Gingerbread Men (Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free/Vegan)

We have a fun tradition of decorating gingerbread men at Christmas time. My mom started the tradition when I was young and since having my own children, I decided to keep the tradition alive as I have fond memories of decorating gingerbread men every year with friends and family.

Last year I made wheat flour gingerbread men and was a little sad that I couldn't eat any (I was newly Gluten-Free). This year, I made Gluten-Free gingerbread men, and let me tell you, they are great!

I used coconut oil for these cookies instead of Crisco (my typical shortening standby). Something about the coconut oil (the fat?) makes the dough amazingly easy to work with and the coconut oil has a very subtle flavor - so it compliments the gingerbread. I was shocked at how easy to handle the dough was. There was no crumbling and if I was running short on an area that needed more dough, I'd just drop some scraps on and roll it in - it blends that easily!

Gluten-Free Gingerbread Men (Vegan)

 

1/2 cup coconut oil (can sub regular shortening)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup molasses (do NOT use blackstrap, for milder flavor)

2 Tbsp applesauce

2 1/2 cups Better Batter Gluten Free Flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Instructions

In a large bowl, cream together the coconut oil and sugar until smooth. Stir in molasses and applesauce. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg in a separate bowl; blend into the molasses mixture until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Roll the dough out on wax paper to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Carefully peel up the cookies and place 1 inch apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper (you can skip the parchment paper if you don't have any - just decrease your baking time to 10-12 minutes total).

Bake for 12-14 minutes in the preheated oven, until mostly firm (they will firm up as they cool). Slide the parchment paper (with cookies) to a wire cooling rack. Frost or decorate when cool.

*Coconut oil becomes very hard when chilled. If you need to refrigerate the dough, make sure to take it out at least 1 hour before you intend to us it, as it will be very hard and not pliable straight out of the fridge.

Icing

 

1 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 egg white

1/3 cup boiling water

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together, adding boiling water last.
  2. Beat on high for 6-10 minutes until frosting forms peaks.

Recipe: Sweet Potato Breakfast Surprise (Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free)



I needed to make a hot dish for my MOPS meeting this week, and since I'm gluten-free, I set out on a quest to find a recipe I wouldn't be embarrassed to claim. I found it over at The Gluten-Free Dish and boy oh boy, thank you Debbie - this one is a keeper!

I made two pies - one was dairy-free (I had vegan soy cheese on hand) and I used some cheddar in the 2nd. I knew my morning would be rushed, so I prepared almost everything the night before.

Here's what I did the night before: I peeled the sweet potatoes and put them in the food processor. Then I made the crusts and cooked them. While the crusts were cooking, I prepared the turkey bacon. While the turkey bacon was cooking, I mixed up the eggs, whites/yolks, cheese, oregano, basil and parsley. Since I was making two pies, I made two egg mixtures. I put 4 whites in one (in addition to the 4 eggs) and since I had 4 extra yokes on hand, I used them in the other mixture (so 4 eggs, plus 4 yokes). I wrapped some plastic wrap over the bowls of eggs and put them in the fridge.

Then I cut up my cooked bacon into bite sized pieces, pulled the crusts out of the oven, spread the bacon on each crust and sprinkled cheese on top. I finished up by wrapping each pie in saran wrap and put them in the fridge for the night.

In the morning I turned on my oven and took a shower (my oven takes so long to preheat!). Then I poured the egg mixtures in each pie (I put the mixture with extra yolks in the dairy-free version) and stuck them in the oven. Thirty minutes later, the pies were done.

The pies were amazing. What a great use of sweet potatoes!

I highly recommend this recipe to everyone (GF or not!).

*Update* I had extra sweet potatoes when I first made this, so I put them in a Ziploc and laid it flat in the freezer. This morning I broke off a few chunks of sweet potatoes, defrosted them and then made a pie. I followed the recipe, but added red peppers and used some normal bacon (that my husband picked up from a local diner as I hadn't realized I was out of both turkey bacon and sausage). It was so good, my husband had about 3 servings and told me this is what he wants for Christmas brunch with his side of the family. It's that good. :)

Oh, and my husband told me it should be called Sweet Potato Surprise...because the sweet potato crust is a delicious surprise. So here it is...

Sweet Potato Breakfast Surprise

Ingredients:
oil for pan
2 cups grated sweet potatoes (use the food processor - it's fast!)
1/4 tsp. onion powder
2 Tbsp. Earth Balance Buttery Spread, melted
3/4 cup cooked light Turkey Maple Sausage, or uncured turkey bacon (cut into bite size pieces)
4 eggs
4 egg whites (works well with just yolks, too)
a hand full of vegan soy cheese/cheddar (optional)
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried parsley

Crust:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (218 degrees Celsius).
Coat pie pan with oil
Mix grated potatoes and onion powder.
Press potato mixture evenly over the bottom and sides of the pie pan.
Pour melted "butter" evenly over the potatoes.
Bake for 20 minutes. Watch carefully not to burn.

Filling:
Spread cooked bacon/sausage evenly over the crust.
Sprinkle cheese evenly over the bacon/sausage.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs, egg whites (or yolks), and spices.
Pour egg mixture over the cheese.
Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (176 degrees Celsius). Bake for 30 minutes or until the center is set and a knife inserted comes out clean.

Serves: 6

Recipe credit goes to: The Gluten-Free Dish

Winter Vegetable Soup (Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free)

I recently made this soup and it was so good, I want to share it with you! It's gluten-free and dairy-free. This recipe was on my weekly meal plan from gfreecuisine.com. It was really easy to make (bonus!).

