humorous and heartfelt stories ~ healthy recipes made without gluten, dairy, or eggs ~ ideas for living well


My youngest son Will has an endearing little habit of filling his pockets with the many "treasures" he encounters in his daily adventures. I don't always understand the value he sees in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks can one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one is beautiful and important. His habit got me thinking about how life is just like that on a larger scale; we gather up the precious bits of our many experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you will find a little something among the stories and ideas here that you'd like to keep in your own pocket. Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Individual Turkey Pot Pies (gluten-free, dairy-free)

"What should I do with the leftover turkey?"

If you're still looking for an answer to this question after Monday's Canadian Thanksgiving celebrations, I have a delicious recipe for you today. This is one of my family's favourite ways to use up the leftovers once we've grown tired of the usual plate filled with carved turkey, cranberries, sweet potato casserole, and vegetables: individual pot pies nestled in a rich almond flour crust.  These warm, filling pies really hit the spot at the end of a busy fall day, and have won over even my two very particular eaters.

Turkey Pot Pies 
(adapted from a Chicken Pot Pie recipe in Elana Amsterdam's Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook)


For the crust:

1 1/2 cups firmly packed blanched almond flour
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp dried parsley
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 tbsp water

For the filling:

1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 large stalk of celery, halved lengthwise then chopped
2 carrots, halved lengthwise then chopped
2 cups of cooked turkey, cut into one-inch pieces
3/4 cup frozen peas
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
sea salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup stock (homemade turkey stock is great if you have it; you could also use a gluten-free chicken or vegetable stock from a carton)
2 tbsp arrowroot flour

Preheat the oven to 350 F. To make the crust, combine the almond flour, sea salt, baking soda, and parsley in a mixing bowl. Whisk together the grapeseed oil and water, and add them to the dry ingredients.  Stir until a uniform mixture forms.

Set aside approximately two tablespoons of the almond flour dough, then divide the remaining dough between four ramekins.  (You could use a 9-inch pie plate instead if you prefer to make one larger pie rather than four individual ones.) Press the dough firmly into the bottom and up the sides of each ramekin to form a crust. Flatten out the dough you set aside to half-inch thickness, and cut out four decorative shapes using a small cookie cutter.  Place the ramekins and the cut-outs on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.  Remove the crusts from the oven and let them cool. 

To make the filling, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, celery, carrots and sea salt and stir.  Reduce the heat to medium; cover the skillet and cook the vegetables for approximately 10 minutes, or until they are soft, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the cooked turkey, peas, and parsley and heat until the turkey and peas are warmed through. Season the mixture with pepper, to taste.

In a small bowl, whisk the arrowroot flour into the stock until it dissolves.  Turn the heat under the skillet up to high and add the stock mixture to the turkey and vegetables, stirring constantly for about a minute, until it thickens to a gravy-like consistency.

Spoon the filling into the ramekins, and place a baked decorative cut-out on top of each one.  Garnish with a sprinkling of finely chopped fresh parsley and serve hot.

If your turkey leftovers are already long gone, these pot pies are just as delicious when they are made with leftover roast chicken instead.  Either version makes for very satisfying comfort food when the weather is chilly.






Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Finding the Sunbeams

She's an old girl now; it's evident in the gray that runs through her fur and the age spots dotting her soft pink nose. Her walk is slower and more laboured than it once was; often times she chooses just to lie down in a favourite spot and sleep. These days she cannot hear much at all, and she howls in confusion in the early morning hours because she doesn't remember where her people are. But she has never forgotten the radiant warmth and joy found in a morning sunbeam as it peeks through the front windows of our home. Each day she seeks out its welcoming presence and stretches her limbs to bask in its relaxing glow. I don't think I've ever seen her happier than she is in those perfect moments of light.




I've not been good at taking time to enjoy the sunshine recently. There have been many to-do lists staring me in the face each morning, and I seem to have become a little too caught up in the ever-moving machine of busy family life. Routine and structure and organization are good things, to a point, but I find myself resenting them lately, for making me feel as if I can't ever stop and enjoy where I am right now, that I need to always be thinking ahead to what needs to be done next.

