Crab Stuffed Artichokes & Cherished Memories

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Throughout the time that Brandon attended grade school and middle school I volunteered. I volunteered a lot. I worked in kitchens, in classrooms, in the office, copied papers, corrected papers, made classroom snacks, did recess duty, went on field trips, and was involved in many, many, auctions.

We had heard about an “out of the box” public middle school when Brandon was leaving his private grade school. They have a somewhat open concept based on relationships and do hands on, project based learning. They also have a “city” in the basement of the school. The students are taught how to create resumes, how to interview appropriately, and each student interviews each semester for jobs as police officers, judges, attorneys, small business owners, IT people, cafe managers, waitresses, maintenance, etc… They even have an aquaculture business that raises fish and grows hydroponic vegetables. A real greenhouse where they grow flowers and vegetables for sale in the spring. A full running cafe during lunch that the students take care of, and they all earn city money that they can spend in the marketplace on Friday afternoons. The marketplace is where enterprising young minds bring their small business ideas and sell crafts, food, and fun activities. They can also receive tickets for inappropriate behavior…that explains the need for a judge and attorneys.

Fresh Crab Salad

It was at that school that I had the opportunity to do a type of volunteering that I had never done. Brandon was in the 6th grade and I was asked to teach an 8th grade Leadership class. By myself. It was terrifying and awesome. It was an eye opener. It was heart wrenching and unbelievably stressful at times. But most of all, it was a huge blessing and I learned so much about young people and life.

Crab Salad & Rustic Crackers

My first class was so nerve-wracking I couldn’t believe how terrified I was to have an entire room full of teenagers staring at me. What am I doing? I had to keep telling myself, “You are an adult for crying out loud, in a room full of children, get it together!” Ha! Hard to believe when more than three-quarters of them were bigger than me. They were just waiting for me to prove that I was just like a lot of other adults in their lives, there to babysit and not participate in their lives and not care what they had to say.

We had a lot of discussions. Sometimes there were days I had things planned but I could tell they just wanted to talk about “life” and relax, so that’s what we did. I loved listening to their perspectives on life! I used my relationship with Brandon as an example, a lot. Brandon didn’t care for that much… But what else did I have to draw from? I tried to convey to them that their parents loved them insanely and that’s why parents do what they “do”, all the time understanding that they would never “get it” until they had children of their own. I tried to talk to them in a down to earth and very honest way. Up front…another thing I learned about young people. They want you to be up front with as little of “adult talk and tone” as possible, and totally honest. Even if they don’t agree with what you are telling them. They also like to hear about some of your life mistakes, how you got through it, and what you did differently the next time you were challenged with the same situation.

I was supposed to be teaching them, but really they taught me. They taught me about the power of being present for someone. How just being aware of how a younger person felt, even if I knew they would get over it or that it was a silly emotional day for them, just listening and being there for them made a huge difference. All of their unique little personalities blessed my life tremendously. Some of them were well-rounded and relaxed and some of them had very hard lives and were rough around the edges. Others were very tough to get along with and I had to work hard to get through their thick shell and see past their smart aleck natures. A couple refused to ever let go and have fun and enjoy the class for what it was. Those were always the complicated ones that had issues that we couldn’t resolve with just creating a “community” within a classroom. Those kids were hard to let go of. I wanted to take them home and give them real attention and cook them real food, and show them what a loving family feels like. I learned a lot about letting go.

Some of them were so smart is was shocking. Some of them were very wise for their age and yet still so vulnerable to all of the peer pressure that comes with being a teen. I gained an enormous amount of respect for teenagers and an unsettling understanding of the stress and pressure they are under not only at school but also in their private lives.

I am happy to report that seven years later, many of them still keep in touch with me! They are 20-23 years old now…so hard to believe. They are in college and working and a few are even married. One who was particularly hard to get along with, but has since kept in pretty close contact with me, has been through an enormous tragedy and has managed to keep his head on straight when most of us would have crumbled. They are getting to the age now where they have had to experience the “real” world of serious consequences, pain and hurt, sick parents, and bad relationships. They are strong…so strong, just like I knew they would be after listening to them talk about their lives in the classroom.

I’m so proud of them. Proud of them and thankful that they allowed me a small glimpse into their lives and that they trusted me and they shared with me and chatted with me and were just so incredibly loving and forgiving of me because seriously…I started from scratch and picked activities for us to do together with no experience in teaching anything ever.

