The 2015 GFE Retreat

Back: Johnna, Me, Shirley, & Linda Front: Valerie, Katie, & Diane Photo from Johnna Perry, used with permission.

Back: Johnna, Me, Shirley, & Linda
Front: Valerie, Katie, & Diane
Photo from Johnna Perry, used with permission.

I just spent an amazing weekend with some of my favorite people. It’s been two years since I last blogged about getting together with friends at Shirley Braden’s for a retreat. It was another year of menus with multiple dietary restrictions, but no one ever felt deprived.

Johnna's Scout Cookies. Chaz immediately wanted one when I texted him a picture.

Johnna’s Scout Cookies. Chaz immediately wanted one when I texted him a picture.

Most of us arrived Thursday. Shirley had vegetarian chili cooking in the slow cooker and Jennifer whipped up her famous salmon cakes. Right before dinner, Shirley baked some sweet potato biscuits and Linda made sure her Chopped Veggie Salad was good to go. There was also wine and Johnna’s Scout Cookies. And how can I forget her sriracha cashews?

No one went hungry and everyone ate easily according to their needs. Notice how healthy doesn't have to be boring?

No one went hungry and everyone ate easily according to their needs. Notice how healthy doesn’t have to be boring?

While we sat in the living room chatting and checking social media, I autographed a couple of books my friends brought. It was an honor since packing space is a premium when we come to the retreat and my book is pretty thick. I enjoyed a Viennese Tea Cookie and a Penguino from Mariposa, a gluten-free bakery based in San Francisco that Diane ordered some treats from.

This is what I finished and published instead of creating new recipes. I wouldn't take back that decision at all.

This is what I finished and published instead of creating new recipes. I wouldn’t take back that decision at all.

Just a few of the Mariposa treats. All gluten-free, most are vegan. Penguinos, croutons, graham crackers, & Viennese tea cookies. Thanks to Diane for ordering & shipping them to us.

Just a few of the Mariposa treats. All gluten-free, most are vegan. Penguinos, croutons, graham crackers, & Viennese tea cookies. Thanks to Diane for ordering & shipping them to us.

The next morning, I made a meatless variation of my Winter Hash, using Japanese sweet potatoes and spinach. We topped it with leftover chili, egg, and avocado. We took our time getting ourselves together for the day and before we left for our trip into Fredericksburg, the goodies I ordered from Annie May’s Sweet Café arrived. Let’s just say some of my friends discovered a new kind of crack in the Mini Oatmeal Cream Pies. We also pulled out the Kite Hill brie style cheese to enjoy on some of the Mariposa batard. I thought the cheese needed to be baked with some preserves. We also had Treeline cheese. Both cheeses are nut based and so much like real cheese that I wished they had been around when I had to be dairy-free. I can still enjoy them now though. They are both great brands to look out for if you miss cheese. (And better than the popular faux cheese with tons of ingredients, imo)

Meatless Winter Hash, leftover Veggie Chili, egg, avocado, and bacon. Great way to fuel up!

Meatless Winter Hash, leftover Veggie Chili, egg, avocado, and bacon. Great way to fuel up!

Brie style cheese from Kite Hill on Mariposa gluten-free, vegan batard.

Brie style cheese from Kite Hill on Mariposa gluten-free, vegan batard.

Treats from Annie May's Sweet Cafe. Ginger Cookies, Lemon Cookies, and Mini Oatmeal Cream Pies. Everyone was happy.

Treats from Annie May’s Sweet Cafe. Ginger Cookies, Lemon Cookies, and Mini Oatmeal Cream Pies. Everyone was happy.

We wandered around downtown Fredericksburg, checking out stores that looked interesting or that we visit yearly. I usually find a Christmas gift or two, but this year, nothing screamed out: BUY ME! We stopped briefly at Kickshaws, a small market run by a friend of Shirley’s whom we met last year. She wasn’t in the store when we arrived, but they are working on expanding and adding a kitchen and they are now serving some pre-made foods and goodies. I spotted a delicious looking egg salad sandwich in the case (I’m a sucker for a good egg salad sandwich), Johnna bought some gluten-free, vegan brownies, and Valerie bought the gluten-free, vegan Peaches & Cream cupcakes. As for me, I bought some local ground coffee (you can never have too much coffee) and a snack package of green olives. I ate the olives on my flight home and they were DELICIOUS.

If only I could take the TARDIS to visit my friends ALL the time. Talk about having your cake and eating it too with all that wibbly wobbly timey wimey.