This morning, perhaps because I was still feeling the calming effects of a long weekend of family and turkey, I decided to ignore the notepads full of lists and to take a long walk down one of my favourite local trails. It was unseasonably warm in the early sun-streaked daylight hours, and I knew I only had a short window of time to enjoy this rare autumn weather before a forecasted week of rain rolled in.

The trail was quiet and soothing in a way that felt different from the times I had walked it in the spring and summer. There was no sense of urgency anywhere; it was as if Mother Nature herself was whispering the wise words I needed to hear as my feet strode lightly along the paved path. I sensed it in the insects that hummed a low tune in the tall grasses beside me, and in the birds of prey whose powerful wings held them aloft, seemingly without any effort at all, as they hovered on the gentle breeze in the blue sky above. I noticed it in the woolly black and russet caterpillars who meandered across the trail, pausing every now and then to change direction, and in the golden leaves that fluttered gently towards the ground as they left their branches, their faces reflecting a last glimmer of beauty in the sunlight. As I breathed in the sweet earthy scent of the forest in fall, I heard the spent leaves rustling and crunching pleasantly underfoot, and the water in the stream trickling gently over smooth stones. It seemed so clear to me in those peaceful moments that really living is about being open to seeing and feeling the light.

The truth is that as living, breathing creatures we are all travelling a path whose end is both mysterious and certain. This season of falling leaves and suddenly bare branches reminds us that our time here is finite, that we do not ever really know what's around the next bend as we bustle about our day-to-day business. Let's all remind each other to slow down and take the time to be warmed and made happy by light in its many forms. It's waiting patiently for us to discover it in all kinds of lovely places.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Pancakes (healthy, gluten-free, vegan)

It's pumpkin season, and the fall-themed, cheerfully orange vegetable is making a delicious appearance paired with cinnamon in all kinds of foods and drinks everywhere we turn.  Our family has already enjoyed some pumpkin cranberry bread earlier this month, and we're looking forward to savouring our best-loved Thanksgiving dessert this upcoming weekend: mini pumpkin pies with whipped coconut cream.  Yum!  Today I was feeling inspired to do some experimenting with pumpkin in a breakfast food (because encouraging the family to eat pumpkin in healthy recipes any time of day is a good thing, right?). These pumpkin chocolate pancakes are a variation of our standard Saturday morning oatmeal pancakes; they are a hearty and scrumptious way to start off any fall day!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Pancakes


1 1/2 cups certified pure oats
2 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 cup of ground certified pure oats (I use a Magic Bullet to grind the oats into oat flour)
1/3 cup blanched almond flour
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp gluten-free baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp allspice
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 tbsp ground chia seeds mixed with 3 tbsp water (stir and let stand for a couple of minutes)
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
3 squares of a plain dark chocolate bar (minimum 70% cocoa), finely chopped

Place the whole oats in a large mixing bowl and pour the almond milk over them; stir and then let this mixture stand for about ten minutes.  Stir together the almond flour, ground oats, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice in another mixing bowl, then add the dry ingredients to the oat/almond milk mixture and stir until well-combined.  Stir in the pumpkin puree, then add the chia seed gel, grapeseed oil, maple syrup, and vanilla and mix well.  Fold in the chopped dark chocolate.

Ladle the batter in 1/3 cup portions onto a hot griddle coated in grapeseed oil.  Flip the pancakes when the edges begin to set and the first side is golden, then cook the pancakes on other side until they are completely cooked through.  Serve with a sprinkling of chopped pecans, cinnamon, and a drizzle of real maple syrup.  Makes approximately 14 pancakes.

These pancakes would be perfect for breakfast one morning on Thanksgiving weekend, especially if you have visitors who are gluten, dairy, or egg-sensitive.  I hope you and your family enjoy them!

