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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Following things which feel warmer


I used to flirt with daydreams about being able to walk to work - as I commuted an hour and a half in the snow and freezing cold in Minnesota, in traffic that oscillated between a complete standstill and reckless drivers weaving in and out of traffic at 95 miles an hour. I kept on dreaming as I explored various parts of Freiburg, Germany on foot during my study-abroad days. I used to picture myself in those twisty, hilly streets of residential Freiburg, living in a home with a vegetable garden in the backyard and walking to the city center to work. I picked up groceries at the daily farmer's market and cooked delicious meals, enjoying a glass of wine with dinner.

My daydreams took on various changes and shifts over the years, but one thing remained constant - how wonderful it would be to not have to rely on a vehicle to get where I need to be: no worrying about gas prices, no maintenance problems, and no driving in inclement weather.

I walked to work this week, a 1.7 mile trip that takes me about 25 minutes. I walked up the hills, along the twisty streets and tall trees. I walked to my new job.

I found an amazing position, working with some fantastic people, in healthcare research. I feel like I am living in a dream.

Oddly, though, I had never been the kind of person who could imagine their future entirely - when I was in grade school and we had to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up, I never knew. I learned to make stuff up so that my teacher didn't get mad at me for not knowing. I told them I wanted to be an astronomer...or a flautist.

Even when I started college, back in Minnesota, I didn't know what I wanted to "be" when I was done. I cringed as a freshman when I heard classmates and friends talk about their specific plans to major in biology and become a marine biologist, or major in math and become an accountant. My future didn't have a name. I just knew that I liked the humanities. Cultural studies made sense to me and opened my eyes to the hidden language of symbols and ideologies that are not so hidden if you only take a moment to observe. Psychology was full of interesting understanding of human behavior, while still offering many unanswered questions. The German language connected me to a unique group of people, people with whom I loved to converse and talk about the world. It fed my travel lust and further expanded my curiosity of humanity.

I chose to study all of these things, because they felt good. I didn't know what kind of a job waited for me at the end of the degree, but I knew that if my job fit my education, I would continue to be happy.

My love of learning lead me to graduate school, and I still didn't know what "career" I wanted. Psychology felt good. Research felt good. So, I followed those feelings. While in graduate school, I became intimately attached to the ideas of health promotion and positive psychology - why work to remove poor health, when you can work to improve health? Why study what precipitates depression when you can study what leads to happiness and the good life? It was a paradigm shift in our biomedical-model-laden, reactive culture.

I still don't know what I want to "be." I'm just following what feels right.

I am writing all of this because a friend pointed out this article to me, called, "How to escape your rat race." Not only is it a great piece, but I realized that my inability to name or perfectly imagine my future life isn't all that strange. In fact, it makes a whole lot of sense.

Many people have a hard time "finding" their lives, or imagining how they would like them to be. However, if you continually choose that which makes you feel warmer, and correct your course when you feel colder, you will inevitably create that life. You will also be less likely feel the need to 'cope' with your day-to-day situation. You will less likely be that person who says, "If only..." or "When X happens...then I'll be happy."

It takes a certain amount of self-awareness, I know, as well as the option of having a choice, but it makes a bit of sense - to follow those things which feel warmer.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gluten free cherry chocolate chip cookies in the name of hope

Yesterday felt like a holiday. Everyone around the world was celebrating and you could feel a lightness in the air. In the words of a colleague, "not even technology glitches could be taken seriously," on such a wonderful day.

Even I have to say I felt a sense of calm, even as stock numbers dropped yet again. It was a day for hope; a day in which we sense a light at the end of the tunnel, even if we can't yet see that light.

I know this inauguration day doesn't provide change or improvements or solutions to unemployment, overseas relations, or failing banks. However, it provides an opportunity for all of those things - and that opportunity is what I think gives us a feeling that it might be worth placing our faith in our government, getting involved, and doing whatever possible we can to recover from the last 8 years.

It was certainly a day worth celebrating.

And what celebration is complete without food?? The "official" inauguration cupcakes featured on the Today show yesterday morning looked absolutely delicious - I had to have one, needed one. I craved chocolate all day long after seeing those moist, decadent, frosted chocolate cupcakes.

