Thursday, November 27, 2014

an allergen-friendly thanksgiving

Most of you probably know that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It's always been a day full of tradition for our family, from the parade to the decorations to the food. Since moving so far away, we have developed some of our own traditions while trying to keep up with the old. Having to go gluten (and corn) free has spurred even more change, especially when it comes to the cooking and who we spend our day with.

Last year, we decided to bypass a traditional Thanksgiving, and we spent the day at Tokyo Disney (where we were lucky enough to find turkey legs at the park). This year, we were ready to tackle Thanksgiving cooking again, knowing that because of the corn issues, I would have to spend more time revamping almost every dish to fit those needs. Even the dishes from our first gluten free Thanksgiving had to be analyzed and changed again. I think we ended up with some great eats though, and this blog is just as much to save the recipes as it is to share with anyone else who is interested!

The turkey: I had to get a special turkey this year, since the turkey we got from the commissary a while back made me sick. I found a great vendor who imports specialty meats from different countries, and I was able to score a French turkey that looked to be organic and free range. It was only a four pound bird, so it only needed to be cooked for a short amount of time.

The stuffing: I used a variation of my mom's old recipe, with ingredients that were safe for me. I cubed and dried a loaf and a half of homemade bread that had been made a few days earlier. Three slices of that bread were separated while drying to make the breadcrumbs for the green bean casserole. The recipe also calls for Italian sausage, but I have not been able to find one that is safe for me to consume. I did, however, test Jones Dairy Farm breakfast sausage ahead of time, and since I didn't react, I cooked a few packages of that to add in place of the Italian variety.

- one bag of carrots, peeled and chopped
- one bag of celery, rinsed and diced
- 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
- one yellow onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon of oil (I used avocado)
- 1-1.5 loaves of bread, cubed and dried
- 1 pound sausage, cooked and chopped
- 1 handful of walnut, chopped (optional)
- Spices to taste: salt, pepper, marjoram, rosemary, thyme
- 1 box of chicken broth (though you may not use all of it)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Chop, dice, mince (etc) the carrots, celery, garlic, and onion. Heat the oil and saute the chopped mixture over medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Add spices and half the box of chicken stock and cook for 3-5 more minutes. Spread the bread pieces in a 9x13 casserole dish and pour the saute mixture over it. Turn over gently (and add more chicken broth) until the bread is moist. Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour.

Green Bean Casserole: I searched and searched for recipes, and couldn't find one that I liked, so I kind of made this up as I went.

- 1 pound fresh green beans, rinsed with the ends sliced off
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons of butter (I use ghee butter)
- 2 cups cheddar cheese 

Steps: Preheat the oven to 350°.

Green Beans: Rinse and slice the ends. Place in a pot of boiling, salted water and boil for approximately 10 minutes. Rinse with cold water to halt the cooking.

Topping: Melt butter in a skillet and add the onion. Cook for 3-5 minutes and then add the breadcrumbs.

The finishing touch: Mix the green beans and the cream of mushroom soup in a glass 8x8 casserole dish. Add the topping mixture, cover with cheddar, and bake for 30 minutes.

The mashed potatoes: I found a few websites touting recipes for crock pot potatoes, so I decided to try it out. I wasn't sure I liked what I found online, so again, I kind of made it up as I went along.

- 1 bag of potatoes (between 8-10 potatoes)
- 3 cups chicken broth
- butter (I use ghee butter)
- spices to taste: garlic powder, onion powder, rosemary, marjoram, salt, pepper, dill or chives
- milk (I use coconut milk)

Rinse, peel, and cube potatoes. Place in the crock pot with 3-4 cups of chicken broth. Add spices, and if using non-dairy milk, add 1 cup now (if using real milk, add this later). Set the crock pot for six hours on low (or 4 hours on high). An hour before dinner is ready, use a vegetable masher to smash the potatoes down a bit and check the liquids. A few minutes before dinner is served, use the vegetable masher to smash them fully and ensure there are no lumps. At this point, you can add optional ingredients, like greek yogurt, sour cream, additional butter, dill, chives, or whatever else you like on mashed potatoes, and then scoop the potatoes out and serve!

Cranberry Sauce: I was never a fan of real cranberry sauce when I was younger, I only liked the canned stuff. It took years to find a way of making cranberry sauce that I actually enjoyed eating. Bonus, it's fun to make, because the exploding cranberries are entertaining to watch!

- 16-20 oz fresh cranberries
- zest and juice of one orange
- 1-2 cups additional orange juice (I make my own)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 cup maple syrup (or other sweetener of your choice)

Add all ingredients to a covered sauce pan over medium and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the cranberries have burst and the sauce thickens. Remove from heat, dispose of the cinnamon stick, and use a vegetable masher to crush any un-popped cranberries. Cool on the counter for at least 15 minutes before serving.

**Optional steps: Put in the fridge for an hour and serve cooled. Also, if you prefer a smooth texture, you can blend the sauce for a few minutes once it's cooled.

Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Pudding Parfaits: These are a great substitute for pumpkin pies, and don't require any baking! This recipe can make 4 smaller parfaits or 2 large ones. We made 4 and they were the perfect size.