If only I could take the TARDIS to visit my friends ALL the time. Talk about having your cake and eating it too with all that wibbly wobbly timey wimey.

Kickshaws had a wonderful array of gluten-free, vegan treats on display. The brownies were divine and the peaches & cream cupcakes were pure bliss.

Kickshaws had a wonderful array of gluten-free, vegan treats on display. The brownies were divine and the peaches & cream cupcakes were pure bliss.

When we were done, we headed to Bistro Bethem for dinner where I ordered a delightful Bordeaux Blanc, the chef created two special vegan dishes for our table, and Katie Oliver joined us. While Katie isn’t a gluten-free blogger (or even need to be gluten-free), she is a friend of Shirley’s who introduced the two of us on Twitter a few years ago and it’s been BFF fun time ever since.

Not only did we have the menu items to choose from, but the specials on the board too. They were able to easily modify dishes to our needs. I ordered a Caesar Salad (no croutons) and the Stuffed Quail. I was not disappointed at all. Upon checking out the dessert menu, Johnna and I decided we needed to try the Butterscotch Pots de Crème and the Lemon Parfait. Johnna ordered one of each for the table to share. And Valerie ordered a blackberry sorbet. The Butterscotch Pots de Crème was my favorite. Let me tell you, it is a joy to be able to go out to dinner and pass something around, not worrying about getting sick.

Does this look unhealthy, bland, or like any of us were deprived? You can find great food with multiple food restrictions while traveling. Photos and photo collage by Johnna Perry. Used with permission.

Does this look unhealthy, bland, or like any of us were deprived? You can find great food with multiple food restrictions while traveling.
Photos and photo collage by Johnna Perry. Used with permission.

Back at home, after chatting, laughing, and getting into comfy clothes, Johnna made some milkshakes. We had to check the Basil Hayden’s for quality control first though. It’s required. Bourbon drinkers have to make sure the non-bourbon drinkers are getting the good stuff. Johnna used the leftover raw chocolate ganache in the Vitamix that Valerie made for raw tarts, bananas, ice, bourbon, homemade bourbon chocolate sauce, an avocado, and probably a few other things I missed while my back was turned coating the inside of the mason jars with the chocolate bourbon sauce. She garnished the milkshakes with coconut bacon and the brownies she bought from Kickshaw’s. I wanted to lick the mason jar clean, that’s how good they were. We also had some of Linda’s Chocolate Coconut Candy that she brought with her.

Did someone say chocolate?

Did someone say chocolate?

The next morning, I started off with a Ginger Cookie from Annie May’s Sweet Café with my coffee. While I love ginger and don’t mind a heavy hand with ginger in baked goods and dishes, I know it’s not everyone’s jam. These cookies were perfect with coffee (as I imagined they would be when I ordered them) and had just enough ginger to keep non-ginger lovers from being overwhelmed. Later, Diane toasted some the Mariposa batard and smashed some avocados to top it with, and Valerie made Key Lime smoothies using what was leftover in the Vitamix from the filling she made for more raw tarts. The breakfast was so simple and delicious in that simplicity.

This might have been my favorite breakfast of the weekend. I can't decide yet.

This might have been my favorite breakfast of the weekend. I can’t decide yet.

We ate dinner earlier than usual because Linda had to leave early. It was a whirlwind in the kitchen with Johnna making grain-free, vegan japchae and grain-free, vegan “crab” cakes. I think we all helped in some way or form. Just don’t tell anyone that I added lime juice to the “crab” cakes that wasn’t supposed to be in it. It’ll be our little secret, okay? For us meat eaters, we had real crab to pick apart and pick through.

One of my favorite pics of the weekend. I'm pretty sure it's because of the crab.

One of my favorite pics of the weekend. I’m pretty sure it’s because of the crab.

We weren't the only ones sad to say goodbye to Linda.

We weren’t the only ones sad to say goodbye to Linda.

Later, Shirley drove me, Katie, and Johnna down to Rick’s at Fairview Beach for drinks and sunset. Johnna and I hopped out to the beach for pictures (and I took off my slippers). I saw my first sun dog and we listened to No Green JellyBeenz. Decent band.

A Castaway that tasted like cough syrup because I didn't mix it first. I'm thinking that any alcohol intended for consumption should NOT taste like cough syrup. It was better after I mixed it, but once you get that idea in your head, that's all you think.

A Castaway that tasted like cough syrup because I didn’t mix it first. I’m thinking that any alcohol intended for consumption should NOT taste like cough syrup. It was better after I mixed it, but once you get that idea in your head, that’s all you think.

