Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Gluten Free Mexican Chocolate Cake

This recipe modified from Gluten Free Goddess found here.

We loved this cake. It was so moist and delicious. If you like the cinnamon goodness of a Mexican Hot Chocolate, then you are sure to enjoy this cake! My recipe differs from the original because I just make it gluten free, not dairy-free/vegan, too.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease and dust a 9-inch cake pan with butter and gluten-free flour. You will need a bowl for your dry goods, a mixing bowl, a 9" cake pan and maybe a couple of cupcake liners for extra batter.


Dry Goods Bowl:
1 cup all purpose GF flour (found at Trader Joe's)
3 tablespoons tapioca starch
1/2 cup sugar (because I didn't have the brown sugar, egads!)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Scant 3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon instant coffee or espresso powder (decaf is fine)

Sift all dry ingredients and whisk to distribute evenly. Set aside.

Brew 1 cup of VERY STRONG coffee. Break up a bar of your favorite dark chocolate and set in a glass bowl. Set aside.

In the Mixer:
1/2 can canned pumpkin
2 tablespoons shortening
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup milk
Splash of OJ
3 teaspoons vanilla extract

Let that mix until it looks smoothish. Your coffee should be done. Pour your hot coffee into the bowl with the chocolate bits and whisk away to mix them together. Wipe your drool because if you like coffee and if you like chocolate, you will wonder why you've never done this before at home. Seriously, don't drink it, you need it for your cake! That chocolate melted so wonderfully with the coffee, it's like they are doing this sweet, sweet dance....gahhhh!!

Pour into your mixer with the other wet ingredients. Slowly incorporate your dry ingredients. Mix until it looks smooth and cake batter-ish.


Instructions:
Pour the batter into the cake pan. Bake in the center of a preheated oven till firm- about 30 to 35 minutes. Please keep an eye on the cake.

Cool on a wire rack. Cover and chill.


Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Thoughts on Frozen

Back at the end of November of last year, Disney released their latest animated adventure, “Frozen.” Prior to that, if you’d gone to a child’s movie, you might have seen a teaser trailer for it featuring the beloved character Olaf, the snowman who loves warm hugs and Sven, the reindeer who loves carrots.

First, I must give you some background information. I have two girls, age 5 and 2 at the time we saw the movie. Growing up, I LOVED Disney films, but I couldn’t help but grow up wondering why movies told me that my value was in getting married and having children, to be saved or rescued by a handsome prince, and that my life would be happily ever after…until I discovered Mary Poppins, but that is a story all of its own.

Later, as I grew and had daughters of my own, I realized that I didn’t have much to pull from when it came to strong female characters in Disney animated films. I’m not a man-hater or anything. I’m saying it would be nice to see strong and mighty girls, is all.  I’m not knocking the Disney princesses, because in all honesty, I wasn’t familiar with all of them when I had my own daughters. First came Mulan, and I was ECSTATIC! Then came The Princess and the Frog (yaaay, a princess of color with dreams of her own!!), Tangled (wahoo, a girl who has a best friend, great hair, and can defend herself!), and a couple of years following was Brave. Yes, yes, yes!!!

With Merida and Elinor, Disney knocked it out of the park. They nailed it! Merida was wild and lovely. You saw her “prettied” up as a princess, and she was lovely, too. But when you saw her as her real self, unapologetic for who she was, that’s when she was beautiful. The relationship she had with her mother was real. Furthermore, her mother was present and in her life, not a monster, not absent, and especially not a doormat for her husband or anyone else for that matter. They had real arguments and real struggles and the element of magic and fantasy, that sparkle that makes Disney movies, well, special.

So when Frozen came out, you can understand why it had such a high bar for me. (Caution: Spoiler Alert) I expected less traditional Disney and more girl-power Disney. Which there were some elements to of that. Sister’s before misters, right? She didn’t need someone to save her, she saved her sister. Plus, so much of that music was outstanding. So fun, so rich, so catchy, so very classic Disney, that you wanna blast it in the car and sing along, and go right ahead, because I always try to sing a duet with Idina Menzel in my car as much as possible! Kristoff, mocking her choice of becoming engaged to Hans after just meeting him that day. Olaf was delightful and the kind of true and genuine spirit of optimism and innocent hope. Part of me thinks that Elsa put all of her hopeful childhood into Olaf’s spirit. Reindeer Sven was a great character, too.

