Category: Dinner


I do not know how it happened, the quick passage of time that seems to have sped me from Halloween to New Year’s with scarcely time to blink.  I had so many plans to come here, to journal the success and failure of my first holiday season gluten free.  I wanted to write of the challenges of baking both gluten and dairy free.  I wanted to be able to say “just do this and you’ll be fine”.  I can still say that but the “do this” may be just a tad on the vague side since I never actually came here to write.  The laptop’s glow has filled my kitchen as I pulled up recipe after recipe being careful not to get floured hands near the keyboard.  It has not seen the quick paced tap of my fingers as they dance across keys making words come to life.  I meant to. I regret the lack of words and memories that will fade away but I can not regret the way I spent my time this holiday season.  There were long days and nights in the kitchen, yes.  There were also evenings in sis’s backyard with the fire pit and the smores – gluten free girl’s Oreos work fabulously for smores, though I still want to tackle her graham crackers one of these days.  There were movies cuddled up with my Sweetie and more family get togethers than I can count.  Time was spent well, even if it was not cataloged here.

This holiday season, it was one of learning curves.  It was a time of trial and error and learning to trust my gut instinct in my kitchen. (I’m still working on that one, but Sweet One’s learned my buttons well.  ‘I dare ya’ usually spurs me into action) It was a month of marathon baking sessions and learning to let the house get a bit cluttered in the process.  It was packing my freezer full, re-packing it in a failed attempt to jam more in, and a short drive to sisters house and her blessedly empty freezer.  It was standing in tears of frustration at my tiny kitchen, non-existent pantry and well stocked refrigerator only to laugh at the joy of working through it all with the man who managed to somehow keep up with the number of dishes I am capable of dirtying when I am in marathon mode.  It was multiple holiday meals at multiple family tables and sighs of contentment as we ate. It was putting bites of food into relatives mouths and watching their eyes explode with joy.  That’s the moment I lived for this busy season.  That’s the one that kept me going when the hour grew late and there was still a pile of recipes on the list for “tonight”. I had to learn all over again to make foods I have been making since my seventeenth year.  Then there were the foods I had never tried to make before and discovering the blessing of making things from scratch that I had always purchased in jars.  Those were beautiful lessons.

It’s nearly New Year’s now and I’m not sure just how that happened but I know that a few pounds of flour and more than a few pounds of butter disappeared along the way.  I know that the caramel apple cider I used to get at Starbucks tastes even better sipped at home to the steady beat of rain drops on the window with Sweet One at my side.  (The splash of rum? That was a dandy idea!).  Caramel is just not that hard to make, and the rewards are lovely.