They disproved a lot of the hubbub about teenagers and their “typical” attitudes. They grasped onto each activity I planned and stepped out of their comfort zones many times and did it all with honesty, which isn’t easy to do in a room full of your teenage peers. Some of it was hard too. Soul searching stuff and things they had to do within the school…”pay it forward” kind of things toward people they would normally ignore. They were thrilled at how good it felt to get out of their own groups and get to know or do something nice for someone they would normally not associate with.

I loved going to a class every day filled with teenagers! Can you imagine? I could not wait to get there to hear what they were going to say next. Teenagers are supposed to be difficult, ill-mannered, little creeps who are hard to get along with and even harder to understand. Self absorbed, eye rolling irritants, snotty…you know all of the labels.  I’m sure they have their moments, but I was proven absolutely wrong on more occasions that I can count. I had to hold back tears of joy numerous times because I was so shocked by some of their responses to our projects. I was absolutely floored at the depth of their feelings and thoughts.

The crab for my lunch today comes from two of those students. Every year their family heads to the Pacific coast to go crabbing. They have the funnest family I have ever metThey are all extremely close and loving and live for fun.

Crab Stuffed Artichokes

4 Organic Baby Artichokes, steamed and cooled middle leaves removed

About 1 Heaping Cup of Fresh Crab Meat

About 2 Tablespoons Organic Red Bell Pepper, diced

About 2 Tablespoons Organic Red Onion, sliced

1 Organic Avocado, diced

About 2 1/2 teaspoons Organic Dried Dill

About 5-6 Tablespoons Olive Oil Mayonnaise

Juice of 1 Lemon

Kosher Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper To Taste

Mix all ingredients together (except the artichokes of course!). Chill and spoon into the middle of the baby artichokes.

Here’s a silly picture of me, my husband, and Brandon, at one of the girl’s 21st birthday parties in the “photo booth” area.

Stephanie’s 21st birthday…time flies.

Stephanie is outgoing and sweet and comfortable in her own skin. I love that about her. At her party  one of her friends was talking about getting eyelash extensions because she doesn’t like the length of hers. Stephanie looked at her, shrugged her shoulders in an “oh well” kind of way, giggled, and said, “I like my eyelashes!” I could have jumped up and hugged her. I’m happy she likes who she is.

So Sunday, Stephanie’s sister, Morgan, surprised me with a text asking if I would like some crab. Are you kidding? Of course!

This is Morgan, picking out the best crabs!

Not only does she share beautiful fresh crabs from the Pacific with me, she’s also an excellent house sitter, cat feeder, and plant waterer. Morgan is solid. She’s well thought out, organized, extremely thoughtful, and has an impressive shoe collection.  She’s also shy and quiet and I’m thankful that doesn’t stop her from coming over and chatting with me every now and then.

What an incredible blessing it is to have people in your life who think of you. All of this learning, life experience, friendship, and wonderful memories…

just from a little volunteer job.

Saturday Night Special – Hors d’ oeuvre & Cocktail Night

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We’ve dubbed Saturday nights our hors d’ oeuvre & cocktail night.

I make fun little meals that can be enjoyed in the backyard with our feet up.  We’ve worked hard to make our backyard our little sanctuary and once the nice weather arrives, we try to enjoy every second possible!

Italian Stuffed Mushrooms

*Makes 20

1/2 Package Ground Italian Mild Sausage

1/4 Cup (heaping) Sweet Onion, diced

1/4 Cup (heaping) Red Bell Pepper, diced

1 teaspoon Garlic, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons Dried Oregano

1 1/2 teaspoons Dried Basil

1/4 Cup Kalamata Olives, chopped

1 Tablespoon Vegan Parmesan plus more for topping

Parlick Fell Sheep’s Milk Cheese, crumbled for topping

20 Cremini Mushrooms, stem scooped out at base

In a large skillet on medium heat, saute the sausage, onion, bell pepper, garlic, oregano, and basil. When sausage is done add the 1 Tablespoon of vegan parmesan and the olives. Stir to combine. Set aside.

Place the mushrooms on a baking sheet lined with parchment, hole side up. Fill each mushroom with stuffing.

Crumble a little Parlick Fell on each mushroom and sprinkle with more vegan parmesan. Bake at 325 for about 30 minutes.

Spinach Tart

*Makes 4 personal sized tarts

1 Portion of Gluten Free Pie Dough

10 oz Frozen Chopped Spinach, thawed & drained

2 Cups Raw Spinach Leaves, packed

4 Cloves of Garlic, chopped

3 Tablespoons Dried Parsley

1 1/2 Tablespoons Dried Dill

1/4 Cup Sun Dried Tomatoes Packed in Oil, chopped

1/4 Cup Roasted Red Peppers, chopped

10 oz of Sheep’s Milk Feta

2 eggs

Roll out the chilled pie dough and fill each tart pan, press in, and trim edges.

