Saturday, July 31, 2010

RIP Dave's ipod

After our camping trip Dave couldn't find his ipod.  The day we left for New Jersey he mentioned this to me over breakfast.  He mentioned that it could be anywhere, maybe in a jacket or his pants pockets.  His camping cargo pants happened to be drying on the back of my chair from laundry day the day before.  I put my hands into all of the cargo pockets and found nothing, then checked the top pockets.  I put my hand in and wrapped my fingers around his ipod nano.  He looked at me with a smirk thinking I was joking, but then realized I'm not good at being funny.  I took the ipod out of his recently washed pants, tried turning it on, and got nothing.  I immediately felt awful for washing his ipod and ruining it the day we left for a trip with long bus, train, and plane rides, and started to cry.  I was so sorry that I didn't think to check his pockets!  Were his pants actually IN the laundry basket or just next to it?  If it was next to it, this meant he hadn't gone through the pockets because he had deemed the pants not dirty enough to deserve to be washed just yet (like when I wear jeans for a week without washing them) so I should have either not washed them or at least gone through the pockets.  This was definitely my fault.

Dave calmed me down by assuring me that it wasn't the end of the world.  I later went to take a shower and he asked me if I wanted to listen to music in the shower, handing me the squeaky clean ipod.  Always the jokester!  I let him use my ipod touch on the plane while I watched really bad movies that Continental deemed worthy of showing to a mixed audience ("The Last Song" is possibly the dumbest movie I have ever seen.)

We let the ipod dry out over vacation in hopes that it hadn't been entirely ruined.  I tried plugging it in upon our return Monday and got nothing.  Now it's time to replace it, but it brings up too many decisions to be made:  should he get the updated nano?  the ipod touch?  wait to find out if the rumors of the iphone switching to verizon service are true?  This dilemma is an apple-geek's dream, so much research must be done before he decides which upgrade he will go with. 

RIP Dave's ipod. You were green, rounded, could play movies, helped Dave train for his 10k with your Nike + ipod capabilities, and were filled with Manu Chao, Phish, and Toubab Krewe.  You will be sadly missed.  I may make you into a Christmas ornament since you are green and now worthless.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A slick deal: our new espresso machine!

Dave rushed through the door before we left for vacation and said, "I'm going to Broomfield, there's a slick deal on an espresso machine!"  There is a "slick deals" webpage where people with a lot of time on their hands post slick deals that they find in order to help out their fellow cheapskates.  A slick deal has to be an extreme savings in order to be a true slick deal.  We check this webpage every now and again, particularly around xmas time, and have gotten maybe two or three good deals in the past from it.  This particular deal was for a $1299 espresso machine marked down to $299.  I convinced him to let me call William Sonoma before he drove a half an hour out of his way for something that could be sold out.  The first rule of slick dealing is never to call because as soon as the employee realizes the deal, he or she may take it for themselves.  I called.  The helpful woman on the phone informed me that a man just called and put their last one on hold.  Okay, that was enough for Dave, we were too late.  I, on the other hand, was not about to give up.  I've been wanting a good machine for years and have been checking Craigslist for a good one since Christmas.  I called the William Sonoma at Mayfair in Milwaukee and they had one left!  I had them hold it for me.  My generous dad agreed to pick it up for me on his way home from work, then ship it to me here.  I felt pretty silly for having my dad do this for me all for an espresso machine, but here was my reasoning:

I like lattes.  Grande soy white mochas, to be precise.

One of these runs me about $4.55 at Starbucks, my coffee house of choice due to its proximity to my work(s) and, well, everywhere.  This past spring semester I drank two of these a week when I walked by Starbucks on the way to my early morning class after my bus ride.  Now, this is a very conservative estimate of my coffee drinking.  Sometimes I wanted a drink in the afternoon to get me through my night class, this only adds onto my Starbucks fund from there.  This fall I will have four early morning classes, meaning I might be tempted to spend $4.55 four times a week!  Let's use the twice a week estimate.

2 X $4.55 = $9.10 per week X 52 weeks per year = $473.20 on coffee at Starbucks per year. 

This is a lot of money!  A few years ago I drank one a day!  That's $1660.75 per year.  (I think that translated to about 7% of my graduate student salary at the time.  Smart.)

When I don't drink lattes I make drip coffee at home or bialetti coffee or plunger coffee (don't ask) or even french press coffee.  While these are all great ways to save money, they just don't taste as good as properly made espresso, meaning I am tempted to get my Starbucks fix too often.  (I sound ridiculous in my reasoning here, sorry.)

Of course by having my own machine I'm not making coffee for free.  There's the initial cost of the machine ($299+shipping), the cost of coffee beans, and the cost of silk vanilla soy milk (Costco!).  Still, in the end, I think this machine will pay for itself off in the first year if I avoid Starbucks 100%.  Plus, I'll get to enjoy tasty coffee every day of the week!

I will miss going to Starbucks though.  I actually enjoyed the interaction of getting my morning coffee, and if I had time, sitting down on the Starbucks couch to grade any last-minute papers before rushing off to class on a cold morning.  It made me feel classy, which is what they want, I'm sure.

Well, the espresso machine just arrived and in the last 24 hours I've tried it three times.  Yum, yum, and yum!!!  All I have to do is turn it on, put my cup under the spout, push a button, and my perfect espresso comes out.  I can then froth my milk if I so desire.  It's a Delonghi Perfecta.

Thus far I am very hyper happy about the purchase!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Phish Tacos

Having five couples on vacation together meant each of us got one night to show off our cooking skills to the 14 person crowd.  This could have been a nightmare for a gluten free gal, but somehow, through some thoughtful menu making on the part of Dave's family, I was able to eat every meal and they were all delicious!  A few desserts I had to avoid, but it just gave me a great excuse to walk down the road for ice cream instead (I ODed on lactose one night for sure, oops!)