This was not the way I meant to write it all, the wonders of this first gluten-free season.  It was not meant to be put here in one lump at the year’s end. Still, this is the option left to me and in my renewed spirit of “no regrets” I pulled out my crumpled up, liquid splashed recipes with the sharpie pen scrawled across them.  Here, are the things we enjoyed this holiday season and where applicable my slightly neater notes as to my own alterations to someone else’s creations.  I do not write my own recipes, I just mangle what others before me have done 🙂  So far, it’s working out splendidly for us and those we feed.
I’m going to skim right over Thanksgiving.  I was still unsure of what would work and what would not, so I did what I do best.  OVERKILL.  No, it was not necessary to make eighteen different things in two days time.  Almost all of it being both gf and df for the precious little girl who came to town.  There were cookies, granola bars, muffins, and pies.  There were rolls, and dressing, and cranberry sauce.   There was uncertainty and duplication and a very frantic me sending a very calm and wonderful him to the store when I ran out of ingredients.  And again when I ran out of ziplocs and foil.  Baking dairy free for a highly allergic five year old meant a lot of covering already  scoured clean baking sheets with foil.   (Note to self – buy more tapioca and corn starch than you can possibly imagine using.  You will use it.  Remember this next year.  Also, the store only stocks 2 boxes of sweet rice flour at a time.  Start hording it early.  Kiss that amazing man who buys you this flour regularly because he was told approximately six thousand time that this flour is the saving grace of all gf baked goods.  Remember to crank the music up and laugh lots, the most amazing memories are waiting to be made).  I found this chart and used it to convert all my non weight based recipes.  This was completely worth the time it took, the baked goods were reliably wonderful and I feel much more confident that I can duplicate those results.  Also, doubling recipes is far easier this way.   Eleven year old boys find kitchen scales fascinating 🙂  It is quite easy to convince them to “help” however it will take three times as much time as it takes to do it yourself.  The laughter and joy are worth the extra time, and the moment when he asked of his own accord “Aunt Ally is this flour a heavy one or a light one” and I realized he actually understood what we were doing . .  . completely priceless.  (and apparently  my version of skimming is rather long winded)
With that, we arrive at Christmas.
Christmas 1 –
  • Sweet Potato Appetizer – I made a double batch of these.  In between bites people begged for the recipe and requested I make them at every possible opportunity.  We liked them with feta but loved them with peppercorn chevre.
  • Cranberry Roast I doubled the sauce, using a homemade pureed cranberry sauce, and after cooking took the juices and whisked in  a cornstarch/water mixture until it thickened).  I leave out the raisins but that’s just because I hate them and since I’m the cook in the house I get to cater to me 🙂
  • Sweet Potato Mash – I just boil them and then mash them with greek yogurt and butter.  Gluten Free girl taught me to mash them by hand, and not until after they had cooled enough to not produce steam.
  • Artisan Bread (I used Gluten Free Girls “Crusty Bread” recipe out of her new cookbook, it NEVER fails to come out beautifully)
  • Salad
  • Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake – I used the Oreo cookies as the base of the crust and it was lovely.  However, it was much more lovely when I used good grade cocoa powder rather than the Hershey’s.  The Hershey’s batch was “okay”.  A quadruple batch of the “good cocoa” batch disappeared in less than a week.
  • Eggnog – Sweet One just about refuses to share this.  It really is “the best” egg nog ever.  Also, it doesn’t make me ill like the store-bought stuff.  The texture is far creamier without that sickening thickness that store-bought egg nog has.  We’ve made two batches and fought over them both times.  We don’t use nearly the amount of rum she calls for however 🙂
Christmas 2 –
  • Ham (purchased at Costco) with this glaze
  • Ham Gravy – This was made with the verbal instruction of two very . . . adamant women.  In the end it was the juice of the ham, a cornstarch/water thickener, and milk.  Proportions were based on their hollering demands advice.
  • Cornbread Sage Dressing – a family recipe I never seem to make the same way twice.  However, MUCH more chicken stock is required gf than “standard”.  Also, the addition of garlic and shallots was lovely.  Adding the herbs to the butter worked well to infuse a bit more flavor than mom’s.
  • Rolls – I use a slightly different combination of flours than written in the recipe.  Also, in my oven they required 9 minutes, I learned to pull them out just BEFORE they seemed done to me in order to retain the soft loveliness.  Over-baked is even worse in gf world than in regular baking.
  • Cranberry Sauce – I add the zest of 1/2 a lemon and then the juice from the same 1/2 lemon.  I add a bit of cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg too.  Even cranberry sauce haters devoured it 🙂
  • Green Beans (thawed frozen green beans, sautéed in butter with garlic, thyme, marjoram – Sis had a recipe but only 1/2 the necessary ingredients.  Love ya sis.)
  • Cranberry Cheesecake with Oreo cookie crust – this makes a RIDICULOUS amount of cheesecake batter and was almost a disaster but it tasted sooooooo good.  I didn’t follow their cranberry sauce recipe, I was too lazy to make three different batches of cranberry sauce for two meals so I just used my standard with an extra dash of cinnamon and a splash of vanilla stirred in.  No one complained.
  • Mashed Potatoes (sis made them)
  • Sweet Potato Bake (sis baked it)
  • Deviled Eggs (which are the BEST reason to have a holiday – the calories in these babies don’t even count when they taste that good!  However, this too was sis’s recipe and since they are her specialty I won’t share that one here)
  • Apple Pie (sis’s and sadly not gf but I know she loves me anyway)

Never had we gathered around the dining room table.  In various combinations we had been joined in those same chairs, but never all at the same time.  When Sweet One came home, it was a promise we made to one another.  We would gather together with those that we love, with those that he served with an ocean away, with friends we have each made along life’s journey.  Dining out, it’s a challenge these days.  Gluten free was somewhat possible to manage, but gluten free and msg free is an altogether different ball game.  Every time MSG finds its way in the affects on my body reaching deeper and taking longer to fade.  I know, in time, if I keep exposing my body to the poison I will be where I am with gluten.  I am bound and determined to avoid that catastrophe.  Bearing this in mind the texts flew between sister and I flew.  Dinner, was arranged.  This time, I would cook in my own kitchen and they would come.

