Grain-Free Cauliflower Crust Pizza

Okay, WHOA everyone. WHOA.

When I invited Kelly over to try our hands at cauliflower pizza crust, we fully intended to post the finished product on Insta and the FB in an effort to boost our Pinterest-worthy reputations. But what we didn’t expect was the amazing amount of requests for the recipe!

As you may know, I’ve been slowly trying to find grain-free alternatives to my favorite comfort foods, and it’s been helping so much with the previously unfortunate state of my stomach. When I first switched I just went to gluten-free brands like Glutino and Udi’s, which are both amazing and highly recommended, but still had trouble staying off the flour. The more I read, the more I found, and thanks to the discovery of Danielle Walker of Against All Grain, as well as the wonders of almond flour and coconut flour, I’ve ventured into the intimidating world of grain-free (albeit not exclusively). One thing I missed: PIZZA. Well, with Pinterest abuzz with so many veggie-based crusts, it was time to figure out whether said bases were only the stuff of the Pinterest Gods, or whether those of us who are a domestic hot mess could pull it off as well.

Verdict: Pretty easy, and pretty worth it.

So without further ado, here is our accidentally-on-purpose, super easy, ad-libbed version of Grain-Free Cauliflower Crust.

Grain-Free Cauliflower Crust

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Makes 2 personal size crusts (recommended) or 1 large crust

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • 4 tablespoons Italian seasoning (such as McCormick)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. Wash cauliflower, and let dry fully.
  3. Chop roughly into small pieces.
  4. In a food processor or blender (I used my Nutribullet, but next time I’ll use my Vitamix), pulse the cauliflower pieces until a rough paste-like consistency forms.
  5. Transfer the cauliflower onto a glass bowl. (Sides will scrape easily with a spoon.)
  6. Add eggs, cheese, and seasoning, and combine. Mixture will appear wet.
  7. Form two balls for personal size pizzas or one ball for a large pizza, and place on a non-stick baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (From experience, we decided that we preferred the two smaller pizzas for several reasons: for more crispy edges, for less wet/limp middles, and most importantly, for easier transfer off of the parchment paper… that was an ordeal!)
  8. Press the cauliflower mixture into parchment to form thin crust in desired shape. (Not thinking this would go up in a post, you will see we went with the indeterminate, lop-sided, too-hungry-to-function choice.)
  9. Using a paper towel, firmly press middle of crust to remove excess moisture from cauliflower.
  10. Bake for 15 minutes at 400ºF.
  11. Remove from the oven. Using a large spatula (such as my handy Omelette-Pancake Spatula from Crate&Barrel), lift pizzas to remove parchment paper and replace directly on non-stick baking sheet.
  12. Load up pizzas with you favorite toppings! We chose no-sugar-added pizza sauce, a bit Italian blend shredded cheese since there is already parmesan in the crust, spinach, green bell peppers, and gluten-free Casual Gourmet Sweet Italian Style Chicken Sausage that I found at Costco and LOVE. Another fave would be switch out the traditional sauce for pesto, then layer with Italian blend shredded cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and goat cheese crumbles.
  13. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until outer edged turn golden.
  14. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Slice, serve, and BOOM grain-free, delish cauliflower crust pizza!

So there you have it! This recipe did end up being an original, inspired by but deviating quite a bit from a Pinterest post we found, mostly out of sheer laziness or lack of tools. (Sorry I don’t have a CHEESECLOTH, universe.) That said, if you decided to try it and have any suggestions or successful tweaks, please let me know in the comments! In the meantime, may your tastebuds and (more importantly) you tummies be happy and clean!

xo

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Brunch Me: Kale, Sun-Dried Tomato, and Goat Cheese Frittata

I know that Mother’s Day was more than a week ago. However, I hope that this is more of a testament to how much what I am going to write about is so freaking delicious that I’m still thinking about it 12 days later and less of incriminating evidence as to how long it took me to actually get my act together to write this.  Benefit of a doubt here, my friends.

So what the hell am I talking about? Well, my lovelies: THIS.

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Kale, Sun-Dried Tomato and Goat Cheese Frittata!

Many of you know that I live too far from my family to visit for a typical weekend, what with a 7-hour drive either way and no financially feasible flight options between San Luis Obispo and Redding. Seriously, check it out. It’s absurd. What this means around this particular time of year is that I miss my mom terribly on Mother’s Day. I call her multiple times, I send her plenty of cards, and this year I ordered her a curated album of our wedding pictures. I’m sure she feels the love, but something is still missing here on the lonely mom-less Central Coast. So what’s a daughter to do? Well, that’s where the extreme kindness that is my beautiful friend Danae comes in.

Danae grew up in the area, so she is lucky to have her own family close and local. Her husband Matt’s parents live a few hours south, and a quick drive up the coast is all it takes. Knowing that my family is ridiculously far away and that Bill was going to be at work, and being the amazing event/wedding planner that she is, Danae extended an invitation to join her family’s Mother’s Day celebration at their home. The theme: Brunch for dinner!

