Halloween Update

Halloween update:

Around 5:30pm the kids started showing up and quickly I realized  . . . I may run out of candy!! I tried to balance making dinner and answering the door while Luke worked late.

But even after being creative in stretching the candy out we ran out of all sugar by 7pm. When Luke came home he ran to the store but by then we’d been without candy (with the lights out) for an hour!! So now we have candy and no trick-or-treators.  This may be contributed to the rain as well.

Luke told me he found out at work that our neighborhood is THE neighborhood to go trick-or-treating in the area. Oh well, lessons learned.

For now I think I’ll enjoy “The Great Pumpkin” (Charlie Brown) and eat some chocolate!

Happy Halloween!!!

Today I am at home making some pumpkin brittle and sneaking (barley and tree-nut free) halloween candy before the trick-or-treators come by tonight. On that note if you haven’t yet seen my post on 2013’s allergy free candy check in out here: Good to know: Gluten and tree-nut free candy.

This will be the first year to give out candy from our front door. Considering the out-door haunted house our neighbor constructed across the street, I think it’s fair to assume will get some visitors.

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All of our carved pumpkins are set out on the front porch. Tonight we will light them up with blue, red, and yellow glow sticks. And although I don’t have a true costume this year, I will be wearing my Old Navy star wars shirt. Depending on what mood Luke is in he may pull out his old Jedi costume (and toy light-saber) too we will see.

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This week I also roasted the pumpkin seeds from pumpkin carving and made cupcake size brownies with decorative candy corn on them for Luke to take to work today. Confession: of course I snuck a few pieces of candy corn as I baked.

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And it has been a year since I started using my ex-wedding decoration: the manzanita tree for  holidays decorations. This month each mini-mason jar is filled with Indian corn with a votive pumpkin spice candle at the center. The base if filled with pine cones and mini-pumpkin shapes and atop sits a perfect mini plastic pumpkin. This is all wrapped up in a black and white striped bow.

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Whether you are dressing up for a party, taking little ones trick-or-treating, or enjoying a night-in watching movies and snacking on sugar hope you have a safe and happy halloween!

Picking Perfect Pumpkins

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On Saturday we went to Smithome Farms to pick out pumpkins and try-out their corn maze. It was one of our first cold and windy days and we came late enough in the season that the corn has all dried out. The hills are still covered in shades of gold, red, and orange and the sky was gray but luckily not threatening rain.

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We payed for the corn maze and looked forward to getting out of the wind. We were given a map and puzzle to complete using clues from 9 stations on this 3 acre maze. The theme was Superman and we eventually found all 9 stations, no thanks to me.  I got us turned around at least twice. Luke apparently liked to see me struggle (yes he gave the map to the dyslexic). After finding all of our stations, Luke suggested trying to make it through the maze from the beginning without the map . I gave him the -I’m done stare, he laughed and we headed for the exit.

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From the exit we went straight into the pumpkin patch, well what was left of it. Because of the many sunny days the main patch area looked more like a dusty dirt road with some misshapen and flat sided rotting squash scattered randomly across it. We passed by the dry dirt for a smaller patch father back that looked to be still green. Here we split up to search for some good carving pumpkins.

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After getting  muddy boots and dirt covered jeans we looked at our collection and sized them up so we knew how much they would cost.  We carried our pumpkins to the front, bought them at the main entrance, then carried them to the car. Warming up with some coffee we took a nice drive along the river, had dinner out, then headed home.

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Once home we devised our carving plan. Choosing a theme of : Star Wars (yes were are nerds if you didn’t already know). We picked our patterns online and got to work. Luke skillfully carved the key logo and poked holes around it to make the stars. I stenciled and cut out the rebel alliance symbol into a smaller pumpkin. I collected seeds to roast later then we decided to finish the job the next day.

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On Sunday with our largest pumpkin we prepped and turned it into an outer-space dogfight scene with a tye-fighter and x-wing in it among the stars. On our final white pumpkin went the evil empire sign. For halloween we plan to use glow sticks to light up our front porch pumpkins. (More pictures of these to come). We hope those little  (or not so little) star wars fan trick or treat-ors will appreciate them.

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How about you? Have you taken the time for a good fall outing? What do you like to do with you picked pumpkins?

Good to know: 2013’s Gluten and Tree-nut free Candy Lists

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Some of you have probably already bought (and eaten) bags of Halloween candy to give away or use for your harvest season festivities. But with Halloween approaching it is good to be aware of what candies are allergy-free and which could be harmful or deadly.