Needless to say, I came home from work and baked cookies - but not just any cookies - double chocolate cherry cookies. I planned on making regular chocolate chip cookies...or maybe banana chocolate chip cookies...or maybe coconut...but then remembered the frozen pitted cherries I had hanging out in my freezer - and so a cookie was born. These babies are incredibly rich and by no means need frosting, but if you get the itch, go for it.

Gluten free double chocolate cherry cookies:

The secret to making these ultra-delicious is using frozen, pitted cherries, not dried. Chop them up into quarters or halves (depending on the size of your cherries). Also, just like regular chocolate chip cookies - use room temperature butter (not cold, not melty). If your butter is straight from the fridge, heat it in the microwave for a few seconds at a time, rotating it in all directions until it is perfectly soft.


Cream together:

14 tablespoons butter

1 cup raw (turbinado) sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

add: 2 eggs


Mix together:

1 cup brown rice flour

1 cup tapioca flour

1/2 cup sorghum flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon xanthan gum

5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Dagoba)


Mix the flour mixture with the butter mixture and then stir in:

1 generous cup chopped cherries

1/2 package chocolate chips (I use Guittard)


Heat oven to 350F.

Line your cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat and drop cookies by the teaspoonful (mine were a bit generous) about an inch and a half apart.

Bake for approximately 16-18 minutes, until cookies are set. Cool a couple of minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.


Enjoy the chewy, chocolaty heaven!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ode to my spatula and a gluten free fig and brie grilled sandwich

In seventh grade "home-ec" (short for "home-economics"), I was annoyed to learn that what my family had been calling a 'spatula' for the duration of my life until that point (as short as it may have been), was actually called a 'pancake turner,' or 'turner' for short. It just didn't make any sense to me because we used that cooking utensil for all sorts of things, not just pancakes. Why on earth would it be named a 'pancake turner' when we used it to cook grilled cheese and move slices of lasagna from the large baking dish to our plates?

Well, I still don't understand.

But, what I do know is I had been keeping my eye out for a really good, flexible 'pancake turner' for the explicit purpose of flipping pancakes in my cramped skillet without tossing them on top of each other. It was a tall order, I know.

At a recent trip to the store, however, I found the kitchenaid 'turner' you see above. I am going to build a shrine in its honor.

No, not really - but it is THAT good. I tried it out this weekend, making pancakes for breakfast, and it felt like gold in my hand. The ease with which it bent, to slide effortlessly underneath each pancake without disturbing neighboring pancakes, was incredible. And, I made the most perfect pancakes ever.

It's amazing how having well-functioning tools in the kitchen makes cooking that much easier.

It's one reason why I love cooking in my parents' kitchen. Every time I visit my parents, I do a lot of the cooking. It's so much fun to chop vegetables with a knife that slides through celery and sweet potatoes with ease. It's exciting to season foods with a well-stocked spice and herb cupboard. And, it's oh-so easy to cook large meals with good-sized pots and pans.

Well, that, and I just love cooking for people. We had a small dinner party with friends this weekend and I made a mushroom-spinach risotto with pork and lamb frikadeller. Ben and I had tons of fun shopping for the food, planning the meal, and putting it together. We talked and laughed and filled our bellies with friends - what better way to spend an evening? And that frikadeller - oi! even I was impressed with how melt-in-your-mouth delicious it was!

We ended up with some leftover fig spread and brie, which, upon Ben's suggestion, became the impetus for a gourmet grilled egg and cheese sandwich: brie, fig spread, spinach and a fried egg. It was delicious - to say the least!

Oh, and I got to utilize my 'pancake turner' as a 'grilled sandwich turner.'


For a sandwich of your own, you will need:

2 slices GF bread (I used this recipe)

slices of brie to cover one slice of bread

fig spread

1 egg, fried over-easy or over-hard (depending on whether you like runny yokes)

spinach

Butter one side of each slice of bread and place one slice, butter side down, on your medium-heat skillet (for my burners, I set the heat at just-under-medium). Cover that slice of bread with fig spread, then your cheese, then some spinach, and then top it off with your egg and the remaining slice of bread (butter side up). Cook for a few minutes, until bread becomes golden brown on the bottom, then flip. Cook a few more minutes to brown other side and thoroughly heat through.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

January 'Go ahead honey, it's gluten free:' Foods that bring good fortune

I had a dream last night that I ate bread. Regular, gluteny, bread.