In the early part of the movie, the two girls are playing. Wild and free, it was very similar to the way my girls play together. This was a huge, positive takeaway. What transpired after the injury and how Elsa excluded her little sister Anna. This was a teachable moment we have referred to for our 5 year old.

Then there was the rest of the film that had me chewing on things, asking questions, and wondering, what?? WHAT?? what?? wait, what? :: scratches head ::

These are the questions I’ve asked myself and wondered, was the script cut short? Was the budget too much? Did they just not consider these things? Am I really dissecting a Disney film like this? Seriously Bianca, hellooooo, it’s just a movie.

First off, what about their mom? Where was she, in the shadows, so to speak. She didn’t hardly have much to say. I realize the parents died, but really? That’s it?? And even beyond that, they live in a massive palace and NO “MOTHERLY” CHARACTER whatsoever?? They didn’t have anyone male or female to show them about love and compassion? Then again, she would’ve known love and there wouldn’t be a need for plot, so there you go. And speaking of parents, where were Kristoff’s parents? How did he go from childhood ice kid to human kid of the trolls? And why did he not remember the whole scene with Anna and Elsa? Did the trolls do troll magic on him?

Speaking of people in the castle, they lived and worked with these girls ever since their parents died. They HAD to have known that Elsa has special powers. And yet, SHOCKER…they were so fearful to have discovered what she could do that immediately upon recognizing something as different, they judged her and left it to the old, “We’re so afraid of what we don’t know.” No one stood up for Elsa but her sister. What? Really?

Elsa seems distraught and torn because of her skills. In the Faerie Tale Theater’s Snow Queen that I’d seen, that was what I loved about that character. She was so unapologetically wicked. Melissa Gilbert, the girl, sets off and rescues her male friend, so already it was a powerful statement for girls! A queen embracing her gifts. A girl rescuing the male. Friendship, friends, not romantic love…

Big sister Elsa creates this amazing castle and this fabulous dress showing off some va-va-voom curves. So she wasn’t apologetic for Anna is so very complimentary to her sister, wanting to show her sister love through her words and actions. Elsa is the snow queen and thus is too afraid of the harm that will ensue as a result of letting anyone close to her. You know, I have an older sister. While I may have been an utter pest to her growing up, she never once hesitated to pay me a compliment, even during the times when she loved me, but didn’t like me a whole lot.  Elsa couldn’t have written her sister a note?  Why did she have to be totally devoid of all feelings…numb? Yes, icy and cold, duh, she’s the snow queen and because, right, women can’t control their feelings and have to run off to some remote location to recharge and cut off the world in order to deal with their issues. Or, they have too many feelings and are in constant need for feeling validated by the people that reject them the most. In the end, if they would’ve had a dialog about their feelings and been taught that feelings were ok (and not afraid of them), but most of all, to use their words to express these emotions, then we probably wouldn’t have had a plotline. It wouldn’t have stuck to the story.

Love…oh love, sisterly love right, but laced with romantic love in the plotline. You have Hans fawning over Anna (albeit with ulterior motives), then eventually Kristoff jumps in. No one wants Elsa? Elsa is too busy being self-involved to care about a piddly thing like romantic love? Ok, that’s cool. Why can’t Kristoff just be their friend? Why does it have to involve a *gasp* kiss? Then that horrible “Fixer-Upper” song. Catchy and cutesy, but did you hear the words?? “You can fix this fixer-upper”---why fix? We are all inherently broken and with baggage, but the improvement goes on the shoulders of the person. It isn’t the responsibility of someone else to fix you. They finish off the song with dialog about true love and how it is applicable to just love all, father, sister, brother (no mother?? hmmm)…true love will fix the fixer-upper. But what if you are alone (or feel alone) and you don’t have that kind of true love. Sad, but true.

