Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

This delicious, holiday breakfast cake is full of fiber, protein and pumpkiny goodness that won’t spike your blood sugar or cause you to gain weight. (We’ll leave that job to Grandma’s sugar cookies and fudge.) Nicely spiced with cinnamon and vanilla, there’s just enough sweetness (from only 1/2 c. honey!) to compliment the tartness of the cranberries. If you don’t care for fresh (or frozen) cranberries, you can substitute dried cranberries, although they are heavily sweetened with sugar.

Using a half coconut flour, half almond flour blend delivers a wonderful texture and moist crumb that lasts for over a week in the fridge, which makes this a great make-ahead recipe for your gluten free or dieting guests.  (Check with strict Paleo guests to make sure they’re okay with the xanthan gum and baking powder; everything else is Paleo. You can omit these ingredients, but it will affect the texture and rise.) If you’re not a fan of coconut, rest assured that there are so many other flavors going on in this recipe that you’ll get all the health benefits of coconut flour without tasting it!

Although this resembles a muffin more than a cake in terms of sweetness, baking it like a cake in a 9″x13″ pan makes the equivalent of 2-dozen muffins without all the scooping (and yes, I’m just that lazy). This is one of my daily breakfast choices that helps me maintain my weight loss, but if you’re looking for a holiday treat to please your sweet tooth, check out my gluten free caramel sticky buns and bacon-wrapped smokies. However, with the guilt-free breakfast below, you can have your (breakfast) cake and eat it too!

Pumpkin Cranberry Cake

Grain-Free Pumpkin Cranberry Breakfast Cake

1 very ripe medium banana
½ c. pumpkin puree
6 eggs
½ tsp. salt
¾ c. coconut flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. xanthan gum, slightly rounded
½ c. butter, melted
½ c. honey
2 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ c. almond flour (fine flour, not coarse almond meal)
1½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1½ c. fresh or frozen cranberries

Break banana into chunks and place in a large mixer bowl. (The riper the better; just cut out any black parts.) Mash using the paddle attachment until the banana is pureed and smooth. Mix in pumpkin puree. Add eggs, two at a time, beating well on medium speed after each addition. Add salt.

Pour the coconut flour into the mixer through a sifter or sieve to separate the coconut flour clumps. (You may have to press some remaining coconut flour balls through the wires.) Add the baking powder and xanthan gum, then mix on medium speed, scraping down the sides, until the batter is smooth.

Melt butter in a glass liquid measuring cup. Add honey until you have 1 c. total liquid; stir a little to soften honey. Add to the mixing bowl with the vanilla extract and mix until combined.

Add almond flour, cinnamon and baking soda to mixer and mix until combined, scraping down the sides as needed. Stir in cranberries.

Spread mixture into a greased, 9”x13” baking pan, smoothing the top as much as possible. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes (if using a glass pan – less for a dark, nonstick pan, and possibly longer in a disposable foil pan) or until the top springs back when pressed in the center of the cake. This will get pretty dark because of the pumpkin and almond flour, so don’t worry if it looks overdone!

Serve warm. Store cooled cake tightly covered in the fridge for up to 10 days. Serves 12.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I hear you.  Your holiday checklist is not even close to being checked off.  Christmas is right around the corner and you’re just sure you’re letting everyone down this year.  There is so much to be done and so little time.  Having a “simple” Christmas sounds so alluring, but in reality, makes you feel like you’re just being lazy.

Can I respectfully enter your guilt trip for a moment and whisper a word of grace to you?  May I suggest that, perhaps, instead of a Pinterest Perfect Christmas, your family just wants you? I know that this time of year, Mom is the one who makes the “magic” happen, and it feels like a huge responsibility – because it is.  Perhaps, unrealistically so.  But the warmth that makes us fondly remember Christmases past comes from the feelings we felt with our loved ones – not the decorations, the food, nor even the presents.

This year I resolved to have a simplified, more joyful Christmas, and I can tell you that it’s worth it to say NO to the guilt monster.  Here is how I am having the most un-Pinterest-worthy and BEST Christmas ever, and my letter to “future stressed-out me” (which, perhaps, might encourage you, too):

Let Go Of Feeling Responsible For Everyone’s Merry Christmas
This year, for the first time in 17 years, we’re not writing a Christmas letter or printing family photo cards to send out.  Will some people be disappointed?  Probably.  But I am not responsible for their happiness.  Say it with me, moms: I am not responsible for everyone else’s happiness.  I realized that because of social media, we’re connected to the people on our list already.  If they want to know what’s going on in our family or see pictures of my kids, it’s all right there on my timeline.  However, I’ve also chosen to hand-write Christmas cards in response to those who took the time to send me one, and I respond to their letter with a much more personal note than the generic “Merry Christmas from our house to yours,” printed on a card that will likely end up in the trash.  Whether you’re stressed about cards, the gifts you’re giving (or not giving), or are just feeling guilty that you don’t have the energy to do all the things that please your family, give yourself permission to give what you can, not what you can’t.