As it turns out, New Jersey has a large supply of seafood due to its close proximity to the ocean.  Clearly we don't get much fresh seafood here in Boulder where most of the fish I buy has been previously frozen.  Therefore, for our meal, Dave suggested we make fish tacos.  I reminded him that my fish tacos normally taste like nothing, but we decided to go for it anyway.  My first fish taco experience was at the Denver Aquarium last summer where we ate in a restaurant surrounded by schools of fish swimming by.  I've been trying to match that flavor ever since, and I think we got it this time! We went down to the fish market in Sea Isle City, grabbed three pounds of fresh mahi-mahi, and made some pretty successful fish tacos that had some great flavor to them.   See fish taco recipe below. 

My phish-head enjoying the Denver Aquarium in summer 2009.
The next night we had a "Country Boil" which featured fresh jumbo shrimp.  This involved boiling potatoes, onions, kielbasa (ring bologna for us Midwestern folk), corn on the cob halves, and jumbo shrimp in water seasoned with Old Bay.  This was something completely new to me and I really enjoyed it! 

Other fabulous meals included fajitas, pulled pork, and grilled chicken and veggies.  It was a great week for my tastebuds!

Phish Taco Recipe (I'm scaling portions down to a 2-4 person meal rather than the 14 person meal)
1 lb Mahi-mahi
Fish marinade (recipe from Bobby Flay of the Food Network):
  1/4 c. oil (olive or canola)
  1 Tbsp chili powder
  1 lime juiced
  1 jalopeno finely chopped (set small amount aside for pico de gallo)
  1/4 c. cilantro finely chopped
Jicama slaw
  1/2 jicama grated
  1 lime juiced
  Kosher salt
Pico de gallo
  1 large tomato or a few small ones finely diced
  1 Tbsp cilantro finely diced
  1 Tbsp red onion finely diced
  1 Tsp jalopeno finely chopped
  1/2 lime juiced
  pinch salt
  3 Tbsp sour cream
  1 Tbsp mayo (olive oil mayo just came out-- make the switch, people)
  1 Tsp cider vinegar
  1 Tsp lime juice
  Dash of paprika
Corn tortillas
Make the fish marinade by whisking ingredients together.  Marinate fish for 20 minutes then grill the fish, skin side down (if there is a skin side) for 8 minutes over medium high heat, then flip over for another 8 minutes.
Grilled mahi-mahi
 Make the jicama slaw by pealing the jicama with a knife or carrot peeler.  Cut it in half and grate it on a cheese grater (the biggest holes).  In a bowl, stir together the lime juice, pinch of kosher salt, and jicama.  Jicama is found near the weird vegetables in my grocery store, like mushrooms and fingerling potatoes.  If you can't find it, substitute white cabbage dressed with cider vinegar and a pinch of salt (Don't want to cut up smelly cabbage?  Grab a bag of prepackaged coleslaw that hasn't been dressed yet.) 

Jicama slaw
 Make the pico de gallo by combining all ingredients in a bowl and seasoning with salt to taste.  (When I made this at the shore, I used 10 tomatoes for a huge batch and put out chips so that people could munch on the pico while the fish was grilling, which kept me from feeling too rushed by the hungry masses.  By the end of dinner it was 100% gone.) 

Pico de gallo
 Corn tortillas are gluten free, but they fall apart if not properly prepped.  After months of thinking that microwaving would suffice and having my taco insides end up plopped on my plate, I have decided that corn tortillas must be fried in order to properly hold food.  Throw a Tbsp of oil into a hot frying pan and throw in a tortilla or two.  Coat in oil by flopping them around in the pan and wait for them to puff up a bit.  Keep them warm until you're ready to serve them. 

With a fork, combine the drizzle ingredients.  Taste the drizzle and add more acid (lime or vinegar) to taste.  It should be tangy!  

Lastly, if avocados are affordable and ripe, slice one up into small pieces for taco filling.

Serve the fish, jicama slaw, pico de gallo, avocado, and drizzle in corn tortillas.  I just took all of these items and put them in order on the bar so people could make their own tacos with what they liked.  Plan on each person having 2-3 of these tacos.  Rice or a lettuce salad with lime vinaigrette dressing make great sides for this dish. 


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I Was Told There'd be Cake and Eiger Dreams

My trip to the shore was going to involve several firsts:  my first time flying into Newark, my first time swimming in the Atlantic Ocean that I can remember, my first time to New Jersey-- home of my live-in-bf, first time meeting two of Dave's three brothers, his grandma, his two nieces and his nephew, his sister-in-law, and his brothers' girlfriends.  I wouldn't say I was nervous, but I also didn't really know what to expect spending 10 days with them in a house that didn't have enough beds or rooms for any sort of privacy. 

Before I left I had a catch-up lunch with a few of my girlfriends where Melissa, being the thoughtful person that she is and knowing that I needed something fun to read on my trip after sensing my nervousness, brought me two books of hers to read on the beach.  One of the books, Eiger Dreams, is by one of my favorite authors, Jon Krakauer, author of Into the Wild, now a major motion picture, and Into Thin Air, the story of the Mt. Everest tragedy of 1996 that he was a part of (one of my all time favorite books).  Eiger Dreams is a collection of essays about his various mountaineering expeditions.  I had a hard time concentrating on the technical stories in this book while on the beach, but when in a quiet room by myself, I really enjoyed reading it. 

The other book was, I Was Told There'd be Cake, essays by Sloane Crosely.  This book is hilarious and great for beach reading when there are occasional interruptions from 2- to 5-year-olds needing someone to hold their hand while jumping over waves.  The essays are a collection of random stories from her life told in comedic fashion.  I particularly loved the essay called "You on a Stick," which documents the story of Sloane being asked to be the maid of honor in one of her high school friend's weddings, a friend she hadn't spoken to since high school.
"Weddings are like the triathlon of female friendship:  the Shower, the Bachlorette Party, and the Main Event.  It's the Iron Woman and most people never make it through.  They fall off their bikes or choke on ocean water.  I figured if I valued my life, I'd stay away from weddings and they'd stay away from me."
"In the movies, brides cry of joy on their wedding day, sashaying down petal-covered aisles in six-thousand-dollar dresses.  In real life the crying comes way earler, usually in the confines of a bridal suite bathroom, and results from the stress of a bouffant gone awry or a missing mother-in-law."

