear parts of a wider selection of songs and the kids did watch it. I wouldn't pay to watch it, but it's on YouTube so you don't have to.


The last resource is probably my kid's favorite. My mom gave me several of the Classic Kid series CDs that she used with my younger brother. We've tried listening to another (Mr. Bach Comes to Call) with Lucy and Jonah but they were having a hard time following the story. I didn't really expect them to take to Mozart's Magic Journey like they did but since I already had it, I had nothing to lose.

I'm not sure if it was because they already knew the story and some of the music before we tried this one or if its just an easier one to follow but this was a huge hit. As in, as soon as it ends, they ask for it again....and again.

I have a couple quibbles with it, mostly that the volume seems inconsistent and the Queen of the night songs seem faint. And I don't like there translations as well as the Met's version (The Met's = A cuddly wife or sweetheart is Papageno's wish vs MMJ = A girlfriend who will love me is what I wish I had) but that is me being picky. I like the way they brought in the extra character to help the kids follow along, explained the good guy/bad guy part well (something that can be confusing to little ones) and included short snippets of a number of songs even though its a fairly short version. Plus, as I said, the kids really really love it so if something ever happened to our CD, I would be purchasing a replacement right away.

That's about it. We didn't do any Magic Flute crafts or activities or themed snacks. Just listened, read and enjoyed. We really enjoyed it though. Up next - Hansel and Gretel!

Bonus for adults:

As I said, I've really gotten into this just as much as the kids. I want to watch the full Met show even if its still too long for them at this really young age. There is also the Kenneth Branagh version which I was curious about and recently found on YouTube. Reviews are mixed on his updating the setting but I might still check it out.

10.10.2014

Mother's Daybook - October 10

Reading - Fun stuff! I just finished up a few really challenging books and our library started its fall adult reading program which is done by number of books. You can never have enough tote bags so I'm determined to get one which gives me an excuse to relax and pick up some light(er) reading.

Wind in the Willows is a classic that I don't remember ever reading as a child but am thoroughly enjoying now. Moonstone is the first book written in my favorite genre of mysteries and its a fun one too and I'm about to start the third in the Thursday Next series. I can't be all fun and no work though, its not my personality so for my thought provoking needs I'm working on Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux (and I've got a couple more bios on my to-read list so thanks for your help in that area!).

Watching - Lucy in her swimming lessons. We're taking them with the same group of homeschool kids that we are doing our preschool co-op. It is so much fun to sit and watch them all and see the different personalities. I forgot my camera last week but I need to bring it at least once.

Eating -  Taking out gluten and sugar means that most of my intense desire to bake some yummy fall goodies is being unmet. So if you insist on pining pumpkin dessert recipes, I'm sorry but I will probably be unfollowing you. I have given myself permission to go all out for Thanksgiving and Christmas (well, with sugar at least, not gluten) so I keep telling myself its only a "couple" weeks away. But in the meantime, if you have any amazing, gluten-free, sugar-free, banana-free pumpkin treats recipes other than just eating pumpkin out of a can, send them my way? Coming up short? Me too.

And since I'm getting really sick of the handful of vegetables I can eat, I'm trying to be adventurous and try new ones. I think I know now why I don't cook a lot of squash. I don't like squash. But a few months ago I didn't like brussel sprouts and now I don't hate them so I'll just keep making squashy things until I turn into a squash or decide they aren't so bad.

Doing - Decorating for Fall. We kinda sped through the letter "E," mostly because I've had a bad cold and no energy but I think we'll hang out in "Letter F" for a couple weeks. I have so much fun Fall stuff planned. I just love fall. And Lucy remembered a few things we did last year and asked when we were doing them again so the list just keeps growing. If I can't eat pumpkin things, I will at least do every single leaf and acorn craft that pinterest has to offer.

Preparing - To get these kids to fall asleep in the same room! They got their bunk beds now and love them! We've still got quite a bit to do to before the new room-for-two is complete but its all mostly little things - new curtains (because I've always meant to get ones other than the double layer of non-matching fabric I throw over the window to block the light 3 years ago), patch the walls in a few places and slightly de-pinkify it, move shelves, etc. We're getting there.

My big goal is to get Jonah to fall asleep there, right now he falls asleep in mine and we move him. It would be nice if he would stay there a bit longer too but night weaning is a 2 steps forward, 1 step back thing because we keep getting sick. And when he gets sick, he doesn't sleep well here or there or anywhere so it because a get sleep by any means possible situation. Baby steps, baby steps.