- 2/3 cup pumpkin puree (I use the Farmer's Market brand) - make sure this is NOT pumpkin pie filling!
- 1 cup coconut milk, divided in half
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup, divided in half
- cinnamon powder
- pumpkin pie spice (recipe here)
- 1 ripe banana
- 1/3 cup raw cacao powder (I use Navitas Naturals...or you can use cocoa powder if you prefer it)
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life)
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil 
- graham crackers (optional)


Pumpkin layer: Place the pumpkin puree, 1/2 cup coconut milk, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder, 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice in a bowl. Mix together with a whisk or fork until smooth and then distribute equally into your glasses. **Optional: Crush graham crackers to place in the bottom as a "pie crust" for your pudding.

Chocolate layer: Add chocolate chips and coconut oil to a microwavable bowl. Microwave for 45 seconds, stir, and microwave for another 45 seconds until smooth. Set aside. Place the banana in a mixing bowl and mash with fork or spoon. Add 1/2 cup coconut milk, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, cacao powder, and one teaspoon cinnamon powder. Mix it until smooth, add the chocolate chip/coconut oil blend, and continue to mix until smooth. Equally distribute to the glasses on top of the pumpkin layer. Top with a dash of cinnamon and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. The longer you refrigerate, the better these will taste!

I hope that if you are planning a Thanksgiving meal, that one or more of these recipes might come in handy for you!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

cultural exchange

Every year, our class gets the wonderful opportunity to visit a local Japanese elementary school. Cultural exchanges like this are just one of the bonuses of living on an overseas base, and the students (both American and Japanese) look forward to them! The focus of our visits usually centers around the process of planting, harvesting, and cooking rice so that students are able to see the entire process.

Our partner school has a wonderful relationship with local farmers and other adults in the community who volunteer their time (and rice) for this opportunity.

In October, we visited the school to learn how to thresh rice after it's been harvested from a nearby field. The students who attend our partner school actually took part in the planting of this rice earlier in the year. Our hosts talked about and showed us a variety of different tools used throughout history for threshing, and then gave us an opportunity to try it ourselves. The kids, both Japanese and American, had a great time using the machinery and separating the grains from the plants.

In November, we visited again. This time, our focus was on cooking the rice we had previously threshed. We learned how to cook the rice and then pound it, roll it out, and slice it to make mochi. The students were then able to eat the mochi in a broth-based soup and as a sweet dish with red bean paste.

While there, we were also taught how to make spinners (tops) out of cardboard cartons as well as samurai hats from newspaper. Even with the language barrier, our students were able to communicate and play with their new Japanese friends. They taught each other their favorite games and variations on games they all played (like Rock-Paper-Scissors/Janken).

We look forward to inviting our partner students to our school later in the school year to reciprocate their kindness and to share a bit of our culture with them!

all the hype

Lately I've heard a lot of hype going around about Essential Oils. I've heard how amazing they are, how they are a natural alternative to conventional medication, and how they are Earth's natural remedy for...well, everything. I have to say I've been a skeptic though. In my experience, most of those "it's too good to be true" products...really are too good to be true.

Cue allergy season.

When we returned from the states in August, I was seemingly and suddenly allergic to everything. It was raining a lot more than our usual Augusts do, and the dust and pollen and humidity made for a pretty miserable time. Because I have so many food allergies, I'm unable to take allergy medication, and I had never been so disappointed in my lack of ability to use western meds than that month! My eyes got to the point where they were so red and painful that they look infected. I couldn't breathe and my throat always seemed to be half closed (or half open?).

I tried all the natural remedies the internet threw my way. I used cucumber on my eyes to take down the swelling. We got an air purifier. We cleaned everything. And still, there wasn't much of a difference. It was purely and simply miserable with no end in sight.

I finally put it out to my facebook friends and asked if any of them had some remedies I hadn't tried yet. Several of them suggested using essential oils, and by that time I was so desperate for any sort of relief that I decided to try them.

I began doing research and found that essential oils are not all created equal, and there are a variety of brands with a variety of ingredients, disclaimers, processing protocol, etc. ***While this post is not about one brand in particular (though I did narrow it down to only a few that would be safe and also work for what I needed them for) I suggest you do your research well if you choose to use EO's for any purpose in your own life. If you want to know which brand I chose, please shoot me a message and I'll let you know!***

After doing the research and saving up (these babies are expensive!) I finally received my lavender, lemon, and peppermint trio. I did more research on the best way to apply them for allergies, and tried out a few. Some of these methods included diffusing them, putting a drop of each on my pillow at night, and even making a homemade lotion that incorporated the three oils into it.

Even at this point, I was very skeptical that this would work.

Until it did.

I still am not at the point where I really understand why those particular oils together helped so much with my seasonal allergies, but I am grateful they did! I went from sneezing every minute or so to a few times a day, my eyes are no longer raw, and my throat is unclogged.

I'm not convinced that EO's are the end-all be-all for treating every ailment, but I'm definitely a lot more interested in seeing what they can do. I plan to use them in the future and report back with my findings!