“Good Enough” Can Be Best
One of our traditions that’s developed over the years is the observance of Saint Lucia Day, a Swedish holiday that we discovered one year when I was teaching my kids about the holiday customs of countries where we have ancestors.  In the past, I would go all out with a fancy breakfast for my daughter to serve, which is why she loves this holiday.  This year, I felt like I “should” get up early and make cinnamon rolls for the celebration, but decided instead to spend my morning sipping coffee and reflecting on scripture by the Christmas tree (which fills my bucket), and grabbed some gluten free doughnuts from the freezer for my daughter to serve instead.  Guess what?  It was just as special, and because I didn’t spend the morning in the kitchen, I offered to braid my daughter’s hair like her Swedish “Kirsten, an American Girl” doll.  She loved it!

St. Lucia Day

This time of year, it can be tempting to think that all our family needs from us is a feast of all their favorite foods, but taking a short-cut or two so you can offer your time instead can be so much more rewarding for all of you.  Why decorate every square inch of the house when a Christmas tree and a few clusters of decorations will do?  Maybe you have gorgeous Christmas china, but maybe your family would be fine with dinner served on festive paper plates so you can play games with them after dinner instead of doing dishes.  Because I had made time for self-care in the morning on St. Lucia Day, I had the energy to join my family at the Christmas Chemistry Show that night, which I usually delegate to my husband so I can stay home and wrap gifts.  I can’t tell you how excited my kids were to finally share this experience with Mom.  While they enjoy the things I do “for” them, what they really want is to do things “with” me.

Speaking of Gift Wrapping…
I am, perhaps, the laziest gift wrapper on the planet.  (See how “simple” makes us feel “lazy”?)  I reuse the same gift bags every year, and don’t even label them.  I simply assign a different color of tissue paper to each person, and it drives my children crazy because they don’t know which gifts are theirs.  <insert maniacal laugh>  Unfortunately, I usually forget whose gifts are whose by Christmas day, and end up peaking at all the gifts before I hand them out.  But still, it takes me less than a half-hour to wrap everyone’s gifts, which frees me up to do the holiday activities I enjoy, like reading with my kids by the Christmas tree.  This is perhaps my most freeing discovery: If I take advantage of time savers on the stuff that’s not meaningful for me, it gives me more time to focus on the things that are.

Do Crafts With Your Kids Only If You Enjoy It
Some years, I’ve given the kids plain gift bags or paper to decorate with stickers or stamps for extended family members, and the result is definitely not like the pictures of hand-made wrapping paper you see in Family Fun magazine (which, I’m pretty sure, were not actually decorated by children).  If you enjoy doing craftsy things with your kids, then go for it!  (Just stick the ugly packages under the back of the tree.)  If you’re like me and an afternoon of frosting a gingerbread house with your kids makes you borderline homicidal, then just say no.  If you do not enjoy making ornaments with your kids, find something to do with them that you DO enjoy instead (like baking, ice skating, playing games, putting together puzzles, etc.).  Just because there are women out there who love to decorate ornate packages with their children’s drawings and make fancy shmancy decorations with their kids out of stuff you and I put in the trash can, doesn’t mean we all have to do this.  Can I get an amen?

You Don’t Have To Leave Home To Make Memories
This year, because of my husband’s insanely busy work schedule, we’ve passed on a lot of community activities – and it’s been great!  Some years, you just can’t do it all, and that can be a wonderful thing.  My daughter was disappointed that we stayed home from the church Christmas party because my husband was sick and we’d had activities the previous two nights in a row.  So I decided to have an impromptu Family Fun Night.  My daughter got to pick a family game, my husband chose a holiday movie, I chose a holiday book for us to read together, and my son got to choose the dessert from a list of already made goodies (that included Reese’s Peanut Butter Trees because I don’t do marathon baking days).  We had a great time together and it took zero work.  The best thing about leaving white space on your calendar (or crossing some things off) is that it makes room for spontaneity which, I’ve discovered, is essential to my enjoyment of the holidays.  If the holiday “script” stresses you out, then make room on your calendar for some unscripted fun.  (And remember our mantra: I am not responsible for everyone’s Merry Christmas.)