The only stipulation (which let’s be real, if I hadn’t complied I still would have been let through the door) was that I make something to contribute. Wanting to put my new cast iron baby – I mean, skillet – to good use, I immediately blurted the word “frittata” so loudly that I would have elicited concerned stares had I been in public. Being gluten-free myself (and note: we’re trying to work certain types of dairy back into my diet, including cheeses and goat milk products), it was easy to tailor the project to the other dietary restrictions and preferences present, which let me tell you, was quite a few. I figured that I couldn’t go wrong with eggs, kale, sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese, so I threw them all together and headed over to the Pearce’s house for an evening of gourmet brunch food, champagne, and the love of family – even if it wasn’t “my own”.

We started off by gathering in the kitchen, which as per usual was styled to the nines for the occasion. Danae had brought home roses from her event the night before and laid out the most beautiful table setting in soft feminine pinks and whites.

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No brunch would be complete without champagne, of course. But to be honest, it seems that no matter where I go I find the stuff, since my general affinity for bubbly has transformed from a preference to a lifestyle. Good thing Danae and I are extensions of one another – or soul mates, as I prefer to call us – so she was ready, bottle already chilling and incorporated into the decor.

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A special occasion calls for unique touches, so leave it to Danae to offer a splash of St. Germaine Elderflower Liqueur in our glasses to class the champagne up further, it that’s even possible. Magnifique.

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I have mentioned before that Danae and her husband own their own businesses with Danae Grace Events and Old San Luis BBQ Co., respectively. So while Danae had set the scene, Matt was chopping, whipping, and sauteing up a storm in the kitchen. In addition to my frittata, he created a custom crepe bar, which included ordering up Bacon + Spinach + Feta, Caprese, Chicken Curry, or Sweet Nutella and Strawberry crepes. And go figure, he preceded to pour the batter, fill her up, and fold it right before your eyes before plopping it directly on the plate in your hand. Add into the mix roasted red potatoes and homemade ebelskivers, and we found our eyes and our stomachs in a bewildered state of pure bliss.

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So while I totally and completely wish I was capable of assembling such a fete on my own, I most definitely cannot. But I can tell you that I already have plans to recreate my frittata this weekend so that we may devour the whole thing ourselves in the Halter household. You’ll find my recipe below!

Kale, Sun-Dried Tomato & Goat Cheese Frittata

Ingredients

  • 2 cups torn fresh kale
  • 1 medium onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 9 eggs
  • Few dashes salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup drained oil-packed julienned sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 oz. crumbled goat cheese (such as Trader Joe’s)

Directions

  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet (or nonstick, oven-safe skillet) over medium heat. Add kale and onion and cook about 10 minutes until onion is tender, stirring frequently.20140523-093923.jpg
  3. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, salt, and pepper in medium bowl.20140523-093903.jpg
  4. Pour over cooked  kale and onion  mixture in skillet. Reduce heat to medium-low heat and cook.
  5.  While egg mixture begins to set, use a spatula to run around the edge of the skillet, tilting the pan so the uncooked egg mixture flows underneath. Continue lifting edge until egg is almost set but still shiny and moist.
  6. Sprinkle sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese over eggs.
  7. Broil in oven close to heat until eggs are set (about 1 to 2 minutes).
  8. Cut into wedges to serve.Voilà! Free-tah-tah.

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So there you have it! An easy-peasy frittata that can be whipped up in minutes BUT will bring in the accolades of hours spent in the kitchen. Believe me, I know… I could not for the life of me convince the entire party that my contribution didn’t take much no matter how hard I tried, and I’ve been told on more that one occasion that I could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves – er, something – sooooo….

Anyway, this was a great choice to bring to a party…

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… and it’s just as good for a quiet breakfast at home the next day. Happy frittata-ing!

My New Favorite Toy

Okay, so my mom is a genius.

I’ve gone on and on about a certain breakfast food item in the past few weeks, and you’ve generally heard it all in the form of whining/general sadness in the disappearance of said deliciousness from my diet. Well, GUESS WHAT EVERYONE. The only thing better that waffles is…

Mini. Waffle. Sticks.

Boom.

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Unsure of how exactly one makes a cake sans dairy or gluten, my mom rolled my celebratory dessert into an amazing little gift. So amazing, even, that I’m still giddy about it 16 days later.

Here it is: My Bella Waffle Stick Maker. (In purple here.)

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Little red masterpiece.

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We started with the most  basic gluten- and dairy-free waffle mix to be found.

