just a drop of simple sunshine


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A Very Hungry Caterpillar

Here’s a funny little story for all the gardeners out there.

I didn’t plant a lot this year; the location of our apartment isn’t so great for growing much of anything, as I learned last year. The plants just baked in the sun, & I didn’t get much of anything, so this year I just planted some fresh herbs. Rosemary, basil, oregano, sage… yummy stuff. I’ve been using a bit of it here & there, which is what’s fun about fresh herbs – they’re always around, & fairly easy to maintain.

We all know that when the weather heats up, as it has so recently in the Midwest, you shouldn’t water your plants during the day, as the water simply evaporates off the leaves, burning them in the process. We were off visiting friends on Sunday, & when we returned around 11pm, I realized I ought to water my plants in the cool(ish) darkness.

The oregano & sage are in hanging pots, & when I stepped on my tiptoes to water the sage, I instictively flinched at the sight of something fuzzy on the bottom of one of the leaves, thinking it was a spider (I’m not a fan). But it was a woollybear! I don’t think I’ve ever seen one this early on in the summer – usually not until mid to late August. Woollybear caterpillars have a special place in my heart, having marched in three Woollybear Festival parades in high school. It was one of the highlights of the fall marching band season! So I smiled a little smile at the little fuzzball & let him stay on that little sage leaf. Everybody’s gotta eat, right?

Fast forward to Monday morning, while I’m making breakfast. I threw together a big bowl of awesome with various local veggies, so yummy, & some chicken, & decided to grab some herbs to add some yummy earthy flavor. I grab the basil, rosemary, oregano, & reach up to bring down the hanging pot so I can have my choice of sage… & witness this scene:

THAT LITTLE BUGGER ATE ALL MY SAGE!!! & there he was, curled up & sleeping off his apparent gorging.

Ugh. I’m so mad. & they don’t even turn into anything all that pretty! Somehow, it seems like it’d be better if he turned into a Monarch or something,  but alas. I hope he enjoyed all that sage, particularly since I barely had the chance to enjoy any of it. For the curious, I didn’t touch him; just let him keep sleeping.

& that’s the TRUE story of the Very Hungry Caterpillar.


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No labels; just Real Food.

So, here’s the thing: I’m no longer “primal.” Or “paleo.” Or any other label that’s been thought up of late.

Why? Because I just want to eat food.

Well, okay, that’s not the only reason. Truth is, I’ve been obsessing about food lately, & by lately, I mean the last eight months or so. I know a lot of people have found freedom from this through primal/paleo, but I’ve realized that I’m headed down the dark path of orthexia. Food has just been constantly on my mind; what I should eat, what I shouldn’t eat, should I up my fats? My carbs? My proteins? I shouldn’t eat the cheese; I should eat more of this, more of that, less of this… not to mention the fact that it feels like every time I turn around there’s another food I should be avoiding. Another chemical; another preservative, another type of sugar. & I just cannot do it any more. I need to be honest with myself, & with everyone around me.

I feel best when I eat a diet of mostly veggies & fruits, with some protein. I shouldn’t feel like I’m failing at something if I want to eat a salad instead of a big hunk of meat. I shouldn’t feel like I’m doing something wrong if I find myself craving yogurt & fruit with a sprinkle of granola. I ate this very thing for breakfast this morning, & my god it was fulfilling.

So – what prompted the “aha!” moment? A few things, really.
» The essay Weight Less in the June 2011 edition of Whole Living It really struck a chord with me, & I encourage everyone to give it a read.
» The Carrot Train to Crazytown, from Whole9.
» Batty’s continuing posts about unhealthy body images, especially the mantra “strong is the new skinny.”

There were more signs, but it wasn’t until I said it out loud to my husband, “I really just want to give it all up & eat food I know is healthy” that I realized how bad it had become. We’ve talked some, & it turns out he’s been worried about me for awhile now. The list of “forbidden” foods just kept getting longer, & just… yeah.

I want to make it clear, though, that I’m not going back to a CW ideal of healthy eating – I’ve learned FAR too much in the past two years to do that. I’ll always be gluten-free – the migraines, stomach issues, skin problems, & other things I’m probably forgetting that are now a thing of the past will stop me from ever thinking I can go back to eating wheat. I don’t fear healthy fats, & my skin & hair thank me for it. & I have nothing against anyone who strictly adheres to the primal lifestyle. I personally have learned so, so much from the entire community about nutrition & general health – how to supplement correctly, the dangers of hormonal birth control, the grossness of vegetable oils, the awesomeness that is the coconut. I owe Mark Sisson a huge amount for helping me attain the health I currently have, & for exposing that the path of CW nutrition is a deadly one. Grains will never form a large part of my diet, & Real Food will continue to be my focus.