But Do Leave Home If That’s What Energizes You
Holiday busyness can also take a toll on us and leave us feeling lonely and isolated.  However, you don’t have to clean your house from top to bottom and throw fancy parties to connect with friends and loved ones at Christmas.  Sometimes, the simplest get-togethers are the most enjoyable for everyone.  This year, we met up with a couple families at a theater to see a movie together, then went to a nearby family fun center for (gluten free!) pizza and burgers while the kids played arcade games with their friends.  We had a great time connecting with friends, and it energized us instead of exhausting us.  Especially if you are an extrovert, make time for people.  But you can do it while walking through a pretty area with Christmas lights or sipping eggnog lattes at your favorite coffee shop.  Have little ones?  Meet friends at a McDonald’s playplace and let the kids run around while you enjoy a $1 coffee.  Joy to the budget!

Remember That Jesus Is Not A Baby; He’s Your Savior
To be honest, some years it’s felt like the Baby Jesus was just one more child I had to serve at Christmas.  Can you relate?  However, Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28).  Have you let him minister to you recently?  This year, instead of trying to wring every ounce of meaning out of Luke 2 for a month, my family is finishing reading the Old Testament.  It’s been fun to play “Where’s Waldo” with the prophecies of Christ as they pop up in our readings.  Not only that, by avoiding reading the Christmas story until Christmas day, it’s creating a sense of anticipation and longing for the promised Messiah – exactly what Advent is all about!  Sometimes, we need to remember amid the hustle and bustle of Christmas, that God didn’t just send us a baby; he sent his only Son to fulfill his promise to save all who turn to him.

What do you need from Jesus today?  Joy, peace, patience?  Do you need him to whisper, “Be still and know that I am God” to remind you that you don’t have to be?  Hear the kindness and gentleness in his voice as he offers you this invitation:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

He is our joy this Christmas.  Let him lift the heavy burdens of false guilt and expectations from your shoulders.  Rest in him.  Christ is not interested in giving us a Pinterest-worthy Christmas; he wants to give us himself.  Likewise, when we work alongside our Savior to bless our families, Jesus helps us to let go of “ill-fitting” burdens so we can simply give the gift of our ourselves.  O come let us adore him, for in Christ we find freedom, rest, and joy!

Read Full Post »

Making gluten free frozen meals doesn’t have to take extra time, just extra planning, and it can save you a bundle on expensive GF convenience food for those nights when you just don’t have time to cook.  The most economical way to freezer cook is to stock up on meat and ingredients for side dishes that freeze well when they’re on sale, and plan to cook enough for 2 or 3 freezer meals in addition to your dinner that week.  If you do this only twice a week, you’ll have a treasure trove of quick meals for busy nights in no time!  I did this for three weeks last month, and was able to take the week before Thanksgiving off of cooking as a result.  It was awesome!  If you’re having company come to visit, then you’ll definitely be glad you took the time to make a few meals in advance so you don’t have to spend precious visiting time slaving in the kitchen.

Tips on Freezer Cooking
The key to successful freezer cooking is to get rid of as much air as you can in your bag or container.  I have a fancy vacuum-sealer that I never use because it’s cheaper to just use a Ziplock freezer bag (I use generic brands).  Just place your completely cooled food items into the smallest size bag that will work, press out the air, close the bag almost all the way and, if it’s not raw meat, use a straw to suck out the rest of the air.  You’ll see the bag shrink around your food.  Then just pull out the straw and quickly seal.  Your food will last for months this way with nary an ice crystal to cause freezer burn!  For casseroles or side dishes like mashed potatoes, I like to place them in a disposable tin pan (from the dollar store) with a layer of plastic wrap against the potatoes and heavy duty foil over that.

If you’re new to freezer cooking, avoid dishes with rice or pasta, as these can be tricky to freeze without them turning to mush – especially rice pasta, which gets mushy easily.  However, corn tortillas freeze well, as do potato side dishes.  Most GF breads freeze well, as do cupcakes and cookie dough.  (I prefer to freeze the dough, rather than cookies which can crumble after thawing, since freshly baked cookies are the best!)  Homemade meatballs and chicken strips freeze well and go with side dishes that are quick to heat, like pasta or frozen GF French fries (always read labels on fries, since some contain wheat).  When making a homemade sauce or cream soup for casseroles, be sure to add a pinch of xanthan gum to keep the ingredients from separating.  (This miracle ingredient is in just about every commercial sauce or convenience food, and it’s already in your pantry.  Use it!)  It’s best to freeze sauces or crunchy toppings (like the onions for my Green Bean Casserole) separately and assemble thawed ingredients just prior to baking.

Some of my favorite freezer meals are right on this blog:

Crock Pot Pork Taco meat can be frozen in serving sizes for tacos or nacho meat. You can also make the tacos ahead of time and freeze them in a bag.  These make great enchiladas, too, but freeze the sauce for enchiladas separately.  This is a very versatile meat that is on the menu regularly because it’s easy to throw together, makes a lot, and pork roasts often cost less than $2/lb.