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The Cravings Place All-Purpose Pancake and Waffle Mix is SO easy (just add water until the consistency of batter… no measurement required!), but also the perfect start for making fun addition to simple straight-forward waffles. As you may have picked up from the first picture, I love to douse my waffles in gallons of honey, which was a great addition. However, next time I would love to play around with adding vanilla or cinnamon or banana or pumpkin spice to the batter or topping with something fun like berries or nuts.

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Obviously I didn’t put enough batter in the first time, but they still came out crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, which is my general definition of waffle… well, PERFECTION.

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Beauties, if I do say so my carb-loving self.

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Again – and you knew this was coming – everything always tastes better when you make it with someone else. New waffle-making memories with my mama! The other best part? This little machine was so easy and mess-free, I can produce a not-your-run-of-the-mill breakfast in 10 minutes, tops. This will be happening. Often.

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So good. George wants waffles, too.

 

 

The New Tastes of Home

In this post a few weeks ago, I wrote about all the things I would miss after starting my new gluten-free dairy-free lifestyle. At the top of this list were the comforts of home: my dad’s waffles, my mom’s quiche, my step-mom’s french toast, and my family’s infamous Christmas butter cookies. With a trip to Redding planned the weekend right before my birthday, this was about to be put to the test.

Not only was I still trying to figure out what the heck to eat, I was nervous about my family trying to tackle the task, especially with the pressure of birthday dinners. Both my dad and my mom chose to cook for me instead of going out, which is exactly what I prefer when heading home to the parent’s houses. However, I felt a little helpless since I couldn’t send them recipes or tell them my new favorites simply because I didn’t have any yet. I anticipated some fumbling on their part and some sadness on mine at missing out on my staple requests.

Was I ever surprised.

I didn’t have the waffles, the quiche, or the french toast, but what I had was even better.

Saturday morning started off with shuffling to the car at my dad’s insistence that we head to the local health food store. Now, a Redding health food store is not exactly the shiny gorgeous sister to the likes of Whole Foods or San Luis Obispo’s local New Frontiers. It’s more like the stray dog wandering the back alley behind the Whole Foods beaming exterior. With that said, his enthusiasm was contagious as we wandered down the short aisles, and seeing my dad reading labels and asking questions was so endearing. We ended going home with a few basics, but a stronger connection.

Little did I know he was going to sneak back to the store while I was at a friend’s bridal shower that afternoon OR that I would come home to a spice cake with vanilla frosting, homemade and sans dairy and gluten.

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He made the whole thing from scratch himself. I love the Proud Papa look on his face in that picture.

Another conversation my dad and I had before I ventured home was how much I was going to miss his waffles. And of course he did everything in his power to make sure I had some while I was home. They looked similar yet tasted different, but that was alright with me.

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Next on the birthday agenda was my mom’s house for a Sunday dinner celebration. Mama had dropped hints that she had found a recipe she wanted to try, which was really exciting because she has always let it be known that she does NOT enjoy cooking. She wouldn’t tell me what it was though, so I was pleasantly surprised that she found a recipe for a Gluten-Free Tamale Bake from Cooking with Trader Joe’s. Mexican food is especially exciting these days, since I haven’t had anything like it since “That Day At The Nutritionist”. However, the fact that she went to four different stores to find the ingredients to make it dairy-free as well and that we got to cook it together made it all the more special. So special, in fact, that I cared not one single bit while my brother complained about Daiya Cheddar Flavored Shreds and Tofutti’s Better Than Sour Cream Sour Cream.

To top it all off, my amazing little mama gave me an arsenal of cookbooks with which to arm myself.

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I made her sign the page of the recipe she made for me, just for memories and safe-keeping.

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So after all that, it turns out that I will in fact miss out on the comforts of home and some of my best-tasting childhood memories. But what has taken and will take their place in the future is most likely even better. Because while I didn’t get the breakfasts and dinners of the old days, we (non-dairy cheeseball alert) created new memories, and I got the feeling of being more loved and supported than I can ever remember being in my Eat-Whatever-The-Hell-I-Want Glory Days.

And that, of course, tastes better going down than any cheesy, carb-y forbidden monstrosity you could put in front of me.

Flippin’ the Kitchen

Last Wednesday, I found myself very lost. Wandering aimlessly through row after row after row in the brightly lit space, I was unable to communicate or comprehend the overwhelming confusion that clouded my brain. Searching up and down the towering stacks, I would reach out to touch something only to recoil in the unfamiliarity of it. At one point, a kind soul approached me to ask if I needed help, which I must have – quite obviously – looked as if I did. I jumped and swung around, stuttering and feeling inept in my apology. “I’m sorry, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.” I could see the startled strangeness in his eyes as he wracked his brain for what must be going on with this unsettled girl. Upon my blank-expressioned explanation and gesturing at the paper in my hand, however, his eyes softened and he said, “Let me help you.” But after the brief interaction, he abandoned me, leaving me again alone and adrift in the vast emptiness of the… whole foods market.