Grounding...

Grounding…

2015 GFE Retreat 172015 GFE Retreat 182015 GFE Retreat 19

We returned home and had “fourth meal.” The raw vegan tarts that Valerie made (from the Choosing Raw cookbook by Gena Hamshaw), baked Kite Hill “brie” with mango jam on Mariposa batard, and S’mores dip made with Enjoy Life chocolate chips and Dandies marshmallows (Mariposa gluten-free graham crackers and Johnna’s homemade vegan graham crackers). I went a little overboard and warmed up the chocolate bourbon sauce and added that to the S’more on my plate.

So many goodies that we all had a little of each.

So many goodies that we all had a little of each.

The next morning, we made bibimbap pizza using the leftover japchae and topping it with a fried egg. I know it’s technically not bibimbap, but c’mon…a fried egg on pizza! We said goodbye to Katie [insert sad Debi face here], did some art journaling, and said goodbye to Diane, Johnna, and Valerie. We totally forgot to try the Peaches & Cream cupcakes that Valerie bought from Kickshaws, so I got one out. I’m not necessarily a peaches and cream lover, but the cupcake was delicious and really felt like I was eating peaches and cream.

Me & Katie...check out her sass! One of the many things I love about her.

Me & Katie…check out her sass! One of the many things I love about her.

Leftovers on a Mariposa gluten-free, vegan pizza crust. We wound up just eating them with our hands.

Leftovers on a Mariposa gluten-free, vegan pizza crust. We wound up just eating them with our hands.

With everyone gone, I finished the book I was reading, The Ruins by T.H. Hernandez, who happens to be a friend I made when we were both focusing on our gluten-free blogging. We fell out of touch when she stopped blogging and reconnected as fellow authors. Funny how life works, yeah?

Shirley and Mr. GFE (yes, I finally got to meet Mr. GFE!) took me to Dockside at Colonial Beach for dinner. I chose the Norfolk style scallops and pretty much demolished my food. Hello, baked potato! Goodbye, you yummy thing.

I want a baked potato just looking at this photo. I know, I'm crazy.

I want a baked potato just looking at this photo. I know, I’m crazy.

I made some Earl Grey tea and indulged in the Lemon Cookies from Annie May’s Sweet Café Sunday evening. It was a great pairing with the flavors complimenting each other.

Before I knew it, it was Monday afternoon and I was saying goodbye to Shirley, Mr. GFE, and Sonny.

Even though I had an EPIC bar in my bag, these olives that I found at Kickshaws were a tastier treat on the airplane.

Even though I had an EPIC bar in my bag, these olives that I found at Kickshaws were a tastier treat on the airplane.

The weekend was indulgent, none of us was deprived of anything despite our varying needs, and once again, Shirley makes us feel as if we are home away from home.

Returned to the grind as soon as I was at the gate and continued on the plane. The Downward Spiral won't write itself!

Returned to the grind as soon as I was at the gate and continued on the plane. The Downward Spiral won’t write itself!

When Tradition Gets Tossed Out the Window

002

Last year’s tree

I like traditions.  It’s the passing down of culture, stories, special moments from one generation to the next.  Holidays are a time where traditions are focused on most.  Holiday baking, present wrapping, trimming the tree, decorating the house inside and out, singing carols, watching old Christmas movies and stop animation movies, traveling to be with family, waking up early Christmas morning to open presents, Christmas breakfast, and Christmas dinner.

A friend of mine passed away back in 1998.  She had battled health problems for many years and I counted myself fortunate to have seen her just a few months before her passing.  She flew out to surprise me for our wedding reception.  In truth, she was the first person I cooked for with food restrictions when she first got sick.  I wrote down everything she couldn’t have and then dreamed up everything else she could have.  She was a great woman who left this world just a few days before Christmas.

I had difficulty getting excited about Christmas for a while after that.  I did the decorating and did the shopping, but I never felt the absolute glee in all the preparations through the years.

As soon as I started looking forward to Christmas again, Papa passed away just a couple of weeks before Christmas in 20o4.  I was in the middle of wrapping presents to take with us to spend what we all felt would be our last Christmas with him.  Papa, ever the jokester, decided he didn’t want a sober Christmas and went to be with Granny instead.  I can’t blame him.  I would have chosen to be with her, too.

We all still spent Christmas together and since Papa wasn’t around to keep booze away from, we all got a bit toasted.  In his honor of course.  He would have wanted it.