"The bride on her wedding day is like a giant eggshell of emotional turmoil ready to crack and turn this whole feast of love into a trauma scramble.  ... The five-alarm freak-out comes not from cold feet or anything having to do with something silly like the actual prospect of sleeping with the same person for the rest of your life.  It comes from not wanting to look puffy in posterity." 

I highly recommend bringing this book on your next vacation to the beach!

As it turns out, my fear of the unknown quickly dissipated when I realized that Dave's family was just like Dave:  fun and easy to get along with.  What better way to get to know someone's family than spending an entire week sharing close quarters with them?  Still, I'm glad I had some great books to read on the beach!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My first trip to NYC

What's that?  The forecast for today is 100 degrees and sunny?  Perfect!  Let's take a trip to NYC and walk around all day in it!  

Well, that's not entirely how it went.  I am 28 years old, but have never been to New York City, despite the fact that my brother lived in Brooklyn for two years.  (Our senior class trip was to NYC, but I was on the band trip in Australia at the time!)  If I was in New Jersey, there was no way I was leaving without seeing NYC.  After our week at the shore in Sea Isle City, NJ, we drove north to Secaucus, NJ on Saturday where Dave's slightly younger brother dropped us off at the NJ Transit train station.  We took the train to Penn Station in NYC and got there much later than planned, 1:40.  One of the main reasons I wanted to go to NYC was to see a Broadway show and matinees started at 2:00.  We got out of the train station and booked it 15 blocks to the theaters where Fela and then La Cage were showing, but decided to wait until we could walk into a performance on time and for a price we were comfortable with, which meant we'd be sticking around for an 8:00 pm performance.  We hadn't eaten, it was 100 degrees outside, I had just popped up into NYC for the first time in my life and powerwalked 15 blocks trying not to loose Dave through Time Square, and when Dave asked me where I wanted to eat, I picked the only restaurant I remembered seeing that wasn't McDonalds: Ruby Tuesdays in Time Square.  No, this is not where I dreamed of eating in NYC, a city famous for good food and filled with several gluten free opportunities, and in retrospect it was silly to have a sit down lunch at 3:00 pm when we could have had a local dinner a few hours later, but I'll blame the poor decision on the dizzying effect of the city, the heat, and the low blood sugar.  After we were seated, I realized my mistake and felt bad about it the rest of the day.  We had some yummy juice and iced tea and some lunch.

After a regretful lunch, we wandered by the tkts line in the middle of Time Square to see if we could get discount tickets for the 8:00 show and sure enough, there was already a full line formed.  We waited in it for probably a half an hour (just long enough to make a trip to the Natural History Museum out of reach, damn!) and snagged some tickets to La Cage Aux Folles for $70 each.  Dave was hoping to see Fela, but we both decided it could be a boring show and went with something more showy.   

We hit Rockerfeller Center where I saw the place where the xmas tree and skating rink would be.  We then turned the corner and saw huge crowds for a movie being filmed called "Friends with Benefits" staring Woody Harrelson, Justin Timberlake, and Jackie from "That 70s Show."  The possibility of being in a movie or seeing a star meant that several hundred people were crowding the area.  We made our way through and across the street we checked out St Patrick's Cathedral, which was beautiful.  We then walked down the street to the shopping district where we pretended to be even slightly interested in browsing at Louis Vuitton, Tiffany's, and then FAO Schwartz.  The highlight of the shopping district was when we heard Manu Chao's tunes come on over the radio just in time for me to grab a giant penguin in FAO Schwartz and make it dance. 

Central Park was across the street so we wandered through it from east to west.  I couldn't believe how beautiful and huge Central Park really was, and I only saw a small portion of it!  The whole day I was wondering how anyone could possibly live in this crowded, dirty city, but also realized I was only seeing the touristy area, then after seeing Central Park realized that New Yorkers aren't as in sane as I imagined.  It's like having a little piece of Boulder right in the middle of a city where I had yet to see a single strand of grass the whole day.  The whole time I was in Central Park I kept repeating a dumb line from Flight of the Conchords:  [in New Zealand accent] "No, not Central Park in New York, I said, A central park in Newark." 

We turned back towards where our show would be and grabbed a Jamba Juice for dinner in order to fight our dehydration, overheating, and lack of hunger for solid food.  We went to my first Broadway show, La Cage Aux Folles (The bird cage).  The show normally stars Kelsey Grammer, but we got his understudy, who did a great job.  The theater was one of the smaller ones on Broadway, but it was beautiful.  The show was hilarious!  The best part was the dancing transvestite chorus.

After the show, we had 25 minutes to get to Penn Station to catch our train home.  We were on 48th and the station is on 34th, so it was a major power-walk with uncooperative traffic lights, but we made the train.  Dave was disappointed that he didn't get a pretzel or peanuts at any of the stands on the way.  We took the train to Madison, NJ where Dave's brother lives, grabbed his parents' car, and drove to his parents' house about 30 minutes away.  It was a long day and we finally got to bed around 1:30. 

Things I would do differently the next time:  plan the day.  I found out the day of that we were going to NYC and had no time to so much as find a map of the city before showing up there.  Luckily Dave knows his way around, but I'm the kind of person who likes to know where I am and I didn't get a map until about half way through my day.  I'd also try to buy tickets ahead of time and see a bigger show.  Although I was pleasantly surprised with La Cage, I'd love to see some huge production of Lion King instead of something with more acting than singing, something with over the top costumes, harmonies, dancing, and chorus numbers.  There's nothing better than seeing 100 people on a stage at once singing and dancing.  I dream of seeing Les Miserables or Joseph on Broadway if they ever come back (I was in Joseph in community theater when I was young).  I have seen these in Chicago, but think I may appreciate them more as an adult and on Broadway.  I would also empty my purse of any unnecessary items like keys to my offices and car.  About mid-day my purse felt like it weighed 50 lbs.  I would also wear better shoes.  MaryJane Crocs are comfortable and can pass as dress shoes for getting into a show, but they are not worthy of 10 hours of walking in NYC.  I'd probably wear a cute, but comfortable outfit worthy of being photographed and bring a dress along in my purse to change into before the show.  Lastly, I'd arrive in the city with enough time to go to the museums before they close, because who are we kidding, I'd much rather spend hours in the Natural History Museum than shopping for purses and diamonds. I would also love to see the more residential areas of the city and avoid Time Square at all costs.  Hopefully I get my second chance to do the city right!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Jersey Shore

I'm at the Jersey Shore!  Yup, just one more life-list destination to cross off my list (just kidding).  Dave's family is from New Jersey and planned a week-long trip to "The Shore" so I decided to tag along since I have time off this summer.  There are a few very distinct differences between "The Shore" and my usual beach bum spot on a lake in Wisconsin.

