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The Girl at the Green Festival
Jan 13th, 2012 by Nancy

I wish I could show you her big smile too, but alas! I would rather protect her privacy.

I wish I could show you her big smile too, but alas! I would rather protect her privacy.

I brought Lunchsense to a marvelous trade show in San Francisco a few Novembers ago. Lovely bunch of people there, and I think half the population stopped by to check out the lunchbox wares. This was the first show I had ever done solo, though, so I didn’t get many opportunities to take a break.  This was fine, since everyone was just great…but I did get hungry.

You would think that a gal who sells lunchboxes for a living would pack something wonderful for herself, yes? No. I’m just not that good at packing my own lunch when I’m away from home, and I was staying with friends in town and didn’t want to raid their kitchen to pack my lunchbox, and besides, I knew the food at the show was going to be great.  I brought a few snacks, but I was feeling the lack by Sunday afternoon, and without an assistant to cover the booth I had to get creative if I was going to get something to eat.

Opportunity knocked in the form of a beautiful, assertive, confident eight year old girl who wanted a lunchbox.

Her mom was also working a booth a row or two over, and Girl had gotten restless, wandered around, found my booth, and decided that she HAD to have a new lunchbox.  So she proudly stepped up to the booth that afternoon and presented me with her own money and the request…

Is this enough?”

It wasn’t. It wasn’t even close.
But I was starving.  So I pulled a ten out of my wallet, and took a chance, and made her a deal.

I’m really hungry, but I can’t break away from the booth.  Bring me something for dinner and the lunchbox is yours.”

Off she ran with stars in her eyes, and returned ten minutes later…with a “menu” she had created herself from the offerings at the food court.

What do you want? Here’s what I could find, and how much everything cost.”

I made my selection and she scooted away, then returned thirty seconds later:

Do want something to drink with that?”

I ordered up a beverage and she dashed off one more time through the crowd.

Oh! I was smitten.

How often do you get to put your trust in a kid?  What kind of message could we send to kids everywhere if we let them know that they CAN do a service for someone, and they CAN accept responsibility, and they WILL benefit from it?

Girl (and her mom) returned to my booth 10 minutes after that, all smiles, with my dinner (and beverage, and change from my ten) in hand, and Girl picked out her favorite color lunchbox. I think I might have broken even, or maybe even lost money on the exchange, but it was the best lunchbox sale I made all weekend.

Speaking of trade shows, I’m off to the Good Earth Home and Garden Show in Eugene next week.  If you’re in the area stop by and say hello!

Foodie Tuesday: gluten-free "granola" bars
May 3rd, 2011 by Nancy

IMG00283-20110503-1225My husband was diagnosed as gluten intolerant about 11 years ago, which means that he is allergic to wheat, oats, barley, rye and spelt.

Naturally, this topic often comes up when we’re dining with new acquaintances (as all our old ones already know), and we’ve found that it gets, um, awkward when they start asking about the symptoms of gluten intolerance.

The awkward part is that the symptoms of gluten intolerance aren’t something anyone would like to discuss over a meal with friends (much less new acquaintances), so we’ve come up with a few code words. 

When asked “what happens if you do eat gluten by accident?”, we reply,

“Intestinal distress. Sudden, acute, intestinal distress.”

Forks pause (if only briefly) as our new acquaintances grasp our meaning, and also grasp that they probably didn’t want to know that over a plate of something yummy.

Anyway, the up side to gluten intolerance (in our household, anyway) is that I can probably attribute to it my love and appreciation of all things food.  I’ve found a world of great recipes, tricks, and substitutions I never would have otherwise, and this week’s Foodie Tuesday is one of those finds.

Until recently, finding gluten free options in a regular grocery store was challenging.  It’s thankfully much easier now as food manufacturers are creating and releasing new GF products all the time, but we always return to this basic tenet:

Homemade

Tastes

Better.

In a pinch, we’ll get the packaged goods; our earthquake kit has lots of cans and boxes that we rarely see in the regular mealtime rotation.  The rest of the time, we start from scratch.

This “granola” bar is a riff off a no-bake peanut butter bar we found in a gluten-free cookbook that was, in the early days of gluten-free living, our bible: Gluten Free Gourmet, by Bette Hagman. 

the original recipe goes like this:

Combine and heat in a saucepan until bubbly:

1 C dark corn syrup

1 C chunky peanut butter

1 C sugar

Combine in a large bowl:

6 C gluten free puffed or crisped rice cereal

1 C raisins

Pour the hot mixture over the dry, combine thoroughly, and press into a greased 9 x 13 pan.  Allow to cool, and cut into bars.

Simple, yes?  The base of the recipe looks just like a Rice Krispie square, i.e. sticky goo poured over dry cereal.  To turn this into “granola” bars, all you need to remember is the proportions, thusly:

3 C goo to 7 C dry

 

The goo:

1 C peanut, almond, or other nut butter   This is for protein, substance, heft, flavor, etc. for the finished bar.

1 C corn syrup   Light or dark, per your preference or your current inventory.

1 C sugar

Combine these three in a saucepan, and heat until bubbly.  You may add, if it works for you, seasonings:

1 t cinnamon,

1/2 t nutmeg,

1/4 t allspice, cloves, etc.

1/2 t vanilla, almond extract, maple flavoring, etc.

The dry stuff:

4 1/2 to 5 C cereal   We usually use a combination of Mesa Sunrise cereal (which I crush lightly so the flakes are about the size of dry oatmeal flakes), and Crispy Rice, a gluten free dry rice ceral.  Corn or Rice Chex also work.  The goal here is something dry with a nice crunch, as it will soften somewhat when combined with the goo.