Winter Vegetable Soup


Prep time 25 minutes | Cook time: 40 minutes

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 Granny Smith apples, cored & chopped

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded & chopped

2 carrots, peeled & chopped

1 sweet potato, peeled & chopped

5 1/2 cups GF vegetable broth

1/4 cup maple syrup

pinch of cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

coarse salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/4 cup fresh basil

 

1. Heat oil in a large dutch oven or stockpot over medium high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes.Add apple, squash, carrots, and sweet potato; season with salt and pepper and sauté 5 minutes.

2. Add broth, bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 30-40 minutes. Add syrup, cayenne, and nutmeg. Cool slightly.

3. Using a potato masher, mash vegetables in the soup until slightly pureed. Ladle into bowls.

4. Garnish with chopped fresh basil, if desired.

PEELING BUTTERNUT SQUASH

Unlike summer squash, the peel of a butternut squash is very thick. You'll need a good, heavy chef's knife to cut through the skin. Cut off both ends and quarter the squash. Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and fibers and discard. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel. If you run into those tough bumpy sections, you'll have to cut them off with a knife because the peeler won't go through it.

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We paired this soup with some cheesy artichoke bread (used Udi's whole grain bread). The recipe I used was a little heavy on the sour cream, so I'm not going to share that one. It was good, just not as good as I'd have liked (I want to make it again with a few tweaks - then if it's good, I'll share). You can look up cheesy artichoke bread and just replace the french bread that is usually called for with Udi's and make sure all the other ingredients are gluten-free.

A simply wonderful meal - even the kids liked it!

My Favorite: Gluten-Free Bread

When I started out on this whole gluten-free thing, I was really sad to give up normal bread.

I love bread.

In the beginning, I tried all sorts of gluten-free breads and they were all so disappointing. Seriously. They were either dense, dry and lacking flavor, or dense, moist, ultra crumbly and stinking of tapioca - it was all disgusting.

Until I discovered Udi's. 1558

Udi's Gluten-Free bread is THE best. There's no need to try anything else (unless you love tapioca and want it in your dense, crumbly bread).

Sign up on Udi's website and you will get a $1 off coupon.

I've tried their buns and muffins and they are perhaps my favorite freezer items (the blueberry muffins are such a wonderful treat!).

I like the whole grain bread the best. I use it most frequently for sandwiches and toast. And though the loaves are small, I've found that it's actually the perfect size. My family is now used to smaller sized sandwiches - in fact, it's a great way to have portion control. :)

The bread is on the expensive side at $5/loaf, but honestly? I think it's worth it. You can find it on sale occasionally (I found it at PCC for $4.39 a few weeks back and stocked up my freezer supply).

Speaking of freezers, Udi's bread does really well in the freezer. It thaws out nicely and never gets soggy.

If you are gluten-free - you've got to try Udi's!

Do you have a favorite GF bread? Do you have any advice for saving money on Udi's bread? Please share your experience in the comments!

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Note: I am not affiliated with Udi's - I am writing this review simply because I like and use the product. I hope that by posting my experiences, others will have an easier time transitioning to a Gluten-Free lifestyle.

How To...Travel with an infant

I absolutely love traveling and I didn't want kids to be a reason we couldn't travel the world to see new places.

That said, here are some tips and tricks I learned while traveling to Italy with a 7 month old:

1. Be prepared for time change adjustments. It took our daughter two nights to get it figured out. We were frustrated and confused when she started screaming at 3am the first night. It lasted about half an hour as we tried to figure out what was wrong (we were a bit groggy at the time). We finally figured out that it would have been a normal eating time for us back home and she was hungry. We gave her some snacks and she calmed down. Then we played with her for an hour...then somewhere around 4:30 or 5am, we all went back to sleep. The next night was similar. Be ready for a few nights of adjusting to a new timezone. Our daughters bedtime was quite late during our trip - this meant we could do a long day of touring and eat a late dinner. My advice? Don't worry about bedtimes when you're traveling abroad.

2. Get your baby comfortable sleeping anywhere. Before you go, set up a pack n play in a random room in your house. Put them down for naps there - get them used to sleeping in new places so when you travel, it's not a big deal that they aren't in their own bed. Our daughter has slept on the floor, in pack n plays, in drawers, and in closets  (with the door open). You can make a bed out of a blanket and use a few pillows as bumpers. If you are comfortable co-sleeping, go for it.

3. Bring a bag of Cheerios (or Nature's Path Organic Whole O's for the gluten-free). Yes, we flew to Italy with a ziplock full of Cheerios - why? Cheerios offer a distraction. We went out to dinner and would give our daughter Cheerios as we waited for our food. If we were on a tour and she was getting fussy, we brought out the Cheerios. Late night snack? Yup. Cheerios. They were a life saver (and we couldn't find any Cheerios in Italy)!

4. Wear your baby. I have an Ergo Baby and let me tell you, having your hands free and a napping baby is delightful when you're trekking across the Cinque Terre. I actually learned how to nurse while walking when we were on a tour in Rome - it was a bit awkward at first, but then we got the hang of it and just kept at it for the rest of the trip. Also, the Ergo Baby has a pocket on the front - it was a great place to store passports and cheerios...for when you're waiting in that long immigrations line.

5. Bring a handful of small, but interesting toys. We took about 6-8 toys. Stacking blocks, teeny board books, links (Links Rattle Developmental Toy), a ball (Baby Einstein Bendy Ball), and a little stuffed animal development/teething toy that could be clipped onto the Ergo (Lamaze Play and Grow Mortimer the Moose Take Along Toy).

