My breakfasts are pretty routine, but certainly driven by the season. Summer=cold breakfast, winter=hot breakfast. Fall and spring get a little muddled. While eggs of some kind are always an option (I think I ordered eggs and fries 90% of the times that we visited the after-9pm eatery on campus during my college years–no meal is better at 1am), but eggs do take a little bit more cook time. This is mostly due to the fact that we do not own a toaster. Since we freeze our GF bread, thawing and toasting is pretty much a requirement. Also, the last thing I want to do is start off my morning with multiple dirty pans. So eggs require shifts: toast, then bacon or sausage if we want, then eggs in the same pan; and these shifts take just a minute or two more than I can spare on most days. Oatmeal can easily be changed up with different add-ins, keeping breakfast interesting. I don’t often have cold cereal in the house, but if we have it, it works on the fly. Though I almost always prefer a hot breakfast, I can sometimes manage a cold one if it is served alongside hot coffee. I need something hot to eat/drink in the mornings, even in the blazing summer. When I can manage a cold breakfast, yogurt and smoothies are my favorite. I can occasionally pack some spinach into my smoothies, but my poor, little 5-year-old magic bullet blender has certainly seen better days. Of late, I’m usually left with diced spinach in some fruit goop. Not especially appetizing. I have had great success with avocado and cucumber smoothies, but I haven’t taken the time to snap a photo. Lately though, if I am looking for some vegetable matter blended into breakfast, it is coming in squash and sweet potato form. I’ve already baked both into muffins. When I can put the same with some milk, spices, grains, nuts, and seeds, and have it taste eerily like a dessert: game on. This smoothie, just like every other pumpkin smoothie on the web, taste like pumpkin pie. But, this has the award for being one of the only smoothies containing oats or nuts that I have found palatable. I’m not big on graininess that usually accompanies these ingredients as they enter the smoothie realm. Here, both ingredients contribute the “crust” flavor, and, when well-blended, boost the thick, creamy texture of this drink.
Pumpkin Pie Smoothie
Serves: 1 | Prep: 2-3 minutes | Cook: —
- 1/2 c. pureed pumpkin, frozen*
- 3/4 c. milk or yogurt (non-dairy is fine)**
- 1 Tbsp. ground flax seed
- 1-2 tsp. chia seeds
- 1-3 tsp honey, agave, sugar, maple syrup or molasses (my favorites here), to taste
- 1-2 Tbsp. chopped pecans, optional
- 2-4 Tbsp. GF rolled or instant oats, uncooked
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp. ginger, ground
- dash turmeric***
- dash salt
- ice cubes*
*A frozen element creates that frothy delicious texture I’m looking for in smoothie. If the pumpkin is frozen, you will not need the ice cubes. Vice versa, add the ice if you pumpkin is refrigerated or at room temperature.
**Using yogurt will create a much thicker smoothie. You may have to add some liquid (water or milk) to thin to your desired consistency.
***I am working on sneaking more turmeric into my diet in every possible way–so whenever a recipe calls for ginger, I add a dash or two of turmeric as well.
Add ingredients to blender in order listed. Blend well, pulsing several times then blending for 1-3 minutes until smooth. If intolerant to oats, replace with additional half Tablespoon of flax seed and additional teaspoon chia seed. Blend well, then allow smoothie to rest for 5 minutes, then blend again for 30 seconds. The flax seed and chia seeds will help to thicken the smoothie without oats.
M and I celebrated our anniversary last week. This year, our anniversary fell on a Saturday and none were more surprised than us to realize that we both had the evening (prime job time) off. After sifting through our options of usual gluten-free-able restaurants, we chose Choices by Shawn. I had been there once before for brunch with the girls and the dinner menu (mostly, the grail of “Southern Fried Chicken GF”) looked promising.
Choices by Shawn is right down the street from our alma mater, and I was exceedingly surprised when I first found out about the restaurant, less than a year ago. The namesake owner is gluten-free, and the restaurant claims a dedication to allergy-sensitive food service that is evident from the first glance at the website to the first step up to the hostess stand, all the way down to dessert. Some dishes on the menu are only served without gluten and other can be specially made gluten-free. Dairy-free dishes are also denoted on the menu. A separate kitchen for gluten-free preparations ensures against cross-contamination. All in all, for whatever faults may be listed in the reviews on Yelp, Choices by Shawn is set up to protect those customers with food allergies.