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Growing up, this time of the year I knew what candies generally had tree-nuts in them and which did not (for more on this see Why I am tree-nut free). Plus when we came home we would sort out the candy and those I couldn’t eat were thrown  away.

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Now as I think about bite-sized chocolatey snacks to both give-out to kids and to sneak a few for myself, I look at a new list of ingredients including: barley, malt extract/flavoring, or contains wheat (for more on this see Why I am barley-free Part One). It amazes me what candy items have flour or similar in them to give the candy the right texture. For example: a regular shaped reese’s peanut butter cup is safe but any fun-shaped butter cups are not. They are flour in them!

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So whether you have children with gluten/nut allergies, you want to be a conscientious giver of treats, or have allergies yourself and are wanting to enjoy some sugary snacks. I hope you find this information helpful:

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1. Here’s a blog-site called :The Nut-Free Mom Blog where she lists nut-free candy

2. Here’s another blog-site for gluten free halloween candy list from stockpilingmoms.com

3. Click on this link from Celiac Disease Foundation to see their 2013 Halloween Gluten-free candy list

4. Last of all a page from a PDF guide from safe-snack updated earlier this month with candy information that is free of tree-nuts, eggs, and peanuts.

a page from the snacksafely.com PDF on halloween candy

I hope this all helps you have a happy and safe candy-filled day.

 

Why I am tree-nut free: Part 1

Last spring I wrote several blog-posts providing the details of the discovery that I was allergic to barley and how this allergy changed my diet. (for more see Why I am barley-free: part 1Why I am barley-free: Part 2). If you have explored my blog enough you would know that I am also allergic to tree-nuts though I have never really shared how I discovered I was allergic to tree-nuts or how this allergy affect my life. Well here I go:

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Unlike my barley allergy which mainly affects my skin (though it may tear up my intestines a little too) my tree-nut allergy is much more deadly and I have had it my whole life. When I was two years old I was at the San Diego zoo with my whole family: cousins and all. Sometime during our visit I was given half a macadamia nut to try. Still new to harder foods, my family was attentive to see how I would handle it. When they noticed I did not seem to be breathing well they thought I had choked on it. But  fortunately my firefighter uncle recognized the signs: my throat was closing up due to an allergic reaction. We rushed to the hospital. My mom not knowing how bad I was tried to sign us in to wait, but once the medical staff saw my face they rushed us in. With my anxious family unsure what to do, I was taken in and given shots of benadryl. The swelling went down and I recovered.

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After that my parents were cautious of foods with tree-nuts; keeping any far from my reach and being careful when baking with them in the house. Many times there were baked goods made in two versions nut-free and with nuts. By the time I was in elementary school I knew what to watch for: homemade desserts, certain candy bars and the like. I learned quickly to always ask, to read labels, and not assume something was tree-nut free.

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I always carried benadryl on me, just in case something happened, there were few instances at school were a treat for the class or special event meant unfamiliar dishes with unknown ingredients that I thought were safe. But after a bite I could tell my mouth would start itching,  then my chest would get tight, my eyes well with tears, my nose would run and then I would get what almost looked like scratch marks around my face. Now this did not happen everytime. It really all had to do with how much I ingested before realizing the harm. For the most part I would only get a itchy mouth, take some benadryl and I’d be set.

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Now before I go any further let me make this clear, I am not so allergic to tree-nuts that if I touch one and get the oil on me I go into shock, in order to go into any form of shock I would have to ingest a large amount (and I mean a huge amount) of nuts and not know it. I also am not allergic to peanuts which are technically a legume or peanut butter. That is a different allergy all together. I love my pay days, apples and peanut butter, and the occasional reeses or reeses pieces. So no issues there.

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I as I already stated, had learned to expect tree-nuts in desserts mainly but as I got older I learned they can be found in unusual dishes as well. At a holiday meal, again with the whole family, I decided to try a family member’s chili, after a few bites and recognizing the familiar crunch, I mentioned I thought there were nuts in the dish. This was not stated on the menu. My family was skeptic but when we asked the waiter sure enough there were cashews. A little benadryl and again I was fine.

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In high school for a friends birthday party we went to a restaurant that sells huge warm cookies in small pizza dishes. I ate half of one that was oatmeal raisin. It tasted great, until the very end, when my stomach started to cramp up. I asked to look at the menu: the whole thing had macadamia nuts in it.  How would I know that? The crunchy texture I took to be only crispy oats. I was taken home quickly and fed plenty of benaryl. My parents had me stay awake in front of the TV and monitored my breathing etc. I broke out into hives, and could barely breath between the tight throat and running nose. My eyes were swollen and watering. I had a hard time, unlike other instances staying calm. But like previous experiences  the medicine did it’s magic and I was fine.

