The Time I Went Away

I went away for a year. I’ve decided I’m ready to tell you where I’ve been.

It’s been a year. I can say that in so many ways. It’s been a year since I blogged, a year since I shared my recipes and stories and silly things. It’s been a year. Like, it’s been the year of years. The highest highs. The lowest lows. The biggest leaps. The biggest yearnings to God from the deepest, rawest parts of my heart. The biggest answers. The biggest losses. And a gift like no other.

It’s been a year of very boring food. Sorry, folks, but that’s the truth. If you come here for gluten-free inspiration, you’ll be sad to know there was a disproportionate amount of gluten-free chicken fingers, little smokie sausages, and potatoes lazily baked in the microwave, dressed with a pathetic little dollop of butter and pre-shredded cheese. 

When I left you last, I was gloriously making camp-side gluten-free delicacies and tasty treats. I talked about the peaches and the meatloaf and the fun paper plates. I failed to mention the fertility medicine’s hot flashes that, coupled with the 100-plus heat of the day, almost caused me to pass out several times. Or that just weeks prior, I sat in a doctor’s office with The Professor and learned there was a five-percent chance of every having a baby without medical intervention.

By the time I was working on the camping posts, I’d been on the medicine a few weeks. It was a strong and nasty drug, as fertility meds are known to be. But hey, when you’re tricking your body to artificially perform every reproductive task it should do on its own, you deal with it. The meds became stronger and stronger with each dose – both the dosage was increased and they had a cumulative effect – and soon I was on survival mode, both mentally and physically. No more blogging. No more Swoon Designs projects. No more social life. No more creative dinners. But lots of crying. Poor Professor. He was a trooper.

But it was all good. Before, I would have felt like a failure. But I didn’t, honestly. I felt like a warrior, stealing herself for battle, fighting for something bigger than my blog posts. Like those new Disney princesses or something.

A few months later, I lay awake in bed, waiting, wondering and praying my heart out. During the month I endured the meds, the shots, the embarrassing doctor’s appointments that had somehow become routine. Now all there was to do was wait until the appointed moment to check to see if our efforts worked. Finally at 5 a.m., I tiptoed out of bed, slipped into the guest bathroom so I wouldn’t wake up the professor, and peed on a stick. And this happened.

test

 

It was a moment like no other. Like when your knees buckle under you, but because of something good, not something bad. An answer to so many prayers. I cried, I took pictures, and then walked softly into our bedroom and whispered into The Professor’s ear, “I’m pregnant.” He was asleep and he confusedly gave me a high five. The Professor has a history of inappropriate gestures at important moments (don’t get me started about our first kiss or on one of early dates where he shook my hand when he saw me), so I went with it and high-fived him back, and slipped into bed to snuggle. And everything was right with the world.

I called my doctor the next morning and they rushed me in, hugs all around, and on to the blood work to start monitoring the pregnancy. The Professor and I talked logistics – cancel his school trip over the summer. The baby will be here by that time. Should we tell our family in two-and-a-half months at Thanksgiving? 

A few days later, tears welling up in my eyes, I listened over the phone as my doctor explained that the blood work showed that I wouldn’t stay pregnant. As lovingly and gently as she could, she told me to wait for it to end.

It took a week. It wasn’t a normal period. I went from not bleeding to blood pouring out of me, puddling into my shoes. I cried in my office and then went home to shower. I curled in bed and put to sleep all the dreams I had for this child. 

There aren’t any nice ways to describe a miscarriage. It’s not sad. It’s not hard. It’s not unfortunate. Those don’t do it justice. It’s death. Death, plain and simple. Death inside of you. It’s not just your knees buckling, but your whole body buckling, unwilling, unable to hold you up. It was a death we grieved, me especially. 

This was a battle, and we knew what we signed up for. We lost the pregnancy so early, we were able to try again the next month. So we did. Another cycle. Another set of drugs. Another insemination. 

Four weeks later, it was 5 a.m. again. It was time to take the walk to the guest bathroom and pee on the stick. I did. The same thing happened. Excitement, hope, and another loss. Another death deep inside me. Another baby we’ll meet someday in heaven. Dreams unrealized, hope delayed.

It was worse now than the day we were told we’d only have a five percent chance of getting pregnant without medical help. Now we had medical help. I had a team of doctors and nurses and PAs who I saw sometimes three times a week. We knew each other. I could look at an ultrasound and actually know what I was seeing. I could eyeball follicle diameter. We had all the medical help, and what we learned is we could get pregnant, but we couldn’t stay pregnant. And that seemed hopeless.

We decided one more try and then we’d take a break for a little while. By now, our budget was stretched thin. My parents were coming up to visit a lot since I was too sick from the meds to do house work and cooking. They conveniently had groceries in tow each time they came.

This time, I’d done some research and asked to add progesterone to our cocktail of drugs. The internets say low progesterone can cause early miscarriages and it wouldn’t hurt anything. Four weeks later. 5 a.m. Another test. It was positive again. By this time, I was callous and cautious and maybe a bit bitter. No pictures of the positive test. I glanced at it, winced with the anticipation of another month of pain, and threw the test away.

