Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cooking and Booking Review: Ten Tiny Breaths

I owe my friend Megan a huge, ginormous "thank you." She has rekindled my love for reading. Scratch that - she sparked a love of reading in me that I never knew I had. Megan started a book review blog a few months back called The Book Asylum. It's really taken off and there's no question why: she's incredibly articulate, knows what she's talking about (without being a snob), and her passion for reading is downright contagious. I caught what she has; I've got the I-just-love-a-good-book fever.

For the longest time I only really liked non-fiction; the realist in me just couldn't get into many of the novels I'd been assigned in school because I found them hard to believe, unimaginable - just foreign, which is a big reason I got into journalism. I thought life itself was interesting enough - and it can be, but fiction, man, it can be good. It can suck you in, make you fall in love, and occupy your mind all hours of the day. (Whoa. I never thought I'd say that....)

So, for the past few months I've taken Megan's suggestions on books and I always immediately text her when I'm done, explaining that I need my next hit, I mean, my next book, and she always recommends winners.

We both recently just read "Ten Tiny Breaths" by K.A.Tucker and it did not disappoint. Whenever I had a free moment, and sometimes when I should've been doing other things (the laundry piled up quite a bit), I was reading this book. I'll let Megan do the review, but there's tragedy, love, heartache - and a twist that I didn't see coming.

Megan and I decided we'd take note of all the food that was mentioned in the book and I'd come up with a recipe based off of one of the foods: veal parm, Spam and pancakes were a few of the foods mentioned. Pancakes were the easy choice for me, and because both Megan and I have to avoid certain foods, the recipe below is: gluten-free, egg-free, vegan, dairy-free, nut-free and soy-free.

The majority of the book took place in Miami, a place known for amazing Cuban food, so this recipe, with its masa harina and fresh lime, is Miami inspired.

Masa Harina Pancakes w/Lime, Butter and Brown Sugar

1 cup masa harina (it can be found in the International aisle of your grocery store)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar (I used coconut sugar)
1/4 cup applesauce
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups water

2 tablespoons butter/coconut oil/Earth Balance for frying and topping
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 lime

In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the masa, basking powder, salt, cinnamon and sugar. Then add the applesauce, vanilla extract and water. Masa harina soaks up quite a bit of water, so if your batter seems too dry (say, more cookie dough then pancake batter) add more water about a tablespoon at a time. Let the batter sit for at least five minutes (and add more water if it thickens up too much).

In a frying pan over medium-low heat, add one tablespoon butter and fry about 1/4 cup of batter until you see bubbles forming on the batter. Turn and cook until cooked through.

Serve with butter, brown sugar and a squeeze of lime. 

Here's Megan's awesome take on the whole book. I tell ya; her love of books is contagious!

I am so excited to be doing this post with one of my dear friends and fellow bloggers, Liz Lerner. Liz and I have been friends for a very long time. She is my partner in crime and many other things too – blogging, reading, being an awesome virgo, and unfortunately, food allergies. Boo! Liz has blogged since 2007 at her site – The Good Eatah. It’s my go-to resource when I need allergy-free, healthy food ideas. She’s an amazing cook and has been a tremendous help to me on my allergy-free journey.

Since we’re always talking books and food (my top two favorite things ever) we decided to do a joint post today. So, here's the deal. We chose a book to read together - Ten Tiny Breaths by K.A. Tucker. After chatting about what we both loved about it, I wrote a review while Liz took a food mentioned in the book (pancakes) and came up with her own awesome allergy-free recipe for it. Pretty cool, huh? We think so, and we're hoping this will be a monthly post we do together. We're calling it 'Cooking and Booking'. 

So without further ado, please check out the review on Ten Tiny Breaths, feast your eyes on the most delicious looking pancakes you've ever seen, and make sure to connect with Liz at her blog, on facebook, pinterest, and on twitter! Enjoy!