Ben and I were at a restaurant, clearly celebrating something, and I looked down at my plate to see a chunk of bread, like the kind you get in the bread basket before your meal arrives, mostly eaten. I was horrified. I couldn't figure out how it happened. I also worried about how it would make me feel.

Since I haven't eaten anything gluteny on purpose for about 10 months now, I couldn't fathom what eating a large amount of straight-up wheat bread would do to me. Even when I have accidentally ingested gluten, it was in tiny amounts, hidden in a processed product under the guise of "natural flavors" or as part of the manufacturing process.

I'm glad I didn't really have to find out.

In real life, I've been eating my share of delicious bread, but only the gluten free kind. It's been wonderful.

I recently bought a package of Pamela's bread mix, to test it out. Although it is not as good as the home-made bread I make, it is unbelievably easy and comes in a close second as far as texture, structure, and taste are concerned - it's a bit more brittle and a lot more dense.

We ate two slices as a bun for our lentil burgers the other day.

I think it might be a sign I can't really tell the difference between the gluten free bread I'm eating and the gluteny bread of my former life. Speaking of adjustment - I think that's a good sign!

And speaking of signs - lentil burgers are both round and made with legumes - which are two good good luck symbols for the new year!

This month's theme for "Go ahead honey, it's gluten free" is foods that bring good fortune, so I am sharing a recipe for meat-free, dairy-free, gluten free lentil burgers that are decidedly delicious and healthy, especially topped with avocado.

So, here's to a healthy and prosperous start to the new year!

And, be sure to check out the recipe round-up hosted by Heather at Life, Gluten free at the end of the month.


Lentil burgers

1 cup cooked brown rice (1/2 cup dry)

1/3 cup dry lentils

2 cloves garlic, crushed

rosemary

sage

sea salt

about 6 mushrooms, diced finely

about 1/2 cup finely diced onion

1 cup finely chopped spinach

1/2 cup ground flax

3 eggs

Heat about 2/3 cup water to boiling and add lentils. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Allow to cool a bit.

Throw all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir well to mix - making sure the eggs evenly coat the entire mixture.

Heat the oven to 350F. Form balls about the size of your palm (or what you would use to make a hamburger-sized patty) and place on a cookie sheet. Flatten each ball to desired thickness before placing them in the oven. (I think mine were about 3/4 inch thick).

Bake for about 30 minutes.

Enjoy!


Note: You can also fry these up in a skillet, but I found the baking method to be much easier and requires less active cooking time.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Making the emotional gluten free transition

I pushed the button on the wall displaying an arrow pointing upward and waited impatiently for the elevator. Noticing a sign on one of the two elevators in my apartment lobby stating it was out of order, I knew it could be quite a wait for the one working elevator to reach the first floor. After waiting about 5 minutes, I thought, "I should just take the stairs," but dismissed the idea after reasoning that nine flights of stairs was difficult on any given day and especially so with a heavy chest cold.

I had just gotten home from work, after walking around on my feet for eight hours and walking the mile home. I was tired. I was in no mood to walk up nine flights of stairs. So, I waited.

A small group had gathered at the elevator by the time it reached the first floor and we entered it's open doors together. Critically, I thought, "No one here better hit the button for 2nd or 3rd floor...how lazy. If I lived on the third floor, like in my last apartment, I wouldn't use the elevator at all, much less when the wait is this long."

As if she read my mind, a young-looking woman pressed the little round button for the third floor and I began examining her with my eyes. She had long, blond hair, was probably college age, she had her headphones on and was playing with the buttons on her mp3 player. As she left the elevator, something caught my eye - she was holding a plastic take-out bag with what appeared to be a burrito inside.

Tired, with my feet and lungs and head aching, I yearned to be her. I wanted to curl up on my couch with a delicious, flour-tortilla-wrapped burrito filled with oodles of melted cheese, spicy beans, and fluffy seasoned rice.