But something happened. The first day’s blood work looked positive. Two days later even better. Two days after that, even better. Two weeks after that, the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard. A heart beat. Two weeks after that, still a heart beat. If we could make it two more weeks, to 10 weeks, and there was still a heart beat, we would be out of the woods and back in the general population of risk. A 10 weeks, we heard it again. Eight weeks after that, “it” became a “he.” 

Eventually I looked like this – taken on my due date.

due date

Eight weeks ago, we welcomed our son into the world. He’s here. He’s beautiful and perfect and I love him with a fierce and beautiful intensity, so great that it took me by surprise.

Our journey to parenthood wasn’t nearly the journey that some endure, and for that we are so thankful. It still was the most difficult thing we’ve ever done. 

I’ve learned a lot of things. One of those is to have grace with myself. That extends to the blog. I’d like to do more blog posts, specifically about fertility treatment, infertility, childbirth. His birth was scary and ended in an emergency c-section.There are so many stories – both lighthearted and serious – to share. They’ll come slowly and irregularly. There are beautiful stories of how God sustained us, how friends loved us and how we made it through.

I just invented a new salad. That might appear someday. It had roasted pears and a whole-grain mustard vinegrette and bleu cheese and candied pecans. Maybe some posts on all the make-ahead meals I made and have since eaten. Maybe some more cat stories, although Charlie is an only cat. Pippa joined the circle of life. First by preferring to be outside at night to catch mice. Later by being eaten by an owl. 

But for now, I am here, listening to the sweet coos and cries and occasional screams of an answered prayer.

A Few Things

1. Duck Dynasty Season 3 comes out on DVD in a few days. The beards. The river. The camo. Be still my heart.

When I bought season 2 on its release day, the cashier asked me if it was for my husband. I thought about lying and saying yes, but I proudly said no. I love that show with my whole heart.

2. Getting my annual haircut on Thursday. Suggestions?

Warning, my hair easily becomes too short. And when that happens, I look like the lady in the Dilbert comics with triangle hair.

3. I’ve been killing it at the gym lately. Eight pounds g-o-n-e. Boom.

4. Speaking of healthy choices, in case you think I have it all together in the culinary world and every night we eat a home-cooked dinner with homemade salad dressing and freshly baked gluten-free confections, let me set you straight. Last night we had gluten-free frozen chicken fingers, gluten-free mac and cheese from a box (I cannot lie. I love me some squeeze cheese) and frozen sweet peas that I had to pour boiling water over because they had frozen together in one block after being partially defrosted several times when moonlighting as an ice pack.

5. It really has been a year since I got my hair cut, not counting bang trims. Maybe longer. I think I got bangs last April. So a year and a few months.

6. I’m growing out my bangs. I’ve decided that my will to have Zooey Deschanel bangs is not as strong as the willpower of my cowlicks. And every time I did my bangs, they looked great. But only in the mirror. Then I’d embark to the wide world and instantly my bangs would go all wonky. The pictures. Oh the pictures. Also, my buddy/bang trimmer quit to have a baby. The best part of my bang trim was gabbing for 15 minutes. What’s with that? Priorities, Kelly!

7. We started free-feeding Charlie instead of feeding him on a schedule. I guess he’s happy because he stopped pooping on the garage floor. He’s now eating a little more than before. Yes, I know. His weight will surely kill him. Even so, his life expectancy is now greatly extended from when he was pooping in the garage – if you know what I mean.

I explained this to the vet. She met the decision with disapproval until she listed off a dozen ideas to help him lose weight and I had tried every one of them and failed. We had already even attempted her suggestion of kitty cardio time chasing the laser pointer. We tried that. He chases it for about a minute and then lays on his back and follows the dot upside down with his eyes.

What can I say? Charlie, he’s consistent.

8. Next week is salad dressing week. Be looking for two great salad dressing recipes.

9. If you’re growing basil, you’re really going to like salad dressing week. If you’re not, you’re going to be stuck re-examining your priorities, your life decisions, your very soul.

10. Pippa and Charlie went to the vet last weekend. Charlie laid on the floor on his back and impressed the vet with his stellar personality. Pippa – ummm…she did her best impression of a feral cat. And I was like, “Pippa, you were not raised by wolves.” But that didn’t help. Then this happened.

Yes, I know I’m evil for stopping to take a picture in her hour of distress. Sorry Pippa.

 pippa

 And when I say evil, I mean that I am probably the best cat parent ever.

Lemon Almond Blueberry Gluten-Free Pancakes

skillet logo tablecloth (1)It is the last week of the Great Gluten-Free Campout. It’s been such a fun series and you’re now equipped with a bunch of great recipes!

Make sure to check out all the other contributors of the Great Gluten-Free Campout!

Breakfast: Me!

Snacks and Sides: Macaroni Salad and Veggie Packets from Gluten Freedom and Loving It

On the Fire: Campfire Chicken Fajitas from Angela’s Kitchen

Dessert: S’Mores with Homemade Gluten-Free Graham Crackers from Better Batter

Lemon Almond Blueberry Gluten-Free Pancakes

 I’m hosting breakfast this week. And I won’t lie, this might be my favorite recipe of the entire series.

