good food. great friends. amazing weekend.

Thomn and I headed to one of our favorite cities this past weekend to spend time with some of our best friends H & J.   Grand Rapids, MI is home to not only our friends, but also some fantastic restaurants.  As J mentioned this weekend, you know it is a day out with the Bells when it includes a stop at Hopcat.  They have super delicious French Fries called “crack fries” because they are that addictive, as the menu says.  Also, for my friends that are not gluten free, be sure to try their Framboise Beer, or really any of their beers.  They have an extensive menu that is ever-changing and of course Thomn’s favorite part about going there.

We had a relaxed evening which called for Gluten Free Pizza from Vitales, along with Gluten Free Cheese Bread.  I had mentioned in an earlier post how much we love Jet’s Pizza and it has been a really long 6 weeks without seeing the pizza delivery guy at our house.  I was so excited to be able to order a gluten free pizza without the hassle of making one of my own.

If you are ever in the Grand Rapids area, San Chez Restaurant is a must. San Chez is a tapas bistro with amazing food  – on their Bistro side of the restaurant each item on the menu is served on a small plate with the intent you order at least 3 and come with a party to be able to share with each other.  This is open for lunch and dinner, but they also have their cafe which is available for breakfast and lunch.  Each side is equally delicious, just different foods available at each.  We went to the cafe on Sunday for brunch and I had the most fabulous sandwich.  Pork Belly with a Jalapeno Honey Mustard sauce topped with an apple cabbage slaw on a gluten free sub bun. Heaven.  I should have taken a picture of it so you could understand how delicious this was, however, I devoured it so fast I didn’t even think to take one.  The best part was they sell the gluten free sub buns so they can be enjoyed at home as well (4 for $10) – seriously, what a steal!

We went to GR with the intent to not only see H & J, but also to see Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert.  They had a performance at DeVos Hall called: A Conversation with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert – Good vs. Evil.  If you are familiar with Anthony Bourdain, or Tony, as he referred to himself on Sunday, you know that he hosts two shows on the Travel Channel: No Reservations and the Layover.  He is well know for speaking his mind, being sarcastic, and a bit crass.  He entirely lived up to the expectations I had in my head for him and was every bit as funny.  Eric Ripert proved to be a bit more of a gentle soul.  Owner of La Bernardin restaurant in New York City, he spoke of the future of food and how we are all responsible for making this life as sustainable as possible.  A meal at his restaurant may cost $350 for one person, but I can promise after seeing his performance I will be saving my pennies…or at least making my way there for a $75 lunch. 

I mentioned just three of the fabulous restaurants in Grand Rapids, but let me assure you that there are many more!  It has become a city that has great food around every corner as well as an abundance of good local beers.  Maybe the next time we are in town, I will see you at Hopcat!

One Perfect Lemon

I have always wanted to grow lemons – i love the citrusy, sour flavor that they provide to beverages, lunch, dinner and dessert.  The possibilities are endless, so early last summer I bought a lemon tree.  During the summer months it lived on our scorching hot deck, soaking up all of the summer rays.  Now that it is winter in Michigan the lemon tree is in the kitchen facing the sliding glass door and right over a heat vent.

After months of watering and nurturing it turns out that I have one perfect lemon.

Now I need ideas of what to do with my lemon – do you have any suggestions?

Was it worth the mile?

I ran a whole mile today!  To some of you this may not sound like a big feat, but let me tell you – it was.  I am not a runner…at all. Some days I dream about being a great runner like my husband Thomn, or my friend Betsy, however my dream of being a runner is just that…a dream.

When I went to the gym today I planned on doing my usual combination of walking and using the elliptical machine before the weight machines, however, it was then when I got on the treadmill that I had an epiphany.  Maybe if I could run a whole mile I could have one of the delicious peanut butter and jelly cupcakes that I made last night.

So I ran a mile.

I listened to a little Tori Amos, a little Bruce Springsteen, a little Domestic Problems…but really I didn’t hear many of the words.  I just kept thinking of the cupcake.

Here is a picture of the cupcake so you can fully grasp what I was dreaming about.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Heaven!