  • If you don’t have enough green chilies, you can substitute chopped onion.  Or if you’re not a fan of pork, just freeze your favorite meat with GF taco seasoning!
  • If you’re new to cooking with corn tortillas, heat 3 or 4 at a time over low heat on a griddle sprayed with oil.  Flip after a few seconds, and immediately top with shredded cheese (we use cheddar or co-jack).  Put a 1-in. stripe of meat down the center.  When cheese is melted, lift one side of the tortilla over the meat, then roll the whole thing over to seal.  The heat makes them more pliable for rolling, and the cheese will keep the tortilla from popping open.

Lasagna – Okay, I know I said to not do pasta, but this is the exception since you don’t cook the noodles in advance.  Just layer the ingredients and freeze for later, or make a double batch so you can cook one and freeze one.

Mashed Potatoes – I tried the recipe from the Pioneer Woman blog for Thanksgiving and loved it!  I mashed a 5 lb. bag of potatoes the week before and had some for dinner, then froze the rest in a gallon-size freezer bag.  Then, on turkey day, I thawed it in the microwave and plopped it in a greased crock pot on high for a few hours, stirring occasionally to heat evenly.  At first, it was really soupy, but it thickened as it heated up – and tasted amazing!

  • For dairy free potatoes, skip the cream cheese and just use dairy free margarine and rice milk.
  • For a one dish meal, set aside some mashed potatoes for Shepherd’s Pie, which can also be frozen.

Fried Chicken Strips – These are a great way to use tenderloins trimmed from chicken breasts, or you can slice chicken breasts into strips.  I’ve linked my Mandarin Chicken recipe, but these work with any dipping sauce.

  • To freeze, cool cooked chicken at room temperature on plates lined with paper towels, then transfer to a freezer safe baking tray to freeze for a few hours.  Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag and press out (or suck out) the air.  Cook from frozen in a 400 degree oven for about 20 min.
  • Recently, I’ve been using/loving the Hodgson Mill GF Seasoned Coating Mix (dairy, soy and corn free, and available at our Wal-Mart).  I follow the directions on the back for Country Fried Beef (which you can also make and freeze), and skip the messy egg wash by just applying a liberal amount of coating mix and frying in oil until golden brown.  (I coat all the chicken once, then do it a second time.)  The recipe on the box for Country White Gravy is easy and awesome, so make sure you freeze some potatoes to go with your chicken strips!  However, these also taste great with barbecue sauce or honey mustard.

Meatballs or Mini Meatloaves – You can grind oats in a food processor as a healthy substitute for bread crumbs in your favorite meatball recipe, or grind the heals from GF bread (I save mine in the freezer for making bread crumbs) and combine with your favorite seasonings.  Recently, I’ve begun adding shredded potato and grated onion to my meatballs for moist meatballs that somewhat resemble my Grandma’s Swedish meatballs (only I’m too lazy to roll them in flour and fry them, like we do with Swedish meatballs).

  •  I like to heat up frozen meatballs in spaghetti sauce while the pasta boils, but we sometimes eat them like mini meatloaves or as meatball subs in toasted Udi’s hot dog buns with some spaghetti sauce and melted mozzarella or provolone.

Ham and Cheese Sandwiches on Onion Poppy Seed Cheese Rolls/Buns – My mother-in-law made these for get-togethers with family and friends because you can make these in advance and pop the wrapped sandwiches in the oven for a quick meal.  I like to make cheese rolls from a Pamela’s bread mix for these, but you could use your favorite hamburger bun/hot dog bun/roll for these.

Also, don’t forget to freeze leftover turkey or roast chicken to make Turkey or Chicken Pot Pie Pizza or Biscuit Pot Pies!

Some of our favorite gluten free breads and desserts to freeze include:

With some quick meal items in the freezer this month, you’ll have time to bake yummy goodies like Sour Cream Sugar Cookies or these Easy Holiday Goodies to Make with Kids.  Throw some Wassail in the crock pot, and you’re set for the holidays!

 

Read Full Post »

I came up with this recipe when I attempted to make the Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Shortbread Cookie mix, only the dough was so crumbly that I had visions of a miserable afternoon trying to roll out fussy dough to make cut-out cookies.  So instead, I squished the crumbs together to make balls for the kids to press into and up the sides of mini-muffin pans.  I filled the cookie cups with caramel, then the kids pressed in chocolate chips (and pecans in a few, which I definitely like).  Part way through, I decided to get out our bag of Nestle’s red and green semisweet morsels to dress up a few for gift plates and parties.  The tasty cookie bites look fancy on a plate, but were a whole lot easier than making cut-out cookies!  If you don’t have a Bob’s Red Mill cookie mix, you can use the shortbread recipe from Living Without magazine, which I made last year and is very good.  (Just cut the recipe in half or use the other half of the dough to make cut-out cookies.)