Before I went gluten free, I used to make up batches of flour tortilla burritos and freeze them. They waited for me in the freezer and were there for me on those days when I was tired or upset or simply wanted comfort food. The warmth of it in my hands and the smell of it under my nose as I took each bite was what made my delicious burrito an experience.

On this particular day, however, not only did I not have any flour tortilla-wrapped burritos waiting for me in the freezer, I couldn't go pick one up down the street either (as this woman apparently did).

In this moment I mourned my diagnosis. I was exhausted and I had dinner to make. I couldn't just pick something up from the restaurant on the corner. I was reminded that in all the successful gluten free baking I had done, I still hadn't nailed down a successful gluten free flour tortilla. I had yet to conquer that staple of my former life.

Walking down the long hall to my apartment, I thought about what I would make for dinner that would make me equally happy as those burritos had - and I made a mental note to put more energy into developing my own gluten free version of warm, delicious, flour-like wraps.

It's times like this when I begin to feel sorry for myself and begin to ask, "why me?" Why do I have celiac disease? Why am I inconvenienced with this health problem?

At the same time, I was reminded again how strongly food is connected to emotions and coping. Dishes like macaroni and cheese, buttery mashed potatoes, chocolate chip cookies, and even burritos are labeled by many to be "comfort food." This sort of label suggests our culture as a whole has made an emotional connection to food; some foods are "comforting" and, upon eating, they will make us feel "better." Is my tendency to cope with food creating these mourning moments? If I didn't have such a strong emotional connection to the food I ate, would these moments when I'm tired and comfort-food-bare be no big deal? I am suspicious the answer is yes.

Oddly enough, these foods don't really make anyone feel better, yet we continue to associate them with feeling better. I'm just as guilty as the next person who makes up a batch of macaroni and cheese on a Friday night, after a long work week, thinking it will help heal the frustration I've experienced, only to find I still have frustration with work. I feel a bit better, mind you, but only because I've been distracted with the task of cooking and eating. If I had set out to cook a healthy soup, I would feel just as good. Or, even if I hadn't been hungry and I instead sat down to read a good book or crochet something, I would also feel just as good. But how do we shift these connections? How do we unlearn our cultural, emotional, connection to "comfort" food?

I feel recognizing this is especially important for those of us making the transition to a gluten free lifestyle. The gluten free bread will never be the same as gluteny bread. It takes a more effort and knowledge to cook gluten free baked goods. Even if you are lucky enough to have a gluten free baker in your city (as I am), it still, perhaps, takes more planning and travel time to access their products. "Comfort" food in general requires more planning and patience on your part. Therefore, when we don't have access to our favorite comfort foods, gluten free style, I think having a strong connection with comfort foods can make the gluten free diet emotionally difficult.

This connection isn't broken overnight, however - we have to work at it and be patient and accept that it will always be there to some degree. Even in my recognition of our emotional connection to food and my work to reduce that connection, I still have times of mourning - like the experience in the elevator on this particular day. One way I have found to keep myself from feeling "left out" of having easy access to baked goods is to bake up double batches of treats and keep them in the freezer.

That night, I began chopping carrots, celery, and onions to make a soup I knew would be delicious - because I had made it once before. I noticed how good it felt to be in the kitchen, chopping up vegetables and throwing them into a large pot. Suddenly, I didn't feel so tired or sorry for myself.

I made this soup, sans split peas and red pepper flakes. Instead, I added some Herbs de Provence. It was delicious - and just what I needed!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Gluten free chocolate chip cookies

These indeed are my friends right now, thought I certainly haven't been doing any fishing.

Feeling a bit under the weather this weekend, I picked these up at the grocery store to calm the dry, painful ache in the back of my throat. Now, I am in the throws of a full-blown head cold and wish we had remembered to pick up facial tissue...

If you are looking for some gluten free throat lozenges - 'tis the season - these are indeed gluten free and nice and minty to boot.

Yesterday afternoon, I mustered the energy to bake up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Nothing like some good old fashioned comfort food to make you feel better, right? I had also been meaning to try again after my last attempt at chocolate chip cookies.

Well, I still don't feel better, but at least there are treats! These turned out so good that Ben claimed to have never been a fan of chocolate chip cookies until he ate these.

I will be cozying up on the couch this evening to relax with my tea, a couple of cookies, and scrubs on the television set. Hopefully I will feel well enough to go to work tomorrow...