If you're looking for ideas for a gluten, dairy, and egg-free Thanksgiving dinner, you can find a full menu of delicious recipes here


This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

On flying ants and fear


A strange thing happens here sometime every autumn.  Invariably, we arrive home one afternoon to find a massive colony of flying ants clustered on our front steps, except that they are not flying when we first see them; they are wandering about in every direction on the ground, and there are so many of them that it looks like the very steps themselves are crawling.  At first glance, this ant situation is about as horrifying as you're probably imagining right now. Will flat out refused to go in the front door when he discovered this year's winged ant explosion and instead burst breathlessly through the less-convenient back kitchen door to tell me what he had found.

I was as startled by the ants as Will was, but I did not want to spook him further by freaking out over them, so I remained calm and encouraged him to come and watch them through the window with me from a safe spot inside the house. (Really, I didn't know what I could do about the swarm anyway, because as much as Will is afraid of ants, he is also a tender-hearted keeper of all creatures, and it would have upset him if I had exterminated even one of the creepy-crawling things.)  We both stood quietly for a while, our eyes following the tiny, determined insects as they slowly spread out in droves over the entire front walkway.  And then suddenly, one by one, the ants began to spread their delicate wings and rise above the earth.

It was a completely different story once those unnerving creatures began to fly.  The ants floated off one after the other like bubbles dancing in a gentle breeze, each small speck eventually disappearing on the bright blue horizon against the late afternoon sun, until finally there was not a single ant remaining. Will and I both experienced a moment of wonder witnessing them take this important flight to begin the next phase of their lives; the anticipation and possibility contained in that migration was palpable. And it hit me just then that often what we are most afraid of need only to be looked at in a different light to become something beautiful and inspiring instead.


***

This past weekend I attended BlissDom Canada, an exciting three-day blogging and social media conference packed with engaging sessions and powerful speakers, including Derreck Kayongo, whose lively telling of his Global Soap Project filled me with hope. I was thrilled to be there, and came away from the conference with a sense of connection and my brain buzzing with new and interesting ideas.  I was also confronted by some nagging anxieties over those three days. Despite the fact that it was my third year in attendance and many of the faces I saw there looked familiar, I still felt nervous and lacking in confidence. I couldn't muster up the courage to introduce myself to the some of the people I wanted to, and I felt self-conscious and tongue-tied sometimes when opportunities for conversations presented themselves.  I was reminded of the goals I had set for myself after the conference last year, and while I am pleased to say I accomplished some of them, I will also admit that fear has kept me from chasing some of my biggest dreams.  

This year's conference has ignited a spark in my mind and my heart and inspired me to look at what scares me from a new perspective. I will stop worrying about possible failure or disapproval should I venture into the unknown, and start imagining instead the possibility for success and deep personal satisfaction.  I want to spread my own wings in the warm sunshine and believe wholeheartedly that I have it in me to fly.  I'm excited to see where my new-found bravery might take me.... 


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

At the Apple Orchard: A Short Family History in Photos























Every fall I am so thankful for this little family excursion, with its peaceful drive down country roads lined by trees brave enough to show their beautiful true colours, its crisp blue skies and cool, fresh air, its perfectly crunchy red fruit enjoyed within the embrace of a welcoming orchard row.  I feel the laughter in my own heart echoed in the boys' happy voices and I'm reminded once again of everything that is truly important in life.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Trailblazer

A couple of weeks ago, Will came home from school enthusiastically waving an application form in his hand.  "I'm going to be a Trailblazer," he proclaimed with confidence as he set the form down on the kitchen table for me to read.

A Trailblazer, I've since learned, is a kind of safety patrol, one whose job it is to walk along a designated route each morning, meet up with younger students along the way and lead them safely to the school yard.  It's a walking school bus of sorts that aims to encourage more children to be active rather than getting a ride from a grownup.  This is the first year that Will has been old enough to take on this responsibility, and he was very excited about the chance to participate.

He filled out his form carefully, taking time to think about why he wanted to do this job and what sorts of leadership skills he had already demonstrated in the past, and then he offered up the completed page for me to sign.  He seemed so proud of the idea that he could make a positive contribution to his community and to the environment by taking on this role.