Place remaining ingredients except the feta in a medium bowl and stir to combine thoroughly. Fold in the crumbled feta.

Fill each tart pan.

Place on a baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees for about 35 minutes or until the edges of the crust turn golden.

Sugar Plum Tomato & Cucumber Salad

Sugar Plum Tomatoes

English Cucumber, peeled and sliced

About 6 Basil leaves, torn

Ground Pepper

Olive Oil

White Balsamic Vinegar

Pinch of Kosher Salt

Place desired amount of tomatoes and cucumbers in a small bowl. Add the basil and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. Season with ground pepper and kosher sat. Toss to combine.

Of course, no snack night would be complete without a cocktail or good wine and a delicious dessert.

My favorite wine from the Methow Valley.

Chocolate Mousse with Coconut Cream

*This recipe was adapted from the Black Dog Food Blog

(This recipe makes 4 – 1 cup servings. It is very rich and could easily be made into 8 – 1/2 cup servings)

24 oz of silken tofu, blended in food processor or Vitamix until very smooth

20 oz of Dark Belgian Chocolate, chopped & melted

1 1/2 teaspoons Espresso Powder

1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt

2 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract

3 Tablespoons Raw Agave Syrup

2 Cans Full Fat Coconut Milk, refrigerated upside down overnight

Pure Vanilla Extract

Powdered Sugar

Raspberries & Apple Mint for garnish

Scrape the blended tofu into a medium-sized bowl. Add the melted chocolate, espresso powder, vanilla, salt, and agave. Whisk until thoroughly combined and very smooth. Set aside.

Remove the coconut cream from the fridge carefully as to not allow the coconut milk on the bottom to mix with the coconut that has settled on top. Remove the lids (which is actually the bottom of the can). Very carefully, scoop out the solid coconut cream stopping as you get close to the liquid and add to an electric mixer. Do this with both cans.

Pour 1/2 Cup of the clear coconut milk into the chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth. Spoon chocolate mixture into dessert dishes.

To the solid coconut milk, add about 3 Tablespoons of powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix on high with the whisk attachment, for about 2 minutes. It won’t get as firm as whipping cream made with cow’s milk, but it does set up a bit and will set up even more when refrigerated for a couple of hours.

Spoon the coconut cream on top of the chocolate. Garnish with raspberries and mint.

Halloween Menu- Mexican Style

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It’s interesting how certain gatherings become a tradition in families. I love family traditions and always welcome the beginning of a new one. A few years ago we started “celebrating” Halloween at our house. I put celebrating in quotes because really, none of us are into Halloween, but we do love to eat, have a cocktail, and visit. In fact, pretty much all of our family traditions revolve around those three things. The only thing I typically ask people to bring for this gathering, is a lot of candy. Seriously, we have a ton of trick or treaters. We each take turns answering the door and handing out candy. I never get tired of seeing all the sweet little princesses, ballerinas, angels, pirates, and action heroes showing off their costumes. And then later in the evening, there’s the teenagers trying to eek out just one more candy filled, childhood Halloween.

Now that this day has become a dinner tradition at my house, for some reason, a Mexican theme just stuck. It’s really not that hard to understand why, I suppose. I don’t think I know one person in my life, both friends and family, who doesn’t like Mexican food. Mexican food has comfort and party written all over it. Perfect for a family tradition night. Last year I made enchiladas, home-made tamales, a taco bar, a Mexican style salad, and spicy rice. For dessert I made a coconut cream pie and a death by chocolate tart. This year, I purchased a cook book specifically geared toward our new tradition. The Complete Mexican South American & Caribbean Cookbook (which by the way, has a picture for every single recipe! I love that.)

I really like all of the old Mexican standbys but I also wanted to add a few new things that are authentically Mexican that I’ve never tried. As I type this, ahead of time, because I will be cooking and preparing for the party over the next few days, I already have 11 recipes dog-eared and I haven’t even made it through the entire cook book. These will need to be whittled down of course, but it’s so hard! And then there’s the dessert decisions… Drinks are easy. Tequila of course! And wine… mmm…I’m getting excited to get moving on this!

Well, today is the day. Lots to do! Here’s the menu, gluten-free and dairy-free, of course . Stay tuned for recipes and pictures tomorrow. 