That’s why I didn’t love Frozen. I would even venture to say that I didn’t particularly like it either. I didn’t hate it, I just had more hope for it. I wish there was a movie for just Olaf and Sven. I wish they would’ve developed Kristoff’s character more. I wish that Kristoff would’ve only been their friend and didn’t have to have the romantic element. I wish that they would’ve been better able to convey the love that Elsa had for Anna in a better way than just a last few moments of ALLLL BETTERRRR now, everything is unfrozen and I love you. I wish they would’ve had the trolls to teach them about love early on, too. There were too many loops that I saw they were trying to go somewhere with it, but then didn’t. I know I think about it more, though, because of the questions my little ones will ask me afterwards. Also, the expectations they’ve created in their little minds because of these impressions.

As parents, we can guide only so far, equipping our children with whatever tools we can give them. It is for that reason that when I left the movie (and most movies we watch together---even if they aren’t “real”) I had so many questions than just the happiness of watching the film. With that said, we will probably purchase the film for the girls to have at home. We will probably watch it more times than I will want to. But I will enjoy it more because of the time we share together while watching and for singing along to it. Big kudos to the song writers because even my smallest one knows most of the words to “Let it Snow.” We will, however, not go to the sing-along in the theater.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Recipe Monday: Osso Buco Bianca Style

Osso buco is translated from Italian as “bone with a hole.” (Thanks Wikipedia!) I call it delicious! I first had this dish when I was in New York and saw it on the menu. It sounded tasty and whoooo doggies it was! It wasn’t cheap, but it also wasn’t a small dish. My plate could’ve been enough for two people. Most osso buco are cooked with white wine and served with gremolata. Mine is made with marsala and tomatoes, no marsala. Also, mine doesn’t have any seasoning, ok, bay leaves. Sorry, I lied. Yes, bay leaves, but that’s it. Everything else is the natural flavors of the foods. And who doesn’t love natural? (Why yes, that’s my Texas Tech snuggie taking a peek. Yes, this is 10:30 at night and I’m watching a recorded Downton Abbey under my snuggie in the living room. Yes, this was 2nd dinner. )

GOODS

1/3 cup flour (we used gluten free all-purpose flour)

salt ( a few tablespoons)

3 T unsalted butter

1 cup celery (finely chopped)

1 cup onion (finely chopped)

1 cup carrot (finely chopped)

3 or 4 cloves of garlic (sliced)

1/2 can of San Marzano tomatoes (I like that Cento brand)

1/2 tablespoon of Better than Bouillon (chicken or beef base, both are really good)

1 cup or so Marsala (yeah, I didn’t measure—you’ve never cooked with Marsala? That’s ok, it is a wine that you find near the Port wines. I don’t know if I’d drink it, but you could if you were desperate enough, I’m sure. It adds some great flavor, though. I use the Sperone Marsala brand that’s like $8 for a liter bottle)

Water (like a large glass or so, depends on how you like the sauce)