These cupcakes are delicious so I figure I should pass the recipe onto all of you:

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes

1 package Yellow Cake mix (mine were gluten free so I used the Betty Crocker Gluten Free Cake Mix)

1 8oz jar of For the Love of June’s Strawberry Lemonade Jam

Peanut Butter Frosting:

1 cup of creamy peanut butter (I love Skippy Natural) – remember if you are making this for a gluten free friend  you should use a fresh peanut butter jar that has not been contaminated by a knife that has previously touched bread or other gluten products

4 oz plain cream cheese – room temperature

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 Tablespoon Milk

Directions: 

Prepare Cake Mix as directed and bake into mini cupcakes

While these bake mix together mix the above ingredients for the frosting until completely smooth (peanut butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar and milk)

Allow cupcakes to cool

You will need some kind of gadget to squeeze the jelly into the center of the cupcakes.  I used a squeeze bottle that had a frosting decorating tip on the end – from Kuhn Rikon, the Cookie and Cupcake Decorating Set.

Fill up the squeeze bottle with the Strawberry Lemonade Jam and squeeze it into the center of the cupcake until you feel resistance back from the jam and it starts to come out of the top of the cupcake.

Spread frosting on top. Or you can use another one of the fancy tops from Kuhn Rikon like I did.

Eat and enjoy!

I found the best part about these cupcakes to be the combination of the frosting and the jam.  For the Love of June’s Strawberry Lemonade is slightly tart and the peanut butter frosting is not overly sweet – proving to be a combination that tastes as good as the infamous Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich itself.

I hope you think they are as fabulous as I did…well worth the mile run.  Until the next delicious treat…

snow, sun and endless possibilities

Today I woke up to 2 inches of thick, heavy snow. For someone that is addicted to weather.com I was surprised to see our deck covered.  No one could have been more excited than Ella, our Bernese Mountain Dog.  Her breeds loves the winter weather and the brisk breeze that usually accompanies the snow filled clouds.  She looked so cute bounding off of the deck that I convinced myself to ignore the clock and the fact that it took her 20 minutes to go to the bathroom because she kept getting distracted by the snow.

Ella enjoying the snow in Vermont as a puppy

I headed to work leaving her looking longingly at the snow that was just out of reach, promising that as soon I got home we would take a long trek around the neighborhood to enjoy the snow together.  I enjoy my job, but I LOVE Fridays – I LIVE for Fridays.  Nothing beats the weekend at home with my little family and endless possibilities for two whole days.

So, I hurried out of work at the end of the day and was pleasantly surprised to see that the sun was shining and the snow was totally gone (winter is not my favorite month).  When I got home Ella was so excited to see me and to be going for a walk that I doubt she remembered there was snow on the ground this morning before her long afternoon nap.  We walked for 45 minutes thoroughly soaking up every ray of sunshine that hit our faces.

I am grateful for days like this – it may have started out snowy and rather cold, but ended up being the most beautiful afternoon.  These sunshiny days are few and far between in the month of January and I am happy that I got to spend the afternoon with my favorite pup. I hope your Friday was just as peaceful and filled with sunshine as mine was.  Here is to endless possibilities for the next two days!

Yum ... snow is so delicious!

All you need is… chocolate!

Some days all you need is a good piece of chocolate.  As a middle of the week celebration have a morsel of your favorite chocolate and know that the weekend is almost here!

Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái – Happy New Year Friends!

Happy Chinese New Year!  Today is one of my favorite holidays – and it is a day that has been filled with flashbacks from my youth.

Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái my grandparents would exclaim as they picked my sister and I up for dinner.  We would climb into the backseat of their blue buick smiling ear to ear ready for our adventure of the evening.  Some years we would have a celebration at their house with the rest of the family, but more often than not the four of us would go to a Chinese restaurant that was open only for family and close friends of the restaurant owner.  My grandparents were always considered close friends of whomever they encountered.  That’s just what kind of people they were.  Warm, loving and downright nice.