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These are some of my early life experiences with my tree-nut allergy. In all of these encounters I have never discovered what any of the individual nuts taste like. Name it: pecan, walnut, cashew, pistachio, hazelnut, macadamia, almond, I do  not know what any of them taste like -to me no matter how delicious you say a dish is if it has nuts in them all I taste in a itchy tongue.

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So that is the start to my story of why I am tree-nut free my experiences with my tree-nut allergy are different as an adult as I have traveled to other countries and discovered more foods and languages. But more on that to come.

A Taste of Home

During the past almost year of living New York,  there have been several missed elements from my home state of California (for some see I miss my old life). One of the items in short supply (or quality) is Mexican food. I was spoiled in SoCal.  Mexican restaurants are more plentiful than Mcdonalds’. Each restaurant or fast food joint had their best specialties and all were authentically delicious. Mexican has always been my comfort food so it was hard to leave behind the tamales, enchiladas, chile rellenos, and good guacamole rice, and beans.

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Luke enjoying west coast Mexican food on our May vacation to Oregon

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Luke and I have kept an open mind and while trying the few Mexican restaurants here. We’ve been to chains and hole in the wall places  we have been everywhere from Rochester, to Ithaca, to Buffalo, to Oswego and everywhere in-between. Each time we were disappointed. The meat was not marinated and bland. Tomato sauces tasted more like Italian pasta sauce. And the beans and rice? Rice had not kick and the beans no flavor. We kept hoping for one half decent place to get that taste of home.

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enjoying some famous Olvera st. taquitos in LA

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On our way back from our anniversary trip (see Niagara Falls Anniversary ) we stopped for a late lunch and gas in Batavia. Here we decided to brave once again a little mexican restaurant called Ranchero Viejo. We ordered our typical taste-tester foods and were surprised, it wasn’t half bad. The rice had flavor, the beans had a little too, the salsa had kick, but the meat was still a little bland. Overall we were grateful even if it wasn’t on par with what we are accustomed to.

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When we first moved to Corning there was a small mexican restaurant called Toto’s on Market Street. It was never open  and before winter was over it had closed completely. The store front sat empty for months. On a drive last week through downtown we were shocked to see a new mexican restaurant had moved in and opened! Fiesta Brava! We were skeptic but willing once again to try.

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Where my family is used to getting Mexican food in SoCal

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On Sunday we met some of our friends at Fiesta Brava for lunch after church. I was nervous the food would be bland. But as we waited for our friends to arrive we started with the salsa-best we’d had in the state. Then we looked at the menu: it was the same menu listing as the restaurant in Batavia! We soon realized that they must be connected. This gave us a little hope.

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the-hole-in-the-wall mexican place across the street from Luke’s old apartment in SoCal

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When it came time to order I chose a risker lunch combo of chili relleno, taco, beans, rice and guacamole. Luke ordered the same fajita burrito he had eaten in Batavia but ordered chicken instead of beef. When talking to the waiter he asked if the chicken was marinated in the same seasoning as their carne asada like he had had in Batavia. The waiter-in a very proud confident voice stated very clearly their food was  better than Batavia. And he was right. It was the best Mexican food we have had on the East Coast so far.

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not my actual plate of food but close enough

My Chile Relleno was delicious lightly battered in egg, the pepper had a kick to it and the beans tasted like actual mexican refried beans. I never thoughts I’d judge mexican food based on such a simple dish. The rice had the spicy tangy flavor I’m used to and the taco dripped with juicy ground beef. I was beyond happy. Then Luke offered me a taste of his fajita chicken-the marinade they used was excellent far from the boiled shredded flavorless protein we’d had so far.

I am grateful for this little new Mexican place full of flavor and life.  It is a small blessing to once again get a taste of home thousands of miles from it.

Niagara Falls Anniversary Part 2: Wine tours and Italian dinner

In review, Friday night at the The Keg in Embassy Suites  we had a partial view of the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Afterwards we walked around the  tourist area filled with haunted houses, wax and world record museums, children amusement parks and arcades, and much more! Although we are not into these tourist traps they are pretty fun to walk by lit up at night. Here are some pictures:

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Saturday (our actual anniversary)  we packed up our things at the Best Western and checked out. The Best Western had given us a 15$ off card to use at IHOP and although we do not often go there we thought we’d save the money where we could. So we ordered one meal to split of whole wheat blueberry pancakes and an omelet.  The waitress came back and said the fine print on our coupon said we had to order two entrees to get the 15 off. We understand having to follow the rules of the coupon but it was a little frustrating and disappointing to find this out after we’d already eaten.