My first visit for Sunday brunch at the restaurant had a slow start. We chose to sit on the wrap-around porch, which was as cute as one could wish for brunch with the girls. Traffic was a little loud, but given that the restaurant sits on a corner in Old Town Fairfax, this was not at all surprising. We held off on ordering until all of our party arrived, and the wait staff were wonderfully patient with us. I ordered the zucchini pancakes, which were tasty enough, but not really my thing. I should have gone with the GF waffles or french toast while I had the opportunity, or at least my old standby of eggs. I did get to try their bruschetta, as my friend was kind enough to order it GF. The brunch menu, paired with the porch seating, is well-worth the reservation for a cute date with your friends.
M and I went to dinner and, again, a reservation was worth the security of a table when we arrived. The restaurant is in a converted house, with two kitchens and a bar, so table space is limited. During warmer months, when the porch is open in the evening, I imagine this is less of a problem. The hostess asked if there were any in our party that were gluten-free, and with our affirmation, grabbed a red card along with the menus before taking us to our seats. These cards are available to clue in wait staff to the gluten issue within a party, allowing extra precautions to be made. (I also received the same question and card at brunch–I believe it is asked of every party entering the restaurant.) The menu was clearly laid out: labeling what menu items were already made without gluten, and which could be modified to be gluten-free. It also denoted dishes that were Dairy-free, Vegetarian, and Vegan. Many of the dishes seemed easily able to be made Dairy-free/Vegan, but as M and I do not restrict dairy, we did not explore these options. The menu also noted that all Gluten-Free dishes were served on red plates, and asking us to question our server if served on any other plates.
M and I placed the red Gluten-Free card on the table, ordered wine, and the server brought our drinks along with a plate of homemade bread–dutifully in a red basket. This is bread that I would like to recreate–deep, dark brown with a hearty crumb, with bits of seeds mixed through the dough. With a swath of butter and a pinch of salt, it was delicious. And, while more and more restaurants are (fortunately) adding gluten-free options to their menu, the bread baskets of most are still off limits. We placed our orders, including the duck sliders as an appetizer, and quickly received our salads, that come with every dinner entree. The salads were pretty basic, but the inclusion of the course helps to make the price tag of the menu items a little more reasonable.
The duck sliders with pickled onions and aioli were served on the same bread that came in the bread basket. I had been hoping for real slider rolls, but made due with the toast. The sliders were truly the star of the show. The pickled onions and aioli were a nice tangy counterpoint to the rich, succulent ground duck burgers. I put some of the arugula and romaine lettuce garnish from the plate on mine, for just a little bit of extra lift for the heavy burger patty. Give me a couple of these sliders with some fries and I would have been all set. However, we still had our main dishes on the way.
Though the goat cheese and roasted red pepper burger was tempting, I settled on the crab cakes with garlic-parmesan fries, and M chose the Southern Fried Chicken with gravy, mashed potatoes, and roasted vegetables, with the full knowledge that we would split our plates. Service was quick, polite, and unobtrusive. The plates arrived looking rather nice–I was hoping for a little dish of my remoulade, but almost enough was poured over my crab cakes and the lettuce garnish to serve for dipping. My crab cakes were wonderful: tender and flavorful. I have never encountered GF crab cakes at any other restaurant, so being abel to safely have crab cakes once more was delightful. My fries were a bit of a let-down. They were recommended, and, while a fine batch of fries, the garlic flavor barely came through at all. Parmesan was sprinkled on top, which, to be fair, is exactly what the menu listed (“Crispy, garlicky fries topped with parmesan”). I suppose, in my mind, I thought the fries would be tossed with garlic and parmesan, integrating the cheese throughout the pile of fries and allowing it to begin to melt from their heat. The cheese, instead, simply sat on top of the fries and usually slid off as I picked them up.
M’s fried chicken looked quite promising: thick rich gravy, golden breading, creamy mashed potatoes. The flavors of the gravy, potatoes, and vegetables were lovely. Even the chicken on it’s own was quite tasty. Choices by Shawn has achieved the delicate, crispy breading that is so difficult to procure…with one downfall: the breading was far too delicate to stand up to the gravy that was so liberally spread over the plate. The parts covered in gravy had started to disintegrate by the time the plate reached our table, and what portion that remained crispy was masked as soon as it touched the gravy. The flavor in the breading just couldn’t quite stand up to the other food on the plate. To be fair, I had noticed that Choices by Shawn offered GF Friend Chicken when I was at brunch, and M and I has gotten our expectations up. We knew one of us would be ordering the dish before we stepped into the restaurant. But I do wish the chicken received a heartier crust–the current delicacy of the crust is more appropriate to a fish dish than the stick-to-your-ribs, down-home fried chicken that we had hoped to receive. The texture of the chicken breast with the crust was a little off as well–we ended up avoiding a portion at the thickest point of the chicken breast. Between the bread, sliders, salads, my crab cakes, and the rest of M’s plate, we were quite stuffed, so we didn’t press the issue and did not have dessert.