6. Bring a good backpack. I'm talking, one that's not hard on your back (something like this). I highly recommend a backpack with a waist/hip strap - this will better distribute the weight so you don't have a big pull on your shoulders. Lots of little pockets are useful when you're traveling. Snacks, pacifier, phone, important documents, travel guide, etc can all be stored efficiently in a backpack like this. If you're going to Europe, chances are you will be walking around a lot. Backpacks are great for bringing along the daily essentials and we always had a little room in there for some souvenirs. We packed about 5 diapers in the bag, wipes, a changing pad, a spare onsie, snacks, travel high-chair, and a couple little toys.

7. Stock up on food for your little one before it's too late. We visited Civita di Bagnoregio in Italy and had planned to stay there for 2 nights. We were in need of food for our daughter, but got there late and as we should have known, there wasn't much there - no market to buy food! We did have dinner in our little bed and breakfast and we fed our daughter carrots, but morning came, and she was starving and since it was a Sunday morning in a dying city, there was NOTHING open and we went on a scavenger hunt for food (btw, B&B in Italy means you will get a packaged chocolate filled croissant - they were good, but not quite the breakfast we were needing for our 7 month old). We ended up wandering around the teeny town long enough to find a young lady who happened to have an apple in her sack lunch - she shared it with us (bless her heart!). We felt stupid for not planning ahead. We just didn't realize that finding food for a 7 month old would be so difficult. Oh, and the Cheerios we had packed? They were ruined when our top floor apartment in Rome sprung a leak in the roof and dumped rusty water all over the kitchen (and into the cheerio bag). Markets have weird hours in Italy (i.e. closed on Sunday, closed for siesta, etc), so when we found one that was open, we made sure to stock up so we weren't caught without food for our kid. 

8. Bring a portable high-chair. At the first place we stayed on our trip, they happened to have a high chair - but that was the ONLY place we ever saw one in Italy. Thankfully I had packed a travel high chair that fits on almost any chair (find it here: My Little Seat). We've used this thing all over the place - and it packs up into a little pouch - toss it in your backpack.

9. Pack light. I ended up wearing the same black tank top almost every single day of our trip (we did laundry once during our 3 weeks abroad). I packed way more than just that one tank top, but I hadn't thought about the logistics of breastfeeding on the go when I packed. I seriously over packed and my husband had to carry around that extra weight on my behalf. I should have packed fewer clothes for myself and planned on buying some clothes abroad if I needed more. I bought a dress at a flea market in Italy, and it's still the favorite in my closet. I wish I'd bought more clothes in Italy!

10. Bring a duffel bag packed with only diapers and snacks. We took a light weight duffel bag and filled it with diapers, and snack bars from Costco. My husband wore a backpacking pack on his back and slung the duffel on his side as we traveled between towns (I wore the baby on my front and a backpack on my back). As we went about our travels, the duffel bag got lighter as we used things and we had room for souvenirs if we needed it. We only had to buy diapers once - at the end of our trip.

11. Take your cell phone. Before you go, make sure to call your carrier to have them give you an unlock code (so you can use your phone on other mobile networks). If you have a phone that takes a SIM card, buy a prepaid SIM once you get to your destination. We had to use the phone a few times to confirm reservations, change check in times, or arrange lodging for the night - spending $20 on a prepaid SIM saved us loads on roaming charges.

12. Ask for either bulkhead or back row seats on the airplane. The bulkhead row has more room on the floor where your feet go - we let our baby sit on a blanket on the floor and play with her toys when it was approved to have seat belts off. Some airplanes even have bassinets in the bulkhead isle. If you can't get bulkhead seats, sit towards the back of the plane. It's louder back there, so you're less likely to disturb others with your fussy/loud/crying/happy baby. There's also more room to walk around with your baby in the rear of the plane. And you'll be right by the bathrooms...so diaper changes are a breeze.



Bonus Tip: Don't freak out about everybody talking to you and your baby - even if you have no idea what they're saying. We barely saw any babies in Italy and when people saw ours they sort of treated us like celebrities. Everyone came over to talk to our baby. People even wanted to hold her. Rumor has it that women have entered the work force in Italy instead of having babies...and by the time they have a baby, they stay home and never go anywhere with their baby (no really, that's what a local told us). It was a mystery to us why we saw so few babies (or kids in general), but it was kind of fun being told how beautiful our baby was day in and day out. It was weird at first, but once we accepted that they love babies, we were happy to have the attention. I even had an older German-speaking man hollering to me as I was playing in the water with my daughter. I figured out by his hand motions that he wanted my picture. I picked up my girl and smiled as he excitedly snapped a few pics. He thanked me and off he went. Weird. But totally funny. I have NO idea what he was saying, but it was awesome (and confusing).

Do you have any tips for traveling with kids? Please share in the comments!

How To...Enjoy Christmas

Today I want to send you over to our Pastor's blog (click the image to go there). He posted a really great list of ways to enjoy Christmas and I think everything on his list is so important, everyone should read it!

I'm all for simplifying my life and Pastor Troy's list serves as an excellent reminder to simplify and keep focused on the right things this season.


Go ahead, click the image to go to his post!



What are you waiting for? Go check it out! :)

Recipe: Apple Pie (Gluten-Free)

I love apple pie - that's why I always offer to make it at Thanksgiving time. Selfish? Maybe.

I was a bit worried this year, as I wasn't sure how I'd make my pies gluten-free. Thanks to

Better Batter

- I was able to quickly find a gluten-free batter recipe using Better Batter as my flour.

I followed the directions as stated and realized there was nothing to be worried about, the recipe was solid and it made a perfect pie crust!