Author: K.A. Tucker
Published: December 11, 2012
Date Read: January, 2012
The Book Asylum Rating:

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Kacey Cleary’s whole life imploded four years ago in a drunk-driving accident. Now she’s working hard to bury the pieces left behind—all but one. Her little sister, Livie. Kacey can swallow the constant disapproval from her born-again aunt Darla over her self-destructive lifestyle; she can stop herself from going kick-boxer crazy on Uncle Raymond when he loses the girls’ college funds at a blackjack table. She just needs to keep it together until Livie is no longer a minor, and then they can get the hell out of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

But when Uncle Raymond slides into bed next to Livie one night, Kacey decides it’s time to run. Armed with two bus tickets and dreams of living near the coast, Kacey and Livie start their new lives in a Miami apartment complex, complete with a grumpy landlord, a pervert upstairs, and a neighbor with a stage name perfectly matched to her chosen “profession.” But Kacey’s not worried. She can handle all of them. What she can’t handle is Trent Emerson in apartment 1D.

Kacey doesn’t want to feel. She doesn’t. It’s safer that way. For everyone. But sexy Trent finds a way into her numb heart, reigniting her ability to love again. She starts to believe that maybe she can leave the past where it belongs and start over. Maybe she’s not beyond repair.

But Kacey isn’t the only one who’s broken. Seemingly perfect Trent has an unforgiveable past of his own; one that, when discovered, will shatter Kacey’s newly constructed life and send her back into suffocating darkness.
The Book Asylum Review:

I had been seeing a lot of buzz around Goodreads and the blogosphere about K.A. Tucker’s recent release - Ten Tiny Breaths. When I see so much positive buzz about a book, I sometimes bypass reading the book blurb completely. Sometimes it’s nice to pick up a title, start reading, and be completely surprised. That’s exactly what happened with Ten Tiny Breaths. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just sat back and enjoyed the ride… and it was such an awesome ride!

This story follows Kacey and her little sister Livie as they make their new lives in Miami, Florida. Kacey is emotionally damaged after a horrible accident that killed her parents, her best friend, and her boyfriend four years ago. She was the only survivor of a crash brought on by a college student who was drunk driving with two friends in the car.

“Before Kacey died four years ago and all that’s left is a mess. A mess who spent a year in physical rehabilitation to repair her shattered body, only to be released with a shattered soul. A Mess whose grades did a nose dive into the bottom of the class. Who sunk into a world of drugs and alcohol for a year as a way of coping. After Kacey doesn’t cry, not a single tear.”

After reading that, you’ll understand that Kacey has some issues, to say the least. Big ones. Nightmares torment her daily. Insomnia is her closest friend. She has hardened into a ‘take no prisoners’ kind of gal whose favorite coping mechanisms are kick boxing, sarcasm, and denial. She has become adept at keeping everyone at a distance and is about as aggressive and abrasive as they come. The only person she allows close is her sister, Livie. Luckily, Livie wasn’t in the car that horrible night so she was spared the haunting memories that plague her sister. Unfortunately, both sisters have scars. They just deal with them differently…or not at all.

Determined to do whatever it takes to make a life for her and her sister, Kacey accepts a position at a local adult club where her neighbor, Storm, works. Her ends – putting food on the table, paying rent, and sending Livie to Princeton – justify her means. Along the way, without her even realizing it, Kacey starts to let people in. That includes her hard-working neighbor, Storm, her adorable daughter Mia, and Trent – her neighbor from apartment 1D... Trent with the striking blue eyes and unshakeable interest in Kacey.

“How can he see what I don’t want him to see, what I work so hard to conceal? He’s found a way in, that’s how. Like a trespasser, he’s invaded my space, breaching security and sliding in to take what I haven’t offered to him.”

Trent… Oh Trent… Trent is everything a girl could ever want in a guy, and everything a reader could want in a dreamy book boyfriend. He’s tall, handsome, sexy, sexy, sexy, bright, composed, and unwavering in his pursuit of Kacey. He’s sexy and he rides a motorcycle. Did I already say sexy? I did? Just making sure.

