Friday, November 30, 2012

Happy Fakesgiving!

So. Thanksgiving, huh? What's up with that? Nothing like a holiday centered entirely on food to make a celiac turn into even more of a Nervous Rex than usual.

We've been living in Thanksgiving limbo since we got married. Luke and I are both lucky enough to have our families living within 25 miles of us, so there is no travel drama. The bad thing is that we both have traditions we want to uphold with each family, so the past few years have been a clusterturducken of trying to please everyone, all the time, without really making our own traditions. This year, the added layer of complication was that I basically can't eat anything anyone else has ever looked at, thought about looking at, breathed near ... you get the picture. As we headed into November, I was already tired. Stressed. And not looking forward to the FOX-reality nightmare that is Survivor: Thanksgiving Island. I just wanted to get it over with.

But then? Epiphany.

What if we celebrated Thanksgiving on Wednesday with our own meal? It would mean leftovers for me to pack up and take to family Thanksgiving, as well as establishing a tradition for the two of us. Plus, I needed to practice getting a holiday meal on the table, since we are hosting Christmas this year. Win-win situation. Thus, Fakesgiving was born.

I took half the day off on Wednesday, cranked some tunage and donned my delightfully old-fashioned apron. Then the kitchen calisthenics began. In case you hadn't picked up on it from previous posts, I like to cook ... ish. I can handle small meals, but this was the biggest project I'd ever tackled. From scratch. By myself.

Also, I hate following recipes. So that sort of made things interesting. But after several hours, a glass or two of pre-dinner wine and more Taylor Swift than I should admit to listening to, I had this:

I roasted a turkey breast (found at Aldi, their Kirkwood Farms brand, which I called and validated was gluten free, and sooooo much cheaper than anywhere else), made stuffing (sort of following this GlutenFreeda recipe, but subbing out some of the butter and using more herbage), mashed potatoes, Sweet Ali's dinner rolls and, my piece de resistance, GRAVY. Luke has mad cranberry skills, so he whipped up a whole-cranberry relish that I could have eaten for days. We wined, we dined, we watched Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. And it was so incredibly nice to have a tradition for the two of us, something I could see us doing again in the future.

At the risk of letting the puppies and rainbows just explode forth out of my brain, I have to say, this worked out to be a perfect solution. It might not be an option for everyone, but I am choosing right now to take a stand. You may take my Pop-Tarts, celiac disease, but you'll never take my Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Three Things Thursday

So, back to a regularly scheduled Thursday, which is not nearly as much fun as a food-gasm Thursday, which is what last week was. I guess every day can't be a holiday. Sigh.

1. In a desperate attempt to eat something for lunch other than a bag of Kettle Chips and a Pepsi, I nabbed some Hormel Natural Choice smoked turkey (yes, I am well aware I should be over turkey, but I'm not. Deal.) I'm not a huge fan of lunch meat, but this was pretty good. Of course, when my gluten-free teff wrap fell apart, it left me eating rolled up slices of turkey with my hands in my tiny work breakroom. Still tasty.

2. Next week is the big date with University of Chicago. I will be seeing one of the celiac specialists there, as well as a nutritionist. Which means my days of Reese's Cups are probably behind me. Maybe not a bad thing, as I am running out of pants that fit? Whoever said going gluten-free makes you skinny ... obviously didn't realize the extent of Hershey's gluten-free offerings.

3. If you are a fellow gluten-free blogger, check out Marlow's Gluten-Free Blogger Secret Santa. She's still taking names for a few more days, and it sounds like it will be a blast.

3.5. Unrelated to any of this, Luke and I are starting our annual undertaking of watching a Christmas movie or TV special every day in December. We have our list pretty much set, but does anyone have any great, must-see suggestions? Bear in mind that our favorites include A Very Brady Christmas, Saved By the Bell Christmas and Die Hard (both one and two).

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Three Things Thursday ... on Sunday

Forgive me, Blogger, for I have sinned. I skipped out on my first Three Things. But, as Thursday was a slightly busy day, I don't feel too badly about it. Hope everyone's Thanksgiving was yummy, and that everyone avoided getting glutened. I have a couple of posts in the works about my Fakesgiving dinner, as well as entertaining in general, but those will come in due time (mainly, when I'm not shopping/recooperating from shopping/decorating/recooperating from decorating).

1. Once again, Sweet Ali's swooped in and saved the day. With their fantastic cinnamon rolls and delightful pumpkin pie, I really didn't feel like I was missing out on holiday sweets at all.

2. We have braved Black Friday every year for as long as I can remember, but this was the first year so many places opened up on Thanksgiving. We skipped out on the midnight sales, and still managed to get everything we were after. On a related note, Menards at 5 a.m. on Black Friday is THE place to be.

3. Sixlets? Gluten free. I may or may not have purchased several bags to put out in my holiday candy containers.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Three Things Thursday

Wow, three posts in a week, and none of them are reviews? Holy (gluten-free) cannoli, Batman.
 This week was an interesting week. And by "interesting," I mean that while I much rather would have opted out and stayed in bed watching Boy Meets World on DVD, I came, I saw and I ... sucked it up and did my job (okay, you got me. I spent one whole night at home watching BMW on DVD. In bed. No regrets).

1. I was amazed and touched by all of you who reached out to me after my post about hitting the wall. I am a loner by nature and don't often look to others for support, and when I did, I was shocked at everyone who sent me messages and e-mails. This community is truly AMAZING, and I appreciate each and every one of you. Thank you.

2. Yesterday was my birthday, and while most of the merriment is set to take place this weekend (dinner at Glen Prairie? Check. Cards Against Humanity and wine with friends? Check plus.), I did get some great gifties from my ever-patient husband, like a home-cooked dinner and these beautiful roses:

3. I was also pretty excited about this package from Red Apple Lipstick. Luke splurged and let me pick out some new birthday gift makeup from this most excellent company, which is having a pretty sweet sale right now. If you are looking for some fabulous gluten-free, paraben-free and just generally gorgeous makeup, I highly suggest checking it out.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guess Who's a Birthday Girl?

Spoiler alert - it's me.

And while it's not a big birthday, it's the birthday before a big birthday, which in a way is more stressful, because it means I've got 365 days before I hit the big 3-0. And I know that age is just a number, and you're only as old as you feel (although these days? That number is pretty danged high). But still. Wasn't I *just* turning 21?

Despite still feeling a little rotten, I'm determined to make the best of this birthday. I'm looking forward to a Luke-cooked dinner tonight, and fun with friends and family this weekend. A little birdie told me I'm going to be noshing on a Sweet Ali's salted caramel cake on Saturday (the little birdie was Luke. He's also the little birdie paying for it) (also, there will be wine. Lots of wine).


This year has not been great, by any stretch, but I have checked some things off of my bucket list. I headed to not one but two cons. I wrote and directed my first show. I've connected to so. many. folks. I played Dungeons and Dragons for the first time. I finished reading a book series that was totally out of my realm of normal - and loved it. I redecorated an unused room to build me a writing haven. I braved my first vacation with this crazy restrictive gluten thing. I wrote a butt-kicking maid of honor speech. I channeled my inner Bob Ross. I learned more about wrestling than I ever wanted to know. I apparently re-affirmed my nerdiness. Like tenfold.

So here are my goals for my last year of my 20s. Some people are really cutesy and do 30 before 30. I don't think I have 30 in me right now, so mine is 12. Goals are goals, people.

1. Run a 5K. Not necessarily quickly. Just to know I can.
2. Either start my novel or do three short stories.
3. Try yoga.
4. Continue to raise awareness for celiac disease.
5. Donate more to charities.
6. Start doing more GF baking from scratch, not from mixes.
7. Buy a coffee for a stranger.
8. Read something out of a genre I don't typically like (mystery? romance? science fiction?)
9. Learn to knit ... if my hands will let me.
10. Continue blogging, and connecting with this amazing community.
11. Master the "Gangnam Style" dance before the fad dies completely.
12. Try sushi ... again.

Now, let's all eat some gluten free cake, yes?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hitting the Wall

When you are sick for a very long time, and no one gives you any answers, it sucks. You start to question yourself, your symptoms, your mind. It is terrifying and isolating and there are days you would give anything to know what is wrong and how to fix it.

And God bless the doctor who finally gives you answers, at least some of them, and sets you on the path to feeling better.

But what happens eight? Nine? months down the road when you feel awful all the time again, and your blood work shows you are following your stupidly rigorous diet to the letter so obviously, this, too, is all made up?

What happens when it is a struggle, mentally and physically, to get out of bed in the morning and go to work? How about when anything you eat makes you hurt? And all you feel is guilty, because you are making so much hassle for everyone else? What then?

Six months ago I was frustrated at the challenges of following a gluten-free lifestyle, but I was starting to feel healthy for the first time in more than a decade, so the scales tipped in favor of all the work and expense it took to live gluten free.

About two months ago I was slammed with a pretty nasty sinus infection, and within a month, a second one. And I haven't felt well since then. Not just in an "I have some sniffles" way. I'm exhausted all the time. My joints hurt. I've been working on crocheting a scarf for weeks, because I can get about two rows done before my fingers just lock up. And I'm back to having to scout the location of the nearest bathroom any time I leave my house. I have no energy, and some days, it takes all my spoons just to get to work. This comes at an awful time, as we are heading into the holiday season, my first as a card-carrying celiac, and I know it's going to take loads of energy to handle it.

I normally like to keep it pretty light here. Yummy food. Fun events. The sunny side of celiac, if there is one. But pretending everything is okay when it's not? It's exhausting. I'm tired. There's hope on the horizon, though, in the form of the University of Chicago, and I will be visiting them early in December to hopefully find some more answers.

Those of you who are veterans of this nasty disease, did this happen to you?  I'm not looking for pity, I am looking for answers, and maybe a little bit optimism.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The One Where I Geek Out Over Stuffing

 Unless you are new around here (and if you are, hello!), you know that I have a deep and undying love for Sweet Ali's bakery. It all stems back to that first (and second, and third) gluten-free cupcake I had, the day after my celiac diagnosis. Maybe I imprinted on them, as a newborn gluten-freer, or maybe it's just that their stuff is that good. I'm pretty sure it is the latter.

Regardless, I have the utmost adoration and respect for Ali Graeme and her staff, so when I got an invite to a special after-hours holiday goodies preview, I literally jumped for joy. Not only was I nervous about going into my first holiday season gluten-free, but I couldn't wait for the chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at the bakery.

Wednesday night, after a hectic day at work and a puking dog at home, I was scatterbrained, tired and a little grumpy, but stepping into the bakery, my mood lifted instantly. Something about being in a room full of deliciousness that I can *actually* eat does that to me, I suppose.

Mozzarella cheese sticks. Yes.
The event was broken down into three parts: Appetizers, demos and dessert. We mingled and talked recipes while noshing on pumpkin dip, cheesy pigs-in-blankets, mozzarella cheese sticks and bruschetta. Their app table looked a lot like my typical New Year's Eve spreads (which reminded me, I need to start planning my annual NYE event). The staff put out recipes for just about everything (which I nabbed, because I will be recreating most of these noshes in the weeks to come). It all tasted ... regular, and I mean that in the best way possible. I have no doubt that I could put that spread out, and very few of my gluten-eating friends would even know the difference (spoiler alert to my NYE-going friends: you can thank Ali for the deliciousness you will enjoy). My two favorite treats were the blanketed pigs (Hillshire Farms. Go meat!) and the mozz sticks, and I likely would have snarfed the whole tray if it weren't for my mom physically restraining me  sense of decorum.

So cute! So gluten-free
After apps, we got to go back in the kitchen for a stuffing demo. That's right. In. The. Kitchen. As I have professed here on the blog before, I could live in that kitchen, happily. So getting to go back there? Amazing. Ali herself demonstrated stuffing from the mix the bakery sells. I could watch people cook all day, so I loved getting to see it put together, in addition to getting to taste it. I'll admit, basically the only stuffing I've ever eaten is made from a red box labeled Stove-Top, so my standards on stuffing aren't real high. Even so, the mix the bakery sells was really good, and Ali told several ways to customize it, which I appreciated. Since we are doing a to-go Thanksgiving meal for me, I don't know if I am going to attempt stuffing or not, but if I do, I know which one I am trying. Staffer Carrie also did a food demo, showing us how to make this adorable little pumpkin dip thing that looks like a jack-o-lantern. It would be a great addition to any appetizer table or something like a work potluck.

This is what a happy Alissa looks like.
No well-rounded meal would be complete without desserts, and this is Sweet Ali's specialty. Among the treats I sampled? Pumpkin pie, raspberry tarts, pumpkin bread, pound cake, and more - the sugar buzz sort of kicked in at that point, so I don't recall ALL of the delightful things I tried (bad blogger! Bad girl!). Winner of dessert round was the pumpkin pie - creamy and sweet and delightful. I am the only pumpkin pie fan in my house, so it was nice to get to try some - I probably won't buy a whole one, since Luke doesn't eat it, and I would feel obligated to eat the whole thing (and regret nothing). But I did purchase a few more treats to try at home (frozen cookie dough and cinnamon rolls, and yes, they were both amazing). If you are in the Chicagoland area and looking for a great place to nab some Thanksgiving treats, even if you aren't gluten-free, I highly suggest Sweet Ali's. They even deliver to the Chicagoland area through Artizone, and they can be found in some area grocery stores. If you choose to purchase for Thanksgiving, though, make sure you get your orders in by November 17. I know I will.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Three Things Thursday

We're well into the throes of November around these parts, and even though it is that wonky time pre-Thanksgiving and post-Halloween, where every house seems to be having an identity crisis (moldy jack-o-lantern? Check. Icicle Christmas lights? Check), I still sort of revel in these couple of weeks before everything goes HOLIDAY FULL FORCE. Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas, but celebrating it for two full months can get tedious. We have a rule in my house that the holiday season officially kicks off when we've watched the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas post-dessert on Thanksgiving Day. Anyway, I really like this time of year when everything sort of slows down momentarily. Could be that I am a November baby:)

1. Obviously the East Coast is still reeling from Sandy, and loads of GF bloggers have been citing resources for donating. It may seem silly to you to think about making sure food pantries have the Udi's, but for people with celiac or gluten intolerance, it's one less thing they have to worry about. Imagine being displaced from your home, without power, without heat, and every food around you is poison. So check out Erin's blog to find some organizations to donate to.

2. I raved about these on my Facebook page last week, but thought they were worth a mention here, too. Perdue now makes breaded chicken tenders, nuggets and cutlets that are GLUTEN FREE. This is a big deal because a) they are available at local grocery stores like Wal-Mart and Jewel, b) they are reasonably priced, c) they are certified gluten free and d) they fulfill a great need I had for yummy quick food. Served up with these, it's like a grown-up Happy Meal that won't make my body attempt to kill me. I think these are going to be a freezer staple.

3. After hemming and hawing for a long time, I finally got around to making an appointment at the University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Research Center, so next month, I will get to see a celiac specialist and a dietician. I am pretty excited about this for a lot of reasons. Yes, excited. Don't judge me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day


I try not to get too political on here (except when I am urging you to sign petitions for better gluten-free labeling (which is important regardless of political affiliation (and p.s. we got the required amount of signatures))).

But today is Election Day here in the good ol' US of A, and I would be lax to not mention it. Not like you haven't noticed, I'm sure. I don't know if I remember what it's like to watch television or listen to the radio without hearing some sort of political ad.

Me, with the President, back when he was just a Senator.

Despite the perpetual stream of "such and such approves this message" we've been hearing for months, I still gotta strongly encourage all of you registered voters to get out and do your civic duty. It doesn't matter who you vote for (although, it's pretty obvious who my guy is). What's important is that you go out and exercise the right and PRIVILEGE that people died for. It's so easy to get caught up in the negative campaign ads, or to zone out the white noise of anything political, since we're all pretty inundated with it, all the time. But when I went into my local polling place this morning, I was thinking about those women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who fought so hard to get everyone the right to vote.

So, you know, go do it. You'll probably get a sticker*.

*Unless you go to my polling place. Apparently, there was a rampant stream of irresponsible stickering that caused the election judges to put a ban on stickers. I may or may not have made my own.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Three Things Thursday

Happy Candy Hangover Day! Hope everyone had loads of delicious, gluten-free treats yesterday. I took a couple hours off work so I could be home for trick-or-treating, and had a grand total of ... ten trick-or-treaters. Looks like I will be eating Peppermint Patties and Skittles until the new year.

1. So, because the gluten-free world is awesome, we managed to get all 25,000 signatures on the gluten-free labeling petition we've all been linking to for about a month. I'm not sure how much of a difference it will make, but to see that many people come together for a cause is pretty inspiring. Go, us!

2. I have a celiac support group meeting on Saturday morning where we will be sharing all manner of delicious Thanksgiving-y foods and recipes. I look forward to sharing some yummy noms with you in the near future.

3. My birthday is in less than two weeks. I am a *huge* birthday celebrator, so prepare yourselves.