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…

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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!

Friends and Food Allergies

Dinner #1

Dinner #1

I knew when I started planning my trip to Shirley’s for a weekend of gluten-free food blogger fun that I had to see some of my other friends in the vicinity with whom I spent a little time last year. When I contacted my other friends about dates I told them up front not to worry about food and that I would happily cook for them while staying in their respective homes, especially since my list of food allergies multiplied by six since the last time I saw them.

You would think that all those food allergies and intolerances would deter me from traveling and road tripping. But as we say back home, “No worries, Beef Curry!” The minute you think of something as impossible, you cripple yourself with fear.

My first stop after leaving Shirley’s was a few days with my friend, Jerm, and his family. We went to Costco after he arrived home from work to pick out some proteins and produce while his wife, DD, stayed home with Little Buddy and started making the quinoa & black bean salad.

Proof that Jerm ate salad

Proof that Jerm ate salad

Jerm picked up a bag of mixed greens and a bag of spinach while we were in the refrigerated produce and suggested making a salad. Now, if you haven’t clicked on the link in the first paragraph about my visit last year, you should know Jerm and I go all the way back to sixth grade. He was my next door neighbor for years and we were in the same sixth grade class (you know, when sixth grade was still elementary school). I witnessed him eating a lot of pizza, burgers, and the typical teenage fare. I never recall him eating a salad. Ever. We got home with the goods and he was talking to DD about making a salad with the mixed greens and spinach. She looked at him like he just grew another head. Then she looked to me because she didn’t believe it was his idea until I confirmed it was totally his idea. Dinner was teamwork in action. DD made the quinoa & black bean salad. Jerm fired up the grill for the steaks and asparagus. I made the salad with mixed greens, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, avocado, and homemade dressing.

There was consensus between Jerm and DD that they needed to eat like this more often and that I need to visit more. Even Little Buddy was enjoy his tiny bites of steak, avocado, and greens. Of course, I had to take a picture of Jerm with his salad to prove to his mom he really did eat salad.

The next day was Jerm’s telecommute day and he kept Little Buddy home with us. I wanted to go to the National Mall to walk around and see the war memorials, but the skies looked angry and I was fine with staying in and reading while Jerm “worked.” Guess what Jerm ate for lunch? If you guessed salad, you win! Totally his idea again. He sliced up his leftover steak (we each ate only half our steak) and laid it over some of the leftover salad. If oranges were on hand, I would have made him a spin on my Steak Salad with Orange Fennel Dressing for him because we had half a fennel in the fridge.

Dinner #2

Dinner #2

I wanted to use up some of the food Shirley sent me off with because they needed to be used quickly. I did a spin on my Sweet Beet Salad to use up the beets. I also had plums to use up and used those instead of apples. I did not use the dressing in the recipe so it was purely beets and plums. I made another salad with a different homemade dressing. Jerm grilled some pork chops and sweet peppers. I made a mustard balsamic sauce for the pork chops which was met with rave reviews and a message from DD last week asking how I made it.

I discovered when DD came home that she does not like beets. Uh oh. I asked her if she ever had fresh raw beets and she said she hadn’t. I assured her they taste much different than roasted beets and even more different than canned beets. And that I once didn’t like them myself. She was a good sport and tried the beet salad. Then she went back for seconds.

My last full day I was totally on my own. I ventured into downtown to go to the Folger Shakespeare Library. Silly me decided to go to the National Mall to walk around when I done despite the fact that I knew it would be crowded for the 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington. I’ll get more into that in another post.

Jerm 5

Dinner #5

I got rained on while I walked around the Mall, but it didn’t pour like I thought it would and I made it back to my car with time to spare on the meter. I sat there in my car for a few minutes to check messages and send texts because my phone reception was spotty in the house. It was fine by me. Being disconnected isn’t always a bad thing and it can help with grounding.

Jerm texted me while I was out asking if I like mahi mahi because he found it on sale at Trader Joe’s. I think he was worried I don’t like it. The only fish I don’t like is shark. I may have had it poorly prepared, but I just didn’t care for it. There is fish I like more than others. If you give me a choice between salmon or tuna, it will be salmon every time.

I still had lots of time to myself before Jerm and DD returned home from work. I spent a little time writing and reading before I started in on dinner prep.

I roasted the last bunch of beets mid-afternoon so they would have time to cool by the time I needed to remove the skin and slice them up. I used them to top a spinach and mushroom salad with another homemade dressing. I wanted to use up the garbanzo beans I brought and really just made it up as I went along. Beans, red bell pepper, green onion, and what was left of the dressing from Dinner #1. I tossed it all together and let it sit in the fridge until dinner was ready.

I can’t remember the seasoning Jerm used for the mahi mahi, but it was safe for me and it was absolutely delicious. Jerm 6

I was holding Little Buddy my last morning with my friends and the following conversation took place.

Jerm: He’s worried about who is going to cook his dinner tonight.

Me: He’s worried or you’re worried?

Jerm: *busted face*

Yes, I love my friend. It was great not only spending time with him, but also witnessing his sense of humor in action with his sly grin again. I didn’t get much of that in the short time we had last year. It’s always heartwarming to know that while your friend from long ago really grew up, he didn’t change what really makes him him.

I loved watching him and DD interact because it was what I imagined people see with me and Chaz. I chuckled to myself many times watching them. Especially the looks DD would throw at him that I use, too.

I know food allergies can feel overwhelming sometimes and we refrain from doing the fun things in life like traveling. It doesn’t have to be difficult or hard. When you have friends who get it and want to make sure you stay safe it gets even easier. Last year my bestie went the extra mile and bought an extra set of stainless steel pots and pans for our visit. Check out some simple tips from Welcome Kitchen about traveling safe with food allergies. I follow two of the tips, one of which is this post in action. The other is staying in places with a kitchen like I did last year when I went home for my grandmother’s funeral.