(gluten free) Chocolate chip cookies :

The secret to perfect chocolate chip cookies (either GF or not) is in the butter - use real butter at room temperature. If your butter is in the refrigerator, microwave on high for a few seconds at a time, rotating the sticks each time, until perfectly soft. Avoid creating any liquid in your butter!!

1 cup brown rice flour

1 cup tapioca flour

1/2 cup sorghum flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp xanthan gum

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup raw (turbinado) sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 12 oz package of chocolate chips (my favorite are Guittard semisweet or milk chocolate)

In a mixing bowl, blend flours, baking powder, and xanthan gum. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Stir in baking soda. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until combined.

Add flour to the wet ingredients, about half at a time, until well combined. Add the chocolate chips and stir well to distribute.

Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto your cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart.

Bake at 350F for about 15-17 minutes. Cool for a couple of minutes before removing from the cookie sheet to a wire rack to cool completely.

Enjoy!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Looking forward to a new year

I realized on new year's eve that this is about the time my health took a downhill tumble one year ago - the impetus for seeking medical care for my symptoms. It turned out to be a wild ride of a year, but when I think about the past year, I feel grateful and I truly believe it was one of the best years of my life.

Some highlights:

Ben and I enjoyed a full calender year together.
I began to play the flute again after five years without it.
I started to feel healthy for the first time in years.
I made significant progress on my doctoral dissertation.
Ben had his first art show in Portland.
I started this blog.
Ben and I moved in together and share a home with our three cats.
I finished my last term as a full time student.
I enjoyed another year of rowing.
I developed my skill as a painter.
I met a number of wonderful new people and enjoyed time with old friends.

I took joy in small, daily things... running, finding and cooking new foods, riding the streetcar, the Sunday paper, and just being.

I'm not big on resolutions, but I look forward to a healthy, happy 2009.

I look forward to returning to my regular workout schedule, gaining more confidence in social food situations, and feeling even fewer symptoms. I hope to complete my dissertation and graduate with my PhD. Ben and I plan on setting up container gardens on our balcony this spring, growing some of our own fruits, vegetables, and herbs. We are also hoping to join a CSA... so look for some great recipes to come this year, incorporating an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables!

Ben and I relaxed yesterday after the previous couple days of unpacking, grocery shopping, and celebrating the coming of the new year. I even got out my paints after a long hiatus...

Thank you, readers, for engaging with me, leaving comments and sending emails. And thank you to my fellow bloggers, gluten free or otherwise, for the inspiration and ideas and invaluable information. I wish everyone a healthy and happy 2009.

Delectia squash risotto:

Delectia squash is a small, sweet squash that is easy to peel and chop. It is delicious on it's own, as a side dish, or baked in salads, casseroles, or risotto.
Use a good, deep stock pot or dutch oven for this - it helps prevent some of the broth from evaporating away. You will also want to use a good, comfortable wooden spoon, since you will be doing a lot of stirring. This recipe calls for cheese, which adds a lot of flavor to the dish, but it is just as delicious without it. The lovely thing about risotto is it's creamy texture, with or without any dairy product.

2 small delectia squash, peeled, seeded, and diced (use a potato peeler)

1 small onion, diced
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped coarsely
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4-5 cups good broth (depending on how much evaporation you end up experiencing)
1 cup Aborio or Carnaroli rice (these are both Italian rices that are particularly starchy, giving risottos a creamy finish)
black pepper to taste
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)
Roasted pine nuts, pecan pieces, or sliced almonds for garnish (optional)

Bring your broth to a simmer in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Keep it simmering at this heat until you have used it all.

In your large stockpot, heat a good dose of olive oil over medium heat (it should well-cover the bottom of your pot) and saute your squash and onions for a few minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the rice and stir for a few minutes, until the edges of the rice become translucent. Add your spices. Stir to mix well.

Add a ladle-full of broth and stir until all of the broth is absorbed. Add another ladle-full and stir until absorbed. If too much broth is evaporating, i.e., your mixture is rapidly boiling and/or you have lots of steam coming from the rice mixture, turn your heat down a touch. Continue adding ladle-fulls of broth and stirring until all of the broth is used, or until the rice is tender, with just a tiniest bit of bite left.