Shortbread Cookie Cups

Shortbread Cookie Cups

1 package Bob’s Red Mill GF Shortbread Cookie Mix (or homemade dough)
3/4 c. unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
2-3 T. water (the recipe calls for 2, but I added 3 because it’s so crumbly)
Caramel ice cream topping
Semisweet chocolate chips
Chopped pecans, optional

Make the shortbread cookie dough according to package directions.  (It will just be dough crumbles until you squish them together in your hand.)  Grab a small handful of dough and squeeze it together in your hands until compacted, then roll it into a ball that’s about 1 1/4-in.  The recipe makes exactly 36 balls.

Place dough balls in greased mini-muffin pans, then use your thumbs to press the dough down and up the sides until it reaches the top of the muffin cup.  Using a 1/2 tsp. measuring spoon, scoop out 1/2 tsp. caramel topping (you may need to heat it a little) and pour into each cup.  Press about 6 chocolate chips into the caramel, along with a few coarsely chopped pecan pieces, if desired.

Bake at 350 degrees for 14-16 minutes.  Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then gently slide a knife around the edge of each cookie cup to loosen it and pop it out of the pan.  Cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes 3 dozen.

Read Full Post »

Looking for some easy, gluten free, holiday recipes to make with your kids that don’t require you to blend a bunch of flours together?  Whether you’re new to the gluten free lifestyle, baking for gluten free guests (and have no idea what a “flour blend” is), or just looking to add a few easy recipes to round out your holiday baking, you’ll find that these recipes are both delicious AND fun to make with your little bakers.

We do a lot of “dipping” for Christmas goodies because it’s something the kids can easily help with, and because everything tastes better dipped in chocolate!  There are some tasty gluten free products that make wonderful substitutions in some of our favorite chocolate-dipped, holiday desserts.  Plus, if you’re giving away plates of goodies to friends and neighbors, you can easily use the “regular,” less expensive wheat versions and still make some gluten free goodies for home!  (Just be sure to always dip the gluten free items in chocolate first, before anything containing wheat, so there’s no risk of cross-contamination.  Also, label the waxed paper where you set the cookies to harden so you can tell which ones are gluten free when you’re finished!)

Some favorite, kid-friendly goodies with gluten free substitutions include:

  • Chocolate-Dipped Glutino Pretzels.  You can actually buy these dipped in chocolate already, but we like to dip them in white almond bark (according to package directions) and sprinkle them with colored decorators sugar (my daughter’s favorite activity).  Glutino’s gluten free  pretzels are better than wheat pretzels, in my opinion, and can be found online at Amazon and Vitacost.  To make this super easy for the kids, we get the stick pretzels and let them dip them half-way, like wands.  It makes a nice sweet/salty combo.
  • Pretzel Turtles with Glutino Pretzels.  This was the first holiday goody my kids helped make, starting when they were 2-years-old.  Have your child place some pretzel twists (the regular shape, not sticks) on a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet.  Your child can then unwrap a Rolo candy (with help from you, if he’s really young) and place one on top of each pretzel.  Melt the chocolate slightly in an oven preheated to 250 degrees for 3 minutes.  Set out pecan halves, red and green M&Ms, or whatever you’d like on top.  When the chocolate has melted, your child can gently press a pecan half or M&M onto each Rolo to squish it down.  Just let it cool and that’s it!  If you’re concerned about the hot baking sheet, you can slide the foil onto the counter for the last step.  WARNING: Be sure to get regular Rolos.  The new mini Rolos and other new miniature versions of gluten free candies (like mini Butterfingers) are NOT gluten free.  Always read labels on every new product, even if other variations are gluten free.
  • Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies.  These sandwich cookies that we used to make with Ritz crackers were always a hit at parties, and my personal favorite.  We’ve found that the Glutino original round crackers work just as well (although they’re a little less salty).  Kids can make peanut butter cracker sandwiches, then simply dip them in melted chocolate almond bark.  (I use a baby fork to gently turn the cracker sandwich over in the chocolate, then lift it out, tapping the fork on the side of the bowl to shake off excess chocolate before placing the cookie on waxed paper to harden.)  The best thing about this recipe is that it’s ready to eat almost immediately!  The downside of the Glutino crackers, though, is that it seems like half the crackers in the package are broken.  So we just try to match up halves and make half-sandwiches to dip.  They still taste good, even if they’re not round – plus you can call them “reduced-calorie”!
  • Mint Chocolate-Dipped KinniToos (gluten free coookies that taste just like Oreos, only they’re a little softer).  Similar to the recipe above, we dip half of a KinniToos cookie (available at Amazon and Vitacost) in melted green mint chocolate chips (we use Guittard chips, but you could also pull out the green chips in the Nestle mint chocolate chip bag).  If you can’t find the mint chips, dip the cookies in white almond bark and sprinkle crushed candy canes or decorative sprinkles on top for a festive looking treat.