I spent a few hours, the night before we were slated to gather, preparing the meal.   I had the pork roast in the crock, the apple pie cooling on the counter, the cookie dough resting in the refrigerator, the cutting board cleansed from the salad prep, the bread risen and safely stowed in the refrigerator to be baked the next afternoon.  The sweet potatoes waited to be peeled, but they would continue to wait until just before everyone gathered.  I glanced around the kitchen, content with the evenings work.  I am always happiest when the kitchen has been torn apart and been put back together again, the labors of love resting quietly on the counters, in the refrigerator, in the freezer, or anywhere else they will fit in my ridiculously tiny kitchen.  Someday I will have a kitchen that is more fitting to the passions of my life, but for now we make do with the tiny little counter as we fumble around one another.  I chose to be grateful that he is there, underfoot and willing to help.  My eyes grew misty more than once at the simple fact he was there doing the dishes that I was dirtying.  We waited a long year for nights like this to occur.

They came, the next night.  The clan that became mine five years ago, the man who chose to love me, and I gathered around the dining room table they gifted me.  That table saw sis through her collage days, saw the early days of her parenthood, was given to me in my days as a single woman, and now sees us through this season of change as families morph into something new and yet familiar.  It’s an old table, just the way a table ought to be.  The scuff marks and faded paint make me smile.  Aren’t we all just a little scuffed and faded by the time we enter our third decade of life?  I don’t mind that the table reflects that sentiment.  It seems proper to me somehow.  We devoured the food set upon that old table.  The sweet potatoes disappeared, though not quite as fast as the bread.  The pork roast was exclaimed over multiple times.  I love the words my people give me when it comes to food, but no praise speaks quite so loudly as the silence when they chew, the slight clatter of spoons against ceramic as they reach for second portions.  My heart danced a bit when the eldest boy asked me “Can I have more of THAT?” and reached for the roast he originally wrinkled his nose at.

The mere scraps of pork roast that remained on the platter, the scant crumbs scattered over the cutting board that held the bread a mere half hour ago, the half empty bowl of sweet potatoes, the still full bowl of salad, they told me all I needed to know about our evening meal.  The content smiles, the nearly empty glasses of wine, and the grown-ups gathered on the back patio as the children played the games of boys who are given flashlights were a peaceful ending to the clan dinner made my heart sing. Later as the men reached for second portions of apple pie and the eldest nephew gave me his most pathetic begging eyes as he requested “Just one more awesome cookie” I settled into the happiest place of my culinary heart.  I have missed cooking for those I love.  It was good, to gather again and feed them food I know is good for the bodies.  That is good for my soul.   Never before had we gathered like this, with all of us around one table in person rather than one joining via cell phone.  Never before, but many times to come.  This is the prayer I whispered as I sat enjoying the laughter and the clatter of so many under one roof.  A simple prayer “let there be more, of this”.

Just Dinner

Sometimes, I just want dinner.  When the week wears long and the hours seem short I resent that I can not stop by Rubio’s and find sustenance.  It is for days such as these I fall back to the simple recipes.  Recipes that are made ahead of time and are more a list of ingredients to be combined than they are actual recipes. This is one of my favorites, especially when I use grapeseed oil instead of the olive oil.  It’s lighter and doesn’t coat the tongue in the same way olive oil does.  Quartered cherry tomatoes make a lovely bright addition as well.

From March 2010 Real Simple magazine.

Tuna Salad With Celery and Radishes


  • 2 5-ounce cans tuna in water, drained
  • 8 small radishes, cut into thin wedges
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • crackers, for serving


  1. In a bowl, combine  tuna, radishes, celery, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, and kosher salt and black pepper.
  2. Refrigerate in a container for up to 1 day.
  3. Serve with crackers.