I had just learned I am dairy and wheat intolerant. And apparently, I had lost my ability to navigate every day activities and common social situations along with a lifetime of cheese and carbs. And milk. And ice cream. And spontaneity. And indulgence. And BEER.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had issues with my stomach. Growing up, I would find myself laid out on the couch every night at 7 p.m. like clockwork. Since then, not a day has gone by without some incidence of a stomachache in varying magnitudes. Toward the end of college, all through grad school, and the year I took off between, I started feeling progressively worse, adding symptom after symptom to the long list of problems I was seeing in my health and wellness. At least once a week, I would have such an ache in my stomach that I could barely stand up straight, and just as in my elementary years, I would find myself laid out on the couch, the bed, the stairs, any flat surface in close proximity on which I could curl up in a ball and pout. Beyond that, I was always tired. And freezing cold. I had sinus infections and facial tension and a clenched jaw more than frequently. I would unexpectedly get waves of nausea. (No, I’m NOT pregnant!) Calf, shin, ankle and foot cramps would wake me up most nights or cause me to bolt off the couch to “walk it off” during movies. And beyond a variety of persistent skin concerns, my once beautiful, complement-inspiring hair has become dry and brittle with the ends constantly split and breaking off easily between my fingers.

Recently, a few of my loved ones informed me that not everyone lives this way.

Oh.

So begins the journey to figuring out what the heck is going on with my renegade body. With fantastic benefits from my new job, this epiphany could not have come at a more opportune and grateful time. At first, thinking it was purely stress, I practiced yoga, relaxation, and meditation regularly and found a great therapist close to home. She happened to rent her space from a sort-of natural healing and integrative medicine community consisting of a birthing center, a registered dietician, a chiropractor, and more. Also among their ranks was an acupuncturist/integrative health specialist, who I decided to give a try. She was also insanely fantastic, with great suggestions on adding and subtracting food from my daily diet along with sticking needles all over the place.  (More on this later!) And while my anxiety started to subside and my jaw unclenched noticeably, I was still feeling many of my other symptoms. That’s when my mom informed me that both she and my maternal grandmother have hypothyroidism, which can be inherited genetically and the symptoms of which matched up perfectly with many of those of which I was complaining. Hours and hours of calling offices around the county finally turned fruitful with an appointment with a physician’s assistant, who drew up the paperwork for a blood test. In his office again a week later for the test interpretation, nothing abnormal turned up except for a slightly lower that ideal white blood cell count. He assured me there was nothing to worry about. Thankful for the news but frustrated in a continued lack of a solution, I decided to call the husband and wife team of Longevity Healthcare with offices in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Newport Beach to see what they could offer. Their operation sounded like just what I needed, with his M.D. degree and her PhD in Holistic Nutrition. I waited a month to see them, but it was well-worth the wait. Upon arrival, the first 15 minutes were spent with Dr. Peter Muran, who took one look at my concerns and my blood test results and informed me I may indeed have a thyroid problem and more tests needed to be completed. The next hour and a half were spent in an appointment with Sandy, which soon became a whirlwind of information that left me light-headed and dizzy. Finally, two hours later, I emerged from their office – stacks of reading materials, extensive supplement lists, and protein powder samples in hand. 

There it was, ladies and gentlemen. Wheat and dairy were the culprits all along. But let’s not stop there. I need more protein and magnesium, am currently incapable of making my own B-vitamins, and have a candida overgrowth in my stomach. I had been looking for a zebra when the herd of horses was the problem. No wonder I felt like shit.

Fast forward one 20-minute in driver’s seat conversation – during which I fell even more in love with Bill with his outpouring of husbandly support – and you will again find me where our story began roaming the aisles of New Frontiers, our massive local whole foods marketplace. I have been there a hundred times in the past for their salad bar and smoothies, but this time was different. With a wealth of products I’ve never seen before, labels I don’t yet understand, and astronomical prices, I became easily overwhelmed at the life overhaul which I am about to implement.

Needless to say, the last week has had its ups and downs. After the $94 New Frontiers escapade, I floated over to Target to find great gluten-and dairy-free options for MUCH cheaper. One disheartened metaphoric “d’oh” later, I was happy to find that something I love – but had not purchased at a much higher price point – was not only cheaper but also on sale at Target, and I loaded up on enough Amy’s frozen entrees and EVOL burritos to get me through more than a week of work. Now I know that this is not necessarily the best way to go, what with sodium counts being under intense scrutiny lately, but I knew that what’s up ahead is more than just a “Can Eat/Can’t Eat” challenge. It is a lifestyle change. Not only do I need to relearn what is available to me and read nearly every nutrition label and ingredient list along the way, but I also need to find more time to plan for meals, prep food, and actually cook. We all know how difficult that can be with full-time jobs, gym memberships, households to upkeep, and most importantly, relationships to maintain. Beyond that, my milk guzzling, PB&J scarfing husband and I are going to have to keep many of our foods separate. I don’t want him to have to change his eating habits just for me, but now I also need to learn how to make things we both can enjoy. All of this adds together up to an overwhelming mess of intimidation, of which I am simultaneously feeling excited for the challenge and terrified of the effort involved.

