Monday, June 28, 2010

Gluten-Free Cat is Moving!

Blogspot was a great place to get my feet wet as I learned about the blogging world.  But I will no longer be posting to this site.

Instead, you can find this blog at  It's an easier address to remember, and you'll find that the site is very user-friendly.

So, bookmark, add it to your blog readers, subscribe via an RSS feed, and keep following along!  (It's the same old me rambling about the same, health, life, and gluten-free living.)  Thank you all for reading!

The Gluten Free Cat
(A Curious Girl in the Gluten-Free World)

Friday, June 25, 2010

It's Cherry Season!

Don't you love the taste of a sweet, juicy cherry?  I could eat them every day all summer long.

Cherries always make me think of summer visits with my aunt, because she always has a bowl of cherries in the refrigerator for snacking.  The funny thing is that I hate cherry flavor.  Maraschino cherries make me gag, sicky-sweet Dr. Pepper makes me shudder, and I remember choking down cherry-flavored cough syrup as a kid.  But give me a bowl of fresh cherries in June, and I'm a happy girl.

This week we had a gluten-free guest in town, and I always get really excited about making a safe dinner for a fellow gf-er.  For a few days she doesn't have to ask:

What's in this dish?

How did you prepare it?
Can I see the ingredients on the chicken marinade?
Are you sure the knife that cut the chicken wasn't the same knife that cut the bread?
Did you cut the lettuce for the salad on the same cutting board?
What's in the salad dressing?

She knows that everything in my kitchen is safe.  She knows that everything I cook will not make her sick.  She knows that she'll get a few treats that maybe she hasn't had in a while.  And she knows that she won't have to turn down dessert.

Last night we had Elana's Cherry Blueberry Crumble.  Right from the oven.  Almost burning your tongue right from the oven.  Almost, because the Purely Decadent Coconut Milk Ice Cream from So Delicious brought the crumble to the perfect temperature.

Cherry Blueberry Crumble
from Elana's Pantry

4 cups fresh cherries, pitted
1 pint fresh blueberries
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 T lemon juice
1 T vanilla extract
2 T arrowroot powder (I used tapioca flour.)

2 1/4 cups blanched almond flour
1/4 tsp celtic sea salt
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/4 cup agave nectar

1.  Place the cherries and blueberries in a 3-quart baking dish and sprinkle the fruit with agave nectar, lemon juice, and vanilla.  Then sprinkle with the arrowroot powder (or tapioca flour).
2.  In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, and salt.
3.  In a smaller bowl, combine the grapeseed oil and agave nectar.
4.  Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients to form the crumble, and then sprinkle it over the fruit mixture.
5.  Cover and bake at 350 for 1 hour and 15 minutes until bubbling.  Then uncover the dish and bake for a few more minutes until the topping is golden brown.
6.  Remove from the oven and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

This is how it looked before it went in the oven.

We were so anxious to eat it that I don't have an after picture!

Thankfully, there were leftovers.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Zucchini Bread, the Gooey Version

What would you do with this?

That's what I asked the farmer at the Farmer's Market on Tuesday afternoon as I held up that funky looking squash that looked more like a UFO than a vegetable.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear that our local farmers were going to set up at the market midweek, because their regular Saturday mornings are hard for us to get to with triathlon training.  On a Tuesday afternoon, the Farmer's Market was a much quieter place than it is on Saturdays.  There was no live music, no running children, no loud laughter and hoopla.  Just a few farmers at a few stands, each with a small assortment of gorgeous vegetables.  It was almost intimate, and it allowed me to ask a farmer about a strange-looking squash.  I got to hear about how his daddy would only grow that kind of squash, and how one hundred years ago it's the only kind of squash that could be found around here.  How do you cook it?  Like any other zucchini squash.

I love summer squashes because they are so light and fresh, easy to cook, and frankly, I love the way they make your teeth squeak.  After I picked up my blackberries and that one absolutely perfect tomato, I wondered what I was going to do with my zucchini.  There were so many options; steaming, sauteeing, grilling...  or I could make ZUCCHINI BREAD!  That was an easy decision.

I used to hate zucchini squash, but I think I know why.  Most of my memories of it are of well-steamed, limp, lifeless, flavorless mush that would tickle the back of my throat, triggering my gag reflex.