If I can navigate traveling with eleven different food allergies/intolerances, you can!

Friends and Kale Chips

You go on a road trip for a vacation with a multitude of friends and you pack a picnic lunch to eat at a rest stop along the way.

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You pull into your first stop. A retreat with other gluten-free friends who arrived just minutes before you. You are so tired from the ten hour drive but excited to be with friends that you forget to take pictures of the Oven Steamed Shrimp and Great Salad you had for dinner. But that’s okay because all your gluten-free food blogger friends forgot, too, and they were noshing on the kale chips you brought with you like there was no tomorrow. If you can’t share homemade kale chips with friends, who can you share them with?

You wake the next morning to coffee (not in a soup mug this year) and Babycakes NYC doughnuts (they are now completely gluten-free so your previous rant no longer applies to them, but still applies to spelt) carried by your awesome friend through several mass and public transit systems from New York City to King George, Virginia.

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You spend a lazy morning chatting with your friends (and you learn all about Earthing from one of them who is sharing her Earthing mat with all of you to try) before you all finally get it together and head out to Fredricksburg, Virginia. You head to the visitor’s center to see which tour guide is doing the next tour then decide to walk around instead because it’s the not-so-good-guy. You walk around in the light rain and don’t bother with huddling under an umbrella like your friends. As a result, all the pictures your friends take later is of you and your hot mess head of hair. You find some Christmas presents at boutique shops as well as a bottle of Black Dog wine which you post to social media and your Filipino relatives all have a good laugh. Then you all duck into Hyperion Espresso and discover they have rice milk as a dairy-free alternative, not just soy milk. You do little flips on the inside and decide to get a Chai Latte with rice milk.

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You return a little beat so you lie down for a bit to let your adrenals recover. When you get up two more friends have just arrived to join the party. Before you know it, it’s dinner time and it looks like there are too many cooks in the kitchen.

gfe retreat 5But too many cooks can be a good thing when you have amazing food like Guaco Tacos (with venison for us carnivores) and Vegetarian Hash.

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Your wonderful dinner is followed by two flourless chocolate cakes made by one of the friends that arrived before dinner. With a choice between Chocolate Mint and Chocolate Chestnut, how do you choose? You go with one of your favorite flavor combinations, Chocolate Mint, because it is safe for you while everyone else has a little sliver of both.

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The next day, You go on a walk with some of your friends after first breakfast. Then some of your friends make some gorgeous smoothies for their second breakfast after the walk.

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You head out with a few of your friends to do some shark tooth hunting. But, shhhhh, you’re not really shark tooth hunting. *wink wink* You’re picking up shells instead for art journaling, taking pictures of nature, and digging your feet into the sand. Your feet have missed being in sand. Aahhhhhhhhh.

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After re-energizing with your feet in the sand, you return and join the bustle in the kitchen to make ice cream for dessert while other goodies are being made like Scallion Cashew Vegan Cheese, Vegan Smoked Paprika Cheese (which you’ve been wanting to try since your friend posted the recipe and you’re silently squeeing inside because you’re with your friend and she’s making it herself), and Raw Vegan Zucchini Noodles with a raw creamy sauce). Your friend who brought the gluten-free doughnuts also brought her own homemade Raw Carrot Sandwich Bread which is laid out with the spread of food for the night, but you accept everyone’s assessment on the wonderfulness of her raw breads because they aren’t safe for you, so you pass and put it down on your list of things to try when sunflower seeds are safe again. You stop for a moment to take pictures because you can’t resist a friend’s beautiful smile. Your hostess returns with crab for dinner and you help set up the tables on the screened-in patio for the feast. Everyone fixes their plates and you have the leftover venison from the Guaco Tacos since you can’t have crab and your body will scream at you without the animal protein. But you can have the Crab Claws, so you don’t really feel like you’re missing out on the crab.

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Later that evening, one of your friends breaks out her art journaling supplies and you scamper downstairs for your journal because you were anxiously awaiting this activity. While making pages and playing with paint, you realize all those little scraps of papers that you wanted to save but really didn’t know what to do with can go in an art journal. You get even more excited about art journaling and can’t wait to do more of it at home. Secretly, you develop an infatuation with washi tape and buy some the next time you are at Target. You decide to leave the crowded table to get some of the Java Chunk Ice Cream you made earlier then your friend steals your bowl so she can take a picture. You take a picture of the ice cream still in the ice cream maker bowl instead.

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The next morning, Bastian, the Norwegian Forest cat, is coaxed out of hiding for a little bit. Another friend arrives for a few hours and you are happy to see her smiling face. She leads you all in yin yoga again and starts off with positions to help with adrenal fatigue. After everyone else leaves to return to their respective homes, the three of you left have lunch after a new salad is made with Tessemae’s All Natural salad dressing, (the next day one of the friends you spent the weekend with will post a recipe using the very same dressing for her Lemon Garlic Chicken).

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Sadly, Monday comes around and you must pack up your car and head to your next destination. You enjoyed the wonderful weekend with friends and didn’t realize how much just getting out of town was needed. While loading up the car, Sonny sits in protest because he doesn’t want you to leave.

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Cast of Friends:

Shirley – gluten-free easily

Heather – Gluten-Free Cat

Valerie – City|Life|Eats

Cheryl – Gluten-Free Goodness, Cheryl’s recap

Linda – Gluten-Free Homemaker

Andrea – Rockin’ Gluten-Free

Denise – Denise SanFilippo

Jennifer – Yogi Extraordinaire