As we would get close to the restaurant I would smooth back my hair and tidy the red bow, adjust the sleeves of my red shirt, and check to see if my sister was doing the same.  We always wore red on Chinese New Year – to this day, I still do.  Red is the color of prosperity and brings good luck to one during the New Year.

Our evening would be a feast fit for a king…or in this case an emperor.  Chicken, jasmine rice, vegetables, crab, lobster, red bean soup and many, many more. The restaurant would be filled with people laughing and smiling; pleased to be celebrating the New Year.  In our best Chinese, Nichole and I would wish everyone we met a Happy New Year and at some point in the evening our grandparents would hand us small red envelopes (called hóng bāo) containing two brand new dollar bills.

A few years ago while in New York City I was lucky enough to find hóng bāo with our family name (Chou) on them

As I have gotten older I have learned more about Chinese New Year and the traditions that are rooted within the holiday.  One of my favorites is that there is no cleaning on the New Year!  This is considered to be bad luck to clean your house as you are wiping away your good fortune for the year.

I will be spending this New Year with Thomn – complete with a feast fit for an emperor.  Pork Pa’ Pao, Jasmine rice, Chinese Sausage and vegetables.  It is days like today that I am grateful for where I have come from, for my grandparents that helped me to embrace my culture growing up, for my sister that I loved sharing these holidays with, for my dad that will be celebrating from afar in Seattle, and for Thomn who is the best partner a girl could ask for.

So, as we enter the year of the Dragon, I wish all of you a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Can Gluten-Free Food be Delicious?

I am here to tell you that yes it can be!  As of January 2nd I have been gluten-free.  Now you may be thinking, “whoa Christina, you have no idea what eating gluten-free is really like – it is only January 18th – sixteen days is nothing!”  However, this is my second go around with a gluten-free diet.  At one point in my life I had been gluten-free for 3 1/2 years and made the daily struggles that are involved in this lifestyle.  This first time I went gluten-free it was for allergy reasons – my doctors believed that I was allergic to gluten and had celiac’s disease like my sister.  I started seeing a new doctor who wanted to re-test me for allergies.  In the end, it was determined that I didn’t have any food allergies and in fact had been living with fibromyalgia all of my life. (You mean that shooting pain down my spine isn’t something that everyone feels on a daily basis?!?)

I rebelled in the most dramatic way from my previous way of eating.  Jet’s pizza became a weekly staple in our house as did pasta and anything else that I could find stuffed with gluten.  Until slowly, but surely, I started to feel pretty crappy.  I am convinced it has everything to do with what I eat.   Is it possible that I have a gluten sensitivity?  Wheat allergies run in my family along with my sister’s celiacs disease, so I started an experiment at the beginning of the year.  Fresh vegetables and organic food has always been important to me so now I am shifting the grains that I eat.

For those of you that are in this daily fight with me, or if you are just looking for a change in dinner, I have decided that once a week I will share a gluten-free recipe that I find delicious.  Today’s recipe happens to be what I had for dinner tonight.

Lime Shrimp Tacos

1 lb uncooked shrimp

2 tbsp olive oil

salt to taste

pepper to taste

garlic powder

red pepper flakes

(I use Simply Organic for all of my seasonings – they are safe and have great flavor)

1 fresh lime – quartered

1 red onion – sliced thinly

cilantro leaves – washed and chopped

1 tomato – chopped

1 avocado – sliced thinly

hot sauce to taste ( I used Tapatio)

100% corn tortillas

Place your sliced red onion in a bowl – using 1/4 of the lime, squeeze fresh lime juice over the onion slices – set aside for a quick pickling of the onion.  *This can be done earlier in the day if you like*

Heat olive oil in your pan, add shrimp and lightly season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes.  Cook until shrimp are pink and tails curve inside. Squeeze 1/4 of the lime over the shrimp.  Remove from heat and set aside.  With a clean pan ( I use a two burner griddle), heat tortillas until flexible without cracking.

Remove tails from shrimp and pile on the toppings of your choice. Squeeze on some fresh lime, eat and enjoy…YUM!

Are there any recipes that you are looking for?  Let me know and I will see if I have a good one to share.

P.S. Did you know that all of the jams from For the Love of June are gluten-free?!?

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