But I bought gluten-free granola, & it was delicious. We’ve been eating Udi’s gluten-free pizza crust for several months now, & it by far is the best gluten-free crust we’ve tried so far – but I haven’t wanted to say anything, for fear of being judged. NO LONGER! I’m going to occasionally eat Cinnamon Rice Chex, simply because I can. I’m going to eat all the delicious fruit of the summer, & not give a damn how many carbs I’m downing. I’m going to eat real french fries & rejoice when I do so. I’ll still eat mostly unprocessed food, & my diet will probably resemble a primal diet more than anything else. But if I feel like having french toast made from gluten-free bread, I’m going to enjoy it without a shred of guilt.

I feel like I can breathe again. Thanks for listening, & I hope you’ll stick around. I’ll continue to create & share recipes, & talk about simplicity & everything else I love.


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Homemade Ranch Dip

We eat a lot of ranch at our house. Veggies, salad, sweet potato fries, buffalo chicken fingers (sans breading, of course), hamburgers… we like our ranch.

Problem is, of course, the ingredients. Behold the nastiness that is Hidden Valley: soybean oil, water, egg yolk, sugar, salt, cultured nonfat buttermilk, natural flavors (soy), spices, less than 2% of: dried garlic, dried onion, vinegar, phosphoric acid, xanthan gum, modified food starch, MSG, artificial flavors, disodium phosphate, sorbic acid, calcium disodium EDTA, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate.

Can I get an “Ew, GROSS!” from the at-home audience? Because yeah. MSG? That’s pretty disgusting. & what the hell are those last six ingredients anyway? What makes me even sadder is the latest advertising campaign stating that this is a great way to get kids to eat their veggies. “Hey kids! Cover your delicious Real Food with nasty chemicals! It’s the American way!”

Sad. But, there is an easier way – just make your own!

Homemade Ranch Dip

What you need:

  •  2 tablespoons mayonnaise, homemade or from the jar
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • black pepper, ~ 1/4 teaspoon
  • dill, chives, parsley, ~ 1/2 teaspoon each
  • dash of paprika

 

How to do it:

  1. Mix sour cream & mayo together, adding more to taste. Just the mix of these two ingredients get the taste pretty close.
  2. Add spices, adding more to taste. Personally, I’ve yet to put too much of the spice in, but start small. It’s even better if it sits for a bit before serving.
  3. Enjoy!


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Apple, Bacon, & Gouda Salad

I did a bad, bad thing: I bought apples in May.

“But Sarah,” you say, “What’s wrong with that?”

Apples in May are… well, they’re as bad as tomatoes in February. Especially when compared to mid-October Ohio apples, which are unbelievable. I’ll never understand what the big deal is about Washington apples. Same with California strawberries – our Ohio produce is amazing.

Which is why my craving for apples was a bit bizarre, but I went with it. I picked up four apples at the farm market, & although the flavor wasn’t fabulous, I enjoyed every bite. Thing is, right I’m just waiting. Soon there will be lots of delicious in-season local produce, but right now… ugh, it’s killing me. So I don’t really feel so bad, especially since I stumbled into this fun little salad.

One of my favorite meals is the classic hunk of cheese, hunk of meat, bit of fruit, & hunk of bread (sounds glamorous, doesn’t it?). Personally, I blame this on the epic quest fantasies I read as a kid (Mariel of Redwall, anyone? I swear the backpacks where they’d keep the vittles must’ve been bottomless!), but in any case, I love it. I often do this for breakfast, & did so this week. I threw some pre-cooked (by me, of course), crumbled bacon, a cut up apple, & some chunks of gouda into a container with some banana bread, & ran out the door. When I got to work, I proceeded to eat my breakfast, & realized that the combination of these three ingredients (gouda, bacon, & apple) was just perfection. I’ve eaten it three times this week, & loved it each morning. So I thought I’d share!