I must have had good zucchini in my childhood, because I know my grandfather grew it in his vegetable garden in the corner of our backyard in New York.  My earliest memories of my Papa are of him bent over vegetable plants in his short-sleeved plaid cotton shirt, weeding around a zucchini vine or a tomato plant.  Squatting in the garden in old black dress shoes and white socks, he cared for the plants that would eventually produce the food that would keep me at the dinner table far longer than I wanted to be there.  I really hated vegetables, so I wasn't enamored with anything that Papa grew, except for the strawberries and the rhubarb that mom would make into a pie. 

Papa's garden was a battlefield, and his fight was against an army of rabbits that lived in the neighborhood.  They just loved to nibble the greens off the tops of his carrots when he wasn't looking.  But since my grandmother had read Peter Rabbit to me at bedtime over and over and over again, I was always quietly rooting for the rabbits.  Papa very much resembled Mr. McGregor as he ran after the rabbits with his arms flapping.  Papa put up a fence around the garden, and the rabbits hopped over it.  Papa made the fence taller, and the rabbits dug a tunnel underneath it.  I thought for sure that Papa had won the battle when he buried the fence in a deep trench around the garden, but somehow the rabbits always found a way in.  While Papa muttered and grumbled about nibbled leaves and stems, I giggled behind clasped hands and silently cheered for Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and of course, Peter, the boldest of them all.

 I was eleven years old when I realized that I liked zucchini.  We were sitting in the car at a grocery store parking lot, and I was hungry.  My aunt had offered me a slice of zucchini bread, and I turned it down.  Why would I want bread with vegetables in it?  Aside from the pureed carrots that my aunt was feeding one of my baby cousins, that's all she had to offer.  She peeled the aluminum foil off of a homemade loaf of sliced brown bread that had little green flecks of green zucchini in it.  Gross.  But as she nibbled at the bread, I got hungrier.  As the baby finished her jar of baby food, my stomach started to grumble.  Maybe it was the ravenous state that I reached, but I begrudgingly asked for a bite of zucchini bread, and to my amazement, it didn't taste like a vegetable.  It was actually good!  I think I asked for a second piece.

Today I wanted to make gluten-free zucchini bread, but I didn't want to make someone else's zucchini bread.  I wanted to make my own.  I like to experiment in the kitchen, and most of my cooking experiments turn out pretty darn good.  But baking and cooking are two different things, and baking and gluten-free baking seem to be even more different.  You really have to understand food chemistry to figure out how to make breads soft and light, pizza dough soft, yet flat and crispy around the edges, muffins more dense than bread, but not as heavy as hockey pucks.  People have devoted a lifetime to discovering these secrets.  The rest of us follow their recipes.

I came up with a recipe that I thought might work and divided the batter into two loaf pans.  I added chocolate chips to one loaf.  It looked beautiful on the outside, but the inside looked like this.
I had to try it while it was hot, and it tasted pretty delicious.  How could I go wrong with melty chocolate?  But when bread is right from the oven it's hard to tell if the center is done.  Everything is mushy when it's hot.  Did it just need some more time?  I put it back in for 10 more minutes.  I tried it again.  (Yes, this is my second slice of zucchini bread.)  Hmmm.  Still a little gooey.  Maybe it just needed to cool a little bit.  I had the third slice when it cooled.  Still gooey, and not just the chocolate.

The other loaf was also beautiful.

 And the inside?
Soft, tasty, but gooey.  (Slice four.)

Maybe it was the fact that I was trying to lighten up the bread by using applesauce instead of oil.  Applesauce is gooey.  Maybe, despite the fact that the toothpick came out clean, it just needed to stay in the oven longer.  Maybe.  How the heck am I supposed to know???  I'm a 3rd grade teacher and a fitness instructor, not a baker!

So, I made a few modifications and I tried again.  I'll share this recipe, even though, the end result was similar.

Zucchini Bread

Dry Ingredients:
3 c. gluten-free flour (I used Pamela's Baking Mix.)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon

Wet Ingredients:
3 eggs
1/2 c grape seed oil
1/2 c applesauce
1/4 c agave nectar
2 tsp vanilla
1 mashed banana
3 c shredded zucchini

Optional Ingredients:
1/2-1 c chocolate chips
1/4-1/2 c chopped nuts

1.  Shred zucchini with a food processor and place it in a bowl lined with a dishtowel.  The towel will absorb moisture while you are preparing the batter.
2.  In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.
3.  In a large bowl, mix together eggs, oil, applesauce, vanilla, agave nectar, and mashed banana.
4.  When the wet mixture is creamy, stir in the shredded zucchini.
5.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients.  Then add the optional chocolate chips and nuts.
6.  Line two 9x5 inch loaf pans with parchment paper, and lightly coat them with cooking spray.
7.  Divide the batter between the two loaf pans and bake at 325 for 60-70 minutes.
8.  Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes.
9.  Slice and enjoy.