Stir in the spinach. Mix well and heat through. Add one last bit of broth, if needed.

Add the feta cheese (optional) and stir.

Take the pot off of the burner and set aside, covered, to rest for about 4-5 minutes.

Garnish with roasted pine nuts, pecans, or almonds (optional).

Enjoy!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Gluten free travel

Ben and I returned home to Portland on Tuesday around midnight. We were greeted at the door by our three cats, sleepy and squinty-eyed, happy to have us back. They rubbed up against our legs until we could manage to free our hands of luggage to pick them up. It felt great to be home.

We had a successful week of a number of firsts: first extended vacation together, first lengthy visit with his family, first meeting of some of his extended family, and first gluten free travel experience.

If that sounds like a lot, it is. But, thankfully, it didn't feel like a lot. In fact, it went ridiculously well.

We made gluten free coconut pancakes, gluten free macaroni and cheese, turkey, wild rice, cranberries, white chili, and gluten free sugar cookies. On Christmas day, we invented a cranberry dish to use the dried cranberries his mother had bought. She couldn't find fresh cranberries in any of the grocery stores, so the dried version became a substitute. In a large saucepan, we cooked about a cup and a half of dried organic cranberries, two diced apples, about half a cup of cranberry juice, some freshly grated nutmeg, a good dose of cinnamon, and a sprinkling of allspice. We simmered it on low until the apples became tender and the cranberries plumped up with the juice, then removed the lid to allow it to cook down a bit. It turned out delicious!! On another night, Ben's brother made the most amazing barbecue ribs I have ever eaten (he makes his own sauce and cooks them all day long) - and he made sure I could eat them, even calling from the grocery store to check the gluten status of ketchup (Heinz is GF, by the way) and enlisting mine and Ben's help to check on the other ingredients he had on hand.

Oh boy did we eat well - and all of it was gluten free. Even during our visits to Ben's extended family, I ate safely. I felt very well taken care of and insanely grateful.

The airports, however, were a different story. I went prepared with an abundance of gluten free snacks - rice crackers, lara bars, hazelnuts, and applesauce cups (which, by the way, became the topic of controversy at the security checkpoint and were almost confiscated!). I didn't even want to try to find something in the airport to eat. And the snacks provided in flight are helpless to anyone with food allergies - we were offered a choice of peanuts or shortbread cookies. Peanuts and wheat - two of the most common food allergens!

On our way home, I still had a lot of left-over snacks, some GF muffins Ben's mom had baked, and a few GF sugar cookies we had baked. But, we were at the airport for several hours and I felt I needed a real meal, something with vegetables, since my snacks were mostly starchy. We decided to test out the Chilis restaurant there, because I remember reading online that this chain restaurant had an allergy friendly menu (like the Outback steakhouse and PF Changs). I asked our hostess regarding allergy friendly menus, and she indicated they didn't have one. I asked about gluten free options and she looked even more confused, even stumbling over the word "gluten" when she repeated it back to me. It was clear she had never heard of the word before.

The server was equally uninformed, so I asked for one of their salads with no chicken (she couldn't guarantee me a "naked" grilled piece of chicken without marinade or seasonings), salad dressing, bread, or croutons. It ended up being a bed of lettuce with black beans, pico de gallo, and corn. It wasn't ideal, but it worked. When you don't have a server or a restaurant (like a small, independently owned one), who is willing to work with you, sometimes this is the best you can do. Non-chain restaurants will almost always be more willing to work with you because they have real ingredients; chain restaurant food often comes somewhat pre-prepared with marinade and the like. In hindsight, I would have asked for a hard-boiled egg in place of the chicken, for some added protein. But, hey, I'm still learning, and I'm finding out that with each new experience, I learn something else to add to my proverbial "box of tools."

It feels important to me to get out of my comfort zone here and there (read: leave my own kitchen) in order to develop both more trust in other people's cooking and more tools in dealing with situations like the Chilis restaurant. Each time gets a tiny bit easier.

I certainly appreciated getting to know Ben's family better over the course of the week, and we celebrated the holiday just as it should be - relaxing with family, enjoying one another's company, and sharing good food.