The following days have been interesting, and I’m learning new coping strategies as I go.  Thursday was awesome. I ate lunch with my vegetarian friend Courtney at a local vegan restaurant, Bliss Cafe, which made for easy choices on my new diet. With the kitchen at home not adequately stocked with supplies, I gave myself a break and ordered two meals, which served as dinner that night and two more meals over the weekend. Friday, however, was a challenge. Still not feeling awesome from the two-week flu incident preceding the ordeal, I decided to follow my sleep-in pre-work schedule upon waking. Too bad I ended up late for work because I couldn’t figure out what the hell to eat for breakfast. Next up, mid-morning a plate of my favorite favorite gluten-free cookies from campus catering showed up in the front office at work, and it took me two bites to realize that the chocolate chips in their peanut-buttery goodness most likely had some form of milk product in them. My stomach soon agreed, and I threw a perfectly beautiful cookie straight into the trash. Then, as part of an initiative to bring our staff together socially, we had our first monthly lunch planned. At a Mexican restaurant. Full of cheese and flour and who knows what else. Thank goodness I brought my vegan leftovers, because I just sat there and sipped water while all my coworkers splurged on gorgeous enchiladas. By the time I got back to my leftovers, the lunch hour was over and my attention was pulled every which way, leaving no continuous period for much needed sustenance. The tipping point was that afternoon when I realized that I can’t have my dad’s waffles, my stepmom’s french toast, my mom’s quiche, or my family’s Christmas cookies anymore. (People seem to jump at the chance to point out that there are many ways to make these with all the options out on the market today, but they completely miss the point that it’s the recipes from my childhood that make these things so special to me and changing the ingredients completely nullifies that concept.) My anxiety was riding high by the time I got in the car to go home at the end of my tumultuous Friday, and then I realized that Bill and I had planned a rare Friday date night at Que Pasa… with more Mexican food. I collapsed in a sobbing pile in his arms upon arriving home. Once I quit crying, I realized I had given myself a stomachache, but this time from anxiety.

The weekend went more smoothly once I had time to really sit and think through everything. My beautiful friend Danae sent me home from our yard sale with her husband’s homemade quinoa salad (which by the way, is AMAZING… They’re the owners of Old San Luis BBQ Co. in Downtown SLO, and you MUST GO). I found Trader Joe’s Gluten Free and Vegan Lists online, which after the complicating cross-checking that someone with both allergies needs to do, made my shopping trip much more enjoyable. And lastly, this girl made me feel much less alone. Even though my big plans this weekend were a Wine-and-Cheese Party turned Just-A-Wine Party for me, followed by a dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town where I starved through the 90-minute long bread and butter and caeser salad extravaganza my friends enjoyed before something I could eat finally landed in front of my face, I’m slowly getting more and more confident in this new chapter.

The refrigerator has been divided.

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I’ve begun domination of New Frontiers, Vons, Trader Joe’s and the Target food section.

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I’m getting the hang of this “bring your smoothie in a mason jar” thing.

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New cookbooks have been added to the Amazon Wishlist. Pinterest has been raided. All is slowly becoming right in the world, and I’m already seeing a few results.

What it all comes down to is that this will be one hell of a journey, but I know I’ll come out healthier, happier, and stomach-ache free on the other side. I have found I have a lot of support, and it’s not hard to remember that there are worse problems to have. Bill and I have even set a date in the future to celebrate new behaviors becoming habits, and I’m planning to “graduate” to my new lifestyle at that time. Until then, I ask that my family and friends please ask questions and be patient with me, because I’m still learning too (and currently have very little idea of what I’m doing). So here’s to a new crop of treats and luxuries! Because as Rae Smith said…

Never Be Afraid To Fall Apart

{Beautiful artwork by Shannon of the blog The Shannonicle found via Pinterest}

Scavenchiladas!

Have you seen that new Taco Bell commercial featuring Kevin Love for the XXL Steak Nachos? The gist of the commercial is that the nachos are normal-sized for 7’6″ Minnesota Timberwolves player Kevin Love, making them outrageously huge and beyond enormous for the rest of us.

If you haven’t seen it, here it is.

Yeah, that’s kind of what trying to feed Bill is akin to. The other day I watched him eat two turkey burgers for lunch in less than ten minutes. I bought him a large box of Raisin Bran Crunch on Saturday night, and it was gone by Monday night at around the same time. There were ten servings in that box.

