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 met. They 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.
As I was trying to muster the energy last night to make steak kabobs the only thing on my mind was brownies and ice cream. It has been a long time since I’ve made something really chocolaty and gooey.
I managed (in a very uninspired manner) to build the steak kabobs…the whole time thinking about how I was going to make the brownies as delicious and sinful as possible.
It’s interesting how when you don’t really have your heart in something that it rarely turns out the way it should. The kabobs looked gorgeous on their skewers, swimming in a bath of marinade…but I really had my heart set on those brownies. Isn’t it funny that even at the age of 44 I still find it hard to give myself permission to have dessert instead of dinner? So many rules and regulations we place on ourselves that are so unnecessary. I would have survived just fine having brownies and ice cream for dinner.
It has eggs, coconut milk, brown rice flour, and olive oil…who’s to say brownies and ice cream aren’t an appropriate alternative to dinner? Not only that, but dark chocolate is excellent for your health.
The gas on our grill ran out in the middle of grilling the kabobs. My husband had to take off that heavy tank and replace it with another – meanwhile, the meat and veggies sat in the closed grill. I bet you can already see where this is going… So we fired up the grill again, and before I knew it, the meat was overdone (I prefer mine on the bloody side and this was more like beef jerky) and most of the vegetables had a generous amount of cancer causing char.
Meanwhile…the house was filling with the amazing scent of melted chocolate and puffy, s’more like marshmallows…
My husband likes his beef cooked more than I do and loves the crunchy bits of char on things when they are grilled, so all was not lost. I ate the “appropriate” amount of dinner like a good little girl, thinking about chocolate the entire time.
If you’re going to eat these brownies with ice cream, I suggest serving them hot, right out of the oven. They will be gooey and heavenly, but you will need to spoon them out.
If you prefer your brownie with four sides, you’ll have to wait for them to cool and set up.
Double Chocolate & Melted Marshmallow Brownies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1 Namaste Brownie Mix (you will need eggs, oil, and water)
(or you can go here for Smidge’s homemade GF DF brownie recipe)
About a Half a Bag of Mini Marshmallows
About 1 Cup Roughly Chopped 72% Dark Belgian Chocolate
Dairy Free Ice Cream, (I prefer Coconut Bliss)
Make the brownie mix according to the directions. Generously oil an 8.5 x 11 baking dish or non-stick baking pan. Smooth half of the brownie mixture over the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the marshmallows over the batter and follow with the roughly chopped chocolate.
Dollop the remaining batter by the spoonful over the marshmallows and chopped chocolate until you have used all of the batter. Then, carefully smooth the dollops out, joining each with the back of a spoon.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 35 minutes. Spoon into bowls while hot and serve with ice cream. Or, wait until they cool and set up and cut into squares.
Life has been absolutely crazy around here. Tony is traveling and changing time zones twice a week, and the house viewing traffic is picking up dramatically. That last part is a good thing, but it puts us in the position of having to be able to leave our house quickly. That makes it very hard to cook a real meal.
This is a very unhappy Chloe, stuck in a crate at my mom’s house while we wait for people to finish a walk through at our house. She’s not quite as happy as Romeo and Abigail to be at Grandma’s house.
I’ve been trying to make this dish since Thursday and finally on Sunday night, even though we were completely exhausted after having five viewings of our house over the past three days, I forced myself to make a decent dinner. Please forgive the pictures…I wasn’t going to even blog about it but Tony asked if I was taking pictures and was sweet enough to run upstairs and get my camera. The recipe will also be one of those “about this much” recipes, unfortunately. I didn’t write anything down, but you all are so smart and amazing in the kitchen, I know you won’t have any trouble making your own version.
Waiting at Grandma’s house for “kitty, kitty” the new kitten to come out and play with her. Penelope, my mother’s other cat is just around the corner growling and hissing at Chloe in the crate.
Lately we’ve been living on Jimmy John’s un-which sandwiches, black bean salad, gluten-free organic hot dogs and chili, cereal more cereal, peanut butter toast, and Red Robin’s California chicken sandwiches. Did you know they now carry gluten-free buns and will make your fries in a separate fryer from gluten items? We are addicted. Next time I eat one I’ll take a picture for you. And the tartar sauce (which is gluten-free & dairy free)…so delicious and addictive I should probably just be slathering it on my thighs because I’m sure that’s right where it goes after it leaves my mouth.
Tony stayed home an extra day today to take advantage of a motorcycle track day. The kind of track day that makes me cringe and I have to remind him that I really don’t want to know how fast he went and how many people had to be hauled off in an ambulance. He left early this morning, so this is what a lazy Sunday looks like for some of us…not me of course, I have a whole list of things to do!
Yes, we allow them to lounge on the furniture…
I’m used to cooking whole meals at least four days a week and baking something delicious at least twice a week. But lately, our new way of living on “whatever is easy and doesn’t make the house smell weird” is getting to me. It’s leaving me feeling unsatisfied and rather unhealthy.