I was running short on patience and didn't make a pretty crust edge...but I don't think it will taste any worse. ;)

Gluten-Free Pie Crust

2 1/2 cups Better Batter Flour

1 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp Baking powder

4 Tbsp butter

5 Tbsp shortening (we like butter flavored)

1 egg yolk

2 tsp cider vinegar

3 ice cubes

1/2 cup cold water

Instructions

Make sure all of your ingredients are very cold (put in the fridge for about 30 minutes).

Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder.

Cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture – the appearance of the mixture should be coarse – pea sized chunks should be present.

In a measuring cup beat together the egg yolk, vinegar, ice cubes, and water. A little at a time pour some of this mixture over your pastry mix . You may use all of the mixture.

Toss with a fork until the pastry just holds together, but is not dry. Knead together lightly a few times — it should look and feel like a normal pie crust.

Roll this immediately out between two layers of plastic wrap -this makes for a perfect crust and easy cleanup. When the pastry is large enough, remove the top layer of plastic and, using the bottom layer to hold the pastry, flip it into the pie plate. Peel off the plastic and crimp the edges. Bake as directed.

Source:

http://betterbatter.org/perfect-pie-crust

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For the filling, I used a 5-star recipe on AllRecipes.com.

Quite a few people posted about having won pie contests with this recipe, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

I should have read all the comments about making sure to pour the filling on the pies while it was still hot because otherwise it gets thick and doesn't seep into the pie like it should (lesson learned). I kept my pies in the oven for about 20 minutes longer than recommended as I wanted to be sure the filling had time to really get down in there and it seemed to take that much longer for the apples to soften. I wrapped foil around the edges of the pies and then removed the foil for the last 10 minutes.

FILLING

  • 1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie (above)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (use Better Batter Flour)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 8 Granny Smith apples - peeled, cored and sliced

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour to form a paste. Add water, white sugar and brown sugar, and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature and let simmer.
  1. Place the bottom crust in your pan. Fill with apples, mounded slightly. Cover with a lattice work crust. Gently pour the sugar and butter liquid over the crust. Pour slowly so that it does not run off.
  1. Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Continue baking for 35 to 45 minutes, until apples are soft.

Source:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/apple-pie-by-grandma-ople/detail.aspx

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Update

:  It was pretty good! It would have been even better if my filling had been poured on while it was still hot (and thin) so the apples could really cook in it. The bottom apples didn't get much of the filling/flavor, so if you do make this filling - make sure to pour it on while it's hot (maybe even mix your apples in half of it and then pour the rest on top)! Everyone liked it and though I was a bit skeptical of it being a sugar overload, it went really well with vanilla ice cream.

Review: Better Batter Gluten-Free Flour

I finally used my Better Batter (gluten-free flour) in some chocolate chip cookies last night. 

They turned out fantastic and now I can say, this flour mixture is awesome!

I made the recipe on the back of the bag of chocolate chips and where the recipe called for flour I simply used the same amount of Better Batter flour in place of traditional flour.

The cookies taste just like they did in my good old glutenized flour days. The batter looked totally normal and it even tasted normal - that's not something I can say of other GF flour mixtures I've used!

This is actually bad news for me....

Now that I've successfully used this flour as a 1:1 replacement, I'll be baking more treats. And that equals more calories and sugar in my diet. I'm actually a sugar-aholic...

My next project will be to make a Gluten-Free apple pie using Better Batter flour for the crust.

I. Can't. Wait.

Oh, and for the record...I've had 3 cookies already today and it's only 12:20pm.

I better go to the gym or something...this could be dangerous!


What GF flour mixtures have you tried? Please let me know if you have any GF secrets - I would love to hear from you!

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For the record: I am not affiliated with Better Batter. I like the product and hope my short review helps others who might be looking for gluten-free flour options.

How To...Throw a Pinterest Party



Hello there.

I went to a Pinterest Party today!

What's a Pinterest Party you ask? Well, my friend Jenny has been watching her friend's Pinterest boards and thought, "does anyone ever actually make these things they've pinned?" and so it was. A party where we would pick either a recipe or a craft that we had pinned on a shared pin board, and bring the supplies or the food to share.

I had eyed some burlap wreaths on Pinterest and wanted to make one, so that was my project.

Steps to throw a Pinterest Party:

  • Before the party, create a shared pinboard for the guests

  • Have each guest post the item they are bringing to the pinboard

  • Set up the crafting area with stations - label each station with the craft name

  • Each crafting guest brings enough supplies for 4 people to make their craft

  • Make a list of the crafts. If there are 4 of each craft, make a list that contains 3 of each and then cut out the crafts and drop them into a bowl

  • Have each guest that brought a craft draw 2 crafts out of a bowl, guests that brought a food item draw 3 crafts (everyone gets to do 3 crafts)

  • Guests that brought a craft get to do their craft first so it can be used as an example for the next ones at their crafting 'station'

  • Eat delicious food and have fun crafting!


It was fun to randomly pick what we would be doing (who doesn't like surprises?)!

The kitchen was full to the brim with food and drink, and every other space in the area was covered with yarn, fabric, feathers, wreaths, pine-cones, clay, bangles, glitter, candle holders and t-shirts (see my t-shirt scarf in that pic? Awesome, and SO easy to make!).

I had to leave a little early, but even so, I think I was more crafty today than I've been over the last 3 years (thanks Jenny!).  :)

I loved this party and am looking forward to the next!

Rebekah over at a bit of sunshine wrote up a great post (including some beautiful pictures!) about  the party.

Have you ever been to a Pinterest party?   What do you think?   Have you considered throwing a Pinterest party of your own?