With that said, planning a wedding was incredibly fun, but we often hear about the need to plan for a marriage. Now, this means a lot of things, including some very serious ones. But in the name of all that is holy matrimony, one of the things I was entirely unprepared for when tying the knot was the amount of time, effort, and money it takes to feed someone who is a) male and b) 6’7″. Bill is both of these things, bless his abnormally large heart.

All of these things add up to a lot of income-generating, grocery-shopping, and food-preparing work to fill his stomach. So when the universe drops a miracle in your lap in the form of pounds and pounds of leftovers from a taco bar at a work event, you grab it. When this happened the other day, I felt embarrassed about my urgency to pack up as much as I could for about 7.2 seconds, and then I didn’t anymore. I soon learned that the catering company would just trash it when they got back to their operating headquarters. The first thing that struck me was how sad that all that food would go to waste, as the event could easily have served another 15-20 people. The second thing was that this could potentially feed Bill for multiple meals. MULTIPLE MEALS! Scrounging around the office for any type of food-transporting materials turned up absolutely nothing. Since there was no way I was going to let this opportunity slip out of my hands, I actually mustered up the audacity to ask the catering staff to wait for me while I literally sprinted across campus to the university market and returned with a box of gallon-sized Glad bags and a few extra to-go containers meant for soup but perfect for salsa, guac, and black beans. Fast forward to the end of the workday, and if you had seen me lugging the tote bag I used to pack my hoarded treasure to the car, you would have absolutely zero doubt that I had taken not an ounce less than the max I could possibly carry. No shame, and SO not sorry.

That night, a Wednesday, Bill ate three burritos when I got home. On Thursday, he and one of his basketball buddies put away another huge portion after a couple (plus or minus a few more) beers. Friday, lunch was again provided. By Saturday, however, I knew that the Big Man would soon tire of the same meal, no matter how much he loves Mexican food. I needed to get creative. Determined to use what we had in the house, I threw together what ultimately became a hit according to Halter standards, and my Scavenchiladas were born.

What I found tearing through every food-storage area in my kitchen was a mix of things I always have on-hand (canola oil, olive oil, a clove of garlic), leftovers from my small Super Bowl get-together the weekend prior (half an onion, some shredded Mexican cheese, a handful of sliced olives, cilantro, light sour cream), some freebies from a food company who came to a career fair last year and gave our office the leftovers they didn’t want to ship back (a can each of tomato paste and crushed tomatoes with pesto), and of course, the gift from taco bar heaven I had scored earlier in the week (corn and flour tortillas, leftover salsa, shredded chicken, black beans, and salvagable-but-slightly-browning guacamole).

Now, I used to be so Type A that baking was more my thing – you know, the precision, the neatness, the following of strict rules. Things easily go wrong when baking when you don’t go by the book, and I am good at going by the book. However, I have always been secretly jealous of anyone who could just go through the kitchen and make something out of nothing, or so I thought. In fact, this jealousy flourished as numerous roommates with such a gift rotated through my house during college. (Amanda, Katie, Kaitlin, and Emily, I’m talking to you.) As we tend to do when we feel entirely inadequate at something, I had relied  on self-deprecating tendencies the last few years when it came to cooking, but I’ve had just about enough of that, let me tell you. I was determined to make a Mexican food masterpiece out of my misfit ingredients. Now with that in mind, I’m going to tell you what I did, and then I want you to throw out anything that does not apply to you and add anything you damn well please.

Scavenchiladas

Serves… however many can get their hands in before Bill destroys it.

(Adapted from this recipe)

Ingredients:

  • Canola oil
  • As many corn + flour tortillas as you can find (about 12 in my case)
  • 1/2 an onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup of salsa
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Fully cooked shredded chicken
  • 1 cup black beans
  • 1 package light shredded Mexican cheese
  • A few cilantro leaves
  • Light sour cream
  • Guacamole
  • Whatever you have in your kitchen that sounds like it has any potential whatsoever to go in enchiladas

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What To Do:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Coat a large pan over medium-high heat with canola oil. Add a single layer of tortillas to the pan. Cook for a few seconds or until very slightly browned to reduce the chance of crumbling the corn tortillas upon rolling. (Flour tortillas will be more flexible.). Using a spatula, lift up the first tortilla, stack on it the second, then lift both to add another layer of new tortillas underneath. Cook for a few seconds, stack and lift again, and add another layer underneath. Repeat the process until all tortillas are heated, adding a bit more oil if needed. You can place the tortillas one by one on a paper towel to remove any excess oil (read: calories and fat), or don’t and have even yummier enchiladas.

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3. In a large saucepan, sauté the chopped onion and garlic in olive oil until tender and the kitchen smells amazing, then turn off the heat. Add 1 cup of salsa.

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4. Using a spoon, drop 3 tbsp of tomato paste into 1 cup of water until dissolved, or if you get impatient like I did, stir until the everything mixes together. Add the tomato paste water to pan. Finally, add 1 cup of crushed canned tomatoes, and stir to combine.