1.  There is sand at the shore.  This means that you and all of your possessions will be covered in sand by the end of the day.  And it's not like it will just brush off by the time you get back to the house.  No, it's humid here and things don't just dry naturally like they do in good old Boulder.  In fact my swim suit has this mysterious inner layer that has somehow trapped a few handfuls of sand that will not come out.  People have special chairs for sitting in the sand and these beach umbrellas that get setup in the sand.  You can build sandcastles and dig holes in the sand that eventually might get filled up with water by a large wave.

2.  There are waves at the shore and the water is salt water!  Obviously, I understand that the ocean has salt water, but you forget sometimes until you get a face full of water and taste the stuff.  Yuck!

3.  The most unattractive people you've ever met are not at all bashful about wearing a string bikini and letting it all hang out.  

4.  There's no boat I can jump on for a ride or take me tubing or water skiing, but the waves themselves are just as entertaining.

It has been a fun week thus far.  Tonight we might venture to Atlantic City and I might get to visit NYC for the first time on Sunday!  I'll post more (with pictures) soon!  I'm off to the beach!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ode to my toiletry bag

While I sit here waiting for my laundry to finish washing so I can run down to the laundrymat to dry it (never rent a place where the dryer vents indoors, yet also doesn't have air conditioning), I'd like to talk about my toiletry bag.  This Vera Bradley set was given to me by my awesome Aunt Darcy as a PhD graduation gift a year and a half ago.  (Really, I stopped asking for gifts after high school graduation, but sometimes aunties just can't be stopped!)  What better gift could a girl like me ask for?  I'm constantly flying home, flying to a conference, flying to a vacation, or camping.  This bag fits in the top part of my backpacking bag like a dream!  Whilst hiking along I can have easy access to all of its goodies in a pinch, whether it be hand sanitizer or Advil.  This past weekend it was nice to just grab this bag by its cute little handle and hike on over to the bathrooms to brush my teeth, no-rinse-shampoo my bangs, or take care of whatever high-maintenance hygienic thing was on my mind at the time.  It has a little zipper pouch for personal items, small organizational pouches on the sides for small items, and a big spot in the middle for everything else.  I keep this baby packed year round with my travel toiletries and just change out a few things according to trip.

It also has a cute overnight bag that goes with it!  Very Bradley has fabulous purses as well.  If I really knew how to quilt, I would whip myself up a few of these!  

Do you have a travel item you can't do without?  Also, any beach reading book suggestions for me? 

While you're here, check out some sweet comments on yesterday's post and see if you have some opinions of your own!   Yay readers and yay commenters! 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Gluten Free Wedding Etiquette and "The G Free Diet" Book Review

The other night I made a pile of books that I may want to bring on vacation with me next week when I ran across "The G Free Diet" by Elisabeth Hasselbeck.  I had planned on writing this same book myself and was annoyed that some chick from The View had beat me to it and had her celebrity behind the whole thing.  I guess I was angry enough to buy the book.  Oops.  I mean, my title could kick her title's butt!  "Life after Lucky Charms" is so much more creative, right?  Anyway, the book has the approval of some Harvard MD, so I'm hoping most of it is legit, but a few comments made me wonder if she's the Jenny McCarthy or Suzanne Somers of Celiac Disease.  By that, I mean an uneducated, emotional celebrity who uses anecdotal evidence instead of science to appeal to other uneducated, emotional people who are desperate for solutions to health issues.  (For more rants on this, tune into "The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe" podcast.)

I'm half way through the book and generally, I think she should not be categorized with those other two moronic celebrities.  Her information is super helpful, seemingly based on science (she admits things are not black and white), and simplified in a way that makes it accessible to people desperate to figure things out after first being diagnosed.

There are a few things that bugged me, though.  Like, telling people to cut gluten as a way to loose weight.  I'm assuming this is just a ploy to sell more books.  There is no way in hell that anyone should be cutting gluten to loose weight.  Gluten substitutes can be filled with unhealthy starches and non-whole-grains.  If you want to loose weight, then stop eating processed food and stop eating out.  I think this is what she's getting at, though, that a side effect of going gluten-free is to be more aware of what you're eating and often results in cooking things at home from whole foods, and therefore, could result in weight loss.   

My second issue is her chapter on trying to survive, socially, with a gluten intolerance.  She says to never RSVP to a wedding and ask the bride to go out of her way to arrange a gluten free meal for you because they really just have too many other details to worry about.  Really?  Am I rude?  I've had three close friends/cousins be super-brides and order me a gluten free meal for their wedding day (Thanks girls!!!).  I'm not sure how much of a hassle it was, but it seems to me, if you're putting in an order with your caterer and you say, "I need 50 chicken dinners, 60 steaks, 10 vegetarian pastas, 20 kids plates, and 3 gluten free options," the worst your caterer can say is "No!"  In this case, I would know ahead of time to go grab pre-dinner before the sit down dinner, which is totally not a big deal, and everyone would be happy.  Then the bride wouldn't have spent Lord-knows how much money on my plate that wouldn't get eaten.  Elisabeth Hasselbeck tells us that she sits by her husband and has him eat half of his meal, then switches plates with her so she doesn't feel rude for not eating the food.  I will agree with her on one thing, though, that it's always a good idea to have back-up food in your purse.  My purse is always stocked with a gluten free granola bar and a fruit bar for low blood sugar emergencies.  

