Blah Blah Blahg

A little of this, a little of that, and a whole lot of blah blah blah....

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Staying Organized & A Few of My Favorite Things...

A few of my Favorite Fall decorations...

Huzzah! I am officially back into the full swing of life as a college student! After taking a year off to embark on the process of finding out what was causing my health problems and adjusting to the addition of C-PAP machine therapy to treat my sleep apnea, I am embracing the feeling of exhaustion that naturally occurs after a long day of teaching, learning and getting ready for the upcoming High Holy Days. It feels wonderful to be tired because I've been so busy as opposed to the all-encompassing fatigue that used to linger over every moment of every day, seemingly no matter what I did. My days are filled to the brim right now, and I'm loving it! Having such a full schedule means I must organize my days carefully, though the incredible thing about having less empty time is that I seem to get a lot more done!
One of my favorite discount store finds was this plant rack, which creates a wonderful storage space in my kitchen for cookbooks, my recipe box, plastic & reusable shopping bags and--of course, my dinosaur lunch box.

This time of year can be a balancing act for many of us. For some, kids are back at school and extra-curriculars are up and running. Others are students like myself and nose-deep in textbooks, essays and exams. Many of my friends and family are also preparing for Rosh Hashanah (which begins at sundown this Wednesday) and the holiday-packed Jewish month of Tishrei. I recently read a wonderful post on by a guest blogger, Rivkah Slatkin of Jewish Life Organized. Mrs. Slatkin comprised a list of 10 Organizing Secrets for a 3-Day Yom Tov that covers every aspect of holiday preparation from cooking and cleaning to decorating your home, hosting guests and religious observance. Her ideas are concise, complete, and comprised in a way that is not overwhelming (which is hard to accomplish!). Since I am single and not hosting any holiday events this year, my To-Do list is quite a bit less involved, but many of her suggestions could still be useful this time of year and beyond.

Efficiency in cooking and food prep (not to mention disaster-avoidance) is dependent on utilizing minimal counter space well! I love having a spice rack for my most-frequently-used dried herbs and spices. Having some of my cooking utensils and good knives out and handy is helpful, too. I especially love that wooden box, which I found at a thrift store last year for storing things like olive oil, salt & pepper shakers, vinegars and my oil mister where I can quickly get them (and put them away) while I'm using the stove.

I specifically found her suggestion of using a slow cooker to prep and freeze meals very appealing. There is nothing more satisfying than coming home after a long day to a hot meal—and when you live alone, your slow cooker is likely the only means by which this will occur! Lately, my freezer has become a dear friend! Making large batches of soups, casseroles, even baked goods and freezing leftovers has allowed me to thaw out meal options for those days that are just too jam-packed to start from scratch.

Speaking of reusable containers, I love these working glasses with lids for storing dry goods like sugar!

My first few days of school made me keenly aware of how important it will be to have to-go options ready for packing along during the week. Reusable containers and baggies of ready-to-munch veggies, fruits, nuts, granola, etc., will all help me stay nourished and energized from the preschool classroom in the morning to the college lecture hall at night.

A couple of my favorite refrigerator lists, and yes, that's a photo of Tiny Me, shoving something chocolate into my mouth!

Another habit I’d really like to further develop is the ever-useful List. To-do lists, shopping lists, wish lists, agenda lists—I love lists. My sister turned me on to this meal-planning & shopping list template via the Real Simple website.

Even with best laid plans (and Lists), it's always important to recognize that sometimes, for various reasons, everything will not get done when or how we would want it. In those times, we are called upon to develop our ability to be flexible and compassionate with ourselves. I love to end my days with a bubble bath, a favorite magazine, and maybe even breakfast for dinner. In fact, after I accomplish some of today's to-dos I think I shall make myself some gluten-free Doughnut French Toast for dinner and curl up with a mug of apple cider.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Creative Kitchen Concoctions: Lemon Blueberry Cornmeal Cakes

I will come right out and say that prior to giving up wheat and gluten in my diet, most of the common culprits were not my favorite foods to eat anyway. I was never much of a bread lover--it usually served as something to hold the "real" stuff together in a sandwich. I'm not saying it was easy to cut out pastas, crackers, pastries, cookies, most cereals and many sauces, dressings, marinades, even supplements for that matter. Sometimes I think it would be so nice to just buy a loaf of regular bread again (and not spend upwards of $5 for a loaf of something that attempts to resemble it). Sometimes it would be so wonderful to be able to indulge in a muffin or scone at my favorite cafes again (at least they aren't sitting on my waistline anymore, right?). One of the times I most miss my former gluten-full diet (and really only the nostalgia of it or perceived convenience since I definitely don't miss the health issues) is at breakfast time.
Sunday mornings roll around with a lazy longing to linger over coffee, and I would love to have a nice big breakfast to go with that. Sure, there's an awful lot one can do with eggs, but sometimes you want something a little different. Here again, I was never the one to order a stack of pancakes on a Sunday brunch out. I never cared for their rubbery texture and they seemed most suited to soaking up puddles of syrup. I decided this past Sunday morning that it felt like a pancake day, even a day to cheat a bit and use a baking mix. It would require some concocting and definite creativity--and that's how I ended up with Lemon Blueberry Cornmeal Cakes!
If there is one thing that going gluten free has taught me, it's how to have a sense of adventure in the kitchen. That being said, too much adventurousness can be expensive and even wasteful when it comes to cooking and baking with gluten free substitutes.
I recently purchased a copy of The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten-Free (click the link to view it on I like the security of starting with a mix, but--to be quite honest--without some doctoring, many gluten free cake and cookie mixes leave quite a bit to be desired! I've loved baking various types of muffins again (and even administering some further "doctoring" to the recipes in this book). I baked some corn muffins a few weeks back and I decided cornmeal felt like the perfect addition to pancakes. I started off with Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Pancake Mix, added in some yellow cornmeal, some ground flax (gotta have your protein!), lemon extract & some frozen blueberries. The result was delicious and perfect for toasting/reheating in the busier weekday mornings for a great kick-start to any day.
My Semi-Recipe for Lemon Blueberry Cornmeal Cakes
1 cup Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Pancake Mix (you can substitute another gluten free or gluten-full pancake mix and adjust accordingly)
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 TBSP ground flax
1 egg
3/4 cup milk (I used nonfat, you can use any cow's milk or milk substitute)
1 TBSP vegetable oil
agave nectar to sweeten (to taste, I didn't add too much)
1 teaspoon lemon extract
about 1/2 cup frozen blueberries

Combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients, and mix. Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat. Spray with a little olive oil or nonstick spray if not using a non-stick surface. Ladle in desired amount of batter (to reach the size pancake you want). Flip when edges start to cook through, and continue to cook until golden on each side.

I'd love to say that I sat down and slowly enjoyed the fruits of my labor, but no, I ate the first one,
standing, as soon as it was ready AND dipped it in copious puddles of maple syrup!

Friday, September 16, 2011

What's Cookin' Good Lookin'? Quick Pasta Fagioli Soup

Soup’s on again in this edition of “What’s Cookin’” blog posts with my all-time favorite “Pasta” Fagioli Recipe. I am loosely calling it Pasta Fagioli at this point, since now that I eat a gluten-free diet, I must make substitutions, which I will address later on in this post.

My mom made this soup when I was growing up, and it was a frequently requested favorite in our home. It is a hearty and filling soup, which could easily stand alone at the dinner table served alongside a green salad and a slice of warm, crusty bread. It can also be served in smaller portions to start off a larger meal. It is very quick, very easy, and budget friendly—yet your dinner guests will never guess this! It is a definite crowd pleaser for company and a nearly fail-proof recipe to impress a special guest or dinner date. When I moved away from home in 2003, this was one of the first recipes I requested to have from my mom. I have been cooking on my own for eight years now, and maintained a gluten free kitchen for nearly the last two. Mom’s recipe has seen some additions and alterations in my kitchen, but before I go into that, here’s the original version:

Quick Pasta Fagioli


· 2 TBSP olive oil

· 2 cloves garlic, minced

· 1 yellow onion, peeled & chopped

· 1 carrot, peeled & chopped*

· 1 celery stalk with leaves, chopped*

· 1 TBSP dried rosemary

· 2 TBSP tomato paste***

· 1 can (10 ½ oz) condensed chicken broth**

· 1 soup can ^ full of water

· 2 cans (15-20 oz each) beans (i.e. kidney, cannellini, great northern, etc.) UNDRAINED

· 4 oz small pasta**

Additions: freshly grated parmesan cheese


1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic; sauté for about 3-5 minutes.

2. Stir in rosemary and tomato paste. Add the chicken broth and water, and the beans with their liquid. Simmer uncovered for 3 minutes.

3. Stir in pasta. Cover the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally for 8 to 10 minutes to cook pasta al dente.

4. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes before serving.

*To save on money and food waste, if you are not planning to use a full 2lb bag of carrots or celery in your menu this week, most grocery stores sell carrots and celery stalks in bulk so you can purchase just what you need for this recipe.

**Since I like to top my soup with freshly grated parmesan cheese and (for the purpose of keeping kosher) do not mix meat and dairy, I substitute vegetable stock for the chicken broth and water. I either add about 3 cups of vegetable stock from a carton or use vegetable stock starter/bouillon and water.

***Even though tomato paste comes in very small cans, you will still end up with quite a bit leftover. I often add a bit more to the recipe, but the leftovers are great for enhancing homemade tomato sauces, other soups, stews, chili recipes, etc.

This soup reheats quite nicely, but thickens quite a bit. You may need to add a little water or additional broth when reheating.

My Additions/Alterations:

I successfully gave up all wheat/gluten and feel significantly better for it, but I simply can’t give up this recipe! And I don’t have to—it works wonderfully well using rice instead of pasta. You could also substitute a small gluten-free rice or corn pasta product, but since these run on the pricey side, I am more prone to adding rice. Note that with the addition of uncooked rice, you will have to simmer the soup for a longer time. You could remedy that by using instant rice or adding rice you have already cooked toward the very end of cooking.

This is a soup that can satisfy in all seasons. During the summer, try adding zucchini or yellow squash or even fresh tomatoes from your garden or local Farmers’ Market. Thaw out a package of frozen spinach for some added color and nutritional benefit. Have fun, be creative and enjoy!

This batch contains rice instead of pasta, and the addition of spinach. I used 1 can of cannellini beans and a can of butter beans I’d accidentally bought a while back. Aside from being HUGE, the butter beans worked perfectly in terms of flavor and texture.