Halloween – Mexican Style Menu

Starters:

Coconut Shrimp

Stuffed Jalapenos

Tortilla Chips with Homemade Pico & Guacamole

Main Dishes:

Steak, Chicken, and Shrimp Fajitas

Chicken Tamales with Pablano Peppers & Sun Dried Tomatoes

Beef Enchiladas

Side Dishes:

Corn Souffle

Mexican Sweet Potato Hash

Cocktails:

Lime Margaritas On The Rocks

Wine

Sparkling Cider

Desserts:

Coconut Cake

Lime Tart

Mexican Wedding Cookies

Black Bean Dip

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I have a deep love for summer. The sun, the heat that seeps deep into your bones…so relaxing. The long days, the gardening, barbecuing, yummy drinks with lime and mint, camping. I could go on and on. I also love all of the foods that go along with those months, especially dips. So simple and convenient. I like to keep at least one on hand in the fridge for a quick snack or a nice side dish to go with a lunch salad. When I first went dairy-free I feared that my love affair with dip would be over. But, the more I research and think things through, there are tons of dips that I can make and enjoy dairy free. This bean dip is one of them and it’s incredibly simple. Great for summer and I think it would also be delicious baked with dairy-free cheese on top for the winter months.

1 Can of Black Bean, rinsed and drained

1 Whole Clove of Garlic, peeled

1 Whole Jalapeno, stem removed

About 2 Tablespoons Fresh Cilantro Leaves

Zest of 1 Lime

Juice of 1 Lime

1 1/2 teaspoon Cumin

About 2 Tablespoons Olive oil

Rice Crackers.

Place all ingredients in food processor (minus the olive oil and rice crackers…of course). Pulse until mixture is somewhat incorporated. Turn food processor on and drizzle olive oil in until fully incorporated. You can make yours as smooth or as chunky as you like. If you want it really smooth you will have to add more olive oil. I like mine to have a little bit of body. Serve immediately or store in refrigerator.

Guacamole for Two

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This recipe is a tweaked version of Christina Ferrare’s guacamole. When I make it for two, I use two avocados, when I make it for a crowd, I use at least eight. I love the addition of chopped, sun-dried tomatoes. It makes a healthy snack or a great lunch, maybe served with side salad for two.

Guacamole for Two

2 Ripe Avocados

1/2 Jalapeno with seeds and membrane intact, diced

2 Tbs. Fresh Cilantro, finely chopped

2 Tbs. Red Onion, finely chopped

2-3 Sun-Dried Tomatoes, chopped

1 Lime

Sea Salt & Pepper

Chop the jalapeno, cilantro, onion, and tomatoes. Cut the lime into quarters. Place the avocado flesh in a bowl.

Mash the avocado with a fork until almost smooth. I like mine a little chunky. Add the jalapeno, onion, cilantro, and sun-dried tomatoes, stir. Squeeze all four quarters of lime into mixture and stir. Season with sea salt and pepper. Serve with corn chips, vegetables, or anything you like.

Spicy Bean Dip

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A couple of years ago during a camping trip I tried hummus for the first time. Up until that point, just the thought of eating garbanzo beans grossed me out. I’m not even sure why. Now, I can’t get enough of it. I was disappointed (for the second week in a row) that my local grocery store was out of the spicy organic hummus that I’ve fallen in love with over the past couple of months. How is it possible that I can buy something every week for 6 weeks and then they decide to no longer carry it? Irritating, to say the least. So I asked myself, “Honestly, how difficult can this be to make?” Well, not difficult at all. So easy in fact, that I may never buy pre-made hummus dip again. I love it just as much as the one I was buying pre-made, and maybe even more because I made mine slightly thicker and more spicy.

Spicy Bean Dip

2 – 15.5 oz Cans of Garbanzo Beans, rinsed & drained

2 Jalapeno Peppers, seeded & membranes removed, or leave them in if you like it extremely hot

4 Cloves of Garlic, peeled

6 Sun-Dried Tomatoes

About 2 Tbsp. Cilantro Leaves

1 Lime, zested

2 Limes, juiced

Small (about 1/8 to 1/4 tsp.) Drizzle of Sesame Oil

About 1/4 Cup Olive Oil

About 1 tsp. of Sea Salt, heaping

Place all ingredients except olive oil in food processor and process. While it’s going, slowly drizzle the olive oil in and process until smooth. Taste and season with more salt if necessary. Allow to chill for at least 2 hours and serve with crackers or vegetables.

Gluten Free Onion Rings

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Fried food. Naughty, I know. But oh so good. This is the first year of my life that I have ever deep-fried anything. Can you believe it took me 42 years? My mom bought me a Dutch Oven for Christmas last year and then I ran across a gluten-free doughnut recipe on the internet where the woman was using a Dutch Oven to fry them. I was beside myself with excitement. It brought back instant memories of my Grandma frying and frosting absolutely mouth-watering, delicious, doughnuts for us when I was little.