Some of our favorite recipes are naturally gluten free, like Peanut Butter Balls.  I like to make the peanut butter balls early in December because I freeze the balls for dipping in chocolate, which means I can dip a few now and save the rest to dip later for Christmas parties (or for Valentines Day fondue!).  For guests or kids with multiple allergies, check out my recipe for Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Soy Free, No Bake Cookies (which can also be made peanut free by substituting sunflower butter).  My 11-year-old son likes to make these, and does most of it by himself.

Another naturally gluten free holiday goody is fudge.  The recipe I came up with is so quick and easy that my 8-year-old daughter made it all by herself this year.  It can easily be dressed up by sprinkling Andes Peppermint Bark Chips (found next to the chocolate chips) on top to make festive looking Mint Fudge.  You can also make Turtle Fudge by mixing in some chopped pecans right before spreading it in the pan, then drizzling some caramel sauce on top and pressing in a few coarsely chopped pecan halves.  (I like to save the caramel dipping sauce that comes with apples at McDonald’s for little baking projects like this.  Yes, I’m THAT cheap.)

Christmas 007

Brenda’s So-Easy-An-8-Year-Old-Can-Make-It Fudge

3 c. chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)
14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 T. butter
1 tsp. vanilla flavoring (not extract)

Line a 9″ square baking pan with foil and grease with butter.  Pour the chocolate chips into a microwave-safe mixing bowl that is completely dry (otherwise you’ll end up with frosting instead of fudge).  Add sweetened condensed milk and butter.  Melt chocolate in microwave at 70% power for 90 seconds.  Stir until smooth.  If necessary, heat the chocolate for another 15 sec. at 70% power and stir.  When chocolate is melted, stir in vanilla (and pecans, if making Turtle Fudge).  Immediately transfer to pan and smooth top.  If desired, press Andes Peppermint Bark baking chips into half or all of fudge – I like to make half mint and half plain – or top with caramel and pecans for Turtle Fudge.

Another easy recipe is Rice Krispies Treats made with gluten free Rice Krispies (be sure you get the box labeled “gluten free” – the regular cereal is not GF).  My mom used to add food coloring to the marshmallow mixture and shape the treats into trees, with silver candy balls on top.  You can make all sorts of fun shapes by using cookie cutters (and decorating like sugar cookies) or checking out the myriad variations on the Rice Krispies website.

Of course, if you want to bake, you can make my Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies as bars, using the Nestle Tool House holiday morsels that are red and green (if you can find them) or red and green M&Ms.  Or you can make Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies with the dough by pressing an unwrapped Hershey’s Kiss into the cookies as soon as they come out of the oven.

I also like to use the red and green M&Ms to add a festive touch to my allergy-friendly Homemade Kettle Corn, which I often give as a Christmas gift in a jar or ziplock bag that the kids have decorated with holiday stickers.

In addition to the 10 flourless recipes above, if you have the ingredients for my flour blend, you can also check out my recipes for:

  • Gluten Free Sugar Cookies that don’t require frosting, only a little decorators sugar
  • Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies (by far, my most popular dessert recipe) that can be made festive with Nestle’s red and green morsels or holiday M&Ms
  • Gluten Free, Dairy Free Brownies that taste as good as any boxed mix I’ve ever had, and can be dressed up with chocolate chips, peanut butter cups, or anything else you’d do with a boxed mix.
  • Brownie Pie that uses Pamela’s Pancake and Baking Mix for the flour, and tastes AMAZING with mint chocolate chips.

I’ll do my best to add pictures as I bake throughout the month, but I wanted to share the recipes right away for you early birds.

Merry Gluten Free Christmas!

Read Full Post »

The Race to Christmas

If you are a mom, chances are that when December rolls around, it feels like you’ve been signed up for a marathon/obstacle course to complete before Christmas.  You barely digest the turkey you slaved over on Thanksgiving and suddenly you’re off to buy Christmas presents, decorate the house, get your cards and gifts in the mail, start the holiday baking…  The December calendar is filled up before you even start the race, and the overwhelming sense of obligation to fulfill everyone’s expectations can be a huge hurdle if you’re trying to run the race with joy.

