Happy Easter!

Not only is this our first married Easter but also the first year together that we are not putting on some big BBQ, brunch, or Easter Egg hunt. Instead it will be just the two of us enjoying the 50 degree weather and a peaceful brunch at home of hot cross buns and berry salad! (For the recipe click here!).

As I wrote awhile ago I decorate a manzanita tree (left over wedding decor) for each holiday.  So here’s my Holiday Tree! all decorated for Easter! (to see my tree decorated for other holidays click here!).

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The mini hanging mason jars are filled with colorful jellybeans with a vanilla votive in the center. Fresh spring carrots are sticking out of the green moss and a quilted easter egg hangs from the tree. And all this is tied up with a festive ribbon picturing Easter eggs and chicks in green grass.

The two plastic Easter eggs next to the tree I brought back with me from a Easter Egg hunt in old Jerusalem during my semester abroad in 2010. For more on that story click here!

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Whether you are hosting brunch, having a park picnic, holiday dinner, or hiding (or finding) eggs in your backyard I want to wish everyone a Happy Easter!!

Hot cross buns and Berry salad: A (new) Easter tradition

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Hot cross buns rising on the preheated stove

My family (Halvorsons) never had any “traditional” Easter foods. Sometimes we had homemade brunch after church, other times it was a ham dinner after Easter egg hunts (some salt to balance out the sweets). But being that this is our first married Easter I thought I’d ask Luke if there are any Greene family traditions.

The answer is yes: Hot Cross Buns (yes just like the song-sorry if I got it stuck in your head).

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Baked brown and ready for frosting

Apparently there were a few years Diana (Luke’s mom) was working that she bought the buns from the store. After this Luke took it upon himself to make them! (even though he claims to be a cook; not a baker).

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The hot-cross bun recipe is a family thing for now (sorry).

But a few times for Easter brunches I have made a simple and delicious berry salad I’m willing to share with all of you.  🙂 I thought this would pair well as a light  side for our weekend of homemade Easter carbs. Plus this is an excellent gluten-free and vegan addition to consider if you are bringing something to an Easter brunch or hosting one yourself.

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Here is the easy recipe for my berry salad:

1 16-ounce container strawberries (halved or quartered depending on size)

1 8-ounce container blueberries

1 6-ounce container raspberries

1 8/6 ounce container blackberries

2/3 T powdered sugar

2/3 lemons

1.If you bought frozen fruits then semi-defrost the berries. If you bought fresh put them into the freezer until you are ready to make the salad.  Leaving the berries frozen/semi-defrosted will insure that you don’t end up with a mushy salad.

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2.Grate 2/3 lemons into a small bowl then cut and squeeze about 2/3 Tablespoons of their juice in as well.

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3. Add the 2T of powdered sugar to the lemon juice and zest and mix together (the powdered sugar will absorb and coat the berries easier than regular sugar ). You can also probably use honey but use your discretion for portions diffrences versus powdered sugar.

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Tip: Do not throw away the lemons after this. Instead place the leftover lemon slices rind and all into a water pitcher!

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4. Add all ingredients into a large bowl and mix gently with a slotted spoon.

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5. Let the mixture sit in the fridge covered for a few hours or for best results for a day before serving so the berries can soaked up the sugar and citrus juice.

Possible variations: You can choose to use orange juice or lemonade in exchange for the lemon/powdered sugar mixture or add fresh mint as a garnish.

Or if you want a fancier grow-up version: Use a citrus liqueur such as Grand Mariner or Lemon-cello.

Do you have any traditional Easter foods?

What is your favorite brunch dish?

Living without a dishwasher

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The sink and counter after a weekend of un-washed dishes

We had all of three days to find our new home this past November (no pressure). At the end of the weekend, sitting in Cracker Barrel we talked through our options and chose on our little 750 sq. ft. yellow rented home in Corning.

Jump forward to the week of Thanksgiving. As we started reacquainting ourselves with our new home, I asked Luke “um . . . where is the dishwasher?”. The answer: there is no dishwasher or garbage disposal! I guess it isn’t a huge surprise after seeing so many apartments and houses in a short weekend that we forgot that detail.