How To...Lose the baby weight (what worked for me)

I gained quite a bit of weight when I was pregnant.

At the time, I didn't realize that I was overweight. In fact, I felt great weight-wise while pregnant and I loved having an excuse for eating random junk food all day. When I look back at the pictures, I realize that I was in fact, a bit on the bigger side. This is totally embarrassing for me to post my before pics, but hey, sometimes seeing is believing - and if it helps encourage someone else to realize their goals, it will be worth it.
Some people drop their baby weight with ease, but it was a challenge for me. Here's how I did it:

Join/create a Biggest Loser Challenge or find an accountability partner - A friend set up a Biggest Loser challenge on Facebook. Everyone paid $20 to join a 3 month weight loss challenge and the top 3 were paid out at the end. 23 people joined the challenge. This was a HUGE motivator. Every Sunday, by 11am, everyone had to send in their weight or face a half pound penalty. The beginning and end weigh in had to be captured on video and you had to wear the same thing and use the same scale you started on. Every week the stats were posted up on Facebook. The weight loss was calculated by total percent lost (much more fair than by the pounds lost). Having to report my weight to someone every single week for 3 months was the best motivation in the world! I didn't want to report the same number week after week, so I made sure I was sticking to my plan. I ended up coming in 2nd place and taking home $120 (*pats myself on the back*).

Learn how to set up your own challenge here:  How to start a Biggest Loser Competition

No eating after 8pm - Basically, dinner was the last time I'd eat for the day, even if I was up really late (which happens often). My husband and I used to eat after-dinner snacks (ice cream, cheese and crackers, popcorn, etc) almost every evening. It was bad for us and totally needless.

No obvious sugar - What's an obvious sugar you ask? Well, it's that vanilla coffee creamer or blueberry muffin (those usually have a lot of sugar in them!) or desserts at parties... yup, pass it up, it's not going to help you lose that weight, so move along to the vegi tray.

No alcohol - Alcohol is actually loaded with calories - you don't need those extra calories, so skip the wine/beer/liquor until you reach your weight goal.

Look up just how many calories are hiding in your favorite drink: Calories in Alcoholic Drinks

Exercise - This seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, to be honest, I only exercised 2-3 times each week (if I was lucky) and combined with everything else in this list, it worked. Some weeks I didn't even workout (it's hard to find the time when you have little kids running a muck). When I did exercise, I would most often run a 2 mile loop around my neighborhood. Occasionally we would take the family on a bike ride or a hike (with the littlest strapped to me) - any exercise counts!

Portion control - Take smaller portions and slow down your eating. By eating slower, you will realize you are full before you've over-eaten.

In 3 months time, I ended up losing my baby weight and I even dropped below my wedding weight!

How about you - are you struggling to lose weight? Did you already lose your pregnancy weight? Do you have any advice or success stories to share??

If you are at the start of your journey, I hope these tips help you to get to your goals. You can do it!

Gluten-Free Menu Planning

I'm going to talk about fixing dinner. Why? Because most everyone likes eating! Food brings people together. Food is comfort. Food is good.


But I suck at it.

I've always been a bit timid in the kitchen. It comes naturally for my mom, why not me? Even after all those years of cooking and sewing 4-H - I get so nervous at the thought of people coming over for dinner - it seriously freaks me out. "What will I make? I don't know how to cook!" In general, I have creative moments, but in the kitchen? Forget about it! I'm too scared of screwing up. Fear of failure? Totally.

Maybe it's because I know so many others around me are so good in the kitchen (my sister-in-laws are both amazing in the kitchen), I just don't feel like I can compete. Not that it's a competition, but really...in my head, I look at what they do in the kitchen and feel totally overwhelmed because I don't even know where to begin.

I have cookbooks. So many cookbooks. My husband threatens to make a bonfire out of them because I don't use them. Okay, so he doesn't want to actually light them on fire (that would be a total waste of money, the better option - sell them!), but he does quite regularly ask me if I can get rid of all the cookbooks because after all, it's all on the internet anyway... My response is always the same, "No way, I'm going to use those cookbooks someday!"

So in an effort to fix my cooking insecurities, I found a website that does all the meal planning and grocery list generating for me! It's amazing. And gluten-free (there are even dairy-free and vegan options if you're into that)!

www.gfreecuisine.com

Every week there's a new set of recipes to add to your weekly menu plan and usually, every single recipe sounds delicious. They are quick (20-30 minute recipes), easy to make, fresh, in-season meals and so far, I've only made 1 or 2 that we didn't really care for (and I've used the menu plans for at least 3 months straight, so that's a pretty good ratio IMO). And the shopping list is great, I order most of my groceries from Amazon Fresh, so it's been  easy-peasy.

There's even a monthly freezer meal menu plan! We had a TLT (but it was on a Thursday) in August and I made my first freezer meal ever (in fact, we made 4 freezer meals that night!). It was really cool to have my man working in the kitchen with me (sexy even).

Menu planning with Gfree has been incredibly helpful. I've gained a ton of kitchen confidence, and am almost ready to start my meal planning by using my own cookbooks (and recipes from the interwebs)! The last few times I've cooked for guests, I've actually enjoyed the process and stopped stressing out about it so much (I still carry a little stress when cooking for others, but in general, it's way less than days of past).

FIXING food is getting easier!

Do you meal plan? Share your tricks with me! I need all the help I can get. ;) 

Note: I am not affiliated with Gfree - I just use and like the service and highly recommend it.

TLT Recap: Well that was a doosy!