“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2

Throw Off Unnecessary Obligation
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that if we are to run life’s race with perseverance, we’re going to need to throw off whatever is hindering us – particularly any sin that’s tripped us up. The main thing that hinders me during the holidays is feeling like I’m obligated to follow a set script of activities and menus whether I want to or not (i.e. baking particular recipes, putting up decorations that are a pain).  Traditions that were once enjoyed can suddenly feel like obligations if we’re under stress in another area of our lives, making the tradition feel like a burden when it’s added on top of everything else.

Sometimes, giving yourself permission to temporarily let something go is all it takes to turn an obligation back into a tradition you enjoy.  And sometimes, we need to just. Let. Go.  Repeat after me, moms: Just because you do something once or twice does NOT mean you have to do it every year for the rest of your life!  Not everything your family likes has to become a yearly tradition.  If obligation and unrealistic expectations are hindering you from running the race with joy, share how you feel with your family and find solutions together that will allow you to enjoy the traditions you choose to keep.

Fix Your Eyes On Jesus
When my eyes are fixed on myself, I’m more likely to get bogged down in my endless to-do list, but when I look up and invite Christ to be Lord of my list, he often rearranges my priorities and reminds me why I’m doing them in the first place – out of love for God and my family.  Sometimes, we can’t throw off something that’s hindering us, like financial strain, health problems, relationship struggles, parenting issues, job stress.  We can, however, choose to live unhindered by them if we fix our eyes on the One who exchanged the glories of Heaven for a lowly stable so that you and I could have a personal relationship with him.  It’s in this daily walk with our Lord who knows all about suffering and hardship that we find joy, hope, and strength to help us run with endurance.

Sometimes, however, it’s guilt that we need to throw off.  Like guilt over not being emotionally moved by hearing the Christmas story for the bazillionth time.  You know what?  It’s not the baby Jesus who “endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” – it’s the grown man, Jesus.  If fixing your eyes on the miraculous birth of a baby is not meeting your spiritual need, then by all means, skip the Advent devotional and open one of the gospels – Matthew is my favorite – to read about the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, not just as a baby but as a man (John 1).

How do we fix our eyes on Jesus?  Just as we identify with Christ’s sufferings during the season of Lent in preparation for Easter, we can engage in spiritual disciplines during the season of Advent to prepare our hearts to receive our King who will return once again.  There are different kinds of spiritual disciplines; those of engagement that involve some sort of action on our part, and those of abstinence that involve refraining from something.

Here are a few ideas for spiritual disciplines to help us fix our eyes on Jesus as we run the race to Christmas and beyond.

Engagement:

  • Study – Get into God’s Word through a devotional book or daily scripture readings, perhaps in a different translation than the one you usually use.  This year, we’re engaging our kids in Advent by incorporating Jesse tree ornaments along with daily readings (in the New Living Translation instead of the familiar NIV) that tell God’s story from Genesis to Jesus.  (Check out this site for free printable ornaments that little ones can color while you or an older child read the accompanying scriptures.)  For adults who desire to fix their eyes on Jesus in a new and fresh way, I recommend reading Philip Yancey’s, “The Jesus I Never Knew.”
  • Creativity in Worship – Take a walk when the stars are out and discuss what it must have been like to see the sky filled with angels proclaiming Jesus’ birth.  While driving around to look at Christmas lights, discuss why Jesus came as the “light of the world” and pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you and make your light shine before others, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).  Pause to reflect on the meaning of traditional Christmas carols, then sing them intentionally to God.  Light candles in an Advent wreath each Sunday leading up to Christmas.  (Or if you’re me, put battery operated candles in the wreath so your hair doesn’t catch on fire from the candles – again.)
  • Prayer – If you’re struggling to experience joy, focus your prayers on thanksgiving for God’s blessings.  Write down favorite scripture promises and blessings, and pray them over your family.  Some personal favorites are Rom. 15:13, Eph. 1:17-20, Isaiah 26:3, & Psalm 139.  As Christmas cards arrive in the mail, pray for the senders.  Invite children to pray, too.
  • Service – Look for opportunities to bless others through acts of kindness as a family.  Perhaps your family could deliver some cookies to an elderly neighbor or extend an offer of babysitting to a single mom so she can do some Christmas shopping.  We keep a bucket of hay next to a doll cradle and allow the kids to put in a handful of hay each time they perform an act of kindness, as their way of preparing for Jesus.  When we lay a baby doll in the soft bed of hay on Christmas morning, we talk about how our love for God and others shown through acts of service is our gift to the Christ child.