Makes 2 loaves of bread

And, guess what.  It was still gooey.

So, I learned a lot today. 
I learned how much I don't know about baking. 
I learned how much I want to know about baking. 
I learned that I really don't want to eat 5 slices of zucchini bread to figure out the perfect recipe each time I venture out on my own.
I learned that gooey zucchini bread really is tasty, especially when crisped up in the toaster oven.
I learned that tried and true recipes are there for a reason.
I learned that I need to learn to let some things GO.


Monday, June 14, 2010

The First Meal I Ever Cooked (With a Little Help from Betty Crocker)

My favorite gluten-free blog is the first blog that I ever started reading.  As the Husband always reminds me, I'm not interested in any new technology until it suddenly impacts my life.  Blogs included.

I didn't care about email until I realized that I could instantly communicate with Sally, who was living in Japan, for free using my graduate school email account.

I didn't care about cell phones until my car was pulled into a ditch by icy, snowy roads in Buffalo.

I didn't care about the internet until I saw that there were teaching resources out there that others were just willing to share.

I didn't care about iPods until I learned that I could take my entire music library to the gym and teach a spin class with one.

And I didn't care about blogs until I finished Shauna Ahern's book Gluten-Free Girl, and I just wanted more.  Finishing a great book always seems to leave me feeling sad and lonely, because I have to say goodbye to the characters who have become my friends.  When I found out that Shauna's story would continue through this thing called a "blog", I just had to check it out.

Since then I've been enjoying her recipes, trying gluten-free products she recommends, and soaking up inspiration through her passionate writing.  Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef is a must read if you love food, gluten-free living, and life in general.

Today, Shauna has challenged those of us with food blogs to post about our memories of the first food we ever cooked as kids.  (And if you're wondering, this challenge came via Twitter, another communication tool at which I used to roll my eyes!)

Almost instantly I remembered a children's cookbook that I used to have, but I couldn't remember the name of it.  Within seconds of Googling, this picture flashed up onto my screen and the memories came rushing back.

Betty Crocker's Cook Book for Boys and Girls was written in 1957, and I loved that book.  As an eight-year old, I loved just looking at the pictures and reading recipes for wonderful foods like Pigs in a Blanket, Sloppy Joes, Ice Cream Cone Cakes, and Black Cat Cookies.  I believe the first food I ever made came out of this cook book.

It was the French Toast recipe with these simple directions:

With beater blend 2 eggs, beaten 1/2 cup milk, 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Cut in half 6 slices stale bread.
Heat frying pan or griddle moderately hot.  Grease with butter or bacon fat.
Pick up bread on fork, by half-slices.  Dip both sides into egg mixture and put on hot frying pan or griddle.
Brown on both sides, turning with pancake turner.
Serve hot with syrup or jelly.

The directions were simple, and I'm sure the french toast was incredible.  How could it not be?  Of course, I had no idea that I shouldn't be eating bread with gluten.  But apparently we had a lot to learn since the recipe calls for bacon fat and stale bread.  Yum.

I have no idea what happened to my old Betty Crocker cookbook, but in 2003 they reproduced the 1957 version with the same pictures and recipes.  So I can have a piece of my childhood back through Amazon for only $11.53!  Oh, technology, how I love you.

Now it's your turn.  What was the first food you cooked as a child?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Gluten-Free Granola

Growing up, there was just one kind of granola in our home.  It came in a box like this.
And only the grownups ate it.  The unattractive brown box, the 100% natural claim, and the highly-persuasive Quaker man didn't exactly market to kids.  Kids who had health-conscious parents ate Life, Cheerios, and Kix, unless we slept over at a friend's house.  Then we were introduced to the evils of Captain Crunch, Cocoa Puffs, Fruit Loops, and Frosted Flakes.  Oh, how I loved Tony the Tiger.

Today there are many granola options available, most of which contain gluten, because their oats are not made in a dedicated gluten-free facility.  I have found a few gluten-free granolas that I enjoy, but as with many gluten-free products, the high cost of $5-7 a bag prevents it from being on my weekly shopping list.

