Monday, November 24, 2014

Living and Loving the Game

I like to think celiac has taught me two big life lessons. First, cooking can be dang difficult - especially when gluten is crossed off the ingredient list. Second, life doesn't like to go to plan. My family's adventure to watch the MLS playoff between Seattle and LA yesterday exemplifies the latter. 

In front of the stadium entrance!
If "MLS" sounds like a dyslexic version of the ABC's, you probably aren't a soccer fan. But my parents and I - with my dad and I being past players - are pretty decent fans. So when we had the chance to see our first live professional game, we jumped on the chance! 

We left the house at 10 am with an estimated 12:15 arrival time. With kickoff at 2 pm, we sat back in our gold Honda van and readied ourselves for a relaxing ride

All smiles right before our first traffic jam...
That's when the road trip from H-E-double drumsticks (it is almost Thanksgiving after all) began. Basically everything that could befall us did. I summed it in one Facebook status when I got home: A huge apocalyptic event had us inching down the I-5 for an hour and a half. Then we spotted a bunch of police cars arresting someone in a random road. 

Minutes later, two ambulances happened. Then, on the return trip, we had to stop for gas in the ghettos. To finish it off, a back tire of the car right in front of us exploded. A series of unfortunate driving events one might say. 

We were wishing for the simpler days!
Life is like that, and celiac seems to increase the odds of a flat tire. You expect a normal Thanksgiving dinner and learn the neighbors invited us over this year. So you adjust. For my family, the turkey trot is happening a day early. That way I'll have my own box of festive goodies to bring to the gluten-filled neighborhood feast. Just like the drive, the dinner may have a few bumps along the way. A few quizzical glances. A few longing stares. (By them and me respectively.)

But I have no doubt that the laughs and memories will be worth it, just like the game. In the end, after a long 3 hour drive full of chaos outside and inside the car, we arrived thirty minutes before kick off. 

We made it!
Since the Stubhub Center offers limited gluten free options, I'd devoured my homemade pizza lunch and bliss ball snack before we rode the shuttle to the stadium. With my belly full, the plates of nachos and pretzels didn't even spark a hint of drool (though, in our sunny seats, the snow cones looked pretty cool!) 

The game ended 1-0 in favor of LA, but, as the center's automatic camera captured, there was plenty of excitement along the way. I can't explain how grateful and excited I felt to see all the soccer studs battle it out in the flesh instead of pixels. 

Some shots from the game!
More than the game itself, though, I savored sharing a (rather eventual) adventure with my parents. For although we sure weren't laughing at the time, I have no doubt that the "Road trip from Hell" will pop up it's head in many conversations to come. 

And, as the Thanksgiving turkey starts its flight to the kitchen table, isn't it the memories that matter the most? Not the food, not winning or losing - just enjoying the game that is life. Detours, gluten free diets and all

Have you ever had a deathly road trip? What is one surprise life has thrown your way? Comment below! 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gluten Free Buckwheat and Rice Porridge

I don't know about you, but ever since November hit the calendar, slippers, dark skies and sleepy shivers have dominated my early mornings. Plus a craving for a big, warm breakfast of pumpkin pie oatmeal

This gluten free celiac's recipe for vegan oatless oatmeal!
I <3 oatless oatmeal!
Unfortunately for this celiac, oats and my gluten-shredded intestines haven't gotten back on talking terms since my diagnosis. For a while, I was riding the quinoa flake train, but I abandoned those in a desperate jump to stop the unexplainable itching that hit me a few months ago. What's an oat-cravin' gal to do? 

Buy packs of Bob Mills' rice and buckwheat flakes and hope for the best! For a little while, I was dancing the Goldilocks. Just rice was too thin; buckwheat alone tasted a bit too nutty. And then my taste buds landed on the perfectly thick, chewy, no-oat oatmeal! Having a bowl of this magic to look forward to makes my early college class schedule a little easier to swallow (food pun, of course, intended).

That melted sunbutter...
For the base recipe, all you need is five ingredients:

2 TBSP buckwheat flakes
2 TBSP rice flakes 
1/2 mashed banana 
1-2 TBSP chia seeds for extra thickness and satiety 
Preferred amount of water (I like my oatmeal really thick, so I usually pour just enough to submerge all my ingredients. One tip: add the water and wait a few minutes to see how much the chia seeds expand, then add more water as needed!) 

Then I pop my oat-less oats in the microwave for a total of 2 minutes (one minute with just the base, then I put on my toppings and microwave for another minute to make everything a pool of melted yum!). 

The magic of the microwave!
The best part about this recipe, though? Pimping it up with the flavor add ins! As I mentioned in my last post, right now pumpkin everything has me by the taste buds. I've devoured my super pumpkin oatmeal for five weeks straight now, adding to the base recipe cacao powder, pumpkin spice, pumpkin pie stevia, a little vanilla and lots of fruit and pumpkin butter on top!

My other favorite eating accessories are maca powder, spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, fruits of all types (nanas, strawberries, blubes, and pomegranate seeds are the top 4 winners), and a waterfall of crunchy toppings like Trail mix, seeds, cacao nibs. And, of course, no bowl is complete without a pool of nut butter melted on top! For an extra special mix, melted chocolate and shredded dates are also always good choices. 

All the oatmeal, all the time!
Sometimes it takes a little creativity, but new food sensitivities don't have to kill off old favorites. By now, I don't even remember what I'm missing - and when I dive into a huge jar of this gooey goodness for a warm breakfast or night snack, "missing out" definitely isn't the first phrase to pop into my mind! (More like: Mmmmm). 

So bring it on November. With a bowl of pumpkin sun butter "oatmeal" in my belly, even walking to Linguistics at chilly 7:30 am darkness can't damper my spirits

*Also found at Saucy Saturdays Link Up, Vegetarian Mama's GF Friday and Made by You Monday!*

What's your favorite oatmeal flavor? What's your favorite place to buy cute spoons and bowls fit for an oatmeal queen? Comment below! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Review and Recipe: Sweet Leaf Stevia

Food-wise, a lot has changed since my celiac diagnosis. Goodbye bread, bran flakes and granola bars, hello salmon, sweet potatoes and cans of sunbutter! One thing that hasn't changed? My killer sweet tooth. So, when Sweet Leaf Stevia contacted me about reviewing their holiday recipe book and stevia flavors, I counted down the days to package arrival! 

Pages of goodies! (Source)
Cooking with SweetLeaf Stevia is a 119-recipe cookbook packed with everything from breakfasts and desserts to Christmas dinner favorites. It's not exclusively gluten free or allergy friendly, but it does include a few GF recipes and others are easily adaptable - they certainly got my tongue drooling and my mind jumping to all sorts of new edible creations!

Then comes the sweeteners. Sweet Leaf offers several kinds, including Sweet Leaf Stevia Sweetener and Liquid Stevia Sweet Drops to sweeten, cook or bake with. Both are free of calories, carbs and glycemic spikes, but packed with flavor. I may or may not have jumped up and down when I saw my drop flavors: pumpkin pie and peppermint mocha. You could say they had me falling for them right away - seasonal pun intended!

My fave new flavors!
The book offers several smoothie recipes and, having no previous experience with stevia, I decided to start out my sugar free adventure with a good old bowl of banana nice cream. Using my usual base recipe, I added the recommended 4-6 drops of peppermint mocha. I licked my Nutribullet clean

Unlike other extracts and sweeteners, Sweet Leaf's products boast a understated flavor that packs a delicious punch without overwhelming the taste buds. Admittedly, I don't drink coffee, and peppermint extract usually reminds me of throat lozenges, but I fell head over tongue! A slight hint of mint + earthy touch of chocolate coffee = one killer sugar free dessert (or breakfast!)

My Instagram is exploding with delicious treats!
The pumpkin pie stevia drops tastes equally delicious in smoothies, but I actually prefer it in my buckwheat and rice morning oatmeal. I never would have thought of adding it to my oatmeal, but when I read about their vanilla and peaches quinoa in the cookbook, I knew it had to try it out! Ever since my calendar hit November, I've been pumpkin-pimpin' out my oats with piles of pumpkin spice and pumpkin butter, but a few drops of Sweet Leaf's pumpkin pie stevia adds the final kick to my morning magic in a bowl! 

Cacao and pumpkin pie based oatmeal? Sign me up!
The one creation I can't stop eating, though? My homemade pumpkin granola! I cooked my first huge batch Friday afternoon, doubling this base recipe and throwing in some gluten free cereal, buckwheat groats, rice flakes, dairy free chocolate, sunbutter and dates to finish it off. Then I tossed it in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes and perfection was born!

All the granola, all the time!
Considering that the entire pan of granola has mysteriously disappeared (into my mouth) by Monday morning, I can safely say that the granola is scary good or that I have a serious granola addiction. Or both. Oops.

The pumpkin pie stevia adds the perfect explosion of pumpkin and sweetness to every crunchy bite, making this my favorite batch of granola ever. It even had the gluten eaters in my dorm drooling. When they smelt it cooking, they all guessed "pumpkin muffins." And when they tasted? Nothing but "Mmmmm." 

Too much goodness for my tongue to handle!
For those who need a more filling snack, Sweet Leaf stevia is a great addition to my homemade "bliss balls." Also known as "protein balls" when protein powder is thrown into the mix, these are nutrition bar substitutes that are easy to make and even easier to scarf down! Though I don't follow an exact recipe anymore, the base usually followers similar proportions to this:

10-12 Medjool dates soaked overnight and pureed in a Nutribullet or blender
2TBSP coconut or other flour (more if the mixture seems too wet) 
1/2 very ripe mashed banana 
1 TBSP nut butter (I prefer sunbutter but anything will work!)
All the flavor additions of your choice

All the balls in all the flavors!
My favorite flavor additions are all kinds of nuts/seeds, with the larger kinds roughly chopped, powders (acai, maca, cacao), spices (cinnamon, pumpkin), chocolate chips, puffed cereal, dried or fresh fruit (pomegranates and blueberries are the best!) and flavorings like vanilla and Sweet Leaf's pumpkin pie and peppermint-mocha stevias

To make your bliss balls even fancier, try rolling them in extra toppings after molding them into shape. Then pop them in the freezer to chill, and keep them in there or in the refrigerator for major snackage!

Sweet Leaf took me on a sweet trip!
I didn't know what to expect when I first tried Sweet Leaf Stevia, but now that I've tried two, I'm definitely hooked! With these guilt-free droppers in hand, I can make lots of desserts and eat them all too! 

**Sweet Leaf Stevia was kind enough to offer samples of their holiday stevia flavors in return for an honest review. I was not paid for this review, and all the ideas and opinions within it are my own.**

Have you ever tried Sweet Leaf stevia? What is your favorite fall flavor? Comment below!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Writing My Own Story

I've shared a lot of stories since this blog's birth over a year ago. I'm a writing major; my fingers might as well bleed ink if cut. But, as I discovered during on my first writing conference adventure, writing is merely a reflection of living. And instructions for one can be advice for the other. 

Awkward selfie with the welcome sign!
I ventured into the world of the San Diego Christian Writer's Guild Conference two weekends ago thanks to a PLNU scholarship and a date two days after my Thursday of Death by Midterms (three back to back from 8-12).

Of course, I packed my bag with loads of goodies because I couldn't gorge on the breakfast and lunch buffet included in the ticket. Vanilla Bean Chia Pod to the rescue - and once I loaded it up with some seeds, puffed cereal and fruit, my tummy and taste buds were huge fans

Devoured this baby during the first presentation!
The first speaker that dominated the stage was Ellie Kay. A navy wife, mother of seven and national speaker on personal finances, you could say she has her hands full. She ended her presentation with a story about the comfort a woman found in the written word after her husband, a deployed soldier, was killed. "Our words and the written word carries power," she said. "literally a life or death difference."

As I sat in the "Just Saying" concert, an event held at my college to raise awareness for human trafficking, my heart beat loudly in agreement. Through their spoken word poetry, people sung out their pain, their concern and their shame that human beings are nothing more than commodities ordered over the Internet. Nothing more than flesh twisted and arranged for others' entertainment

Only one of the beyond amazing spoken word poets!
And as I sit writing this post, my fingers agree with every tap against the keyboard. Words are powerful - the fact that you're taking time out of your day to read this blog is proof. I feel the power with every reader comment, praise and shared suffering. And I feel empowered every time I identify as a "celiac." 

The first workshop that I walked into was led by Lynn Vincent. A big white board, a huge room full of desks and an hour of discussion on "every question about writing for a living that people are too afraid to ask." Money, writer's block, computer programs...she covered it all. The quote that was branded into my mind, though, is the idea that we are own "agents of destiny." 

As a celiac, I can definitely relate. I make my own food out of ingredients people have never heard of (Buckwheat pizza crust? What?). 

Le pizza!
I choose to join my boyfriend and his friends on a late-night burrito run even if all I can eat is the free tap water. And for Halloween, I painted the night orange and black first by carving pumpkins and roasting seeds with my family, and then by squealing at the Silence of the Lambs in a dark dorm room. Last year, the gluten ghoul caught me; this year, I chose to not bother with the candy, but the night was even sweeter

Happy Halloween from my folks!
By the time I dragged myself to the last workshop eight hours since the conference began, I couldn't stop yawning. And then Michael Clark began talking and I was transported into the world of game theory and the idea that "being playful is the best way to write seriously because games are limitless."

I'm not going to lie. No matter how wide my smile or how peppy my words, I'm tired. Now that I'm only six weeks out from conquering the first semester of sophomore year, yawns are my favorite accessory. And, as a result of my unfortunately intense Type A personality, I take life too seriously sometimes. Grades, clubs,'s all on a pretty strict schedule. 

Except, sometimes a girl has gotta play. I've got to spend hours hanging out in dorm rooms, fighting off persistent paparazzi.

So many photos...
I need to devour brunch with a friend at True Foods Kitchen and quest for cheap treasures at local thrift stores

I even deserve a brisk morning walk on the cliffs with the girls that have carved a special place in my life. 

Gorgeous gal pals on a gorgeous day!
Stories and my blog are inevitably entwined, but writing and life share an even closer relationship. 

My first writing conference filled my notebook with pages of writing advice, tips and tricks. The more I flip through, though, the more blatantly memories from the last few weeks stare back. The fact is, pens and humans both bleed red. So believe in your own power, take control of your own destiny and enjoy playing the game of life.

Promise me - life's a scream!
The story is yours. You just have to start writing. 

What was/is your college major? How are you making time to play in life? How did you choose to celebrate Halloween this year? Comment below!