Thursday, August 29, 2013

Stuffed Summer Squash

This. Is. Amazing. (If you like summer squash.)

Once again, forgive the phone photos, but I had to share this yummy dish - made once as an experiment recently and a couple of times since - before I have a chance to make it again and take "real" photos.

This is the way I intended for the recipe to be made, and it was soooo good, but a little more work. The smaller dishes were the rest of the filling poured into the dishes after I'd filled the squash halves.

The second and third time I made this, I cut the squash into strips and put them flat in the pan and just poured the filling over them, rather than try to fill squash halves.

We were recently blessed with a bounty of squash from someone (our garden hasn't been so great, or big, this year) and I was wondering how in the world to fix SO MUCH before it went bad - and make an entire meal of it. Experiments abound in my mind, so this was one of them and we are all glad it was.

Stuffed Summer Squash
Total time, start to finish: Under 1 hour

1 large and 3 smaller (or the equivalent in volume) round summer squash (I think this is globe squash?) or the something similar (just make sure you've got the volume - summer squash is all good!)
1 large white onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups prepared polenta (I used this gluten-free kind from Bob's Red Mill)
1 cup shredded mozzarella, plus more for sprinkling
3 large eggs
Kosher or sea salt to taste
Cayenne pepper, a dash or two

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash squash and grease large 13x9 baking dish. 

Slice off stems and ends of squash, then cut in half. Place squash cut side down onto baking dish and bake about 15 minutes, just until squash insides are getting softer.

Bring water for polenta to a boil and prepare polenta according to package directions, then set aside.

While squash is baking and polenta is cooking, melt a tablespoon or so of butter over low heat in a large pan. Add chopped onion and saute over medium-low heat.

Remove squash from oven and scrape squash with a spoon, leaving a little bit on the skin. (At this point you can either slice the squash skin into thick strips to place back in pan, skin side down, or leave the halves to fill in the pan.) 

Place the squash pieces that were scraped off into pan with onion and raise heat to medium-high, breaking up squash into smaller pieces as it cooks and softens for several minutes.

After squash is cooked down some more and softened, remove from heat. Add polenta and season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper.

Add shredded mozzarella and stir to combine. Whisk eggs and slowly add to filling mixture, stirring quickly to prevent eggs from cooking too fast while incorporating throughout filling.

Pour filling into squash halves (in which case you will need a couple of greased ramekins to use up the rest of the filling), or over squash strips. Sprinkle a little more mozzarella over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees approximately 25-30 minutes or until filling is cooked throughout and squash halves or strips are completely softened.

I hope you enjoy! (And I hope this recipe is more clear than mud!)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Gluten-Free Awareness Tour Hits Detroit Soon!

Are you near Detroit? If so, check it out! This is a great chance to learn more about the gluten-free lifestyle and sample some products! Click on the flyer below to zoom in and read the details about the Detroit event on September 7-8!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Parmesan Crisps

Photo provided by Kitchen Table Bakers
Sometimes you just want something simple to make up a meal, or need something a little different for a snack. The Parmesan Crisps by Kitchen Table Bakers will do just that.

Just Parmesan in the Aged Parmesan flavor. That's it. Cheese. They manage to take cheese and crisp it to a cracker. Other good, simple ingredients are added to flavors such as Jalapeño, Sesame, Rosemary, Flax Seed, Garlic, Italian Herb and the final flavor: "Everything."

Kitchen Table Bakers recently sent me samples of the Aged Parmesan and Jalapeño to see what I thought. I was pleasantly surprised at how truly crispy these "crackers" were. While the spicy Jalapeño flavor was my favorite out of the two, lovers of the bold taste of Parmesan won't be disappointed in the slightest with the true Parmesan taste both of these flavors provide. I have no doubt the other flavors are the same, and I personally look forward to trying the Rosemary and Garlic at some point.

They truly are crispy.
While they may be overwhelming if eaten in a large quantity alone, they are a perfect companion to a simple meal, like the one I made out of these yummy green squash one evening. (Recipe for that squash dish is promised for the future.) My daughters and husband agreed.

They also make a great snack when paired with other ingredients, such as a slice of tomato or some seafood. The best part other than the simple ingredients? Of course, they are gluten-free. 

Photo provided by Kitchen Table Bakers

(Disclosure: Kitchen Table Bakers provided these products for me to sample free of charge. The opinions on the crisps are completely my own.)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ashley's Chocolate Oat Crispy Treats

I've been putting this post off for a while. Making these treats and taking photos of them, and typing this post, kind of makes something so hard seem more final, like there's no turning back. And there isn't. But it was time for me to do it. Today I decided that my children would have these treats for going back to school on Monday.