As does the high calorie count.

Yesterday, Karen commented on my peaches post saying that she lived on vanilla yogurt, peaches, and granola last summer.  That just sounded so good, and so much better than my cottage cheese and peaches snack.  Sometimes my low-fat mindset limits my food choices to the unimaginative.  I couldn't get yogurt and granola off my mind.

And since I've been on a kick of trying new things and making things I'd normally buy, I now had my Sunday challenge.  Of course, my granola would be gluten-free, and I did want to try to make it a little less fattening and less sweet than the commercial brands.  There are tons of recipes to peruse online, and peruse I did.  I learned that you can put whatever you want in your batch.  You start with rolled oats as your base, add whatever nuts and seeds you'd like, and then you need a little something sweet and a little something wet to hold it all together.  I opted for agave nectar as my sweetener, which is low on the glycemic index, and applesauce to keep it moist but cut down on the amount of oil needed.

It sure was pretty.

And tasty.

Granola Gluten-Free

Dry Ingredients:
5 cups gluten-free rolled oats (I used Bob's Red Mill.)
2 cups of chopped raw almonds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup golden flaxseeds
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp salt

Wet Ingredients:
1 cup unsweetened applesauce (I used an organic brand that included pureed berries.)
1/3 cup agave nectar
1 tsp vanilla
2 T canola oil

1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries

1.  Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
2.  Mix the wet ingredients together in a small bowl.
3.  Then stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
4.  Spoon the mixture onto two jelly roll pans and bake at 300 for 35-40 minutes.  Set the timer every 5-10 minutes and stir the granola, rotating the pans between the top and bottom oven racks to prevent burning or clumping.
5.  When it reaches a golden brown color, cool the granola on the pans and add the dried fruit.
6.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Makes 12 cups

Thanks to Karen, I had a delicious yogurt and granola lunch.

I have a feeling that granola will be topping our protein shakes, cereal, cottage cheese, yogurt, ice cream... for weeks to come.

How do you like your granola?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Too Hot to Cook?

It's 92 degrees in Nashville with a heat index of 100.  I'm not cooking today.  My morning was spent swimming laps and biking 20 miles as the numbers on the thermometer quickly rose to uncomfortable.  Thankfully, my afternoon was spent in a cool movie theater with a friend.  But tonight, there will be no cooking.

The first truly hot day of summer made this the perfect day for something that I've been waiting for all year.

The first peach of summer.
As a Californian, I am a summer fruit kind of girl.  Apples, grapes, and bananas get me through the winter, but as soon as summer hits, I'm ready for peaches, plums, apricots, berries, and nectarines.  To me, nothing screams summer like a juicy peach that sends sweet nectar running from your fist to the crook in your elbow.

Here's a healthy, naturally gluten-free snack to enjoy on a hot summer day.

Summer Peaches and Cottage Cheese

1-2 scoops of cottage cheese
1 sliced peach
fresh mint leaves
1/2 T. sliced almonds

You can even turn it into a dessert by using ice cream instead of cottage cheese.  Now that's a sweet way to celebrate summer.

Enjoy and stay cool.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Try Something New Today: Rosemary Almond Flour Crackers

Something has happened to me in the past few years.  I'm trying things I never even would have considered trying years ago.  I've taken on interests that used to seem dull to me.  I've run five half marathons now, and I used to HATE running!  I was the girl at the back of the pack being hollered at by the PE coach.  I'm learning to bake and cook.  I used to believe that food was just fuel and the more convenient that fuel the better.  Make it quick, get it in, and move on.  Now I'm experimenting in the kitchen, playing with flavors and textures, and learning to cook vegetables that I didn't even know existed.  I'm training for my first triathlon.  I never thought I'd have the physical strength and stamina for something like this or the desire to push myself to new limits.  Am I growing up, or am I just seeing that there is a world of possibilities out there?

I remember watching Martha Stewart when I was home sick one morning, and she made cough drops.  Seriously?  Feeling absolutely horrible, I thought, "Who in the world would take the time to make their own cough drops?  If I need a cough drop I'm going to buy a bag of them at the store for $0.99.  I have better things to do with my time."

I still don't think I'll ever make cough drops, but I tried something new last night that was a stretch for me.  Here's a sentence that I never thought would exit these lips.

I made my own crackers.

I really did!  And it was easy.  Super easy.