Last night's Technology-Less Tuesday (TLT) was, for the most part, a success. The kids were tired, and went to bed early (score!). My husband brought home some GF pizza from Garlic Jim's for dinner because I was having a bit of a rough day (Charlotte was a bit sick, extremely needy, and wouldn't let me put her down so I could make dinner).

With the girls in bed and the list of questions printed out,  I lit some candles and we settled onto the floor of our living room with a blanket and a glass of wine. If I told you that I was super excited about this TLT at the start of it, I would be lying. I was tired. I wanted time to myself. I didn't feel like getting in a 'deep' conversation with my husband.

That's just it. I realized that making the time to focus on our relationship is what TLT is all about - because all too often, I AM too tired and we end up not focusing on each other, but rather, doing something like catching up on our favorite TV shows (The Office anyone??).

So it was a bit of a rough start, but I managed to get over my case of the grumps and dove into the list.

Wow. The questions were hard!

My husband was looking forward to this exercise as he's been trying to figure out where his passion lies and what he's good at (in hopes of doing something he really truly loves for work instead of just going to a corporate office from 9-5 and doing what he's good at, but not passionate about). We made a few new discoveries about ourselves in doing this activity.

Even better was that we uncovered some interesting things about how we communicate with each other and discovered how we could make improvements to our relationship through better communication. We didn't really think we had an issue with communication prior to this exercise and it's not so much that we had an issue, but that there was an opportunity to do better.

 

What a good night it turned out to be! We ended up staying up too late because we were so involved in answering the questions set before us. We didn't even finish. Questions 8 & 9 were left lingering. I really wanted to conquer them all - that was the point of this TLT after all, right? My husband had to remind me that no, the point was to connect with one another....the questions were just a guide. So off to bed we went.

I'm curious, does Technology-Less Tuesday sound like something your relationship could benefit from? I challenge you to join in next week! It's really an incredible time to focus on your relationship in a new way. Will you do it?

Technology-Less Tuesday: Discover your unique ability

I'm having a date with my husband tonight.

It's so important that we find ways to connect with our partners and not let life get in the way of our relationship!

What's TLT? Read about it here: Technology-Less Tuesday

Have you taken time out of your week to date your partner? It's so rewarding, you should try it tonight.

In all honesty, I'm a little scared of tonight's theme. Deep thoughts are bound to surface. But I'm so excited to make some new discoveries and hear about what drives my man (and maybe discover something new about myself).

Here's the deal. Put the kids to bed, put away the phones, ipad, tv, computers, etc and then sit face to face with your partner to go over the following 9 questions:

Q #1: When was the last time I felt that my life was most meaningful?
Q #2: When do I feel that I’m offering the best of myself to others?
Q #3: How do I express the best of myself to others?
Q #4: When do I find that I’m the happiest and what am I doing?
Q #5: What past three experiences have brought joy and happiness into my life?
Q #6: What comes naturally and effortlessly to me?
Q #7: What do others think comes naturally and effortlessly to me?
Q #8: What are some of my hobbies? What do I do for fun?
Q #9: What activities have brought fulfillment and passion into my life?

Spice it up, light a candle (why a candle makes everything more romantic is beyond me, but hey, it seems to work that way - so light some candles tonight!).

Try it. I hope you have fun dating your partner!

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Question source: http://www.freedomeducation.ca/2009/07/08/9-questions-to-unlock-your-unique-ability/


 

Halloween candy count - what's gluten free?

We went trick or treating tonight. It's an event that I'm not entirely convinced is really something we should do. It just seems strange that we celebrate haunted things and dress up - I did it as a kid, so it must be okay, right?

Now that I have kids, I'm questioning the holiday (just like I'm sure my own parents did). What's the point of it? Shouldn't I know the point by now? Dressing up, knocking on doors, saying "trick or treat" and getting candy - is that all there is to it? Are we just going with the flow? Does anyone have a good definition of what Halloween is to the average American family??

As a rule, er no, as a lifestyle choice, we don't give our kids candy. I'm pretty sure Hailey had no idea what it was until we went to a family event and someone thought they'd be the cool Uncle. She was fine without refined sugar in her life. I was fine with it too (let's be honest here, I'm the one that has an addiction to sugar!).

All that aside....we went trick or treating with friends tonight and it was a good time. The kids loved it. It was cold out, but it was so cute watching them go to the doors, knock. and say in those cute little voices, "TRICK OR TREAT!".

But oh the candy. They wanted to eat it all as soon as we got back to the house! A couple of us are gluten-free, so we immediately grabbed the candy buckets and started sorting. Being that I'm an avid candy-a-holic, I had a pretty good idea of what was okay (and to be honest, I wasn't being all that strict since Hailey doesn't appear to have an issue with gluten). But this reminded me once again, that sooner than later, I will need to be diligent in the candy sorting task as Charlotte will need all the help I can give her to ensure that she doesn't get an accidental dosing of gluten.

That said, here are a couple of helpful resources you can use to figure out what candy is safe for the gluten-free:

Are you sure your Halloween candy is Gluten-Free?

Gluten-Free Candy (as of October 2011)

 

What's your take on Halloween? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Technology-Less Tuesday

My husband and I are quite plugged in these days. We carry android phones, have our own computers, play xbox (usually together), read on the kindle...you get the picture. We are wired. If I'm not looking up recipes online, I'm ordering our weekly groceries to be delivered or checking email...or researching the latest and greatest deals. We are always connected to technology.

Except for Tuesday nights.

In an effort to connect with each other and grow our relationship, my husband came up with our weekly date-night-in called, Technology-Less Tuesday (aka TLT's).

Yup, we do this every Tuesday.