10.08.2014

The Missing Thing - Parenting with Sincerity

I wrote this when I was in a kinda cranky mood. Then I debated posting it or not. But I'm going to, because I even made pictures with quotes. Just forgive the over crankiness, please ;-)

There are numerous books and blog posts out there telling us parents what we should and should not say to our kids. Tell them they are pretty - no, wait, don't. Tell them they are smart. No, only praise them for their efforts. Actually, don't praise them at all, all positive inspiration should be self-driven. Except when you need to sandwich criticisms between positive reflections. It really gets your brain spinning after a while.

I could say I agree with some of it and disagree with some of it. But really, I don't like reading any of it. And for a long time I couldn't put my finger on why when I'm normally such a fan of intentional parenting. Then I realized it isn't what they are saying, its what they are leaving out.  They seem to lack sincerity. I say seem to because I don't necessarily think the actual conversations between parent and child are always insincere, its just that spelled out in that do this/don't do that manner, it almost always ends up looking manipulative.



It perpetuates the idea that if I as a parent can only do and say the perfect things my kids won't ever struggle with laziness, self-esteem or pride. I wish it weren't true but my kids are not going to end up perfect, no matter how much I micro-analyze my speech and actions.

Charlotte Mason has written six volumes but her works can be summed up into 20 principles, the first of which is:



Children are born persons. There are many ways one could take that and expound on it. But without even too much digging I can get some meat out by keeping that simple phrase in my mind when it I have conversations with Lucy and Jonah.  They are persons, not machines that will give out perfect results if I only give the right input. When I talk to them, I'm talking to a person. A person that, in many conversations, needs something from me - a listening ear, reassurance, ideas to ponder, all of the above?

I don't want to be hypocritical here. If you have been reading this blog for even a short amount of time, I hardly need to tell you that I'm a die hard over-thinker, especially when it comes to parenting and kid issues. I admit it.  I've read everything from the Pearls's Train up a Child to Adventure's in Gentle Discipling, plus the original works of Charlotte Mason and Montessori. And Craig and I are overall pretty careful about what we do in our home, even things many people would think are weird. We don't let people hug our kids without their permission and Lucy is 4 and has never owned a reward chart. So I certainly agree with the idea of intentional parenting. But at a certain point, you just gotta trust yourself a bit and respond to the child before you. One can be intentional and still sincere.

Like all children, Lucy struggles with certain issues more than others. But between my own values as a parent and my knowledge of her, I'm likely to focus on the things she probably needs the encouragement with. Do I offer that encouragement or praise because I'm trying to use my emotional connection with her to cajole her into good behavior, No! I can see she is working hard on something and I'm genuinely proud of her for accomplishing it.  She doesn't get the same amount of praise when she does something that comes naturally to her.

So, at times, I probably break all those "rules" that I mentioned above. I've praised my children, for what they are and what they do, I tell my little girl she's beautiful princess and my little boy he's a handsome gentleman. I also praise them for their behavior, especially the ones that don't come easily to them. And, sometimes I may even offer up a little bit of constructive criticism! I know, I live on the edge. Does it help if I say I do it with sincerity? I respond to them with what I think they need from me AND what I believe to be true.




A simple and somewhat silly example.

  Lucy draws a really great picture that I can see took her lots of time and effort. I'm really impressed by it.  She asks me what I think and my response - I tell her that I love it. It's great! We need to show Daddy when he gets home (and then I do). It was a really cool dinosaur and I still smile when I think about it. True story. 

Am I saying that because I want to inspire her to create more works of art? Or am I forcing myself not to praise her even though I want to because I'm afraid of the negative ramifications? No, I'm being sincere.

Lucy draws the same horse that she has drawn 99 times already. I'm unimpressed because she's already shown me an identical horse three times in the last 30 minutes. She shows it to me and my response -  "Another one, you really like to draw horses." 

Am I forcing myself to find something to praise? No, I'm just saying something so she stops shoving the piece of paper in my face and sincerely wishing I could get back to the task I was trying to complete. (And if you are judging me for the above honestly, you probably don't have a preschooler. They can be slightly egotistical at times but yet, still demand dinner later on.)

I don't have to analyze the situation to see what response would be the best. I don't have to worry that I'm praising too much or wonder if that was directed at her efforts or her outcome or will my having an opinion on her drawing diminish her in-born love of drawing or maybe my lack of compliments will lead her to think she doesn't have skills in the area of art so she won't pursue that even if it's a passion or perhaps I'll over-praise her and convince her she is more talented than she really is which will lead to her dropping out of school to embark on a career in the art field even though she lacks talent and now she'll end up homeless and without an education to support herself. Ack! What have I done? My child is now homeless!

No, I can be sincere. See how simple that is? Why do we make everything so complicated?