Please forgive me and overlook any typos, because I'm likely to be a blubbering mess by the time I'm finished. I try hard to not include much of my personal life in this blog, keeping it mostly about food or tips on the gluten-free lifestyle. I have various reasons for this, but I know people want personal, and I often get more feedback when I do give glimpses of my life. I'm not so sure this will be one of those times, but telling you this is the only way I can give you this recipe. I'm going to tell you a very sad story.

If you've read this blog for a while, you've probably seen references to some difficult things I have faced as of late that I said I would write about eventually, particularly in my "And then comes morning" post.

On March 27, 2013 in the early evening, one of the most beautiful spirits to ever grace this world slipped from earth into heaven. Ashley was a beautiful woman, inside and out, a dedicated wife and mother who loved her husband and four young children fiercely, a loving daughter, granddaughter, niece and sister who blessed every person who came into contact with her, a friend who loved deeply. My friend. My closest girlfriend, my kindred spirit on earth. Gone suddenly after catching an illness that had been in her family, like all mothers do, and within less than a week of getting sick, she left us.

I don't make friends easily, at least not the way I did when I was younger. I have lots of friends. I have a lot of women in my life who I listen to as they talk, needing someone to listen. I am their friend, and I love them. But I don't often let my heart open to them. I don't pour my soul out to them. I live in an area that has a high turnover rate. It's a gorgeous part of the country and I'm often told I live in paradise. But it's remote. It's several thousand people in an area that is nearly three hours from the nearest Target. Seven hours from Whole Foods. People either love it, or can't wait to leave. Many who love it can't find work to sustain them and are forced to leave, or live here for a job that will transfer them in a few years. I have made lifelong friends here. Friends who have to leave. The last time I waved goodbye to one of my best friends a few years ago, I said never again. I couldn't keep opening my heart to people who leave me. Even so, I know I am blessed to have people I can call friends in my life when some don't.

I have several close friends and even a couple of best friends - one I've had since the age of 8. I do love her with all my heart. But only one very close friend still lives near me. I have a sister I love with all my heart and she's one of my best friends, too, but she lives across the country. With the exception of my husband, Ashley was the friend who was my closest in the entire world. She was my kindred spirit. We got pregnant at the same time with our second children, and talked for hours each day about everything. We gave birth days apart and were talking to each other on cell phones through labor. We are so much alike, she and I. We had so many things in common - plus when you go through a pregnancy with another woman you are close to, there is a bond that forms that is unlike any other. When you reach that bond, you are able to talk to one another about anything, without fear of what the other will think or say. Ashley had to move away one day, too. Her husband's career took them several states away, as we had known it eventually probably would. But we kept talking every day for years. And until the week before her death, it was usually at least once a week with texts in between.

I last talked to her about a week before her death. She texted me later and told me she was getting sick with the illness that her family had. On Friday we texted back and forth a little, and over the weekend she took a terrible turn in her sickness. On Monday I learned that she had been put in ICU. It was an up and down roller coaster from then on, with bad news and hopeful news. On Wednesday my youngest lost her first tooth in a manner that was fit for a comedy movie, and I naturally took a photo and started to type up the text to send to Ashley, then stopped myself because she was in a coma at that point. I sent it anyway, letting family know it was there and requesting that it be read to her. It was the last communication I had with her, as she passed on hours later. 

It was such an utter shock, so unbelievable and surreal. There were hundreds, and most likely thousands, of people in serious prayer for Ashley. I won't lie that the fact that God had other plans has been hard to swallow and trust.

Months later I continue to want to text her the latest thing, and still occasionally think I'll hear her voice when I hear my phone ring. When my husband was holding me one night after I'd broken down again, my youngest came in and heard me saying these things. "You can still talk to her, Mommy," she told me. "Yes, baby, I can," I said. "But I can't hear her talk back, and that makes Mommy sad." She smiled and said, "But yes you can, Mommy. You can hear her inside of you." And she's right. I can still hear her voice. I can imagine the answers she'd give me. But it's just really, really hard. I can talk to my husband about anything, of course, but there are just some things that husbands really don't want to know sometimes. Things that you can talk to your best girlfriends about.

And I really want to talk to her about our decision for me to home school our youngest, now starting second grade. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would attempt home schooling with my children. Ashley home schooled her four children (now ages 3-9 - they were ages 2-8 when she passed away). I know she would have so many things to tell me and would love that I was going to try home schooling the sweet girl she felt so close to during our pregnancies.