“It’s like Trent’s got a “Make Kacey Smile” itinerary and it’s jam-packed. By the time I get to work each night, my face hurts from so much smiling.”

A lot of tension comes from the fact that although Kacey is falling for Trent, he keeps pushing her to face her past. A past she would much rather leave buried.

Besides Kacey’s strong voice and the every so engaging relationship between her and Trent, Tucker has colored this story with an amazing array of supporting characters. Livie is caring, perceptive, and intelligent. She’s also completely selfless. I just adored her! Storm and Mia are the neighbors that live next door. They are some of the sweetest, most endearing characters I’ve ever read. I can’t imagine anyone not falling for them. They’re perfect! Then, there’s the landlord, Tanner (a personal favorite of mine), who sports Batman pajamas, Cain, the club owner with a heart of gold, Nate, the gargantuan bouncer, and Ben, hottie bouncer and lawyer in training. Everyone is distinct. Everyone is likeable. Everyone adds to the flavor of the story in a unique way.

The big twist in Ten Tiny Breaths wasn't super shocking to me. I would imagine most people will predict what it is, but that doesn't take away from what you'll experience all the way up to that point. Just because I saw it coming didn't mean that the sucker punch it packed hurt any less. In the end, I was sad because the story wrapped up pretty quickly and long before I was ready to say goodbye. It was a pleasant surprise to have become so attached to these characters, their struggles and especially their futures. I told you it was a good idea not to have read the blurb first, right?

With Ten Tiny Breaths, you’ll experience all the highs and lows with Kacey, Trent, and the gang. You’ll feel their want, their need to connect, to live, to love, and ultimately to forgive. Ten Tiny Breaths is an amazing journey that will appeal to readers who love an authentic contemporary romance. It’s beautifully written and emotionally charged, with characters as complex and flawed as the events that shaped them. If you’re looking for a book filled with honest moments and characters worth rooting for, check out Ten Tiny Breaths today. Believe me, you won’t regret it!

“Just breathe, Kacey. Ten tiny breaths. Seize them. Feel them. Love them.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

No Bake Graham Cracker Almond Bites

We introduced the Little Guy to peanut butter a month ago (after the recommendation to wait until he was a year old) and he got mild hives. That really worries me; I am a BIG peanut butter eater, so I hope it was just a one time thing.

(We'll try again in another month under medical supervision.)

That being said, if I had to cut peanut butter out of my diet and home, I'd be okay with it. I just know that I'd go through a long mourning period so I decided to start now just in case that's the life we'll have to live.

I came up with these almond butter bites because the Little Guy has a cookie problem. Well, maybe it's me and the A-man that have the problem. We eat cookies, in some fashion, on a pretty regular basis and Little Guy asks for them in his adorable, clingy way (by climbing on us, whining and grabbing), so we give in.

I feel a whole lot better about giving him "cookies" when they're these. With the crunch of the graham cracker and smoothness of the almond butter (and hints of maple syrup and chocolate) I'm really, really digging them.

Gluten-Free No Bake Graham Cracker Almond Bites
Makes 13 balls

1/2 cup crumbled (by hand; you still want them to be crunchy) gluten-free graham crackers
1 cup crunchy almond butter (smooth will work too)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
pinch of salt (if using unsalted almond butter)
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut 

Combine the graham crackers, almond butter, maple syrup, flax seed, salt and chocolate chips and mix until thoroughly combined. Using a melon baller scoop into about one-inch balls and roll until round. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and then roll in the coconut. Keep refrigerated. They make a great post-workout snack. 

He likes them! He really likes them!

This post is being shared on the Gluten Free Homemakers Gluten Free Wednesday series. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Noon Mark Diner Gluten-Free Pie

The A-man's an avid hiker; I've known this for a long time. He grew up next to a National Park and mountaineering was a part of his profession in the military. The man needs his outdoor time (he's two peaks away from the ADK 46!). That doesn't mean, however, that I'm thrilled when he decides to hike Adirondack high peaks in the dead of winter.