They came running through my front door with my pup right on their heels.  Two nephews and one small dog have a strange ability to make a vast amount of ruckus when they race into my world making my heart smile even as my mouth tells them to settle down.  They did as boys are apt to do and dumped their bags on the first flat surface they found and started asking questions.  What are we going to do?  Do we get to watch movies?  What’s for dinner?  They knew, of course, what was on the menu.  They chose the menu from my carefully planned list of options.  **Note to self – attempting to bake three gluten free things in one night and actually having time interact with the children is not a wise plan.  The idea they will bake with you will last approximately thirty seconds in their world.  Remember this**

They settled in, spreading their various army men and lego contraptions around my living room.  I mixed the dough.  They picked through the vast movie options, I gathered the mozzarella, marinara, basil, and parmesan.  They came, as I knew they would, and stood at the corner of the kitchen counter.  I handed the eldest the grater and the cheese.  I spread the dough, deciding that a more rustic rectangle with messy edges was not likely to keep an eight and ten year old from consuming dinner.  We sang along to the radio as the red headed boy grated and I threw a pesto together.
I talked to them about the difference between the red and the white pizzas.  They both gave me this look that clearly stated they felt I had lost my mind and stated quite firmly that they just wanted “normal” pizza.

I scraped down the sides of the food processor and held a utensil out to the boy, so he could taste the vivid green pesto he was staring at with a mixture of curiosity and disgust.  He scrunched up his nose and backed away from me as if I had asked him to taste an insect.  I convinced him to try it and laughed long as his face went from puckered up fear to pleasure as he allowed the pesto to coat his tongue.  It’s GOOD he exclaimed with a touch of awe.  “You must always try what you are making as you go, so you know how to change it or if it is even good” I instruct him.  He thought about this as he grated cheese, glancing at me every so often to see what my hands were doing.   I spread the dough with a water dipped spatula as we talked about the food we were making.  Slowly I saw the words sinking in.  He continued to pepper me with questions as he grated the parmesean.  I offered him as many answers as I held.

Those boys and I?  We share an unhealthy affection for cheese.  Those thin crusts were smeared with sauce – a red for them and a pesto for me.  The youngest placed the cheese on the red pizza, the eldest on the white.  I had them taste the real mozzarella I had sliced and the parmesan he grated.  I tore off a basil leaf and handed it to them to taste.  I want them to know that food should be interacted with, it should be explored, it should be experienced.  For a few moments, they indulged me.  They tasted as they spread, the eldest carefully noting my placement of cheese, the small dark eyed boy scampered off after one slice of mozzarella had been lain down.  Bit by bit the crusts were covered, and then covered just a little bit more. After all, it was a cheese pizza so there must be loads of cheese.  Just ask that ten year old, he’s very clear on this matter.  As the pizzas bubbled in the oven the the eldest boy turned to me and said “You sure know my heart, you know I love my cheese”.  Sweet words to an Aunt’s heart.

The pizza’s baked as the boys were called to the sink.  If you are going to indulge in the goodness, you must also participate in the less fun aspects like dishes, or so many philosophy goes. It helped when I mentioned we needed those particular items to be clean before we could make cookies 🙂  They were next on the agenda and the most anticipated part of our evening.  We had many talks that centered around the “how’s” of doing dishes and I wondered when I had learned these things and at who’s hand.  It seems to me as if I always knew but surely someone taught me just as their mother and I teach them. The elder boy offered encouraging words and even a helping hand on the more complicated items like big glass bowls.  He suspected that breaking dishes would seriously dampen his Aunt’s happy mood.  I watched them, wondering when they got big enough to really be in the kitchen with me for more than dumping of pre-measured items into bowls.  They chattered away as I stood there slightly frozen by the realization that they are growing up altogether too fast.  How many more years do we have of spending hours in the kitchen together?

I pulled the pizzas out of the oven and slid them onto the cutting board.  One boy fetched drinks while the other set the table.  Finally, it was time to consume our creations.  Despite their demands for “normal” pizza it was the pesto pizza that was consumed with great speed. One boy staring at his own plate and then his brothers and then glancing at the cutting board filled with pizza slices.  They seeemed to be in a race with one another, needing to make sure that there was more white pizza to stuff into their already full mouths.  The red pizza on the other hand is currently occupying a shelf in my refrigerator.