The prices were a little bit high–this isn’t a restaurant that we would visit weekly. But, for the assured safety and peace of mind of knowing that our food is properly prepared to be gluten-free, it is worth it for a nice night out. Looking through reviews on Yelp, a lot of customers had problems with the wait staff and rudeness, but M and I encountered no problems with the staff there. I would be more willing to come back for their brunch menu, and I am intrigued by the Full Service Tea that they also offer. Overall, as a food-allergy friendly restaurant, Choice by Shawn is a pretty good choice.
We had a whirlwind weekend in NC full of laughs, though not much relaxation–at least in terms of catching up on sleep. We did, however, catch up with many friends, partake in piles of wedding crafts, and (at least on my part) eat our weight in Carolina barbecue and sweet tea. I actually had a bit of a sugar crash on the first day, since I’m rarely imbibing anything beyond coffee, hot tea, water, and cider these days. One too many glasses of sweet tea, perhaps. On Friday, we spent the day preparing for the wedding, and I slipped off to get mani-pedis with the bridal party ladies in the afternoon. The salon was fairly busy, but spacious enough that even though we waited for almost an hour before nail preparations began, we spent that hour in the massage pedicure chairs. Fine by me! Take your time, sir, and let me adjust this kneading cycle up to my shoulders… We were all saved when M’s mum arrived late Friday night. While the rest of us were slowly turning punchy, she immediately went into event planner mode, and was the fresh set of eyes that we needed. She and I, exempt from wedding party duties on Saturday, were tasked with transferring everything over to the venue and doing the final venue check before the wedding party’s arrival.
After a quick stop back at the hotel to change, it was time for the main event. I can honestly say that this was one of the most enjoyable weddings that I’ve attended. There was lovely attention to detail throughout the beautiful venue, and the blend of hand-crafted and rented decorations came together seamlessly. The bride and groom had clearly done their research, and several elements of the ceremony and reception were new to me. They had a ring-warming, where the rings were passed in a small bottle through the hands of the attendees, to allow for blessings, prayers, and good wishes before the rings were exchanged. They also filled a bottle with different colors of sand–while I had seen this before, it was the perfect opportunity to incorporate their son into the ceremony. He had his own color to add in with his mother and father’s. The bride and groom’s young son also provided some beautiful (when he carefully got up from his seat mid-ceremony to pick the fallen leaves off Mommy’s train) and hysterical (wrestling with his cousin on the dance floor) moments throughout the day. He was impeccably behaved, a trooper through the whole long party (especially considering he missed his nap). M and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I had such a good time that my phone stayed in my purse the whole time, and M’s hardly touched his, either. So, unfortunately, I don’t have any photos from the wedding. M’s mum snapped a few of us, though I will have to track those down from her. We really should get better at taking pictures together!
On Sunday, we took our time getting home. After breakfast with the entire bridal party, we headed over to show M’s mum Saxapahaw, since we knew she would love it even more than we did. The old mill and warehouses have been converted into a Performance Venue, complete with Coffee Shop by day-Bar by night refreshments, a small outdoor amphitheater space, and gallery. The short row of establishments continues: a charter school, a rental/sales company for the apartments built in the converted warehouse, and a general store. The general store is a lovely little place full of local/organic vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy products, locally made soaps and lotions and crafts, and tons of hard to find products: specialty beers, gluten-free brands, homeopathic remedies. It also has a short-order kitchen and seating area that dishes up specialty sandwiches and breakfast items–most of which can be made gluten-free. The duck fat homefries first tempted us into ordering (anyone else mildly obsessed with the Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives where Guy Fieri visits the beer place serving duck-fat fries topped with pulled duck meat and duck jus? Or is it just me?). But M caught sight of a special: “Coconut Milk Braised Pork Shoulder Sandwich with rice wine cucumbers, manchego cheese, basil, sriracha & soy sauce”. A not below the menu said all sandwiches could be made with gluten-free bread, but we faltered at the soy sauce. Just as he was settling on the roast beef sandwich that I was ordering, we saw the bottle of soy sauce on the counter. The cooks were using Organic, Gluten-free Tamari as the soy sauce for everyone. I can hardly express my gratitude when restaurants take these precautions as well as proving that “gluten-free” doesn’t have to mean a loss in flavor. A few more questions settled the issue–the sandwich was definitely gluten-free…. Oh man, you guys! This was sandwich heaven. My roast beef, while delicious, absolutely paled in comparison. A slow braised in coconut milk infused the barest touch of creaminess and flavor into the pork, melting in your mouth amidst the crisp bite of lightly-pickled cucumbers and red onions, rounded out by the traditional flavors in the herbs, tamari, and sriracha. It was unbelieveable! I went back up to the specials board to snap a picture, so I would have the base of ingredients for recreating this sandwich, and it was already sold out! M must have snatched up the last of the pork. Lucky, lucky man. The homefries were quite tasty as well.