So last Wednesday while I was lying in bed wide awake at 2:30 in the morning because we’ve had a weird rash of car break-ins in our neighborhood, the recipe for Italian Sausage & Pesto Roll Ups was born. Maybe a little bit of fear does help with creativity? Or maybe it was the fact that I was sleeping with my gun and that enabled me to calm my mind enough to think about food. Either way, I also had to figure out when exactly I could find the time to actually make the recipe that was making my stomach growl and getting me excited for real food.
I tried Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to make this meal and it seemed like the dinner God’s were against me. And even though we had two more showings on Saturday, I managed to squeeze in a small nap and muster the energy to cook a nice meal on Saturday night, throwing caution to the wind and not caring if our house smelled like garlic and pesto on Sunday morning. I even managed to make an easy Kalamata olive & garlic loaf.
Italian Sausage & Pesto Roll-Ups
Preheat Oven to 400 degrees
About a pound of gluten-free, dairy-free Italian Sausage
Hot Pepper Flakes, I like my sausage spicy
Homemade Vegan Pesto
1 Large Block of Sheep’s Milk Cheese, I buy mine in the white and blue container at Trader Joe’s
About 2 Tablespoons Fresh Oregano
About 2 Tablespoons Fresh Basil
Freshly Ground Pepper
About 1/2 Cup Diaya Mozzarella Style Shreds
About 2 Tablespoons Dairy Free Parmesan Style Cheese
1 Jar Ready-Made Pasta Sauce, I used Newman’s Marinara, or homemade of course
1 Package Gluten Free Lasagna Noodles, cooked aldente (follow pkg instructions), rinsed, and separated immediately
Cook pasta, rinse, separate, and set aside. Fry the Italian sausage and pepper flakes (to your taste) until done, drain fat, set aside.
Drain the sheep’s cheese and place the entire block in a mixer. Add the fresh herbs, other two cheeses, and the fresh herbs. Mix on medium until it comes together and begins to look somewhat sticky. I was also going to add 1/2 cup chopped spinach to this mixture but forgot!
Oil a 9×9 inch square baking dish with olive oil. Spoon a small amount of sauce over the bottom of the dish. Set aside.
Lay out a lasagna noodle on your work surface. Spread either with a knife or the back of a spoon about 1 to 1/2 Tablespoons of the pesto along the entire noodle. Add about 2 Tablespoons (or so) of the cheese mixture to the end of the noodle nearest you, add about 1 1/2 Tablespoons of the sausage, and roll up, tucking in any filling that falls out of the sides as you go. Place the roll upright in the prepared pan. Continue until you have used all of your fillings.
Once the pan is full, pour the remaining sauce over the top, spreading with a spoon. Sprinkle with a little more of the mozzarella style cheese and the parmesan style cheese. Oil a piece of aluminum foil and cover.
Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes covered, remove foil, and bake for 10 more minutes.
Kalamata Olive & Garlic Loaf
With this recipe, I made two small plain loaves and 1 medium olive and garlic loaf. I simply separated the dough and took out the plain loaves first, then added the ingredients for the olive and garlic loaf.
1 Box Gluten Free Pantry French Bread Mix (make using directions on back of box)
Kalamata Olives, about 15 sliced in half lengthwise
Garlic Cloves, about 8 sliced in half lengthwise
About 1 1/2 Tablespoons Dried Oregano
1 Egg for Brushing
I wasn’t in the mood to run to the basement to fetch my french bread pan, so I simply lined a baking sheet with parchment paper. It works just fine, but the loaves spread out a bit.
Depending on how you want to separate the dough, do that part first, leaving the amount of dough that you want to use for the olive and garlic loaf in the mixer. Then, add the olives, garlic, and oregano and mix until combined.
Dollop and spread it on the baking sheet or in the french bread pan, brush with whisked egg, and cover with oiled plastic. Allow to rise for about 40 minutes in a warm place
Bake for about 30 minutes (I use convection). You may need to cover lightly with foil if it begins to brown too quickly.
I was awakened this morning at 5:00 AM to the sound of a tail thumping by my head and my face being covered with good morning licks. Evidently Abigail was way ahead of me in the energy department and was already getting excited for their morning walk.
Romeo was still lounging at my feet stretching and groaning. “I’m with you, Romeo,” I said. I rolled over and tried to ignore Abigail but she already had her morning agenda planned and wasn’t going to put up with Romeo and I lounging around lazily. So she laid on more kisses and more tail wagging and then started to jump around on the bed…
“OK, OK, I’m up…let’s get ready to go!” So I dragged myself out of bed and whipped up a quick breakfast I could drink on the 20 minute drive.
Quick Morning Smoothie
1/4 Cup Fresh Pineapple
1 Cup Frozen Organic Mixed Berries
1 Cup Organic Almond Milk
1 Heaping Tablespoon Organic Raw Almond Butter
1/2 Cup Ice
Place all ingredients in mixer and blend until smooth.
This morning’s walk was along the river by a nearby airfield.
The water looked very inviting. Next time I’m wearing my suit!
These were right next to the boat launch where we were standing. I was trying to get a good shot of the lady bug but she wouldn’t cooperate. Then I did some further investigating and realized that half the bush was covered with wasps. EEEeek!