Crackers are definitely something that I'd just run to the store to buy.  Crackers aren't a main staple in my diet.  Being gluten-intolerant, I have my go-to brands like Glutino, Nut Thins, and Mary's Gone Crackers.
And I love that Costco now carries the gluten-free multigrain crackers.  But, let's face it.  Even when crackers are used as an appetizer, they aren't the focus of the hors d'oeuvres.  The focus is on whatever we top them with -- rich cheeses; tomatoes and olives; hummus; cream cheese, honey, and pecans.  The topping ideas are endless, and they take center stage, not the cracker.  The cracker is typically just a shovel to the mouth.
But these crackers are all about -- the cracker.  Sure, you can top them with anything you'd like, but the best thing about these babies is that they stand alone.

I never would have tried something like this without the direction of Elana from Elana's Pantry.  I started with her almond flour recipe, added some flaxseeds, because I just love them, and I substituted egg whites for a whole egg, because someone got a free carton of organic, cage-free eggs that I paid for at the grocery store.  Grrr.
Rosemary Almond Flour Crackers

1 3/4 c. almond flour
3 T. egg whites
1 T. olive oil
2 T. finely chopped rosemary
4 tsp golden flaxseeds
1/2 tsp sea salt

1.  Combine the almond flour, rosemary, flaxseeds, and salt in a large bowl.
2.  Whisk the wet ingredients together in a small bowl.
3.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix them together well with a wooden spoon.  Then form the dough into one large ball.
4.  Place the ball on a sheet of parchment paper, place another sheet on top of the ball, and roll the dough out to about 1/8-inch thickness.  Remove the top piece of parchment paper and slide the bottom piece with the cracker dough onto a cookie sheet.
5.  Cut the dough into 2-inch squares with a thin blade or pizza cutter.  Use a thin spatula to create a little separation between the crackers on the cookie sheet.
6.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes.  Keep checking them, looking for a golden color with slightly crispy edges.
7.  Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool for 30 minutes on the sheet before serving.

This recipe made 16 crackers.
Of course, I burned my tongue because I had to try a hot cracker!

Delicious, delicious, delicious!  And now that I have a base recipe for gluten-free crackers, think of all the experimenting I have ahead!  How would chives taste in this cracker?  Maybe a little garlic?  Sundried tomatoes?  Mmmmmm...a few sprinkles of parmesan cheese?  The possibilities are endless.

The possibilities are endless for you too.  What new things are you going to try this weekend?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

FiddleCakes and Friendship on Friday

You know that FiddleCakes, located on 8th Avenue South, is one of my favorite gluten-free spots in Nashville.  Okay, it's not ONE of my favorites.  It IS my favorite.  Not only can I order any sandwich off their menu on delicious gluten-free bread, but I can enjoy gluten-free treats like cookies, muffins, and cupcakes.  I can even special order specialty items like cakes for special occasions or even ordinary days that call out for a little celebration.

Sadly, FiddleCakes isn't located in my neck of the woods, so I'm resigned to visiting on weekends and vacation days.  But thankfully, the summertime is top heavy on the vacation days thanks to the school teacher's calendar!  So I get to visit my little slice of Heaven in Nashville a little more frequently.  On Friday, my sweet friend, Andrea, and I had a Girl Day -- lunch, pedicures, and shopping.  What better way to start Girl Day than at FiddleCakes?

Owners, Tasha and Lindsay, have done a fantastic job of turning this quaint little house into a European-style cafe or bakery complete with welcoming nooks where you can sit and enjoy their delicacies.   When I see the rocking chairs on the front porch, it takes me back to my grandmother's porch with the wide, squeaky floorboards and the porch swing.  Images of molasses cookies and homemade baked bread flood my memory.  Suddenly, FiddleCakes' front porch is my new happy place where I can sip coffee and enjoy a gluten-free cranberry muffin in my sentimental reverie.

They've added some new picnic tables out front, but I haven't yet dined alfresco.  It was a pretty hot summer afternoon, so Andrea and I opted for indoor seating.

You might too if you found seating that looked like this.

FiddleCakes isn't just a memory jogger, it's becoming a memory maker for me.  I remember the exact table where I was sitting my very first time at FiddleCakes.  I was bouncing and smiling ridiculously as I anticipated the arrival of a completely safe, gluten-free lunch.  It wouldn't be an iceburg lettuce salad with plain boiled chicken and olive oil.  It wouldn't be a regular menu item with all of the good stuff stripped off to make it gluten-free.  This would be a sandwich, a bowl of soup, and a dessert ordered AS IS like any other normal person.  Gluten-intolerant folks rarely experience such a normal pleasure!