Her solution to a lot of social situations is just to eat before hand.  I used to do this, but I've discovered that it's just as easy to make something awesome yourself to bring to the party so you know there's one thing you can eat.  Sometimes this one thing is a huge hit and I have to fend off others from eating all of it so I can have some!  (I'll be sure to share these recipes with you along the way.)  I'm also lucky because most of my friends have been with me through this whole process and they know what gluten free means.  They're not afraid to say, "Keah, don't try my potato salad 'cause its way contaminated!" or "Keah, this is totally gluten free, so dig in."  I think my friends are particularly good at this because a lot of them are vegetarians and just like they wouldn't appreciate a random piece of steak in their salad, I don't appreciate contaminated food.  They are also healthy, whole food eaters, which really makes most of their food edible to me.  My family, because they live so far away and only have to deal with feeding me twice a year, usually has to ask a lot of questions before knowing if something is gluten free, which is super sweet of them to ask.  My aunt used to make me my own chipped beef spread so we didn't contaminate my favorite spread with rye bread from everyone else! 

Dear Ms. Hasselbeck,

Thanks for stealing my book idea.  I'm sorry I didn't get to it first, but I was too busy writing this thing called a Ph.D. dissertation.  Plus, no one would have published or bought my book, so it's really better that you make the money while I blog for free.

Sincerely, Dr. K. 
I'm curious, what do you think about the wedding situation?  Is it rude to ask for a gluten free meal?  How does the cake situation work with a gluten free bride or groom?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease details and symptoms

I left off my personal story of being diagnosed with Celiac disease (Why the gluten free diet?)  telling you I'd get into the details of the disease.  Here's the scoop.
Celieac Disease is... 

  • genetic (although no one in my family wanted to get tested, so I'm it)
  • chronic (for life!)
  • an autoimmune disease (like Type 1 Diabetes, some Thyroid Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn's disease, and many others, our bodies fight themselves)  If you have one autoimmune disease, you have a good chance of having or developing another.  
  • a disease with one treatment:  a gluten free diet
Here's my version of what happens when I eat gluten:  If I were to swallow a piece of gluten filled pizza, it would go into my stomach where it would begin the digestion process.  It would then flow into my small intestine where the small fingers that are attached to the small intestine walls would try to absorb nutrients from my food.  These are called villi.  My body's immune system would say, "Attack!  Attack!  Attention immune system, the small intestine is being attacked by something toxic!  Fight it!"  My own body would then proceed to fight my own villi, causing them to get all messed up, retract, and make my small intestine more like a slip-and-slide than a nutrient absorber.  The next time I eat, my villi aren't there in full form to deal with the food, so it just goes right on through me.  I imagine every bite I take letting out a little "Woohoo!" as they slide freely through my digestive tract.  And it's not like these villi come back out after the gluten is gone, it takes FOREVER for them to get back to normal, it seems.  When I was first diagnosed they told me I may have to eat gluten free for a year before my villi recover.  I don't know how long it takes now that I'm somewhat healthy.  I don't ever knowingly cheat on my diet.  Never.  It's really ingrained in my mind that it isn't an option.  Cheating means horrible pain in the short term and in the long term it means I put myself at risk for a whole slew of problems, including small intestine cancer.  No thank you!  When I get stomach aches now, they'll last three days to several months before I feel normal again.  I assume that these episodes are somehow related to unknown gluten contamination.  You learn early on that this isn't something you do half way.  Gluten free has to be 100% or it doesn't work. 
When your body doesn't absorb enough nutrients from your food, you can imagine there's a whole slew of consequences to the intricate balance that should exist inside your body.  For me this showed itself in common ways, diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, anemia, distension, fatigue, excessive weight loss, headaches, irritability, depression (as if dealing with hourly bathroom runs wasn't depressing enough, a lack of absorption of B12 will really make you gloomy), tingling fingers, and dizziness.  Years later I battled a case of hypothyroid and other hormonal imbalances that took about a year to regulate, but may come back to haunt me later in life.  These are all known to be related to Celiac. 

Getting Tested
So, if you THINK you have Celiac disease, that does NOT mean you should try a gluten free diet.  It DOES mean that you should have a blood test done.  Have your doc do a Celiac panel.  This will test for antibodies in your blood that indicates that your body is currently treating gluten as a toxic substance.  Folks, admit it, you wouldn't stick to this diet unless you knew for sure that it was 100% necessary.  You must get the test!  Don't self-diagnose!  You have to be actively eating gluten in order for these tests to give you proper results.  If your blood test comes back positive, then you have to get the endoscopy and small intestine biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

Two last bad doctor stories
After several years of a gluten free diet, I went to a gastroenterologist and told him, listen, this diet is not fixing the problem!  I still feel like crap ALL the time!  He said, "Well they should have told you to go lactose free as well!"  Turns out, if my digestive tract was in recovery mode, it was in no position to be digesting lactose.  An easy switch to lactaid milk for my cereal and vanilla soymilk for my lattes made a huge difference!  Lactaid pills don't work for me, but I ingest lactose in small doses anyway and just deal with minor upper-digestive tract pains.  (Hey, I'm not giving up pizza AND ice cream, plus, WI girls need their cheese!)  Yes, distinguishing between lactose stomach aches and gluten stomach aches is just one of my many talents.