“Are you coming? I’ve got places to go and things to sniff!”
Another plane coming in for a landing. Kind of cool to watch them come and go. Notice how hazy the mountains are in the background? We have a couple of wildfires burning in our area. Not unusual for this time of year especially when we have very wet springs that allow things to overgrow and then very hot summers that dry things out.
We’re back home now and I suppose I should finish my to-do list from yesterday. I had big plans to clean and organize and run errands yesterday, but visiting with neighbors and making a Luscious Lemon Cake seemed like so much more fun.
Hope you have a great day!
Or otherwise known as ~ Luscious Lemon Cake
This is a French angel food cake. According to Laura Calder from French Food At Home, it’s French because Americans use just egg whites and the French use both whites and yolks.
Have you seen French Food At Home on The Cooking Channel? Love, love, LOVE it! She always has gorgeous and amazing recipes that look extremely fancy but are usually pretty easy to attempt. I even love the music. She has a little bit of a quirky personality and it’s fun to watch her mannerisms and hear her formal way of speaking. The music is very French and fun and her whole show is just a nice, relaxing, treat.
Laura Calder’s a Canadian who was in the corporate world in a high stress job and in a relationship, etc., etc. She said one day she woke up, decided enough was enough. Quit her job, dumped the boyfriend, and enrolled herself at Dubrulle Culinary Institute in Vancouver. Then moved to France and honed her skills at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne. Can you imagine? What excitement!
This cake is simple, so simple in fact that it freaked me out a bit. But only because cakes in the gluten-free world are a little touchy and temperamental. They can come out dense and grainy, or fluffy and dry. This cake was neither.
French angel food cake doesn’t puff up quite like American angel food cake and it’s not as sweet. It’s amazing. In fact, I like it better than American angel food cake. It’s not sticky like a lot of angel food cakes and doesn’t smoosh down when you slice it. It remains fluffy and moist with a tiny bit of slightly crispy crust on the outside. It’s delicious and I am now addicted…for life. I’ve already had two slices. Before dinner. Like grown ups have the right to do!
This recipe is adapted from Laura Calder’s original recipe: Angel Cake with Blackberries and White Currents.
Luscious Lemon Cake
6 Eggs, separated
1 Cup Sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons Pure Lemon Extract
1 Cup Mama’s All Purpose Almond Flour, sifted
1 1/2 Tablespoons Dairy Free Butter
About 2 Cups Powdered Sugar
Zest of 1 Lemon
Juice of 2 Lemons
Preheat oven to 375 degrees for convection, 400 degrees conventional. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9 inch springform pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with parchment and butter the parchment.
Beat egg whites to stiff peak in a bowl with a whisk or in a mixer. I used a mixer. Not too stiff! Just enough that the peak stands without falling. Whisk the egg yolks and pour all at once into the batter.
Beat until thoroughly combined and with the mixer running, add the sugar and lemon extract. Beat until combined.
Remove beater. Sift flour. Fold flour into batter carefully. Pour into springform pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick comes in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cooking times may vary if you are using a conventional oven. Her cooking time was 60 minutes.
Woops, I was a little overzealous when giving the cake the finger touch test. But it turned out OK after all because once it cools for 15 minutes the top cracks anyway. Allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes and then remove the sides of the springform pan and place the cake on a serving platter or cake plate.
To make the glaze: Simply melt the butter in a bowl, add the powdered sugar a bit at a time and alternate with the lemon juice and powdered sugar. Once it’s combined, add almond milk a teaspoon at a time to get a thick “ish” glaze consistency. Smooth it over the top while the cake is still warm and allow it to drizzle down the sides.
Coupe une belle pièce, offrez-vous un bon livre, une tasse de thé, et profitez de votre journée !
I’ve been trying to stick to salads for lunch to up my daily veggie intake, but yesterday I had almost an entire vegetable day purely by accident. I love vegetables, but all day? I must have had a lot going on because typically I’m a protein lover.
After walking the dogs late this morning I couldn’t get my mind off of a grilled cheese sandwich. I also had chicken breasts that needed to be grilled and leftover vegan pesto from the sandwiches I made over the weekend. After the dogs got their “you were good on your walk” treat, I rummaged around and also remembered I had organic tomatoes and a nice bunch of organic flat leaf parsley. I’m crazy for parsley. I don’t know why, but I’ve been that way since I was a kid. I used to eat everyone’s parsley off their plate when we went out to dinner.
So, once I realized I had the makings for a delicious sandwich, I shoved the salad I made yesterday to the back of the fridge and told myself I would eat it for dinner instead.
Grilled Cheese with Spinach, Chicken, & Pesto
2 Slices Gluten Free Bread (I used Udi’s Whole Grain)
Slices of Grilled Chicken Breast
Dairy Free Butter
Flat Leaf Parsley
Freshly Ground Pepper
I’m sure you know how to make a grilled cheese so I will just give the basics. Grill the chicken first, or use leftovers, your preference. Spread pesto on the insides of both pieces of bread. Place the cheese on the bottom piece of bread, closest to the heat. Layer everything else however you like and cook until nice and toasty.