We purchased some local steaks, local beef stock, real fermented pickles (!), and (to M’s delight) a pound of local, European-style butter. I am so glad I remembered to bring a small cooler with us. The meat and stock were frozen solid, enough to keep it all cold for our drive back home. I broke out the stock the next day to make a riff on pho, while the butter emerges at nearly every breakfast. That weekend was the last of the sunshine–we have had pouring rain all week. M and I celebrated our anniversary yesterday, but that will come in another post as my very first attempt at a restaurant review!
I first tested this muffin recipe a few weeks ago and immediately fell in love with the deep chocolate flavor paired with the knowledge that a healthy dose of vegetables were included. I made it again right before we left, and this batch truly powered me through the weekend. A muffin and my homemade granola made a meal out of the motel’s grab-and-go breakfast bar, where there wasn’t much beyond yogurt for us to eat amidst the cinnamon rolls, biscuits, and gravy. I brought them over to the bride’s house for morning wedding preparations, where the muffins were kid-tested and -approved by the four year old of the house. A variety of fruit and vegetable combinations replace the oil in this recipe (and are the “surprise” part), while whole grains, flax, and the option of nut flours round out these little chocolate powerhouses. While I use a combo of eggs and flax seed, the eggs can certainly be replaced to make this muffins vegan.
Chocolate “Surprise” Muffins
Serves: about 12 | Prep: 20 minutes | Cook: 25 minutes
- 1/2 c. almond meal (can replace with additional 1/3 c. of buckwheat flour for nut-free)
- 1/3 c. buckwheat flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/3 c. sugar
- 1/2 c. cocoa powder
- 1/4 c. mashed pumpkin or mashed sweet potato or applesauce
- 2 Tbsp. water
- 1 Tbsp. ground flax seed
- 2 “flax eggs” (1 Tbsp ground flax seed+3 Tbsp boiling water per egg)*
- 2 eggs*
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 c. grated carrots or grated sweet potato or grated zucchini
- 1/2 c. chocolate chips (Milk, Dark, White…optional)
- 1/2 c. chopped nuts (optional)
*Can replace eggs with flax eggs for a total of 4 “flax eggs” OR can replace “flax eggs” for a total of 4 eggs
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Mix up flax eggs and allow to gel. Set paper liners in muffin tin and spray liners lightly with cooking oil to grease.
In a large bowl, combine almond meal, buckwheat flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, and cocoa powder until thoroughly mixed. In a small bowl, stir together mashed pumpkin/sweet potato/applesauce with water, additional flax, eggs, flax egg mixture, vanilla, and grated vegetable. Combine wet ingredients with dry ingredients. Stir in optional mix ins. Scoop batter into lined muffin tin and bake for 22-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out mostly clean (a few clinging crumbs are okay).
Allow muffins to cool completely on baking rack. Store, tightly sealed, on the counter for up to two days or in freezer for several months. Thaw or warm before eating.
This is a beautifully written piece on a debate that is very close to my heart. Please take a few minutes to read it, and then, take the time to do something that you love: read a book. Write a book. Sing a song. Paint a picture. Design a dress. Sing. Dance. Create. Perform. Laugh. Live inspired. And offer someone else the opportunity to do the same: as you dance partner, as your audience, as the stranger who looks down on your sidewalk chalk art. Do something entertaining, artistic, even frivolous. Enjoy yourself. Take a moment and just exist within it.