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We then chose to walk off the carbs (and our annoyance) down the hill to the Canadian view of the falls along the Niagara River Recreation Trail. It was another beautiful sunny day and there were plenty of pedestrians and tour buses alike taking in the view. We followed along from the American Falls down to Horseshoe falls. As we got closer to Horseshoe falls we needed to put our sunglasses on the mist reflecting light from the sun was creating quite a glare. At the end of the falls trail it felt like we were back on the Maid of the Mist standing in a thin rain cloud as we listened and watched gallons of water flow over the edge is seconds.

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After our walk, we got back to our car, found directions, and drove to Niagara-on-the-Lake to local wineries. We first went to Pellar Estates Winery. This large vineyard/winery is probably one of the oldest in this area known for it’s fertile ground and good weather. We brought our groupon vouchers to the front desk after wandering the tasting room and got set up for the winery tour. At 1:30pm we went with a large group to learn about the Pellar winery. The tour was extremely educational, out in the vineyard we got a change to hear about how the soil is conditioned differently for each type of grape, how the grape vines are kept and pruned, when the grapes are picked based on the varieties and how they use a eco-friendly pest control prevention system.

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Next we were  taken into their wine cellar were the wine barrels are kept. Our tour guide informed us about the different barrel types used, the varieties in woods/materials the wine is fermented in, and changes in fermenting times.  Last of all we were taken to a table to taste their wine. The tour guide explained the wine connoisseurs process of three tastings for each wine: one to clean the palate, one to taste the oxygen in the wine, and last to get the full flavor. We tried three varieties, a pinot noir, a chardonnay , and one of their regionally famous very sweet ice wines.

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Getting back in the car, we followed the wine trail to Trius Winery, another winery owned by the Pellar family. This tour was less formal or informative but we did get a chance to learn a little about Trius’ specialty which was sparkling wines and see where these wines are fermented in the bottle. We were then taken to a garden to taste another one of their ice wines, and their traditional white and red. This was my first day doing a wine tasting at an actual winery but I was grateful for having experienced tasting wine where we live in the Finger Lakes area (for more on this see 2300 degreeslocal food and winecabin fever ). We decided that the Niagara area wine was not for us, they were either too light and acidic or too sweet. It may be that we are becoming partial to our local region.

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We decided to not drive another half hour into the country to check out the last winery and instead headed back to the Falls area. We checked into the Sheraton hotel around 5:00pm; in time to relax a little before getting ready for dinner. In contrast from our previous hotel, this place was large, spacious, and connected to a casino, a Starbucks in the lobby,  several stores, restaurants, and even a water park! Dressing up for a wonderful dinner out we took the walk way to the Crowne Plaza Hotel and up to the 10th floor to Massimo’s Rainbow Room, a more formal Italian dinning room.

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We made reservations months ago when we got the groupon for $40 towards a dinner there to celebrate our anniversary night. We were ushered in low lighting to a white table clothed table for two right up against a glass window over looking the falls at sunset. It was beyond beautiful. Sadly we did not bring a phone or camera with us to dinner so we will just have to keep that dinner and moment in our memory. When the sunset we enjoyed watching the falls light up with varying colors as we ate a delicious dinner. Luke ordered the steak I ordered a rack of lamb but we shared. (for a more detailed description of the menu click here ).

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What the restaurant looks like in the daylight

After our wonderful dinner, we headed back down the elevator and on to see what our other vouchers for the evening would get us. We started at the Hard Rock Cafe  where we had two free cocktails at the bar. After enjoying our rum and cokes by lava lamp (seriously they had mini lava lamps all across the bar) we headed over to Hershey’s for a sweet finish.

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After standing in line at their candy store we turned in our voucher and out came a box that the cashier said contained two cupcakes. We walked back to our hotel room and opened our dessert to find one chocolate and one white cupcake with vanilla frosting topped each with a Hershey’s kiss. After dessert we cuddled up on our king size bed to watch our wedding video for the first time. It was great to look back and laugh at the small details or reactions from family and friends we were too nervous or preoccupied to notice the day-of.

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I didn’t get a picture of our actual goodies but here’s what they had in the store

Sunday we slept-in, Luke tried his luck at the casino for a brief hour  and then we checked out of the hotel. We hit the road back home in the middle of surprising noon traffic back over the bridge to America. After a long wait at the border we were on the road to Buffalo and eventually back home. It was one wonderful weekend to celebrate a crazy busy and challenging first year of marriage!