Once I set aside that small amount of fear I had about dealing with 350 degree oil on my stovetop…I got right to work. First, I made glazed doughnuts, then apple fritters, then onion rings. (Doughnut recipes to be posted in the future…) I’ve made the onion rings a few times with different types of batters and egg and flour dredges. The battered onions come out of the oil crispy but as they sit, they get too soft for my liking. I’ve found that the egg and flour dredges mixed with gluten-free bread crumbs stay nice and crispy. Tonight I served the onion rings with a grilled hamburger and tangy sauce on the side. These would be great for a little get together too. If people like to gather around your kitchen counter like they do at my house, you could fry them while you’re visiting and people could snack and drink a good beer. You could even put some of your guests to work…those are the best parties!

Gluten Free Onion Rings

1 48 oz. bottle of Canola Oil

2 Cups Mama’s Almond Gluten Free All Purpose Flour, or your choice of GF flour

1 Cup Gluten-Free Bread Crumbs (*See note below)

2 Eggs

1/4 Cup Almond Milk, or rice, or regular milk if you aren’t dairy-free

4 Tbsp. Sea Salt

1/2 Tbsp. Garlic Powder

1 tsp. Baking Powder

1 tsp. Chicago Steak & Chop Seasoning, or your favorite steak seasoning

Dipping Sauce:

Whisk together 1 cup light mayo, 1/2 cup of BBQ sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Chipotle), 1/4 cup ketchup, 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (or more if you like it spicy).

Oil:

Pour oil in a Dutch Oven or deep, heavy pot. You could also use a deep fat fryer if you own one. Heat oil slowly to 340-350 degrees. Use a thermometer.

Onion Rings:

While the oil is heating, pour 1 cup of the gluten-free flour on a dinner plate. Add 1 Tbsp. of the sea salt and mix together with fingers, set aside. In a medium bowl, add 2 eggs and 1/4 cup almond milk and whisk, set aside. In another dish or on another dinner plate, add the remaining cup of gluten-free flour, the gluten-free bread crumbs, the remaining sea salt, garlic powder, baking powder, and Chicago Chop & Steak seasoning, mix and set aside. *You can use leftover gluten-free bread for the crumbs, just make sure they’ve been dried and crushed completely. Mine were made from a boxed mix for french bread that I bought and didn’t like. (Gluten Free Pantry French bread & Pizza mix. Didn’t like the bread at all but it works great for bread crumbs.)

Slice three large onions. If you’re serving this with dinner, it’s about an onion a person. If you’re doing them for a party as an appetizer, then I would use about 1/2 onion per guest. This is the size of the onions I used. Not huge, but large.

Peel and cut into 1/2 inch (or so) slices. I try to keep mine about two rings thick. Don’t worry about the thick middles. They also fry up nicely. First, coat the onion with the salted flour.

Next, dip carefully in the egg mixture.

I changed the egg bowl to a larger one on the 2nd dipping because it was a bit too tight. After you’ve dipped the floured onion in the egg mixture, place it in the last flour mixture and coat completely. I turned mine over a couple of times and pressed it into the coating.

Once the oil is heated between 340 and 350 degrees do a tester onion. After it’s been dredged lower it carefully into the oil. When it begins to brown, turn it over with a slotted, metal spoon or spatula. Once it has browned to your desired color, remove carefully from the oil and place it on a baking sheet covered in layers of paper towels. Salt with sea salt. Taste. Mine needed to cook just a bit longer. The onion was still a little too crisp. I also decided that I wanted a bit more coating on the next batch.

Go through the process with the remaining onions, cooking 3-4 at a time. You want plenty of room in the frying oil for them to move around and also, if you load too many in there, the temperature will drop too quickly leaving you with soggy onion rings.

As you fry several batches the oil will get darker because of the bits of coating that fall off of the onions. This is normal. Also, keep an eye on the oil temperature. You want it to stay between 230-240 degrees while frying. After a couple of batches, I waited a few minutes to allow my oil to heat back up to the desired temperature. DO NOT turn up your stove. This can heat the oil too quickly, it can get too hot, and you could end up having a very scary problem on your hands.

Remove each batch from the oil carefully, place on the paper towel lined baking sheet and season with salt. I also salted the paper towels so that I wouldn’t have to flip the onion rings over to salt them on the bottom. You can also keep them warm in a 200 degree oven once they’ve been salted, crack open the oven door though to allow any moisture to escape.