Abstinence:

  • Secrecy – Isaiah 45:3 says, “I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness–secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.”  In Matthew 6:3-6, Jesus tells us to pray and give in secret.   When we give to others in Jesus’ name only, the glory goes to God and we are in turn blessed by God with “secret riches.”  Giving in secret can include gifts, but it can be as simple as quietly doing a chore for your spouse (and refraining from trumpeting your good deed if he/she fails to notice), shoveling the snow from your neighbor’s driveway, or leaving an anonymous note on your co-worker’s desk expressing your appreciation for their good work.
  • Frugality – We all know we need to set a budget and limit our spending to that which we can afford, but this discipline is about choosing to find satisfaction in spiritual riches rather than store up treasures on earth. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:6-8).  If we don’t make a conscious effort to choose contentment, we are likely to be caught up in the tidal wave of consumerism (and its companion, financial stress).
  • Rest – Isaiah 30:15 gives this warning: “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.”  If we’re exhausted and running on empty, our witness will suffer, as will those closest to us.  God knows this – which is why he ordained that we should take a day of rest each week.  But how many of us actually do this?  It’s hard to fathom resting during what is typically the busiest time of year, but how different would your Advent season be if you actually rested each Sunday?  Rest falls into the spiritual discipline category because it takes discipline and planning to accomplish it.  Try putting dinner in the crock pot on Saturday night so you can simply turn it on Sunday morning.  (My favorite crock pot Sunday dinner is Lazy Barbecue Chicken or Ribs with baked potatoes that cook in the oven on a timer.)  Plan to do restful, relaxing activities – but don’t spend the day pinning items on Pinterest or clipping ideas out of magazines if it will make you feel anxious about all you “should” be doing.  Meditate on God’s promises and his love for you; his quiet whisper, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

So how do we run the race with perseverance?  By responding to Jesus’ invitation:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matt. 11:28-30.  

When you just can run another step, rest in Jesus and fall in step with him.

Read Full Post »

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

This Sunday is the beginning of the Advent season, when we take time to reflect on the long-awaited coming of the Savior.  There are a number of influences that have shaped our religious celebration into the steam train that carries us full speed ahead through the month of December.  And yet, sitting here in the quiet of the morning by the light of the Christmas tree, I can’t help but wonder if all the busyness that accompanies our celebration leaves us so weary and full that we end up turning away the very One we’re celebrating; saying in effect, “Sorry, there’s no more room in the inn.”

While it’s clear from the Old Testament that God ordained times of feasting and celebration, these were usually accompanied by days of refraining from work and gathering together to worship.  In America, we’ve sampled traditions from other countries like a holiday buffet, filling our plates with the ones we like and blending them into our Christmas traditions until we have so much going on in our lives that we have to skip church to “get it all done,” and can’t fathom a day of rest in December.  We add more and more to our already full lives, causing me to wonder, is God really honored by a celebration that makes no room for him?

I hope you’ll join me in saying no to excess during this Advent season, so we can say yes to God.  We’ve already cut back on the number of decorations we put up (and are selling a few), we’re limiting our gift-giving, and we’re saying no to some regular activities this month so we can make room for the special holiday activities that are meaningful to us.  Instead of having a massive baking day, I plan to make one or two of our holiday favorites each week, freezing most of it to put on holiday gift plates and set out at parties at the end of the month when my baking is completed.  This also allows us to enjoy one treat at a time, instead of gorging on plates of goodies all month long.  In order to have time to bake, I’ll stick to quick and easy dinner menus this month (like the ones in my low-sugar menu plan for weight loss).

My key to a simple, low-stress holiday can be summed up in one rule: If I’m going to add something to my schedule, I have to (temporarily, at least) take something out.  It’s not easy to swim against the tide of commercialism and “tradition,” but it takes a conscious effort to MAKE room for the still, small voice of the Savior.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come.  Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare him room. 

This is what Advent is all about, making room in the “inn” of our hearts for Christ – not crowding him out with a bunch of activities.  To encourage you in your own efforts to “prepare him room” this December, I plan to focus upcoming blog posts on ways to simplify our Christmas celebration – including quick and easy gluten free recipes!  Planned posts include:

  • Spiritual disciplines for Advent (“discipline” is not always a bad thing – these are fun!)
  • How we gave Santa the boot and introduced our kids to the joy of giving instead of receiving
  • Easy, no bake, gluten free holiday goodies
  • Gluten free make-ahead meals to free you from the kitchen while family’s in town
  • How we homeschool during the holidays
  • 12 gifts from God (to accompany our 12 Days of Christmas celebration)
  • Gluten free party food (for the hostess who doesn’t ordinarily cook gluten free)
  • Gluten free green bean casserole (no, this is NOT a time-saver recipe, but it has been requested by readers)
  • Gluten free holiday breakfast recipes

Let me know if there is a particular topic you’d like to see first.  Have a blessed, Christ-centered Christmas!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »