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Life’s lemons

24 Jul

I’ve been alone lately.

At first, after a tearful breakup with the man who’d shared almost all of my leisure hours, I embraced my new independence.

“Plans for a Full Life,” I titled a page in my journal. “Start journaling again,” the list demanded. “Exercise. Learn to play clarinet.”

And so I did. I struggled through a yoga DVD and pored over a fingering chart on an unexpected vacation day. At night, I sprawled across my entire full-size mattress, and then I stayed in bed and read through long-neglected stacks of magazines and nurturing books, such as The Woman’s Comfort Book, on Saturday mornings. Afternoons I spent playing with cats at a local animal shelter or trying out new recipes for dinner.

And in the evenings, I took myself on dates—walks around a lake that my boyfriend had tired of visiting, independent films that he might have mocked throughout the shows.

But then, last Friday night, I saw a sold-out concert at Ravinia, where he probably would have kissed me and held my hand.

Lovers dominate that park; and, constantly, on their way to or from their lavish picnic spreads, couples would stop, kiss, smile, laugh, or hug just in front of me.

Alone wasn’t so wonderful anymore. In fact, it never really had been.

And as I perched on a tiny stone barrier beneath a tree, I told myself—as I always do when alone in a crowd—not to cry. “This is just a season,” I promised myself. “One day, you’ll be the one holding hands again.”

Hope, for the first time after a month of despair, had returned. How fitting, then, that the concert concluded with an encore of Five for Fighting’s plaintive acapella line “You gotta have hope.”

And with that hope, I’ve started paging through a tiny brochure I recently found among my mom’s old recipe collection. Exciting Cooking with Rice for Two [or More], the pamphlet was titled by the Rice Council of America back in 1976.

A ’70s bride, my mom must have written to the council and requested that free brochure full of savory rice ideas to try for dinners with her new husband.

And while variations are included for only two or six servings for dishes such as a tangy, buttery lemon pilaf (adapted recipe below), alterations for one should be simple enough.

Or maybe I’ll start practicing for two—when I won’t be alone anymore.

2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped green onions
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

Combine the rice, water, and salt, and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until rice has absorbed all of the water. In a separate pan, sauté the celery, onions, and pepper in the butter until the vegetables are soft. Add vegetables and lemon peel to cooked rice and toss. Then serve to six . . . or savor solo, and save the rest for the future.


Gluten-free green-bean casserole

26 Dec

Gluten-free green-bean casserole

“Why don’t we go out for dinner?” my mom suggested as she and I planned this year’s traditional family Thanksgiving dinner.

The previous year’s feast, our inaugural gluten-free attempt, had proven nearly inedible despite our homemade fried onions for the green-bean casserole and our expensive Rose’s Bakery french rolls for the bread stuffing, and my mom likely doubted the efficacy of my proposed menu modifications.

“We’ll simply eliminate the stuffing,” I persisted, “and omit the onions in the green-bean casserole.”

Fortunately, the menu’s spare vegetarian half—balanced by chicken and potatoes for the family’s two carnivors—evolved into an abundant spread through the addition of asparagus risotto (more on this gluten-free staple later) and a serendipitous suggestion from my Food Network–obsessed boyfriend on Thanksgiving morning.

“Try corn flakes,” he recommended as he kissed me goodbye on his way to his family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

And after a quick stop at the grocery store’s gluten-free cereal section on route to my own parents’ house, I’d begun assembling an easy, authentic Thanksgiving—and Christmas and New Year’s—green-bean casserol.

4 pounds of fresh green beans
1 and 1/2 medium white onions
2 packages of Full Flavor Foods’ Vegetarian Mushroom Sauce Mix
2 and 1/2 teaspoons of corn starch
3 cups of milk
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
salt to taste
3/4 box of Barbara’s Bakery Organic Corn Flakes

Cut the green beans into bite-sized pieces and cook in boiling water until the beans become soft. Meanwhile, chop the onions into large pieces and fry in olive oil until the onions turn brown.

In a large casserole dish, whisk together the mushroom sauce mix, cornstarch, and milk. Then stir in pepper, salt, and four to five handfuls of corn flakes, crushed.

Combine the mixture with the fried onions and cooked green beans, and stir until the green beans become coated with the mushroom sauce mixture. Top with additional crushed corn flakes around the edges of the casserole.

Cook uncovered in a 375-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Let the casserole stand 10 to 15 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken.

Then serve your family of six to eight this delicious holiday comfort food—far better than anything offered on a restaurant menu.

Simple summer salad

16 Jul

Whenever I transform a recipe into a gluten-free version, I always worry about evidence of the alterations. Will other people taste the strangeness, the inexplicable differentness, the . . . gluten-freeness of this dish? I always wonder. So if I can completely follow a recipe from my previous life, I rejoice.

The simple caprese salad is one of those unaltered favorites. I first discovered it at an Italian restaurant (and now I almost dread seeing it on a menu since the dish is usually the only gluten-free, vegetarian one available at many establishments), but I enjoy it most homemade.

I start by thickly slicing one hot-house tomato and arranging the slices on a plate (I usually use a refrigerated tomato, but last night, after “shopping hungry,” I assembled this salad immediately upon arriving home, and the room-temperature tomato gave the dish an unexpected, fresh-from-the garden flavor.). I next top the tomato slices with whole leaves of fresh basil—and revel in the distinct, earthy fragrance of the herb. Then I add slices of BelGioioso fresh mozzarella cheese, guaranteed gluten free by the company. I find this cheese’s flavor and texture far superior to any cheese’s I’ve tried in an Italian restaurant. (I prefer the large, round portions of fresh mozzarella packaged in water. The cheese spoils quickly, however, so use it promptly.). Finally, I drizzle olive oil over the salad and salt generously. Simple, unaltered, and naturally gluten free!

Grandma’s classic potato salad

7 Jul

I always used to call my mom and ask her to read me my Grandma’s potato salad recipe. And then I’d count out the prescribed number of green onions or pounds of potatoes dutifully.

But recently, with my gluten-free diet’s forcing me to make rash substitutions and daring alterations to beloved recipes, I discovered a freedom to experiment—and improve—on this simple potato salad. It’s a classic at least once a year—whether for Memorial Day, Labor Day, or the Fourth of July—and, this year, I’m still enjoying leftovers from my rained-out Independence Day picnic.

In generously salted water, boil nearly 5 pounds of red potatoes until soft. Remove from water and cool. In a separate pot, hard boil 10 large eggs, cool under cold running water, and refrigerate.

Next, mince approximately 2 bunches of green onions and one large jar of Vlasic kosher dill pickles. (My grandmother’s original recipe calls for a small jar of dill relish, but one stressful afternoon, as I stood in the condiment aisle at Jewel and, panicking, called my mother to ask her to access the Internet and check the gluten-free status of various relish brands, I defaulted to the jar of Vlasic dill pickles, guaranteed gluten-free on the company’s Web site. And although I’ve since found gluten-free relishes, I’ve continued to chop whole dill pickles. The larger-than-expected, crunchy chunks of pickle give this salad a unique texture.) Retain the liquid left in the pickle jar.

Peel the hard-boiled eggs, rinse, and then slice each egg in half. Discard the yolks. (This alteration to the recipe eliminates the sour flavor and crumbly texture of the yolks for a delicious, smooth salad.) Chop the eggs coarsely. Then peel the potatoes and chop into medium-sized pieces.

In a large bowl, gently stir all ingredients together with a generous amount of Hellmann’s Best mayonnaise. (The jar’s label actually includes the words gluten-free!) To increase moisture, spoon in approximately 4 to 5 tablespoons of the liquid from the pickle jar. Salt and pepper to taste, and refrigerate for several hours. Then dish it up at a summer picnic to enjoy with 8 to 10 family members—including, especially, grandma.