Finally, maybe two years ago I went to get an endoscopy to check out how things were going and to see if yet another new doctor (change of health insurance) could figure out why I STILL didn't feel good.  I got the results via voicemail where some nurse told me, "We tested you for this disease called Celiac, which is a blah blah blah, and you DO NOT have Celiac disease."  Of course, if I were an idiot, I would have rejoiced and gone out and ate an entire Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizza for dinner.  However, because I'm educated about my health, I knew that the nurse didn't see on my chart that I DO have celiac disease, had been on a gluten free diet for 5 years, and THAT is why the test came back negative.  I called them back and confirmed this with the doctor, who didn't seemed the slightest bit concerned that his his nurse was spreading false hope by not looking at people's charts before delivering lab results to patients.  The good news was that my villi had recovered enough to test negative.  So, my current stomach aches must just be unavoidable, unless I want to search for other intolerances (soy?  corn?  more strict on the lactose?).  We'll see.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Rocky Mountain National Park 2010

This weekend we went camping with another couple in Rocky Mountain National Park.  We took off early Saturday morning, but not early enough to find a first-come-first served campsite on the east side of the park, so we took Trail Ridge Road to the west side and grabbed a site at Timber Creek Campground.  Here is the first Elk we saw on the trip on Trail Ridge Road.  (Click on any picture to enlarge.)

After claiming our site, we looked for a good hike.  The hikes on the west side were all pretty long, so we settled on a 10.2 mile, 1000+ ft elevation gain to Granite Falls.  The hike took us on a trail that is shared with horses, so besides seeing horses, we had to keep a keen eye out for horse apples, which were about every five steps.  The rain at the end of the hike made the horse shit particularly fun.  The hike starts out in a pretty Meadow where we eventually spotted a male and female moose!  They followed the trail parallel to us and we ran into them again when we got to a creek.  Here is the male checking us out. 

After a lunch break and some heavy rain, we made it to granite falls and took ample pictures.  

Props to all of us, especially the newbies, for making the full 10.2 miles.  We all were pretty sore the rest of the night! 

We went back to our campground and had a well-deserved beer (hard cider for me) and Cheetos while the rain evaporated off of our tent sites.  I have a new rule that should always be implemented:  couples setting up a tent together must first ingest one beer.  We were finally ready to set up camp when we got a few visitors.  Elk! 

Then mule deer walked behind our tents while we were prepping for dinner! 

Finally, we enjoyed skewers of peppers and onions, potatoes, corn on the cob, and hamburgers for dinner, had a nice campfire complete with s'mores, and shivered ourselves to sleep.  The low was probably in the mid- to low 40's. 

The next day we walked up a quick trail at the top of Trail Ridge Road where we found these sweet rocks.  It was very cold and windy that high up, so I'm decked out in jeans under my tennis skirt and my poofy jacket.  We also enjoyed some wild flowers and inspirational moments on this walk. 

We made our way to the east side of the Rockies and did another hike in the park.  This one was a ~4 mile, 1,000 ft elevation gain hike to Bierstadt Lake where we had some lunch and had a visit with some ducks before the rain set in.  It was a fabulous weekend with good friends!  It was hard coming back to Boulder, but nice knowing all of this is just an hour away.  


Friday, July 9, 2010

Summer Salads and Dressings from Scratch

Grilled chicken summer salad is a nice hot-weather meal that is light and cool.  At our place, we don’t have air conditioning, so it is really important not to be using the oven or the stove if the outdoor temperature is too high.  Why not leave the cooking to the outdoor grill? 

Each salad gets a grilled chicken breast on top.  I’ve recently learned how to make top-notch chicken breasts.  First, put them in a ziplock and beat them with a hammer (or a meat tenderizer if you like to be fancy like that).  After this step, if you have 15 minutes to a few hours, throw your chicken into a brine.  Brine is just water, salt, and sugar.  Let the chicken hang out in this in your ziplock.  I also often marinate chicken in Italian dressing sometimes (zesty Italian from Kraft, to be specific).  If my chicken has just been sitting in brine, before throwing it on the grill, I like to brush it in olive oil and sprinkle dry Italian seasoning over it, or simply salt, pepper, garlic powder, and oregano.  Honestly, if you don’t have time for brining or marinating, chicken breasts these days are so un-natural that they taste tender without treatment.  I have yet to find affordable, natural chicken.  Grill it! 

While it’s grilling, start getting your veggies together.  Iceberg lettuce is so 90’s.  Grab a spring mix or even leaf lettuce instead.  If it hasn’t been pre-washed, wash it well!  Those salad spinners are a huge help for this.  Add peppers, carrots, tomatoes, and when I’m feeling fancy, fresh mozzarella or cashews.  My vegetarian friends get creative and will put corn, sesame seeds, or other favorite nuts on their salads for a little extra protein in place of the chicken.

Salad Dressing
I used to collect salad dressings.  Seriously, I’d buy something that looked fabulous, try it, hate it, and leave it in my fridge for a year, then toss it.  Luckily, when I moved in November, I got to start fresh with a clean fridge and decided to start making my own salad dressing.  (I will admit that I bought thousand island for Ruebens for St. Patty’s Day!)  Really, making your own dressing from scratch is the only way to guarantee that it’s gluten free.  Here are my three favorites:

Italian:  I use “Good Seasons Italian All Natural” dry packets.  Follow the directions on the box by adding water, olive oil, and cider vinegar.  I even invested in one of those glass dressing containers that has the measurements right on it so you can just fill it up to the lines and shake.  If you don’t have dry Italian seasoning on hand, or prefer making it from scratch to avoid a few un-needed, possibly glutened ingredients, you can whip up your own by combining dashes of sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, oregano, and pepper flakes.

Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Sometimes I make a less savory salad and serve it with goat cheese and strawberries on top.  I then whip up my own dressing using Rachel Ray‘s (Food Network) recipe:

2 teaspoons strawberry jam
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, eyeball it
Salt and pepper, to taste 

Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette:  Lastly, I’ve been ordering this fabulous Fajita salad at this amazing local restaurant called Mod Market (in Boulder, has gluten free flatbread pizzas and amazing salads).  They throw peppers, tomatoes, corn, green onion, and greens in a bowl and dress it with this fabulous chipotle-lime vinaigrette.   I’m still mastering this dressing recipe, but thus far, I use the juice of one lime, splash of cider vinegar, squeeze of honey, olive oil, salt, pepper, and for the chipotle flavor, I might  do chili powder or grab a very small smidge of the sauce from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (I use these up so slowly that I always have the contents of my latest can frozen in the freezer).  