LIFE can be so unfair, so brutal. 

That a mother of four young children and a devoted wife could be ripped away from those she loves so much and who love her so much is just too much. That her parents and brother, grandparents and aunts and uncles and sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law and countless friends could lose her this way is just too much. It makes me really, really angry. And bitter. And it rocks me to my core and shatters my heart to millions of pieces that can't possibly be seamlessly mended ever again. It makes me scream "Why?" and question everything I've ever believed.

As I said in that post mentioned above, it's just too much. It's all too much.

And so I pray. I pray for those hurting and for those who have lost. I pray for our world and for love to reign. I pray for peace and for comfort, for all and for me. And when I don't feel like I can pray, when I feel too angry or bitter or "what's the point?" to pray, I take a big breath, and take one more step, and say, "I know you can hear me, anyway, God, and I know you'll be there waiting when I can start up again."

And yet, life can be so beautiful.

And then I look outside and see new life. I look at my husband and my children and I see love and joy, and eventually a smile or a laugh comes from me. I remember that there is no sadness or pain in heaven, and that those I've lost are there together, and have faith that one day I'll see them again. And that brings me joy, too, in the sadness of missing them.

That Ashley had lived and blessed so many was beautiful. That I have faith I will see her again is beautiful. That we somehow, someday, sometimes get to see glimpses of beauty in our world and sometimes are able to dwell in that beauty until it soaks into our souls is beautiful. That we are blessed with family who loves us and we love is beautiful. There is so much beauty. And so much pain. I'm still in a lot of pain, and grateful for the beauty and family that surrounds me every moment I breathe.

And this cycle starts all over again. Pray. Breathe. Take another step. Smile. Laugh. Cry. Pray. Breathe. Take another step ...

And it's this taking another step that brings me to this recipe. It's a recipe that Ashley and her children came up with several months ago. "They are sooo good! It's tastes a lot like a 100 Grand bar!" she told me excitedly. "You can use it on your blog if you want!" 

Ashley was probably this blog's biggest fan. With the exception of my family who gets to be guinea pigs and tell me first of their enthusiasm or suggestions for my recipes, Ashley was the most excited about my creations.

She texted me the recipe and we made it, agreeing it was a good snack. Somehow back in February I accidentally erased several months' worth of our correspondence. I kept meaning to ask her to send it again, but when we would talk I would always forget and I can't for the life of me figure out why I didn't just text her to ask for it again. And then she was gone, and I desperately wanted to put this recipe on the blog and no longer had it. 

I knew I needed to figure the recipe out, but I kept hoping by some miracle she would text it to me from heaven or those missing texts would just reappear. In an odd way, as long as I kept putting this off, it wasn't quite so final that I couldn't ask her for it again.

With some brainstorming between me and my family who remembered the treat, and a friend she had told about it but hadn't yet shared the recipe with, I think I got it back. I do remember her original called for 2 cups of oats and crispy rice, but when I made it the first time I thought I should cut back on the oats (gluten-free oats seem different to me for some reason). I also couldn't remember if it contained raisins, but my oldest said it did and her memory is generally better than mine so I added them. I'm pretty sure she had cinnamon and vanilla in the recipe, so I added them, as well, but I could be wrong. 

Regardless, I'm pretty sure Ashley would approve of this final version and I hope you do, too. I hope you make it with your children, and hold them a little tighter today and let you know you love them. Cherish the moments with them, and make some memories. And please say a prayer for Ashley's family whenever you make these.

And slowly, every day, there is light that comes out of the darkness. And there is morning after night. 

Ashley's Chocolate Oat Crispy Treats

Projected prep time: 15 minutes

1/2 cup almond butter (creamy, natural)
1/2 cup raw honey
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 Tablespoons organic extra-virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 cup certified gluten-free rolled oats
2 cups gluten-free crispy rice cereal
1/2 cup raisins

In a large saucepan, place almond butter, honey, chocolate chips and coconut oil and stir over low heat until melted together.

Stir in cinnamon and vanilla. 

Remove from heat.

Gently stir in oats, then crispy rice. 

Fold in raisins.

Line two baking sheets with wax paper and scoop out approximately 2 tablespoons of mixture, gently squeezing into a ball and then slightly flattening. Place on wax paper. 

Refrigerate until set. Store in airtight container, preferably in refrigerator.

Makes approximately 2 baker's dozen.


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