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So for the past five months I have learned to live without a dishwasher. At first Luke and I would wash the dishes together after a meal, giving us some time to talk. But then Luke’s work training ended and he wasn’t getting home at 4:30-5pm everynight. So both the cooking and dishwashing responsibilities were turned  over to me.

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Most days I am left in a cycle of : washing last night’s dishes, any dishes from Luke’s lunches or mine, any cutting boards etc. used to prep. dinner, and then I  decide whether to clean up the dinner dishes or leave them for the next day. This can equal to 3 loads of dishes! (Although Luke does notices (about once a week) when I need a break from the scrubbing and soapy hands.)

But I dread Mondays the most. Because often I  choose to take the weekend off and just rinse the dishes, leaving leaving them in the sink for the next week.

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Monday load

Because of this, I think differently about what defines a dirty dish: utensils, cups, or bowls may be used more than once  (if they are rinsed out) before being washed. And as much as I love making wonderful desserts and complicated sticky, saucy dishes, I do not like the mess that awaits afterward (neither are Luke or myself clean cooks/bakers).

One great help is my dish soap. I have already dry-skin and found that 2/3 loads of dishes a day was causing my skin to crack so I changed over to Palmolive soft touch and even then I need hand lotion.

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Even though I do not like doing so many dishes and digging out old food from the sink drain I realize this is merely an inconvenience. With some perspective I remember that many families of the world do not have dishwashers, garbage disposals, or even enough plates and utensils to let them pile up for a few days. I should be grateful I have a washing machine and dryer or clean water to drink, cook, and clean with.

So although we will probably double check for a dishwasher/garbage disposal for the next place we live, I will for now be grateful for clean water, hand lotion, my dish soap, and my dish rack.

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a rare picture of the dish rack “empty”

Do you have any complaints(tasks) that with some perspective could merely be inconveniences?

A good Spring Quiche

With Easter less than a week away, I thought you might appreciate a good spring brunch recipe. This quiche requires a little prep time but it can be done hours or even a day ahead of time and left overs are great for lunches.

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You will need: 

3 small onions, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 cup chopped mushrooms (or more)

1 cup chopped fresh asparagus

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1 (8 inch) unbaked pie shell (or make it yourself)

3/4 cup mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup parmesan

4 eggs

1/4 cup heavy cream

(you can use sour cream or cottage cheese instead-but be aware this may change the baking time)

½ cup 1% milk (or skim)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1- ½ teaspoons pepper

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1-2 tablespoons oregano

olive oil and /or cooking sherry

Preheat oven to 400 degrees then start with the crust:

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*Whether you are using a pre-made/homemade crust or no crust at all (gluten-free) make sure you butter the pie pan.

Tip if you are making your own crust: Stick your pie crust dough between two pieces of parchment or wax paper then use a roller. Once it is rolled out, take the top paper off, flip the crust over the pan, peel off the other piece of paper ,and line the pan with the crust. This way you do not have to use a floured surface, your rolling pin never has to be washed, and best of all-you can reuse the parchment paper!!!

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Now for the veggies:

-Heat olive oil and/or little cooking sherry in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add chopped onions; cook and stir until onions begin to brown (with sherry) or translucent (only olive oil). (The cooking sherry caramelizes the onions/mushrooms adding a sweet taste to your savory dish). Reduce the heat to medium and add the mushrooms. Continue cooking until the mushrooms are tender.

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-Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Wash and trim asparagus then place them in the boiling water. Let them cook for about a minute and a half .  (If the whole stock is not submerged in the water then flip them over and repeat.)  Immediately after, drain the hot water and run under cold water to cool-let it sit on stove unheated.

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-When cool, chop the asparagus into ½ to ¼ inch pieces.

After veggies are done:

– In a small bowl, whisk together the 3 eggs, heavy cream, milk, salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano until smooth.

-Then place the onion/ mushroom mixture, and asparagus, into the bottom of the pie shell.

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– Next sprinkle cheeses over the vegetables.

-After pour the egg mixture over the vegetables and cheese.

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– Sprinkle the top  with more oregano and parmesan cheese.

And last of all:

-Bake uncovered for 35 to 40 minutes, or until firm and lightly browned on top.