Somehow in the midst of preparations at the home of my grandparents, knowing I would never step in it again, and trying to enjoy being with my family, all I could hear was my mother saying things like, “We have to have the spiral cut ham.” “We have to have Dad’s egg nog.” “We have to make chili.”  I believe my aunties told her if she wanted it, she had to take care of it.  All I remember was thinking, “Are you serious?” and then wanting to smack her.  Instead, I had Chaz fix me another drink and I went back to watching movies with my siblings and cousins.

This was the moment where I decided that even though I have all these traditions from both sides of my family passed down to me, they really don’t mean a thing if I’m not enjoying time with my family.  It doesn’t matter that for the last few years I haven’t trimmed the tree.  It doesn’t matter that I’m spending less time trying to make the perfect bow and instead wrapping simply.  It doesn’t matter that I haven’t converted all the holiday recipes and that I haven’t had Granny’s Pecan Rolls for breakfast on Christmas in years.  What matters is that I get to spend the day with Chaz doing whatever we feel like doing.  What matters is that I cook what I want to cook and it doesn’t have to be the same thing every year.  What matters is I spend less time worrying and thinking about tradition than I do worrying about the time I have on special occasions.

Auntie in JFK Plaza, Philadelphia, PA

Auntie in JFK Plaza, Philadelphia, PA

This may seem huge to some of you who may stick to tradition every year, but at heart, as much as I love tradition, I like breaking them and making new traditions.  If Chaz and I had a real wedding ceremony there wouldn’t have been tradition.  No matching bridesmaids dresses.   No wearing white (I look awful if I’m all in white).  No grand churches.  No wedding march.  No being given away (it was the 20th century for goodness sakes).  When I was sick before the hypothyroid diagnosis, I went without throwing my yearly New Years Party, a tradition from Granny and Papa I had followed for years.  Even if we didn’t have people over because I was just too sick to entertain, I did make the traditional pot of chili.  I think that is one tradition I never stopped no matter what.  New Years day is chili.  I haven’t done the party in years because of work and even though I’m gone from that fun box store, I won’t be partying this year because I’m just too sick to entertain again.  Chili will be made.

No, the tradition frenzy is no longer in my life.  When I feel it start to come on I remind myself about what is really important about the holidays.  It is why I redeemed some miles and flew to Allentown, PA last month to spend a couple of days with one of my aunties.  I had to take advantage of any opportunity to spend time with any family members no matter how sick and exhausted I was.  This year is no different from any other and with all the losses in my life I’m holding on to my time with Chaz even more.   I have a heavier heart today because of another loss.  I’m imagining how two of my friends are going to manage their first Christmases without their wives.  I’m imagining how my auntie, uncle, and cousin are going to celebrate their first Christmas without Jonathan.  I’m wishing for my younger years of spending Christmas with either Granny and Papa or Grandma and Grandpa, but thankful for the years I had with them.

I’m thankful I regained control of my life and I’m taking back my health, yet again.

I’m thankful my doctor diagnosed me before I wound up in the hospital because I kept pushing and pushing myself.

I’m thankful for Chaz, who has been extremely supportive of me doing what I need to do for myself.

I’m thankful for my family and friends who have become family.

I’m thankful for you.

It is time to just be.

Hanging With My Bestie

Early mornings mean spectacular light, coffee, and sometimes conversation.

One of the great things about visiting my best friend, Dawn, (other than the completely obvious) is the view from the house.  She, the Old Man, and Little Obi-Wan live two blocks from Universal Studios/City Walk. We could walk there if we wanted to deal with all the steep inclines.  This includes the Stairs of Death.

Take them slowly and hold on to the rail or you WILL fall. This is why they are the Stairs of Death. Also, you feel kinda dead once you climb all those stairs.

Visits usually mean we’re up early.  She was a teacher for years so when she was still working, she was still up early.  Now Little Obi-Wan usually wakes early meaning she does, too.  Early there means late for me so really I’m sleeping in.  Right?  We have coffee, sit and zone out, talk a little once we feel coherent, and now that we have smartphones – check world of social media.  I’ll usually pull out whatever book I happen to be reading and indulge in some early morning reading time.  Book count this vacation?  Four.  That’s pretty good considering all the stuff we did I already blogged about and all the stuff I haven’t shared with you yet.  Not to mention the countless times we watched Thomas the Train, Sesame Street, and videos with Little Obi-Wan.

The view from the kitchen. How can you not love that view while fixing your meals? Oh, right. It gets hotter than Hades in there. That’s how.