2-4 osso buco shanks

PROCESS

  1. In a bowl, combine your flour and salt, then dredge your shanks through the breading. Make sure all sides are generously coated.
    • Tip: I like to add a bit of salt to the shanks directly before dredging through. Set aside.
  2. On medium to low heat, add your  3 T of butter to a Dutch oven (or oven safe skillet). Once the butter is melted, add your shanks and lightly brown on all sides. Use some tongs for this. Once browned, remove from your dish and set aside on a plate. Now add the onion, carrot, and celery to the delicious brown butter and fat currently residing at the bottom of your Dutch oven. Let the veggies get soft. I could be about 5-8 minutes. Now add your garlic, your better than bouillon, tomatoes, and Marsala.
    • Tip: Feel free to take a generous swig of wine while cooking, maybe not your Marsala, but something else.
  3. Stir it up. Gently break apart the tomatoes with your spoon to give it a saucy feel. he he he…saucy-sauce RAWR!
  4. Mmmm…smells, good, huh? I let it cook for about 5-8 more minutes. You should have the beginning of a delicious looking & smelling sauce.
  5. Add your osso buco to the mixture. I like to place it in, then cover it generously with sauce. Now add your 3 bay leaves to the top. Go ahead, make it a fancy triangle, I won’t judge. It’s fun!
  6. Cover with your lid (or foil if you don’t have a lid for your pan) and let it bake for an hour and a half to two hours (check it at an hour and twenty minutes, because some ovens are speedy!).
    • Tip: Pour a generous glass of your wine you’ve been drinking and watch an episode of Downton Abbey or do a yoga for wine lovers workout.
  7. When your alarm goes off, check the awesomeness! If it is cooked (meat falling off the bone, braised goodness), then remove from the oven.
  8. Here is where some recipes will have you remove the meat, then reduce the sauce and blend it finely. Not me. I like the sauce to be chunky and feel like a veggie side dish with my meat.
  9. Let cool.
  10. Place meat with a generous amount of sauce in a large bowl and serve.
  11. Enjoy! (maybe with the rest of your wine!) Cheers!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Crocheting: Beginner Slippers Great for the Polar Vortex

The other evening, I was hanging out with my cousins and we were having a good laugh at my crocheting endeavors. (Hi Michelle in Japan! Remember that MNI you hosted and I couldn’t even make a circle?!?) I’m pretty good with scarves and bulky yarn, but that’s like saying you can draw a straight line with a ruler. At the time, I was wearing my new slippers from Beanies By Stacie and my cousin liked them. I told her that I would gift them to her if she would make me a replacement pair. She smiled and we made a deal. Then we started to talk about youtube and how you can learn so much there. Especially because you can pause, rewind, and start over. DUH!

I found myself with a bit of time the next evening and happened upon this gem by someone named Emi! The next day, we had some time before my Beloved had to go to work. We found ourselves at JoAnn’s picking out yarn, using a coupon, hurrying home to make some. I discovered, I needed his foot when I made it (because I didn’t measure it), so I made a pair for myself. I watched a movie and had one slipper completed. I put on a second movie to complete the 2nd slipper.  You can see that the right one is my “learner” slipper. It is looser on my feet than the one on the left. But they still work and are quite warm.

 

I’ve since whipped up a single slipper for my Beloved and my eldest (who wanted a pair with my yarn). I hope to finish those as I have time this week.

I used one skein of yarn for my pair (size 9 womens) and should have enough to finish up the Sugarbean’s (size 11 kids). I will go through 1 skein for my Beloved’s (size 12 mens). If you want to make baby booties, I highly recommend this video by Emi, as well!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014: Adelante

I was asleep by 9:30 PM on New Year’s Eve. By my side was my youngest daughter (my Beloved is a part-time server and was out working that evening), and my eldest was tucked in bed. At 10:45, my mother called me to wish me a Happy New Year…East Coast time. And the next hour and a half, the flood of love poured through my phone. Phone calls and texts flooded through. At 11:58, my Beloved called me and on the phone, we celebrated together. In that moment, happy tears, gratitude, and joy because I could hear the elation of everyone there in the restaurant. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

My one little word this year is Adelante. This word is very powerful and holds special meaning to me. In fact, is one of the title words in a book I’ve been working on for the better part of a decade, that I fully intend to revisit this year. For you non-Spanish speakers, it means forward. But more than just forward…

adelante2014

forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead…philippians 3:13

Moving forward, moving ahead, moving in the direction that you want to go. I’ve pretty much done this my entire life, but now…now my focus is less on self and more on raising those around me, helping to push them forward. I’m constantly making goals: quarterly, yearly, 5 years, 10 years. The new year is just another starting point, a frame of reference to guide along the way. Goals for this year include travel to both coasts and possibly one international trip, writing, trying new recipes, new product reviews, monthly dates with my Beloved, quarterly artistic dates with my Sugarbean, launching a new project, and being more involved with my faith.

Happy new year to all of you! May this year be filled with infinite laughter, love, and light. Let’s go have an adventure.

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