It did not surprise me at all that Will wanted to be a Trailblazer; he has always had a deep concern for others and a strong desire to be helpful.  Remember, this is the boy who organized an entire snow hill sledding safety protocol in his school yard last winter because he saw a need for one.  And I didn't think it hurt, either, that the job of Trailblazer would include a very official looking orange and yellow safety vest, which would give Will the authority he often craves to make sure people are doing as they should.

Will's application for the role of Trailblazer was accepted by his school, and he attended a training session one morning last week, where he learned more details about his responsibilities and some basic first aid skills. Yesterday afternoon when he arrived home, there was a newly assigned orange and yellow safety vest glowing among the books and snack containers inside his backpack, ready for his first day on the job.

I smiled warmly at our front door as I watched Will walk confidently down the street this morning, the adult-sized orange and yellow vest draping enormously over his proud little shoulders.  I had no doubt that he would fill that vest out beautifully.  The title of Trailblazer seems just right for him.



Monday, September 22, 2014

Courage

"I feel worried about something," Will said to me one recent afternoon, his voice wavering over the words.  I sat down with him, eager to listen so he'd know we could have one of our open-hearted talks, the kind we've often had when the weight of his worries feels too much for him to carry alone. There has been much anxiety in the past while, related to new starts, a unfamiliar heavy homework load, and a flood of "what ifs" that can sometimes bog down his mind when it isn't otherwise occupied.

"I feel such a big pressure to get high marks in my class this year," he confessed.  This was a feeling I understood well, and I think he recognized this before he revealed his tender secret to me. Our personalities are remarkably similar in many ways.

Will is in a split class this year where he is in the younger of the two grades, and the classmates who are the same age as him are a wonderful, bright group of kids.  This is excellent for Will, both because he has easy, regular exposure to higher grade level material to challenge him, and because he is with like-minded peers who energize him with their ideas and push him to further develop his own. But it also means he feels a threat of sorts to his self-worth, which is complexly tied up in measurable successes:  top scores, the right answers, and the academic and social recognition that comes with these.  He puts pressure on himself where no external pressure exists, and he worries that if he can't always be among the best, that everyone else will somehow lose respect for him, that he will somehow disappoint.

I said what I truly believed were all the right things after Will expressed his feelings to me:  that it was so much more important to his dad and me that he try his best and continue to learn new things and to grow than that he always get high marks in class.  I explained that even when someone scores higher or is more successful than he is in some measurable way in life, that fact does not make his own unique achievements and contributions to the world less valuable. I was glad when I saw Will visibly relax with my words, and I hoped they would stay with him whenever he might need them in the future.

The irony of this entire situation, though, is that I have been really hard on myself lately. I feel frazzled by the busyness of our lives so far this fall and by my inability to handle it more gracefully. I look at moms who are exponentially busier than I am and appear to have everything together and I wonder what the heck is wrong with me.  I read the beautifully honest writings of women who are so much more talented and accomplished than I am and I become intensely critical of every word I type, sometimes deleting everything because no idea I have, no phrase I turn seems worthy of putting out there.  In my head I'm also yelling at myself that I'm a hypocrite because I can tell my son exactly why he should send those kinds of self-defeating thoughts out of his head, but I can't seem to put my words into practice in my own life.  (If Will heard me say this, I'm certain he would tell me to stop being so hard on myself.)

But this is one of the powerful lessons we can learn through motherhood, isn't it?  We begin to see our own struggles more clearly when they're reflected in the lives of our children, and we can learn to extend the same gentle understanding to our vulnerable selves as we do to our children in their fragile moments.  We can realize that even if we don't get it all right sometimes, like our children, we are no less deserving of love.

Maybe it's the shrinking daylight hours that are making me feel small and overly critical these days; I don't know. But this morning, as I sit with a comforting warm mug of tea in front of my keyboard, I'm determined to take a page from the book of accumulated life wisdom I quote whenever Will and I have one of our heartfelt talks. If I want him to believe what I tell him, I certainly should believe it myself. There is no shame in not being the best at anything; what matters is that you have the courage to try.