It's funny how when you live with someone for a while and have kids running around, you don't actually talk that often. I mean, we talk all the time, but it's totally different when you ban all technology and sit face to face to intentionally get to know each other. I guess this is why some people go on date nights - that sounds mighty dreamy, but in all honesty, we don't have a babysitter on call and we kind of like that TLT doesn't require spending money. It's simply about being together.

Our TLT's have been great for keeping the fire burning in our relationship.

We recently started having themes for our TLT's - it's so fun, will you join me?

I want to challenge you to drop the technology and create your own TLT (if Tuesday doesn't work, pick another day that works best for your schedule).

On our last TLT we sat down with paper and pencils with the task of drawing (my husband's idea). I was stumped. I am not an artist! I had no idea where to start, or what to draw.

Then it came to me. For a couple of years I've been talking about how I want to remodel our kitchen and my hubs has always said, "draw it out for me." So I knew my task, but I had no idea how to draw (and that 3D thing? FORGET IT!).

This is where it got exciting. My husband started teaching me what he knows. And I gotta say, I'm kind of proud of my drawing (and that I was able to to follow his direction)! I was totally out of my comfort zone, but once again, TLT drew my husband and I closer together as we stumbled through this drawing activity.

What do you think - will you join us for a TLT?


Next week, we hope to find our true calling by answering the following 9 Questions to Unlock Your Unique Ability:

Q #1: When was the last time I felt that my life was most meaningful?
Q #2: When do I feel that I’m offering the best of myself to others?
Q #3: How do I express the best of myself to others?
Q #4: When do I find that I’m the happiest and what am I doing?
Q #5: What past three experiences have brought joy and happiness into my life?
Q #6: What comes naturally and effortlessly to me?
Q #7: What do others think comes naturally and effortlessly to me?
Q #8: What are some of my hobbies? What do I do for fun?
Q #9: What activities have brought fulfillment and passion into my life?

I'm hoping we discover some of our unique abilities through this exercise!

Will you take up the challenge? Please join us this next Tuesday.

If you don't have a significant other, I challenge you to call up any of your friends and ask them to join in TLT with you - you never know, you might just create a beautiful experience doing something new together!

I'm looking forward to hearing your stories!

Tips On...Party Planning

We recently celebrated our youngest daughter's 1st birthday with family and friends. For some reason, I always get stressed out over the party planning bit. We have a pretty large family and if we include some of our friends as well, it's a huge event. I stress.

For this party, I decided to go the simple, low stress route and I think the results were fantastic!

Top 10 Party Planning Tips to help simplify your life:



  • Order a cake - I usually stress out about what kind of cake I'm going to make and how it will taste, but this year...I knew I didn't want to stay up all night the night before the party making cupcakes or a cake. I ordered a gluten-free cupcake for my daughter and a gluten-free cake from a bakery in Kirkland. I'm not going to refer you to this bakery as I was a little disappointed in the handling of our order. Anyway, ordering a cake was the best thing I did. It was so good that everyone gobbled up the whole thing (people went back for 2nds!).



  • Simple, easy to grab food - what's up with all the fancy hors d'oeuvres people spend so much time on? I will admit, I do appreciate a party with great food, but I think everyone enjoyed our healthy snacks and it was all super easy to prepare. This meant, low stress for me (and my husband). I like to put together a cheese platter for most of my parties and a way to spice it up is to try some new cheeses. I went with a French cheese theme for this party, and though we'd never tried the particular cheeses we had, everyone loved both varieties. We are big on eating fresh, in season, fruits and vegetables. I bought some locally grown apples and they were a hit. If you are buying produce, ask if you can get a bulk discount (sometimes this works!). I was proud to see so many people eating apples at our party - to better eating and beyond!!



  • Make some simple decorations - I made 3 tissue paper flower balls with tissue paper I happened to have on hand and it was just the right simple splash of color to spice up the place. I also had the grand idea to make a "Happy Birthday" banner while shopping at target the night before the party. The cake might not have kept me up all night, but making the banner proved to be a time-consuming task (it was simple, but a time sucker)! If only I had a cricut! My husband was quite the champ for staying up late with me, cutting letters out of thick paper using an X-ACTO knife. You don't have to go to as much effort as we did on this one, you could simply print out a banner, or easier yet, just buy the cricut to help you create amazing banners in no time (if you want to fork over the dough that is)! Here's a link to a great fabric birthday banner tutorial over at See Mommy Sew - I want to try this! One more decorating tip - keep balloons on hand in various colors. They are always a hit with the kids and will help reinforce a color theme.



  • If someone offers to bring something - let them! My mother and Mother-in-law brought ice, coolers and bottled water. What a lifesaver they were. I tend to turn down help because I don't want to inconvenience people (I'm trying to work through this persnickety issue of mine). I'm so glad they pitched in - because honestly, I didn't have time to do it!



  • Enjoy yourself - a happy host makes a happy party. Make sure to talk to everyone and take a moment to grab some of those appetizers too!



  • Provide activities - it turned out to be a beautiful day so we were able to get games of ladder golf and bocce ball going. We also had some fun bubble toys for the little ones. Between food, games and chatting - people were occupied and having a fun day. If you are stuck inside for your party, you can still have activities for your guests. Here's a link to a good list of indoor games to get your head spinning with ideas (the related articles on that site look helpful as well).



  • Don't sweat the small stuff - let the day unfold naturally. If someone spills a glass of red wine on your new white carpet, don't fret (just dump some white wine on the spill and it will come right up - no really, it works!). Sometimes things seem like a big deal when we're in the moment, but years later you will look back and realize it really wasn't worth the time wasted fretting over the issue. Just deal with it, and move on. Enjoy your party, enjoy your company and don't be a stress mess (grab yourself a glass of wine and wind down)!