Let cool before serving.

Want a slice?

Want a slice?

Although I am posting this right before a very typical brunch holiday- I myself make this quiche about once every 2/3 weeks (yea it’s that good).

Do you have a favorite spring dish?

Wait-barley free means no beer . . . Right? aka A Chemistry lesson for a Birthday present

So let me first answer the question:

Wait-barley free means no beer . . . Right?      

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 This is the first thing people ask me when they find out about my allergy. It was hard news for my ex-bartender boyfriend (now husband) from the micro-brewing region of Oregon. Suddenly I could no longer enjoy a dark cold brew with him at a local pub.

When we go out to pubs now I am lucky if they serve hard cider. (My favorite by the way is Woodchuck) because sometimes wine just doesn’t pair as well with pub food.  Fortunately the gluten-free fad has grown like a wildfire.

Unfortunately many gluten-free beers taste like the cheap light stuff you might encounter at a college party.

One of the only gluten-free beers I have liked was at the Deschutes Brewery and Public House in Portland. We went there on our honeymoon and they have an amazing gluten-free menu (trust me and check it out!)

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Inside the Portland Public House

Inside the Portland Public House

But getting that beer across the country is a little tough. The only other options widely available are Redbridge (Budwieser and I don’t like there regular beer so . ..  yea) or Omission.

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On our honeymoon we also went to the Windmer Bros. Gasthaus Pub  because they listed two gluten-free beers (called Omission) and a gluten-free menu (the buffalo wings were pretty good). When they brought my beer to the table I read the label-it had barley in it! See they played with the chemicals and came up  a low gluten beer so it will not upset the stomach of someone with celliac’s disease.

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So now what? Well I do have some half decent gluten-free beers at our local grocery store (all ambers) or  . . . someone can start a new hobby (now I’m getting to the birthday part)

My allergy is actually a good excuse for Luke to start a hobby one of his best friends had been doing for years: home brewing. So two Christmas’ ago Luke got a beer-making kit with plans to make homemade barley-free porters and stouts. But with a wedding, new job, and moving Luke hasn’t started up home brewing. . . yet.

Here we are: A chemistry lesson for a Birthday present:

So I took Luke for his birthday to Rohrbachs brewery and taproom in Rochester NY hoping it might help jumpstart his creativity.  We started our tour watching a video explaning the history of the brewery meanwhile Luke enjoying a few samples on tap (5 bucks for tour and 6 samples 🙂 ).

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The taproom

The taproom

Then we were taken back to the brewery.  The tour was a full on chemistry lesson! I followed along as they explained the steps for making different beers the best I could, after the 5th step my mind began to drift-but not Luke. He was fully engaged-raising his hand as if back in chemistry class to ask specific questions. It was informal, informative, and best of all Luke loved it.

The tour

The tour

We then took some time to drive (I drove) around finding where the science museum,  parks, auditoriums, observatory etc. were since it was our first time downtown.

After we went to Rohrbach’s brewpub across town for dinner.

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We ordered off their traditional German Menu : Luke ate the sample plate of juicy sausages and sauerkraut while I had crispy potato pancakes with applesauce (can you say yum!). To drink I ordered their homemade root-beer. It was dark delicious dessert in a cup and amazingly I could taste the sasporilla!

And Luke, well he got another sampler of beer, this time of their speciality dark brews only on tap at their microbrewery.

And boy was he one happy birthday boy can you tell?

And boy was he one happy birthday boy can you tell?

Hopefully now that Luke has been inspired, the home-brewing will start soon . Don’t worry I’ll fill you as we go along.

Why I am Barley-free: The Conclusion

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This is the conclusion to a three part blog about how I discovered my barley allergy. If you need to get caught up click on : Part One or Part Two.

I was discouraged and tired of the games by the fall of 2011. I didn’t feel the dermatologist and his team were listening to me .

In one meeting they explained to me that “dermatitis” was a generic term for some internal irritation causing an external reaction. That got my mom and I thinking. We asked if an allergy could be included in this list? They said yes.

So we requested another blood test-this time for allergies. Allergies run rampant in my family so why couldn’t it be an undiagnosed allergy resulting in a rash?