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5. Coat the bottom of a large glass casserole pan with some olive oil. (If you don’t have enough ingredients to fill a large pan, use a smaller one!) Lay a tortilla flat on a separate plate, sprinkle it lightly (or not so lightly) with cheese, followed by shredded chicken and a small scoop of black beans.

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6. Roll up the tortilla and place it in the casserole pan. Continue until all tortillas are rolled, and your pan is filled.

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7. Pour sauce to the top of the rolled tortillas, making sure all are covered.

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8. Now the fun part: cover the whole thing with the rest of the grated cheese, plus more cheese and then maybe even a little extra cheese for good measure. I mean, who doesn’t love cheese? I love cheese.

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9. Put the casserole in the oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese melts.

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10. Garnish with cilantro, sour cream, guacamole, or whatever your perfect little heart desires, you pretty young thing.

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11. Hand to happy big man of the house. And maybe have one or two yourself.

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Big guy smiles.

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Clean plate club! Happy scavenging, everyone.

Weekending: San Fran Getaway

Sometimes even our most important relationships can fall to the wayside when life gets going, and daily tasks take priority over daily people. Bill and I have admittedly been having a bit of a less-than-ideal patch, what with our schedules and responsibilities and still learning and adjusting to life as a married couple. Our relationship needed a little (or a lot of) TLC, and that’s exactly what we gave it last weekend with a quick, QUICK trip to San Francisco.

In our house, there’s is absolutely no doubt that our loyalties reside with each other… and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Before I met Bill, I had tried and failed to get attached to an NBA team in the way I have devoted my allegiances with the San Francisco 49ers and the San Francisco Giants. Alas, the Kings (closest to home) had never won my heart and the Warriors had made a seriously weak attempt at inserting themselves into my periphery on a consistent basis. This meant that Bill, who has devoted his life to sports in every aspect of life from career to hobby to preferred leisure activity, seized the opportunity to gather me up and place me right smack dab in the middle of Timberwolves fandom (with a small amount of help from the adorable Spanish-transport Ricky Rubio… those eyelashes!).

So being incredibly on top of everything Minnesota and sports-related, Bill took the sweet and passionate initiative to plan a trip to San Francisco to catch the Wolves playing the Golden State Warriors. He bought the tickets, booked the hotel, communicated with two of my great friends who live in the bay, AND planned way ahead to take both a Friday and Saturday off. The latter is actually a huge deal in our house, especially after the 4-Months-Without-A-Day-Off-Together Episode of late 2013. So I blocked out my calendar for January 24th and secretly looked forward to it for about a month. Here’s how it all went down!

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Bay Area traffic is no fun, unless you use the opportunity for impromptu wife-imposed dance parties to the tune of Ke$ha’s latest album. I swear to you, I am 100% unashamed at how much I love her train-wrecked songs.

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We met up with amazing friends Ashleigh and Joey, who moved to Daly City last August, at Jasper’s Corner Tap and Kitchen near our hotel and the Powell Street MUNI Station for pre-game snacks and libations.

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Jasper’s offered an cool and modern atmosphere, deliciously elevated pub fare such as mini sliders and pretzels served with gouda fondue, and a great list of beers on draught. Not normally one to partake in tasting flights due to bad experiences with small portions and high prices, I am officially a convert after taking a risk and discovering my new favorite beer. Run to your nearest fancy beer source (my words… I haven’t looked at BevMo! yet) and try out the AVBC Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout. Worth. Every. Penny.

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Ashleigh and Ashleigh… Yes, I do have a great friend with the same name, although our heights and dance abilities to the tune of hip hop, urban street jazz, fem, grooving, and house are significantly in opposition. (She’s the dancer, in case you had any doubt. Check out her new Bay Area-based dance company here: Street Adrenaline Dance Company.)

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Next up, Timberwolves domination. Well, sort of. They squeaked by in the last ten seconds or so to pull off a final score of 121-120, finally lifting morale slightly during a horrific run of heart-breaking losses. I was much more vocal (obnoxious, maybe?) than all five of the other Minnesota fans in the entire arena and even Bill, which meant some unwelcomed taunting and cheap digs in my directions from the die-hard Warriors fans of Oakland. I did manage to make it out alive.

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Do you know what’s really fun? Seeing someone you love so much in a situation they love so much. I might even say he was in his element. Adorable.

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Saturday morning brought an early wake-up call in order to take advantage of the free breakfast found tucked away on the 5th floor of our tiny hotel. We snatched up the essentials from the breakfast closet  – no seating area and no room for all ten of the people who came in after us and decided no-they-could-not-wait-for-us-to-finish-and-leave before scrambling for instant oatmeal, generic pastries, and the worst coffee-water I’ve ever had in my life. We plodded back to our dungeon of a room (see terrible quality picture above with absolutely zero natural light) to realize that it was so small that the only reasonable place to sit was exactly where we had just slept. Breakfast in a full-size bed it was!