  • Turn on some music - it's always nice to have a fun beat going in the background to help liven up a party. It will create a fun and engaging atmosphere. We don't have a big music collection at home, so we rely on Pandora - it's never failed us at a party. I also recently discovered 8tracks.com and so far, I love it. Try it!



  • Clean as you go - if you see some empty plates lying around, ask the people nearby if they mind if you take it and then get it to the kitchen asap. The place will not only look great if you pick up as you go, but it will save you from having that big old garbage/dish collection task no one likes after all the guests have headed home. A little at a time makes for easy clean-up later. You will often hear my dishwasher running during the middle of a party - there's no shame in that!



  • Dress up - if you feel good, you look good...and if you look good, look out! (our friend Josh says this a lot - it's his quote and we love it.)



  • BONUS TIP - go out to breakfast on the morning of the party. This was my husband's idea and he even found a buy one meal, get one free coupon for the restaurant by our house (we fed all 4 of us for under $15)! It was wonderful to eat out and come home to a still-clean kitchen!


Are you excited about the holidays? I am! I hope this list helps you think about ways you can simplify and de-stress a little when it comes to hosting your next party.

What are some tips and tricks you have for throwing parties?

Gluten-Free on a Shoestring (a book)

Why didn't anyone tell me about this sooner?

Gluten-Free on a Shoestring is my favorite gluten-free book at the moment. My friend gave it to me for my birthday and I think was one of the most thoughtful gifts I've received in a while.

Not only does it have recipes that look amazing, the tricks and tips for saving money while being gluten-free are priceless!

If you know someone who's gluten-free and want to get a gift for them - BUY this book - it's sure to be a hit!

Gluten Intolerance Symptoms | My Story

My daughter, Little C, wasn't happy when she was a newborn. In fact, she didn't poop for a 4 week stretch (weeks 2-6). Almost every day during those 4 weeks we would see a little trace of poop in her diapers (a teeny orange streak) and we kept assuming the next diaper would be a blow out. But it didn't happen.

After another visit to the doctor at 6 weeks old, we got on a schedule of sorts. We were giving Little C suppositories every 7 days - forcing her to have a bowel movement. We also gave her a ton of probiotics several times each day. Prior to the doctor visit, we'd used a lot of gripe water and gas drops and continued using gripe water as it at least helped calm her down. Her tummy was distended and she screamed and screamed. We actually named it "Scrying" because it was a scream/cry combo (loud and annoying too).

Long night after long night and several doctor appointments later, I eliminated gluten, dairy, chocolate and coffee from my diet. The switch to remove all these items right around Thanksgiving time was difficult, but my diligence paid off when Little C's disposition changed and she started having bowel movements naturally (oh, and she started sleeping a bit, that was nice). I was feeling pretty good too - I took up running and was actually enjoying it!

About 4 months after removing gluten, I made a plea to my doctor and she told me I could try gluten again in hopes that Little C had outgrown her sensitivity. I missed those pumpkin scones from Starbucks and was dying to have a treat! I hadn't expected it, but gluten proved not only a problem for Little C, but for me as well.

After I had gluten I became extremely lethargic. Then, a couple of days later, I experienced severe intestinal cramping. The pains brought me completely out of my seat writhing in pain. I gave birth without the mask of drugs and honestly, the pains I experienced after ingesting gluten were comparable to the extremely difficult contractions I had during the end of labor (the part where I thought I was going to die). They were severe and I cried over them at times. The pain would shoot down to my anus (sorry, I hate that word... just writing the facts). I didn't leave the house for a few days - I felt horrible. My poor husband felt helpless as there wasn't much he could do to help. The pain woke me up in the middle of the night and happened off and on throughout the days. I became constipated. Extremely constipated. My brain function slowed and my vision was fuzzy. My skin was sensitive. It felt like my whole body was bruised. My joints felt weak and I became extremely grouchy. I. was. so. tired.

It took my body about 2 weeks to recover.

Symptoms of gluten intolerance are VERY common.

I slowly began to realize that my life long 'weighted limb' feeling was not actually normal. My weak immune system was probably in part, due to gluten. My extremely low iron levels during pregnancy (which required weekly injections in addition to 6 horse-sized pills/day and lots of spinach eating) were not just a fluke, I was not able to absorb iron properly due to my gluten intolerance. My frequent, heavy flow periods were more than likely due to my gluten issues (this one is still being evaluated as I'm still pretty new to 'gluten free' and the cycle has only just kicked back up since weaning my youngest).

I've always been gluten intolerant - I just didn't know it.

Discoveries I made by going gluten-free:

  • I don't actually hate running as I'd wholeheartedly believed all my life. In fact, now that I have energy, I love it!

  • My disposition is much brighter day in and day out.

  • My foggy head cleared up and my vision, though not perfect, is much better.

  • My baby knows how to do something other than scream! (I think this is my favorite discovery - screaming babies are not very cool.)


It's so freeing to know the source of my life long aches and pains - and to have an answer.

Celiac Disease Facts & Figures | NFCA

Do you have a gluten intolerance? Do you have symptoms like I described, but have not been diagnosed? Talk to your doctor! If you don't have a Naturopathic doctor, I highly recommend you get one - they will take time to listen to you and are more inclined to look at what's going on with your body and help you a more natural way (natural remedies first, drugs last).

My gluten intolerance discovery changed my life for the best, I'm happy to answer any questions you may have and would love to hear your story - please share!