Our compromise? He comes home with pie.

Glorious, gluten free pie from a great, little place called the Noon Mark Diner. They do mail-order pies (!!) and he tells me their full menu has a lot of gluten-free options too.

He arrived home Saturday night from a long day of trekking in negative degree temperatures and presented me with two pies this time: Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble and Maple Walnut (think: the Northeast's version of pecan pie). And I learned something that night: I'm really, really good at eating pie.

The Maple Walnut, something I've never had before, was delicious. At first, I thought it might be a little too sweet for my taste, but it wasn't, the maple flavor wasn't overpowering and went perfectly with the walnuts.

The Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble was awesome. The tart rhubarb was balanced by the sweet strawberries and sugary topping.

The crust on both pies was something I was jealous of. I haven't attempted many gluten-free pie crusts, but when I have, they were failures. (Though I've bookmarked  this recipe and tutorial by Gluten Free on a Shoestring and think I'll give it another go.)

So while I have no recipe to give you, I have a love haiku to share with you:

Pie. Smile on my face.
Happiness in my belly.
Thank you Noon Mark Diner.

(You're cringing at how bad that was. I know. It's okay.)

Friday, January 25, 2013

My relationship status with running: It's complicated.

I have a love/hate relationship with running.

Our current status? In blissful love.

The past ten years? Off and on.

High school and before? Deep, deep hatred.

I should clarify that when I talk about running, I usually mean middle-distance and distance running, not sprinting. Sprinting and I have always been on pretty good terms. Sprinting was always a part of the sports I played: soccer, basketball, tennis... you sprint to chase after a ball. I understood it. There was a goal, something to go for. But then I decided to follow in my (record holding) sister's footsteps and try track my freshman year of high school.

That was a mistake. I didn't care for the coach and I was way too immature to appreciate that running itself is a sport. I was told, because of my body shape at the time, that I should be a middle distance and distance runner; I did not agree and therefore held a grudge the entire season and dreaded going to practice. I barely got through practice runs and had incredible anxiety before and during meets. The only event that I enjoyed and that quenched my desire to sprint - the triple-jump - was the one that my sister (a senior when I was a freshman) also competed in. I did okay with it. She'd always place first and I'd sometimes place third; that was pretty cool.

But the middle distance and distance events? I was always one of the last ones to finish. It sucked and I didn't go back.

(In hindsight it was a good thing, the next year I picked up tennis, captained the team my junior and senior year and went on to play in college.)

Fast forward to post-college: my main forms of exercise became rec soccer and training for sprint triathlons. I began to run and I began to like it. I'd still rather bike, or swim, or play a team sport. But I'd run in some 5ks and 5 milers, and one half-marathon, because I had friends or family running in them too. I never came close to finishing in the top quarter of the race. I was lucky if I finished in the top half of my age group, but I was growing okay with it.

In fact, my rocky relationship with running also probably has something to do with the fact that I have some really amazing runners in my life: my husband (a sub 3 hour marathoner), one of my best girlfriends (sub 3:15 marathoner) and my sister (a stud Div. 1 track athlete) - I'd compare myself to them, and figure everyone else was too, so I decided since I wasn't near any of their levels, the sport just wasn't for me.

Fortunately, with age comes wisdom, or, more accurately: as I grow older, I care less and less about what other people think.

When I became pregnant with the little guy I had a small base of running under me. I was running to keep in shape for roller derby, but my fast twitch muscles were definitely more formed than my slow ones. I ran (off and on) for probably the first 14 weeks of my pregnancy. Then it just got too uncomfortable (I still worked out, almost daily, just in other ways). I ran again for the first time probably 8 weeks postpartum: little by little, one mile at a go.