During all this, the dermatologists recognized my frustration and pulled a last resort move: putting me on prednisone. Prednisone it is a steroid (with a lot of side effects) and my type A personality doesn’t do well on steroids.

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To add to this, October of 2011, I started my first career job teaching and substituting at a private English Language Institute. I was under a lot of stress and my skin began to break out on my neck and face. I was concerned about my students reaction to my appearance even though I tried to hide marks with make-up.

I scheduled an appointment, sooner than my check-up not only because the my skin had gotten worse but also  because the prednisone was making it impossible to sleep.

After assuring me the rash was not related to the prednisone they shared the results of my allergy test. As  they read the results I nodded: She said you are aware you are allergic to: mold?-yes, grass?-yes, cats?-yet, tree-nuts?-yes dust?-yes you have had hay-fever?-yes.

Then she said “barley?” and I said “excuse me?” I told her that was a new one. And her response: “Well fortunately barley is not in too many foods so you should be ok” (boy was that misleading! But that is another blog).

After announcing this, she looked at my charts and got very upset. I asked why? The person in charge of writing out my prescription had made a huge mistake: I was on more than double the prednisone I was supposed to be!!! No wonder I couldn’t sleep! After that appointment I never went back.

I began to wean myself off the steroid as they had instructed and started the journey to remove barley from my diet. As I did I discovered: it was the barley causing the skin problem all along! Such a simple issue that cost so much time, money, and frustration.

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I am now barley-free it has required some adjustments to my diet, label reading at the grocery store, and limited the foods I eat out, but is well worth it-the puzzle was finally complete.

Any of you discover that final puzzle piece for yourself or with a family member?

Still in the middle of a frustrating puzzle?

Anyone else have similar accounts to share?

Why I am Barley-free: Part Two

I thought my skin issues were over after the Philippines, but I was wrong. As I said in Part One of this story the bug-bites were only the beginning. I had only connected the borders to the puzzle-it was time to begin to separate the colors,  shapes, and fill in the middle.

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Not long after the summer of 2007, I notice the skin breaking out on my arms, neck, back, chest and sometimes my face. It looked almost like ache but itched like a rash (much like the bug-bites did). It got so red and inflamed I began to wear long sleeves, scarfs, and higher cut tops even in the summer. I feared it was a foreign staff infection similar to what I had in the Philippines because it grew worse in humidity and irritated areas were warm to touch.

I began to inconsistently seek medical help, mostly when I had holidays and summer visits back to California. The doctor that cared for my initial staff infection referred me to a dermatologist. That dermatologist struggled to diagnose the problem working with several theories and  numerous forms of antibiotics, topical steroids, and even cortazol shots. She concluded that it was a manageable but not curable hair follicle irritation. We were not convinced by her diagnosis and eventually decided to seek other help.

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After I moved home from college I decided it was time to get to the bottom of this issue.  I was tired of hiding. So I decided to see a different dermatologist.

They unfortunately had even more crazy theories. I was told I could have an sun allergy, or even an auto-immune disorder including celiac disease. I and the rest of my family considered the possibility of celiac disease since my cousin and grandmother had recently been diagnosed but all specialist appointments and blood work came back inconclusive or negative.

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This dermatologist even took several biopsies of the irritated bumps on my shoulders. These biopsys required circular cookie cutter punctures and stitches which I still have scars from.
The Nurse Practitioners who I worked with (I rarely saw the dermatologist himself through all of this) eventually gave up trying to find the root of the problem. They determined that I had an unspecified form of dermatitis and started appeasing the external side-effects. This once again led to a variety of of steroid creams, antibiotics, topical gels, etc.
 These three years were all apart of that process to fill in the middle of the puzzle. Just when I thought I had found the right place for that awkward piece it wouldn’t fit so I tried another, and another. It  was annoying, embarrassing, and frustrating but the worse was still to come.
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(Don’t worry this all has a good ending-stick with me for one more blog and it will all make sense).

Any of you ever had to deal with the run-around from doctors?

Struggled with a mystery diagnosis?

Get anxious having to go back again and again to the same doctor’s office?