I can remember sitting at this bar after completing a 10-mile training run in the pouring down rain with Andrea.  FiddleCakes makes great, healthy recovery food for the meat eaters and vegans alike.  After running 10 miles, calories just don't count.  Sure, I'll have the Triple Chocolate Threat Cookie.  (You HAVE to try them.)

I remember the time I sat in this corner with old friends from out of town.  We picked up right where we left off, laughed about our early married years together, cried about hard times we went through including the death of a young husband and close friend.  We shared our dreams for the future.  And this was all over food.  Delicious food that weds the heart and the senses to an experience that I'll never forget.

Friendship is sweet.  But just like adding a sprinkle of sugar and a splash of cream to a cup of hot coffee, good food enriches the friendship experience.

I wasn't the only one making memories on Friday.  Unknown to me at the time, Friday was also the 80th birthday of my friend, Gail's mother.  Gail's mom is also gluten-intolerant, and I've raved about FiddleCakes to anyone who will listen, but especially to those that I know would truly appreciate their extensive gluten-free offerings.  Gail had her first FiddleCakes experience earlier in the day, just hours before I arrived.  And when I got home later that afternoon, I received the following message from her.

"My mom's 80th birthday party is today, and I went to FiddleCakes to get her a birthday cake, a few loaves of gluten-free bread, and lunch.  She had the gluten-free ham sandwich with brie and the quinoa salad.  I also had the quinoa salad, and it was DELICIOUS!  The gluten-free red velvet cake was awesome, and she was so thrilled to be able to eat cake and bread!  Thank you for recommending them.  The women at FiddleCakes were so excited to be a part of her 80th birthday celebration.  They were so helpful.  Then when I got to Mom's she showed me today's paper, and there was a big article about FiddleCakes!  I haven't had time to read it yet, but Mom was so excited to find out that there was a place that really catered to people who require gluten-free food.  What a special treat for someone whose health greatly depends on eating gluten-free.  I'm sure you understand."

Yes, I understand.  I understand completely.  That's what makes FiddleCakes such a special place.

On Friday's perfect Girl Day I had the Standard on gluten-free bread.  There's nothing "standard" about this sandwich.  Grilled chicken, provolone, spinach, roasted red peppers, and veganaise.  Who would ever know that it was gluten-free?  Because their grill is used for non-gluten-free food, they were willing to toast the sandwich on top of aluminum foil to avoid cross-contamination.

Just look at this happy girl with a mouthful of yum.

If you ever visit FiddleCakes without choosing a dessert, you have far more willpower than I do.

You know about my love affair with bakery display cases.

And while nothing in this case is gluten-free, it gets my senses ready.  What I've really come for is in the back, well-protected from stray, gluteny crumbs.  I've never actually been in the back, but I envision a special case lined with gold and sparkling jewels with a sign that says, "Precious Gluten-Free Treats".  And I believe music plays when they slide open the glass doors to retrieve my selection.

You have to look at the menu board to choose your gluten-free treats.  Have you ever seen this many gluten-free options at a bakery?  It's so hard to choose just one!  (Always order something for the road as well.)

Friday was definitely a cookie day.  This is an Are-You-Serious-That-This-Is-Gluten-Free Chocolate Pecan Cookie.  I still have no idea how they get their cookies to rise and stay so plump.  They're beautiful as well as delicious.

It was the perfect ending to a great lunch and a perfect start to Girl Day with Andrea.  The next time you need a special place for a special day, or if your ordinary day needs a twist of happiness or a splash of pleasure, where are you going for lunch?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Why Follow This Blog?

I am humbled by the number of people who send me comments on Facebook, stop me at church or school to mention my blog, refer to my posts before my YMCA classes, or tell me over the phone or via email, Facebook, or Twitter that they read what I've written.  Wow!

I thank you.

I started blogging because I'm a writer.  I've always loved writing, but as an elementary school teacher, my passion became to inspire 8 and 9-year-olds to LOVE writing.  If I can't write for a living, maybe I can inspire a few who will.  MY personal writing has be relegated to the proverbial "back burner" as I've pursued my teaching and fitness careers.  Thankfully, with today's technology, I don't have to write my thoughts, send them to a publisher, and wait for 8 months to receive a letter saying that they won't be publishing my writings at this time.  Today, anyone can publish.  That gives me the courage to write.  But to whom?