Maybe it was because I had a break from running, or because I had to start from zero postpartum, but during the last year I really began to love it. It was a struggle, getting back to the point where I could run three miles consistently again, and stroller running was pretty difficult to get used to, but it's working for me. I've ran a few 5ks (With the little guy in the stroller and without. With friends and racing for myself). And I finished the Ragnar Adirondacks (a 200 mile relay race) with a group of 11 other amazing mamas.

I mentioned it briefly in my last running post, but I'm enjoying running so much, and the camrederie it creates, and the good it can do (both mentally and physically) that I'm helping to organize a 5k run around here, and it's for a great cause.

If you made it this far, thank you for letting me work through my running issues! I'll be sure to keep the blog updated with our tumultuous relationship.

On that note, here's my favorite running workout that's easy to do on a treadmill (which is where most of my running is taking place due to the frigid cold right now). I find the "break" after each mile really makes the running part go by quickly:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Black Bean and Cilantro Lime Rice

I love, love, love Chipotle. They're my go-to when I need a quick, healthy, gluten-free meal. The salad is awesome (I could drink the dressing with a straw) and the tacos are good (though not super filling); the burrito bowl is my "usual" - with rice, beans, chicken, salsa and guacamole - it always hits the spot.

But sometimes it's good to branch out, and by branch out I mean make it yourself and dare I say, make it more delicious? The "secret sauce" to this meal is the chorizo (from here): fatty, spicy pork which gets balanced out by the mild cilantro rice and creamy, chunky avocado.

If I were on that show "The Taste," I think my spoonful for the judges would be the chorizo, rice, avocado triple-threat. But I digress.
Here's what our burrito bowl consisted of: black bean and cilantro lime rice, pan fried chorizo and a topping of fresh tomato and avocado with another squeeze of lime. It was simple and despite being the dead of winter, it was a nice fresh meal that made me think of warmer days.

Since the latter two layers are pretty self explanatory, I'll share with you how I made the black bean and cilantro lime rice.

Gluten-free, Dairy-free Black Bean and Cilantro Lime Rice

1 cup cooked long grain rice
2 cups water
1 lime
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt to taste
1 large bunch cilantro, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (can or dried, soaked and cooked - your choice)

Cook the rice according to package directions (I cooked mine in a rice cooker). Meanwhile, add one tablespoon of olive oil to a small saucepan over medium low heat, add the beans and cook until thoroughly heated through. In a large bowl add the rice, the cooked beans, the juice of one lime, one tablespoon of olive oil, the cilantro, and the salt. Toss gently with a spoon. 

Serve with the chorizo, tomato and avocado or eat on its own. Mixing rice and beans makes a complete protein and therefore a pretty filling dish in itself. 

*Can you spot the one-year-old in the photo above?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A local 5k run for Sandy Hook

On Saturday morning I took part in a 5k that I'll likely never forget. It wasn't timed, there was no swag bag and the course wasn't particularly scenic. It was in my town, put together by mothers, in honor of some very special people.

A 5k in Newtown, Connecticut was planned for January 19th, but for a variety of reasons, an "official" run couldn't be held so the organizers encouraged other communities to have 5ks of their own in honor of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. Some amazing women in my community - the Niskayuna Moms on the Run, decided to put together their own 5k and 1 mile walk, and at the urging of those organizing the Newtown event, donate proceeds locally as well. A $25 donation was suggested; the money went to build a memorial in Newtown, to the local fire department, and to a program at a middle school in Niskayuna that a local girl, who just passed away, was a part of.

I was touched, and my eyes teared as people spoke before the race - about Sandy Hook, about 14-year-old Grace who recently passed (she loved going to a local party store and an employee recalled how she'd visit weekly and loved filling up her balloons - they handed out pink and purple balloons after the run) and they spoke about "helpers," and quoted this from Mr. Rogers:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."

Fred Rogers' words were "shared" and "retweeted" on social media a lot around the time of the Sandy Hook tragedy, but no matter how many times I read and hear it, I get emotional because it emphasizes the good in people, the good in most people. The good in the organizers and in those that ran and walked and donated on Saturday.

