A Winter to Remember (Part 1) {Taking Control/Planning & Preparation}

As my husband puts it, you guys are a very patient bunch! It's been far too long since I've had the chance to sit down and write and yet I continue to hear from people trying my recipes, commenting on the recipe videos and subscribing to my YouTube channel on a regular basis! Thank you!!! And happy 2014 to you all! How is this new year treating you all so far?

I must say, that for most of us up here in Canada (and pretty anywhere other than Southern California!) we are more than ready for Spring! It actually looks like it might finally be around the corner. We've just passed the official first day of Spring on the calendar, but there's still snow on the ground. However that snow is melting and grass is peeking through so an end is in sight!

The entering in of March also brings my mother-in-law, Audrey's birthday...Happy Birthday, Momma! My own Mom (Whom you met here) will be celebrating her birthday in the Spring as well and the boys & I will actually get to celebrate with her in Florida this year and they are very excited! (I'm sure the fact that they will be in the warm temps of Florida has nothing to do with said excitement!) ;-)

Don't get me wrong, the family has greatly enjoyed this Winter, it's just gone on a lot longer than we ever imagined.

Centre-ice Logo created by Yours Truly! Every year is a different one. 
The last couple years we had pretty mild winters and in 2012/13 we didn't even bother putting up our backyard rink because the temperatures never stayed below freezing long enough to get any use out of it. But hearing that we would most likely have some colder stretches this time, we decided to go to the trouble and it was worth it!
Backyard fun! The boys REALLY learned how to shovel snow this year!
We were able to enjoy a white Christmas and the boys had lots of fun with their cousins, getting lots of snuggles from new baby Kenton! Our Christmas Eve usually consists of services at our churches and then family time around Grandma & Papa Groombridge's Christmas tree where all the kids get to open one present (usually PJ's to wear through to Christmas morning!). With my new involvement in the music leadership at our church we spent a good part of the afternoon preparing for that evening's service. Kirk was involved as well so we pretty much spent the entire afternoon and evening there, but it all went off without a hitch and our pastor was even able to attend via Facetime since he and his wife were enjoying much-needed family time in the UK. Modern technology truly is amazing! By the time the service was done we were definitely hungry, tired and ready for some downtime with family.

We got to have family over during Christmas. Texas born Sis-in-law Hannah got to try out some hockey too!
When we all gather for the evening there's usually a table of appetizer-type goodies for us all to munch on as we visit. All of us ladies usually contribute to the meal and help prepare both on our own and together and I must say, we put out a pretty good spread! (Amazingly none of us got a picture of any of it!) We did, however, get some pictures of the little concert the kids put on for us. They were inspired by the evening's Christmas Eve services and were feeling very festive (and maybe a little silly)!

Now, I have been eating gluten-free for over a year and I wouldn't go back. The change in my health is amazing! It may not be terribly noticeable to some, but I have more energy, I don't have my sinus issues as often (I never thought that the same issues I had as a child with a wheat allergy could still be alive and well as an adult!), I don't have the extreme fatigue, my weight has finally regulated, and my Migraines and Raynaud's have improved (more on that in Part 2!). I am so thankful that there has been a solution to what I was going through and that the solution is something somewhat within my control.

It's getting easier, but there are still times when it's so difficult. Anybody who has to eat a certain way can relate...you're tired of thinking about it, you're tired of reading EVERY single ingredient label, and your extremely tired of talking about anything "gluten-free." You feel like everyone else is tired of hearing about it because it has become the latest trend, but it's still something that has to be taken into consideration in most any social situation and that alone can be extremely draining.

My Mom & Dad certainly understand because they had to be so vigilant when we were kids, as explained in this post and I am thankful that in visiting my parents' home I don't have to think too much about what's safe or not. But I must say that when family and friends in your life who aren't used to it, begin to think about your dietary needs as well and attempt to understand, that is when the weight is removed and you can just enjoy time together. My mother-in-law has shown great effort in the last year or so to learn about and accommodate my dietary needs. She engages in conversations and it's not awkward to discuss recipe adaptations with her. It's on her radar now and she even inquires at restaurants so I don't always have to "be that person." She knows that I don't expect her and everyone else around me to eat the exact same way, but she has learned much in a short time...In fact, just a few nights ago we were dishing out ice cream at her place and I pointed out that there was wheat flour in one of the ice cream flavours. She said, "I never would have thought there would be wheat in ice cream! I guess you really have to read everything!" Exactly...well said! :-)
Church can be one of those places that a gluten-intolerant person may feel awkward when it comes to communion and potluck dinners. Thankfully, our church, after much research and work by one of the members, has switched to a gluten and dairy-free cracker for communion. It has been wonderful for those of us who weren't partaking to be able to do it again worry-free! And whenever there is a church picnic or potluck dinner, gluten-free options have become the norm. We are very blessed to be surrounded by thoughtful pastors, elders and church members!
Ok, so now let's get back to the Christmas Eve festivities...
Meatballs are always one of the appetizers on the menu. They are usually prepared in the crockpot with some french onion soup mix, apricot jam and chili sauce. This mix of sweet, salty and spicy is delicious (and easy)! But there are a couple ingredient issues with this recipe now:
1. Most store-bought meatballs* contain toasted breadcrumbs
2. Most french onion soup mixes contain wheat or some type of wheat derivative.  :-(