You’ll notice I don’t measure things.  As a recipe-writer, it’s something I’ll work on in the future, but I find that as long as you know what goes into it, you can adjust until you’re happy with it!

I have two gardens and I can’t wait for them to start producing all the veggies I need for fresh salads!  One is in tubs on my porch and another is in actual ground.  I’ll share my first-time-gardener drama with you another time.  Have a fabulous weekend!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bing Commercial in Utah

Last night I was in the bedroom reading my Greatest Adventure Writing book when Dave yelled, "It's the Microsoft commercial!"  I jumped up and ran into the living room just in time to catch the end of it.  We saw this commercial being filmed!  We were on our way to Utah in May when I lead us on a "short cut" between highways that took us on a very desolate road.  (Seriously people, my GPS gets me into a lot of trouble.)  We came over the crest of a hill and got stopped by a police man standing in the road.  He explained to us that they're shooting a commercial up ahead and we have to hang out for a bit so we don't get in the shot.  We watched as three goofily dressed men on motorcycles seemingly raced each other up the next hill.  They had to continue doing the same shot, being instructed to improve each time.  We prodded the police man for details and found out it was a Microsoft commercial.  Finally, a cloud shaded the shot and we were waved on by through the commercial set and on our way.  Of course I was hoping my car showed up in the commercial, but, see for yourself, it did not:  Bing Commercial

The scenery got a bit more interesting just a few miles later when we followed the river into Moab, Utah and then took a right at the McDonalds. We made our way through a pretty awesome canyon at sunset and finally, after a long drive, we found our friends and our camping spot for the first night of our trip, pictured above.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Why the gluten free diet?

Back in the day, when I was a junior in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my body stopped digesting food properly.  I had daily (hourly) symptoms that involved running to the bathroom quite often and insanely painful stomach aches.  I went to several doctors who all told me, "It's probably just stress!" or "Are you SURE the symptoms have lasted this long?"  I lead myself to believe that I was a nutball and if several doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with me, then I must be fine.  I lived with intense symptoms for about a year and a half.  Eventually I lost my freshman 15, which, frankly, was just fine with me.  I wasn't able to concentrate very well, I was pretty irritable (apologies to old college friends), and I liked to sleep more than a normal person should.  I couldn't climb a few stairs without dizzy spells.  This brings back a memory of my mom sitting down with my roommate, Ann, telling her to make sure I drink lots of Gatorade so I don't pass out.

I had a series of pretty bad migraines that got me to the doctor at UW.  They told me it was stress.  A few months later I went in because my hands were starting to tingle all the time.  I got this really young doctor (intern?) who looked back at my chart and saw I had been in for other symptoms and asked me if I still had the same problems.  I told him that I most certainly did.  He sent me to get a blood test.  I don't really remember (that whole time in my life is a blur), but I must have come back for a separate appointment where he sat me down and said, "You have Celiac disease."  I was super confused and before I could start crying, he told me the treatment is not to eat wheat.  I didn't know what wheat really was.  Okay, no wheat bread, whatever!  He told me to make an appointment with my gastroenterologist for a biopsy of my small intestine (endoscopy) and to go home and read a few pamphlets on gluten free diets. This must have been November of 2003.  (Side note:  when a doctor gives you a list of things to do, why don't they write it down and let you take it with?  I was clearly verging on insanity and I'm surprised I didn't just go home and forget what he had told me.  Now, I bring a notepad and take notes at the doctor.)  Years later, I wish I knew who this intern was and could give him a big hug for being intelligent enough to do the right test! 

I went home that night and told my five roommates what was up.  We went through my shelf in the pantry and looked at the ingredients on all of the labels.  Wheat was in EVERYTHING!  I think I was left with a fruit cup, a gallon of milk, and some ice cream.  We went grocery shopping and I remember spending forever in the cereal aisle trying to find something I could eat for breakfast.  No Lucky Charms, no Cheerios, even Rice Crispies and Chex had malt flavoring.  Suddenly I could no longer involve myself in ordering in pizza or Chinese food or even drinking beer, which is exactly how everyone dreams their senior year of college in Madison will go, right?

I went home for Christmas break and my mom had managed to get me in for an appointment with my ridiculously overbooked GI doctor who had treated me in the past for acid reflux.  I hadn't seen her the entire time I was actually having Celiac symptoms because whenever I called to make an appointment, I would need to wait six months to see her, so I just never made one.  We did an endoscopy, which is a procedure where they put you out and stuff a tube down your throat to take pictures.  This time, she took a biopsy of my small intestine.  (Anyone else ever had an endoscopy?  I swear, I wake up every time, mid-procedure.)  The results confirmed the blood test, I not only had Celiac disease, but my small intestine showed very obvious damage and scarring that would take a while to recover.  She had found no neurological damage, which was good news considering my severe lack of nutrients for almost two years.  She mentioned that when I had gotten my last endoscopy several years earlier, that I showed vague signs that I may have Celiac disease, but she either never mentioned them to me or I just never took note of it.  It's also possible, I guess, that she didn't notice it at the time, but was innocently commenting on old pictures.  Imagine if the doctors in Madison had access to my medical records, or if my actual doctor wasn't too busy to see me, I could have avoided years of discomfort and permanent intestinal damage!

I finished up my senior year, graduated with my first college degree, worked all summer in a factory in Fondy, and moved to Colorado for graduate school where I knew no one.  My gluten free diet in no way made me feel any better.  The dizzy spells had stopped, but I still had severe stomach symptoms and general lethargy upon my move to Colorado and several years after that.  Today I feel more like myself, but am certainly not symptom free.  I'm no where near as sharp as I used to be, mentally, and physically, I still get occasional weeks with stomach issues and I have dealt with a slew of other health issues along the way.