Apple, Bacon, & Gouda Salad

What you need:
Approximately equal amounts of:

  • chopped apple
  • crumbled bacon
  • diced gouda
  • squirt of lemon juice

 

How to do it:

  1. Throw a squirt of lemon juice on your apples to keep them from browning.
  2. Toss ingredients together. Best eaten when at room temperature!

 

Most people would probably tell you to ruin it by tossing this with some sort of dressing or sauce, but don’t let them fool you. The crisp sweetness of apple paired with the buttery taste of gouda & saltiness of bacon is perfection all on its own. Methinks I’ll be eating this quite a bit come fall.

Enjoy!


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Gluten-free cheesy biscuits

Cheddar bay biscuits, anyone? Every time I pass our Red Lobster, I sigh mournfully. Although they might be one of the better restaurants for the gluten-free crowd (om nom scampi om nom nom), I know the cheddar bay biscuits will be too much to bear. I can pass on Outback’s pumpernickel, Brown Derby’s rolls, & every other restaurant’s bread du jour.

But the biscuits? I knew I’d eaten my last.

Or so I thought!

I don’t even know how or why inspiration struck, but I’m so glad that it did, & even more so that my original idea worked so well! Turns out the basic coconut muffin recipe is incredibly versatile – not only can it be used to make muffins & bread, but you can add biscuits to its resume, too.

Cheesy biscuits

gluten-free, grain-free

What you need:

  • 1/3 cup butter, plus more for pan
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup cheddar or colby jack cheese, shredded (more if desired!)
  • 2 tablespoons dried chives

 

How to do it:

  1. Melt butter. Stir in eggs.
  2. Add coconut flour, chives, salt, baking soda, & baking powder.
  3. Stir in cheese.
  4. Generously grease a cookie sheet, then drop large spoonfuls of batter onto the sheet. (It made 12 for me)
  5. Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes, until a knife comes out clean.
  6. Completely optional step: throw a bit more shredded cheese on top, then pop back into the oven for a few minutes until melted.

 

This is… oh man, I was so excited when I bit into it. SO, SO GOOD! Perfect when hot, slathered with butter. Fabulous with a bit of pepperoni. I think next time I might try to make pepperoni rolls with them – the flavors are just so good together. These would be great as bun alternatives for upcoming Memorial Day cookouts – sliders, anyone?

If you try these out, definitely let me know what you think!


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Easy chicken parmesan

Mmm – chicken parmesan. Sad thing is, a month or two before I gave up wheat, I learned how to make a totally rockin’ chicken parmesan. It was a long process that involved a lot of ingredients, but WOW, was it tasty. I bid it adieu in January 2010 & moved on to other things, but then I stumbled upon a flour-less chicken parm recipe in the surprisingly primal-friendly cookbook Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs. It’s quick & easy, has only a few ingredients, & best of all, really tasty. Although not all the recipes in the cookbook are gluten-free, the emphasis on fresh food cooked simply is pretty rad. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly (do I ever?), but it was definitely inspiring.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand the hate towards boneless, skinless chicken breast. If money is tight & conventional chicken is all you’ve got, this is totally the way to go. & if you cook it right, it’ll be nice & juicy. At least mine always are.

Anyways! Let’s get this yummy recipe started!

Quick & Easy Chicken Parmesan

gluten-free

What you need:

  • boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • about a cup of parmesan cheese (the best quality you can afford)
  • salt, herbs & spices to your liking*
  • olive oil
  • tomato puree (or whatever tomato sauce you have lying around)

 

*I tend to use oregano, basil, tarragon, parsley, sage, & rosemary for everything of the Italian persuasion.

How to do it:

  1. Drizzle some olive oil on a hot griddle.
  2. Throw the parmesan cheese, a bit of salt, & whatever Italian herbs you feel like using into a bowl. Mix it altogether, then place on a plate or in a bag. Dredge the chicken in the parmesan mixture. You don’t need to add anything to the chicken; it’ll stick right onto the meat as is!
  3. Place the chicken on the griddle & let it get crisp on the outside, as shown below.
  4. Once it’s nice & crisp on the outside, transfer to an oven-safe dish that’s been drizzled with a bit of olive oil. Spoon some sauce over top, then sprinkle any leftover parmesan mixture on top.
  5. Bake at 350&deg for about ten minutes or until the chicken is completely cooked through!

 

Serve with a salad, some steamed veggies, or the pasta alternative of your choice. Enjoy!