Disclaimer: I do not mean to throw our hotel completely under the bus, just… slightly. Yes, the room was small and the coffee was terrible, BUT it was a amazingly located practically on top of Union Square and close to the Powell Street BART Station. Plus is wasn’t as outrageously priced as everything else in the area, so if you aren’t planning to spend too much time in your hotel room, checking out Hotel Fusion could be worth it. (But the website is definitely a misrepresentation… It’s more adequate than, say, awesome in reality.)

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So since coffee is such a integral part of treating myself when on vacation, shitty hotel coffee just would not do. Yelp-ing nearby coffee shops lead to the exciting discovery of Blue Bottle Coffee Co., which with 1264 reviews yielding a solid four-star rating, I was not going to let myself miss out on. Since Bill does not enjoy coffee in the least and was feeling more or less, um, under the weather – which may or may not have had anything to do with the shenanigans from the night before – I ventured out on my own in search of not-your-average caffeine fix. However, following my maps app left me stumped. I wandered and wandered Mint Street in search of some visual indication that I was in the right place, but nothing jumped out. Disappointed, I turned back toward the way I came for the third time, and the first thing to catch my eye was the street address. And around the corner from the street address was a small group of people huddled in a doorway. And above the doorway, I saw the only marking indicating that roasted bliss was waiting for me was the small (the picture make it look huge) sign serving as their advertising. Small, unmarked, back-alley coffee shop? That had mean only one thing: local secret hidden gem.

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While waiting in line, I hurriedly gathered as much info as possible to make an educated order. What I found? Exotic (and expensive) coffees from around the world and a new technique I had never seen for brewing the perfect cup. I almost ordered an $8 cup of regular coffee just to experience the siphoning myself. However, I went with my favorite in order to compare, and when I asked what flavors they had for their nonfat lattes, the barista replied, “We don’t have flavors for our coffee,” and looked at me with a sly smile as if to say I was in for a treat.

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Well, hello beautiful. Care to walk me home?

With short pit stops at the seven-story Macy’s and the most beautiful Crate&Barrel on the planet, I made it back to the hotel to find Bill chipper and ready to head out on our next adventure. When the grizzly bear is hungry, it’s time to feed him lunch.

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But on the way to lunch, we drove past the Civic Center, which was quite obviously being used for rally purposes. Curious for a new experience, we spontaneously pulled over to listen in on the happenings of a major gathering of people who did not quite share the same opinions or values as I do.  A big city demonstration was new to a small town girl like me, and I was slightly uncomfortable but glad we stopped. I highly recommend being a silent observer in this type of situation, as you get the other perspective sans confrontation.

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After subjecting my friend Laura to a gushing rave about my new obsession of cornmeal crust pizza earlier in the week, she recommended we visit Little Star Pizza. We ended up both on Divisadero and in cornmeal-crust heaven, if one should exist.

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The vibe inside was conducive to giddy anticipation and happiness, generally.

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We ordered the deep dish, half Little Star, half Classic. This masterpiece is what ended up in front of us.

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The crust was divine. The composition, intriguing, with toppings first, then cheese, and lastly the sauce on top. This little piece is about to meet its maker.

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The verdict? Good to the very last bite. Which I ate. Clean plate club. I told Bill that this is becoming one of our “spots”, even though we live four hours away.

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Plans to meet one of my bridesmaids, Shelby, and her boyfriend Joe at Crissy Field lead to Bill’s first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. Welcome to the pride and joy of Northern California, Minnesota Boy!

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A walk along the ocean brought us amazing views of the bridge…

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Up close…

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And in the distance. It was so beyond great to catch up with Shelby and Joe, and meet their new bundle of personality Charlie, that we chose to extend our afternoon together as much as we could.

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With a pitcher of sangria of course! Hanging with Shelby is always a reminder to love the simple life, with some of my best memories consisting of impromptu afternoon drinks with absolutely no agenda and no worries allowed. Our final date at Hayes & Kebab was no different, and I left content with life as it is… and slightly tipsy.

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As we packed ourselves up in the car to leave, this sweet little thing seemed to be bidding us adieu. I couldn’t help but sneak a photo, having been utterly obsessed with The Little Mermaid growing up. Max here just tugged at my heartstrings.

The four-hour dive went quickly. Both of us had to work the next day (Sunday), he with his normal anchoring schedule and myself with a speech at a career symposium. And even though we both wished the weekend wouldn’t end, would last just a little longer… I couldn’t help but feel closer to him than ever before. It’s amazing what spending time focusing on each other can do, and now I’m floating through the week with these new memories on my mind. This trip was no longer bittersweet, as they often have been in the past. It was just sweet.

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Billy, what do you say we do this again soon?