I eventually educated myself on the topic and figured out this whole gluten free diet.  Life after Lucky Charms didn't have to be pure torture, and today I live happily gluten free!  I'll give you some Celiac facts in another post for those of you looking for details beyond my personal story. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Green Chili Salsa

Since moving west, life has gotten a bit more spicy. My first year here, my officemate Alicia had a bunch of folks over for a party. She had made some salsa and had it out for all to try. I walked in and she told me not to try any, but watch other people’s reactions. (She was well aware of my sensitive digestive tract!) She’s from New Mexico and the reactions she got from the salsa were a combination of eye watering and begging for beer.

I’ve been in CO for six years now and have been slowly been building up my tolerance from mild to medium to actually enjoying the flavor of spicy foods and putting up with some burn in my food every now and then. I definitely have my limit, though.

About a year ago, Dave introduced me to an awesome local Mexican market in Boulder. They have a huge selection of cheap produce. Last week Dave was on a hunt for some new bike wheels, so I walked to the market and grabbed ingredients for Green Chili Salsa and made it later that same day while I finished a baby quilt for my cousin Katie. The aromas from this recipe are amazing (and, depending on how many jalapenos you include, could clear out your sinuses and cause some eye watering).

Lessons in peppers for the “mild” readers: The peppers at the top of this picture are California peppers (same as Anaheims). They are very mild, but have annoying peelings, so don’t go subbing these for bell peppers ‘cause you’ll be chewing on them . They have to be roasted for their peelings to be removed. The dark green big guys are poblanos and these have the same peeling deal. They taste great roasted, but can be bitter if not cooked all the way. (I often stuff these with refried black beans and pepper jack and roast for an hour, then serve with sour cream. ) In fact, I only used one of these in the salsa and ate the other two for another meal. The middle pepper is the jalapeno, and folks, don’t touch this thing. I’ll share another jalapeno recipe with you soon that involved cleaning raw jalapenos and my hands burned and swelled for two days. Just use your fork and knife wisely or invest in some rubber gloves. It’s really the seeds and membrane that is the spiciest. If you like it hot, add more of these to your batch.

These are tomatillos. These are like green tomatoes, but they aren’t. You’ll find them in the store with a cover on them that you’ll remove. They are mild. They aren't usually this big, either.

Okay, wash everything really well (I doubt the Mexican market is importing anything organic) and throw them in oven-safe pans that will catch the juices should things split open. Throw some garlic in one of the pans. Roast at 350 for 1 hour and 15 minutes or turn up the heat for faster results. When they are done roasting, you’ll know because the peelings will seem separated from the pepper. Take these out and let them cool so you can touch them.

While you’re waiting for them to cool, finely chop up a white onion and start sauteing it in olive oil in a pot. (Olive oil and garlic can't be very Mexican, but it's healthy, right?) While that’s going, start cleaning the tomatillos by just removing that hard stem area. Throw the tomatillos into a blender along with the garlic cloves and any juices that are in that pan. Blend! Just do a few pulses, then add half of it to your onions. Now it’s time to clean your peppers. Go mild to spicy on this to limit your contact with the spicy peppers. Cut off the pepper tops, cut out the membrane and seeds. Throw the peppers into the blender and pulse a few more times. (You’re more than welcome to finely chop the peppers rather than blend.)

Add everything to your pot. Add salt (I did Kosher) to taste. Let it simmer until you can’t wait any longer (minimum 10 minutes).

Treat this as a salsa, not a soup. Serve over shredded pork in corn tortillas, serve with chips, or serve on a burger. This couples well with pepper jack cheese on a burger! Enjoy!

I'll spare you from the picture of the salsa itself. Let's just say it didn't photograph well and it is just one of those pictures that belongs on a menu at a Chinese food restaurant.

Grocery list for Green Chili Salsa:
5 California peppers (Anaheims)
1 poblano pepper
1 jalapeno pepper
5+ tomatillos
3 cloves garlic
1 white onion
olive oil

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hiking my first 14er

Dave and I had a little freak-out moment when we looked at a calendar last week and realized that we have very few weekends together in Boulder this summer (three including this past weekend). So we did what I do best, made a list of things we wanted to accomplish this summer. My list included things like "Prep for dynamics class," while Dave's included things like, "Climb a 14er" and "Go backpacking." (Good thing I have him around!)

In order to put a dent in the list, we woke up early on Saturday and headed up I70 to Bakerville to climb my first 14er. Dave has done a few, but never this one. We were shooting for two in one day since they are next to each other and connected by a convenient saddle. We got a later start than we wanted and it didn't help that we had to park an extra half mile (maybe more) from the trail head since we picked a "gaper day" to hike it. In other words, 4th of July weekend brings the tourists to the trails.

I was struggling to catch my breath before we even got to the trailhead. Apparently elliptical machine workouts coupled with minor weight lifting for one month is not sufficient to get a person in shape. Dave was barely winded and always 50 feet ahead of me giving me looks of pity. I pretty much call any hike that makes my legs burn "the stairmaster from hell," but this topped anything I've done before. We gained over 3000 feet in elevation on this hike (more because we weren't able to start at the trailhead). By the time I got near the top I felt like a drunk stumbling forward gasping for breath. A little fat kid stopped in front of me to cry because it was too hard and frankly, I kind of wanted to join him. Dave kept telling me an 80 year old woman was gaining on me and reminded me that you can't take your time because if we don't summit by noon, we might have to turn around early if the weather gets bad. Later he told me I wasn't showing any true signs of being sick, so he kept pushing me.

After much torture, made slightly better by awesome views, we made it to the top of Grays! 14,270 feet! We could see everything!!! It was really amazing. I collapsed on a rock and downed a PBJ. The wind picked up and we got a few snowflakes. Dave was going to continue on to do Torreys, but I had taken too long getting up the mountain and it really didn't leave him enough time to make it up before the danger of thunderstorms became too great. You do not want to be caught on a 14er in a lightning storm, which is why you can only hike them in the morning.

We headed down the mountain, which goes quick, but it was difficult to find footing where the rocks were loose and we each rolled ankles and tripped several times. Next time we'll bring trekking poles! My knees were shaking by about mid-descent, but we made it down safely. I'm very proud of myself for stumbling up my first 14er and very thankful that Dave pushed me to go to the top.