This spring, I've written about things that I'm passionate about through this pubic forum.  It all started as a private blog, but I've opened it up to Facebook friends, and now to the rest of you who either live gluten-free or love fitness and healthy living.  I don't have anything to sell; I'm just excited about sharing my experiences with anyone who's willing to listen.  I publish as "Dusty Whiskers", because I am Mama Kitty to two amazing little black cats, but in this day and age you have to protect yourself from ridiculous things like identity fraud.  Most of you know who I am anyway...

More importantly, I want to talk to you.  I want to hear what you think. I want to hear your thoughts about my posts, ideas, recipes, product and restaurant endorsements, and experiences.  I want to hear from you.  I want to know how you've tweaked my recipes, how I could improve mine.  I want to know where some of your inspirations come from so I can be inspired too.  I want to know what fitness endeavors your taking on.  Let's talk!

And also, writers need feedback.  Yeah, we're needy.  The poor Husband has to deal with my complaints that I only have X number of followers.  I can't tell you how excited I was when I had my first follower who wasn't required by genetic code to follow my blog.  (Thank you, Mark!)

Also, because I want this to be a place of dialogue between people who want to discuss health and fitness.  I don't want this to be a place where I post my thoughts to the air.  I want this to be YOUR forum as well.  What do YOU want to share?  Do you agree with my ideas?  Do you have others to share with me?

And, I'll admit it, because I'm a needy writer-girl.  Yes, that's me.  As soon as I hit the "publish" button, I start imagining those who will actually read my post.  I can always count on Karen to respond immediately.  As my college roommie and fitness aficionado, I know she understands my purpose and my neediness.  But, in utter transparency, I confess that I check HOURLY for blog comments.  I'm in desperate need of affirmation!

Thank you for reading this blog.  Thank you for responding via Facebook and email about my posts.  But if you're willing to sign up to officially "follow" this blog (and/or the gluten-free cat fitness blog), I'd LOVE it.  All it takes is registering and signing in when you want to engage in dialogue.  (And of COURSE you can sign in as WHOEVER you want.  "Dusty Whiskers" is already taken.)

Regardless, thank you for reading.  I love you all.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

9 Fruits - Healthy, Delicious Fast Food

You all know that smoothies are a staple in my diet.  For years, I've relied on my trusty Vita-Mix to whip up a quick breakfast as I'm running out the door, blend a pre-run smoothie to fuel me for a long run, create a post-workout recovery drink after teaching a strength class, and recently, to make green smoothies so I can reap the nutritional benefits of my organic CSA veggies when I don't have time to cook. 

My freezer is always stocked with frozen strawberries and mixed fruit from Costco.  But I also freeze my own fresh fruits just before they start showing signs that their days of being "fresh" are limited.  Black spots on a banana bunch scream, "Freeze me!"  Smoothies can be an incredibly healthy alternative to fast food when there isn't time to have a sit-down meal. 

But what do you do when you are out and about and don't have time to go home and blend? 

We used to go to Smoothie King, because in Nashville it was our only option.  I missed the Southern California juice bars and smoothie shops and wished that Nashville would expand their horizons!  Smoothie King was always a stressful place for me, but it was a necessary evil when flying from a fitness class to an evening event.  I had already packed breakfast, lunch, and snacks for my busy day.  Packing dinner too would have put me over the edge. 

My first issue was gluten.  It's always gluten.  I had to give the guy behind the counter a quick lesson in Gluten 101, make sure that he thoroughly washed his blender, watch that he didn't put any glutenous syrups or powders into my smoothie, and repeat my order three times to make sure that my smoothie was made to strict specifications.  I was a nightmare customer, I'm sure.  But I've learned that being over cautious results in fewer I-can't-get-out-of-bed-because-I-didn't-want-to-be-a-pain gluten-contamination days.