I love cooking with Dawn and in her kitchen.  She did something great that I already shared about which was make sure there were safe pots and pans for me to use.   The last time we visited it was for Thanksgiving in 2009.  The kitchen is a little small so having Dawn, her mom, and I all in there at once can get a little claustrophobic, so we tried to take turns.  It worked for the most part, but there were times we were all in there at once and staying perfectly still at our station so we weren’t bumping into each other.  That was a great Thanksgiving!

I showed you several of our meals out, but I haven’t shared our meals in.

Our first night, Dawn grilled up two different types of brats by Johnsonville.  Original and Spicy.  She also grilled some corn.  We had some fresh tomatoes and cucumbers as well and then watermelon for dessert.  Yummers!

So fresh!

Another night, Dawn made Sloppy Joes with homemade buns and roasted potatoes.  Chaz was in homemade bread heaven while we were

Potatoes and Sloppy Joes!

visiting.  I skipped the buns and ate mine with a fork.  Just as good!

The day we went to the L.A. County Fair was my turn to cook dinner.   Chaz was spectacular and ran over to Ralph’s for all our dinner needs once we got back from the fair.  I should mention that the shopping center that the Ralph’s is in closest to Dawn is the shopping center where everyone loses their sanity.   Everyone forgets how to drive in there and decide that they all have the right of way.  Thank goodness for underground parking.  If you can manage to get to it without being run into.

The requirements that the Old Man set out for anything I fixed is that it have meat (can do), and not contain eggplant or

An old standby

curry.  I decided to go with a variation of something I tend to make

Carnitas! Ole!

when I want something quick and easy.  Pasta with mild Italian sausage and kalamata olives.  I added asparagus in with it and topped it with fresh basil.  Chaz got some fresh heirloom tomatoes that he sliced up and some radishes.  I intended to eat mine without pasta and just set some the of sausage, asparagus, and olives aside, but Chaz bought some Tinkyada pasta, so I felt obligated to fix it.  I had a pot of Tinkyada pasta for me and a pot of gluten-full pasta for everyone else.  There were enough leftovers that I could have some as breakfast a few days.  Which turned out to be a good thing after I discovered eggs were a problem.

Dawn loves using a slow cooker as much as I do.  She fixed carnitas in the slow cooker the day after our trip to Disneyland.  This meant really only veggie prep that evening.  The best kind of

That risotto…best risotto!

The sky was on fire one night

cooking when you’re recovering after back-to-back full days out.

Our last dinner was roasted chicken, carrots, and butternut squash risotto.  Dawn was awesome and instead of using butter that the recipe called for, she used more olive oil.  The best risotto I’ve had.  And it was cooked in a rice cooker!   Yes, a rice cooker.  You know, the thing that us Asians use to cook rice in so we can have great rice without standing at the stove watching it, but a lot of Americans use to cook other things in.

Okay.  I know I started off with talking about what we do when I visit and ended up talking about food.   Well, we eat!   We used to go out to eat a lot (or call for takeout or delivery) when I would visit, but tight budgets and food intolerances/allergies kept us in more often this time around.  That was fine with me.

Just look at that face!

Jump!

The resident fighter against Communism, aka Mantequilla or Manny for short, takes up residence next to me while I’m sitting on the sofa or love seat.  He demands a lot of attention and belly scratches.  He learned from my first visit that I’m the one with the fingernails that knows all the right spots to hit.  Word has it he was a bit sulky and wanted more cuddles than usual after we left.  Poor little guy.  He just can’t get enough lovin’.

We usually play video games during lazy days indoors.  They got a Xbox with Kinect since our last visit.  Let me tell you, that thing is a pain!  It took more time to get everything set up than we spent playing!  As Dawn says, it’s not intuitive.  Not at all.  Give me my Wii any day!  Little Obi-Wan had a blast though.  He plays like I do a lot of times.  I don’t really care, I just do whatever.  Really.  Playing Mortal Kombat and Street

Trying a Sancerre

Fighter in college I had no clue how I was supposed to use the controller.  I just kept rapidly pressing all the buttons and when I was lucky, I’d win.  It’s all about having fun.  Right?

Copious amounts of wine and other adult beverages are also consumed.  That’s just one bottle of wine and the one I bought.  You should see their two bars.  Okay.  One and a half.  The Old Man’s mancave is where he has his poker games and they keep a full bar down there.  The “bar” in the kitchen just has a little of everything you might need.  Rum, vodka, kahlua.  You know, the important stuff.

No words needed