What is a gluten-intolerant person to do when not wanting to make a big deal about things? Be a part of the solution and offer to make it yourself! Well, at least part of it anyway. I offered to make the meatballs from scratch and I used the same recipe that I use for these hamburgers (I just chop the veggies up even more so there aren't any big chunks and cook them either in the pan or in the oven):

And to take care of the second ingredient issue, we just substituted some dehydrated onions and gluten-free gravy mix for the french onion soup mix and it worked out perfectly! I provided the meatballs and gf ingredients and my sister-in-law, Susan put it all together as she normally would so it was ready to go for our get-together! A win-win for everyone...delicious, gluten-free and 100% homemade!
*I have discovered recently that some of the meatballs I thought contained bread crumbs do not; yay! At "M&M Meats," a Canadian store that provides gourmet meats, meals, and desserts at decent prices, you can find a couple different bread crumb-free meatballs. Their website also provides the ability to search the allergen information for each and every product they sell which makes things really easy. And even more recently, they have introduced an entirely gluten-free menu of products! We had the gf breaded pork chunks the other day and they were delicious! If you live near one of these stores, I highly recommend them. I make my purchases when a good sale is on because everything can be frozen for later use and you can be confident that it is high-quality product. (We love their Salt & Pepper Chicken Wings!)
Bottom line is simply this: if you have certain dietary needs, don't expect everyone to automatically know exactly what needs to be done to accommodate you. Sometimes it's hard to talk about it or even bring it up, but your family and friends love you and they don't wish you harm. So take control of the social situations by planning and preparing "safe" ingredient alternatives that everyone can enjoy and I guarantee you, your loved ones will be thankful. And if you are on the other side of this scenario and you have that family member or friend with Celiac disease, Lactose Intolerance, severe nut allergy etc., do your best to make an effort to listen and try to understand. I assure you, those people will enjoy spending that time with you even more because it is evident that you care about their well-being.

We came home in time to put the gluten-free cookies and almond milk out for Santa along with some carrots and beef jerky for the reindeer. Then the boys headed up to bed to be ready for Christmas morning!

Christmas morning usually begins with opening our stockings and a few presents...Chirpie & Charlie (pictured above) were the first "presents" opened on Christmas morning! They are sweet little parakeets that have already become special additions to the family. They are active, healthy little birds and we are all really enjoying them! Then we pack the rest of the gifts up and head back over to Grandma's house again to for present opening, more cousin time around the tree and more eating! The traditional brunch on Christmas day usually includes a breakfast casserole that calls for cubed bread. Because Momma had forgotten to mention to bring my own bread (but she had thought about it!), I simply prepared my own quiche and brought it along. Again, we all enjoyed what we ate stress-free.

Olive wood nativity from one of my parent's trips to Israel
One of the  traditions that both families carry on is the reading of the Christmas story once we are all together. Additionally, my Mom usually has the grandkids arrange the nativity scene during the reading. We did this when they were here visiting for Christmas one year and my father-in-law liked it so much that he carried the tradition on to this year as well. The kids had a lot of fun arranging them as we adults tried to keep each piece from being broken! :-)

As of January 2nd we were ready to get back to work and since we are homeschooling, we were able to do that. The boys jumped (a little reluctantly) back into their studies and are very excited that they will be done well before their friends who attend school. The homeschooling is still going quite well even if I do have to remind Kaleb to focus on a regular basis! They're getting good grades and we are really proud of their progress. Due to the winter we have had, the schools have had many more bus/snow days than they normally would. But no snow days for us (or their other homeschooling friends)! They keep working on through and then we decide when to take time off on other days to enjoy the snow as a family. (The boys were very inspired by the Sochi Olympics! More on that in Part 2.)

So stay tuned for more winter pics! It's been a busy few months and it never really seems to let up, but God is good and he continually gives us the strength to keep going through each day! Psalm 28:7

And stay tuned for more recipes. I had someone ask if I have a cookbook available. I do not at this point, but if I heard from enough people who wanted it then I would certainly look into it! Please let me know if the comments and don't forget to connect with me on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram!

Treat Yourself Well!

Have you had a harsh Winter where you live? If so, do you enjoy it or wish you could live elsewhere?
Growing up in Florida, I LOVE having seasons! I wouldn't trade it. It's been a good winter, but I'm ready for warmer temps!

Would you be interested in an "Allergen-free" cookbook? If so, do you prefer hard copy or ebook?
I have several cookbooks that I just can't get rid of, but I don't necessarily look at them much either. I definitely prefer ebooks, but I know there are some who really like to hold a real book in their hands.

What sort of Winter activities have you enjoyed the last few months?
Our boys were greatly inspired by the Sochi Olympics this year. (More on that to come!)