2 to 2 1/2 C “add-ins”   This is entirely up to you and your cupboards.  I usually use about one to 1 1/2 cups dried fruit, cut into raisin-sized bits if necessary – raisins, cranberries, cherries, pineapple, banana, apple, mango, whatever suits your tastes.  The rest of the add-ins can be seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin), any nuts you like, coconut, chocolate chips (mini work well here).

Mix the dry and the add-ins, pour the goo over the dry mix and combine (it will get stiff pretty quickly), and press the mixture into a greased 9 by 13″ pan.  Allow it to cool to room temperature and slice into bars.

These travel like champs (especially in lunchboxes), will keep for ages in the freezer, and are a marvelous treat for the celiacs in your life, but I love most that this recipe allows me to use up the last of many things that lurk in little bags in the back of the kitchen cabinets.   I mean to try a few “thematic” combinations:

Dried mango, pineapple, and coconut, with pecans (a tropical bar) (Hey! how ’bout rum extract in this one!)

Chocolate chips, almonds, coconut (sounds like a familiar candy bar….)

cinnamon, nutmeg, dried apple, cranberry, walnut (autumn special)

Throw some suggestions on the wall (also known as “comments”) below!

 

p.s. Thanks, Mike.  You’re my inspiration.

Leaving on a Jet Plane
Feb 26th, 2010 by Nancy

It’s pouring rain outside. Again.beach scene 4

I love Eugene, and I’m a Northwest native (“Clan of the webbed toes”) so rain doesn’t really register most of the time, but after a spate of gardening last weekend I’m getting a bit fed up with February, and March is threatening to march in this weekend looking suspiciously similar to it.

I concede that I have nothing, comparatively speaking, to complain about. You East Coasters are having a winter for the record books and the most recent storm means that many of you can’t even see this post because the power is out, and I really, truly, feel for you.  Weather over there has gone from “inconvenient” to “Dorothy’s house just flew by the front window,” and you are all in our thoughts and prayers.

Nobody on either coast, then, would fault any of us for daydreaming about warmer, drier climes.

Getting to those locales is weighing heavy on my mind, though. Notwithstanding the cost (both financial and environmental), we all know the real truth: food on airplanes is mostly pretty wretched stuff. To add insult to injury, now we have to spring for it.

I was pondering this dilemma awhile back, and my wool-gathering turned from the destination to the journey, and what, exactly, I’d pack in my Lunchsense lunchbox for the trip.  I realized I had a few constraints, as follows – all the food would have to be:

1) Relatively non-perishable since the FSA would confiscate the ice pack (although we CAN pack ice in the drink bottle, then dump it out before boarding the plane, then get more ice on board, if absolutely necessary);
2) Lacking in any liquids or gels in quantities over 3 oz.;
3) Free of un-neighborly foods like allergens (i.e. nuts) or really aromatic stuff like, oh, limburger; and most of all
4) A meal that will be the utter envy of my cabinmates. A meal that will make the security guards that x-ray the lunch box stop the machine and stare in awe. A meal that will have passengers climbing over seat backs to get at it.

I realized at this point I needed professional help.

I needed a chef.

Enter good friend Andy Roybal, who took my constraints and weighed in with this response:

I would not worry about the temperature control because food has a 4 hour window in which it is safe and you would want some of the items to come up to room temp for better flavor.
The menu:
Rice is out because cold rice sucks but I would do Inari Nigiri – Sweet Rice wrapped in Fried Tofu Skins, it is normally served cold and three pieces would fit nicely into one of your containers. Along with that I would have a container of Soba Noodle Salad (again served cold) with julienne Green Onion, Carrot, Cucumber, and Red Pepper in a Soy-Ginger Dressing. Then you need some veggies… Soy Beans to the rescue! Edamame seasoned with Hawaiian Sea Salt, Toasted Sesame Seeds and Sesame Oil would be a nice. Here are a few more ideas… no harm in more vegetables, so let’s add a small side of Seaweed Salad available at most Asian stores already prepared. If you still have room… some home made Teriyaki Chicken would be nice… you can eat it cold and that rounds out your meal with a bit of protein. You do get to bring on 3 oz of liquid, so in the small salad dressing container, I would fill it with some Sake!

That would be my meal. I hope that helps… if you don’t like that one I was thinking of a Middle Eastern Lunch of Falafel, Hummus, Baba ghanoush, Tabbouleh, Yogurt Sauce and lots of Pita Bread.

Thank you, Andy. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

(Aside to Andy: The last line about kills me – “if you don’t like that one…” Oh fer heaven’s sake, Andy, have you FLOWN lately? Do you know what you’re up against?)

Can’t you see it? You get on the plane with your tidy little lunchbox, and about midflight when your cabin mates are prying the plastic wrap off their nine-dollar “club sandwiches” and trying to discreetly open little mayonnaise packets with their teeth you pull this feast out, smooth your cloth napkin (included) on your lap, smile graciously to them, and dig in?

So – what would you pack?

To all of us – hang in there, spring’s just around the corner. In the meantime, I’m going to daydream about warmer, drier, beautiful places. Like Eugene in August.

p.s. Stay tuned – Andy says he’ll come up with recipes for the goods above.

p.p.s. And if dreaming about good food isn’t enough, slide on over to foodgawker for a visual, virtual orgy of good food AND good photography.

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