When I got home I gave my purple balloon to the little guy. I was happy to watch him drag it around all day; grateful we live in the community we do.

I was recently asked by a friend to be the co-director of a 5k that will take place in our area in September. I was slightly hesitant at first to do it; afraid of being overwhelmed by the work it takes to put something like that together, but after Saturday, and after taking part in other races that benefit great causes, I couldn't feel better about my decision.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Photo Friday: One Year Ago

This is how we would eat our dinners one year ago (that's Coconut Curry Beef Stew if you're wondering).

Now, we've got a rambunctious toddler who bounces in his high chair while shoveling food into his mouth.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Workout Wednesday: The Gift that Keeps Me Moving

My sister got me a pretty awesome present for Christmas. In fact, she loves the little gadget so much that she also got one for herself, her husband, my husband, our parents and her in-laws. It's a FitBit, and in simple terms, it's a suped-up pedometer. In more elaborate terms, it's an activity tracker that monitors your steps taken, floors climbed, and hours slept. It's simple to use, has a free app for your phone and puts all your info in easy-to-understand graphs and stats.

Which is good for me because I haaaaate complicated graphs. 

You can also "friend" your friends on your FitBit profile and compete with them. Now I see why my sister got me one. (I've never known anyone more competitive than her.)

I wear my FitBit when I remember - which is most days. There have been days where I know I won't be moving much (say, I'm driving all day) and I choose not to wear it because the numbers will just depress me, but on normal days when I do wear it, it's a motivator. My goal is 10,000 steps a day; I never get that without exercising and in the winter months, it's hard to get outside, so it's been kind of fun to walk around the house and home gym like a crazy woman and watch my numbers go up. (Okay, maybe some of my sister's competitiveness has rubbed off on me...)

And here's a testament to its durability: My husband wore his when he was snowblowing our driveway. Somehow it came off of his pants (I'm not sure how this happened because mine hasn't ever come loose - he must have been snowblowing pretty aggressively) and it was missing, in the snow, for a good five days. We looked and looked and finally, Allen took a rake to the snow and found it. With a quick charge it was back and running again.  

Here's a great Scientific American blog post on the 'bit.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Photo, er, Video Friday

We're slowly discovering that our son likes to dance... to techno music. When he's having a cranky moment we head to the gym and crank up the tunes.

JackDancing from liz clancy lerner on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Kid Food: Carrot Apricot Chews

My baby is now officially a toddler. A toddler who prefers to eat while exploring: double-fisting mini-muffins while he runs, climbs and crawls around the somewhat baby-proofed house. He takes a bite and then he's on the move, always gripping tightly (usually too tightly) to his snack of the moment. Sometimes we don't know whether he finishes his food or squirrels it away someplace (we find a lot of "real" food in his play kitchen cabinets). 

We try, and do succeed, in getting him to sit in his high-chair during meal times and he does pretty well most of the time, especially if there's meat in front of him. (That's a picture of him eating a chicken wing on New Years Eve. He was in HEAVEN.)

But, there are days when the wiggle-worm will not sit still and when those days align with the days I have no patience, his meals need to be portable.

He has this affinity for Ella brand "nibbly fingers." They're like small, chewy oatmeal bars with somewhat healthy stuff in them. They're portable, and packaged individually. They're great, but expensive so I wanted to make my own version, and after a few attempts, we got a winner!

The Bubs loves them, I've eaten a few dozen and when we bring them on play-dates his pals seem to dig them too.  

Bub Bub's Carrot Apricot Chews

1 cup carrots
3/4 cup dried apricots
1 1/2 cup oats (I use certified gluten-free oats)
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup maple syrup (or agave - I've used both before; agave makes it sweeter)
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a heavy-duty blender or food processor add all of the ingredients and blend until a batter forms. Spread on a lightly greased (I use coconut oil) pan (I use 8x8 or 8x6) and bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then cut into rectangles or squares.