My second issue was that there were very limited fruits or even foods in their natural state that were put into the smoothie.  The first time I saw the water and ice base and watched as scoops of powders and squirts of syrups were added to the blender, I went a little OCD on the poor smoothie-maker.  "What did you just put in there???"  Milk?  "Powdered milk?"  Yep.  (Did you know that powdered milk has oxysterols, which leads to the thickening of the walls of your arteries?)  "And what was that red squirt?"  Strawberry?  "Strawberries don't squirt!  I thought I'd ordered a smoothie with real strawberries!"  He added a small scoop of frozen red balls.  "Wait!  What was that brown squirt?"  Vanilla.  "Is it gluten-free vanilla?"  Of course, he wouldn't know.  To be on the safe side I asked him to make the smoothie again without the vanilla.

My third issue was the overall calorie count and percentages of fat, carbohydrate, and protein in almost EVERY smoothie on the menu.  I did find one smoothie that matched my nutritional needs, if I ordered it without the extra sugar and honey.  (Why does ANYONE need to add sugar to a smoothie anyway?  Isn't fruit naturally sweet enough?) My purpose here isn't to defame Smoothie King.  I'm glad I had the option when I needed them.  I'm just thankful that I now have an alternative that meets my nutritional requirements.  It's part of my story.

And then I found 9 Fruits.  (Can you hear the movie music?)

On my first visit to 9 Fruits I wasn't going to order anything.  I was prepared to ask 800 questions in order to find out if it would be safe for me to drink their smoothies in the future.  Kevin, co-owner of 9 Fruits, caught me off-guard by first, having more than a clue about gluten, second, assuring me that all of their products except for the granola were gluten-free, third, offering that they always use real fruit and 100% pure fruit juice, and fourth, by being an all-around pleasant person to talk to. 

Seriously?  I was speechless.  His smoothies sounded like the ones I make at home.  I had to taste one.  I watched as Kevin peeled a fresh banana before my eyes.

I saw the carton of Coconut Milk that he poured into the Vita-Mix.  No mystery powders there.  When I questioned Kevin about the fat content of the coconut milk he brought the SO Delicious carton to me so that I could see the nutritional specs.  An avid label-reader, I knew exactly what to look for.  And he was right.  We all need some good fats, and coconut milk has the perfect amount of medium-chain fatty acids which our bodies process quickly for energy.  With my hyper-sensitive girl fat issues and my ever-important need for energy, this was a fantastic, healthy, non-dairy option.

Then there was the fruit.  Oh, the fruit.  Right there, in the cold display case.  Shiny, colorful, REAL fruit.  Do you see anything squirtable in there?

Nope.  Just REAL fruit -- strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, mango, melon, peaches, pineapple -- and 100% fruit juice.  How refreshing.

One smoothie was all it took.  I was hooked.  I now have a go-to place to get a safe, healthy, gluten-free smoothie that I believe in.

And speaking of beliefs, why do you think they call their shop 9 Fruits?  The 9 Fruits website gives a great answer:

'Well, it stands for the 9 “fruits of the spirit” in the Bible. These “fruits” are positive character traits: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control. We’ve dedicated our business to seeing lives transformed by sharing our two-fold message of physical and spiritual health.'

Although Generosity is not one of the fruits of the spirit, 9 Fruits has also donated free smoothies and discount coupons to my fitness participants during special events. 

Today, I had the Peach Flamingo.  Here she is, whirling in that beautiful Vita-Mix.  (Do you know that my Vita-Mix is 10 years old and still works great?  I replaced a canister two years ago, but since we use it at least once a day, it was time.  Don't be scared off by the $400 investment.  It's well worth the money.  Isn't your health worth at least eleven cents a day?  Or, you could just go to 9 Fruits.  I'm sure a few of our housemates would have loved it if we had the extra sound buffer though!  Right, Brit?)

If you have to hit the canister to get the smoothie out, you know it's filled with thick, delicious fruit.

The Peach Flamingo

Take it on the run, or sit and enjoy your smoothie at 9 Fruits.  Since I'm constantly on the move, I usually take mine to go.  But standing at the counter talking to Kevin while he makes my smoothie makes me feel like I've had a quick sit-down meal with a friend.  If you have time to spare, there are tables and a window bar where you can hang out.  Today there was a table of men having a business meeting, high schoolers sipping smoothies at the bar, and a couple who looked like they had just come from the gym and were looking for that perfect recovery smoothie.  Kevin was happy to point them in the right direction.

As for me, my Peach Flamingo didn't last very long, and my empty sat in my cup holder next to the remains of last night's dinner, a Balanced Berry.

Thankfully, 9 Fruits has a frequent buyer reward.  The next one's on Kevin.

Have you tried 9 Fruits yet?  If not, what are you waiting for?