Whether you make these camping or on a lazy Saturday morning, these pancakes will not disappoint. Really, they are perfect. Take this recipe and substitute the flavors to make any kind of pancakes you want! I’m pairing lemon and blueberry flavorings because they’re my favorite.

gluten free pancakes 12 | Accidental OkieAre you ready? Here’s a peek of the final product. Is your mouth watering yet?

Please note that when I made this, I halved the recipe. So if you’re wondering why I’m telling you to use a lot more ingredients than the pictures show, that’s why. 

gluten free pancakes 2 | Accidental OkieAssemble your ingredients. Fresh blueberries are in season and inexpensive, so I used fresh. If they’re not in season and not inexpensive, frozen will work too.

gluten free pancakes 5 | Accidental OkieZest two regular-sized lemons. Yes, I brought a zester camping. Because I am that cool.

Zest is the very top layer of the fruit. A zester helps you extract it while keeping that bitter white rind far away from your perfect pancakes. 

gluten free pancakes 6 | Accidental OkieThe result is this bright zest full of essential oils that provide flavor like nothing else. Give the zest a few rough chops so the strips aren’t too unwieldy.

gluten free pancakes 7 | Accidental OkieSqueeze the juice of one lemon into about two cups of milk and let sit for a few minutes. This is going to make the most intense, lemony buttermilk. You never really know how much milk you’ll need when making pancakes – everything from the type of flour mix you use, the humidity, the position of Mars in relation to Jupiter. It all seems to matter. You might use all the milk, you might not. You might use a lot more. 

If you need more milk, don’t worry about making more buttermilk. Just use milk. The juice of one lemon is enough lemony goodness for one batch of pancakes.

gluten free pancakes 3 | Accidental OkieI love cutting flour with almond flour (also known as almond meal) in pancakes. Almond flour is simply blanched and ground almonds. Pancakes, no matter how little syrup I use, are always too sweet and leave me with a headache. Using half almond flour lowers the glycemic index because you’re using half protein-rich almonds. Paired with a great gluten-free flour like Better Batter still provides the lightness you want in pancakes. 

gluten free pancakes 4 | Accidental OkieAdd some baking powder and sugar and mix up the dry ingredients.

gluten free pancakes 1 | Accidental OkieNow it’s time to add eggs and milk. Add milk until it has a smooth, thin consistency. In any other recipe, I’d say, “Make it the consistency of pancake batter.” But if you don’t know the consistency of pancake batter, that wouldn’t exactly be helpful.

Make it easy to pour.

gluten free pancakes 8 | Accidental OkieNow fold in blueberries and slivered almonds and lemon zest.

gluten free pancakes 9 | Accidental OkiePour batter in 1/4 cup batches on a hot, greased griddle.

I like to use half oil and half butter – about a tablespoon of each. The butter gives a wonderful flavor and the oil’s high smoke temperature keeps the butter from burning.

gluten free pancakes 10 | Accidental OkieGluten-free pancakes and pancakes with almond flour don’t always bubble, which is usually the sign it’s time to flip. So take a peek after a minute or so and make sure they’re not burning.

gluten free pancakes 13 | Accidental OkieServe with syrup and butter and eat immediately. Enjoy the crunch of the almonds, the fresh zing of the lemon and the fruity blueberries!

Whether you’re in the woods or in your favorite PJ’s, these pancakes will get your day started right!

gluten free pancakes 14 | Accidental OkieAlso, just a public service announcement: when you’re making pancakes in a foreign environment with different heat sources, don’t expect the first few pancakes to come out perfectly. But soon, you’ll get the temperature figured out and they will be great!

This is okay though, because you can snack on these mess ups while you cook.

Lemon Almond Blueberry Pancakes
Serves 4
Pancakes with a low glycemic index that have a bite, a crunch and zing! What could be better?
Print
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. Zest of 2 lemons
  2. Juice of 1 lemon
  3. Milk - start with two cups
  4. 1 c. gluten-free flour like Better Batter with xantham gum (not pancake mix)
  5. 1 c. almond flour
  6. 2 tbsp sugar
  7. 2 tsp baking powder
  8. 2 eggs
  9. 1.5 c. (or more if you want!) fresh blueberries
  10. 1/2 c. slivered almonds
  11. Butter and Canola oil
Instructions
  1. Zest lemons
  2. Juice lemons into milk and let it sit for a few minutes
  3. Mix dry ingredients
  4. Mix eggs and part of the milk and stir. Add the additional milk until it has a thin consistency.
  5. Fold in the blueberries and almonds.
  6. Heat griddle with a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of oil and cook pancakes, flipping them over after they're golden on one side.
  7. Serve with butter and syrup or butter and lemon curd.
Notes
  1. Not gluten-free? No problem! Just use regular flour in place of the gluten-free flour mix. Expect that the pancakes still won't bubble when ready to flip because of the almond flour.
The Accidental Okie http://theaccidentalokie.com/

 

 

Shop ‘Til You Drop

sarah sproutsLast time I told you all about how I was one of two semi-finalists for a shopping spree at Sprouts Farmer’s Market. Although I didn’t win the big prize, I won a substantial gift card that paid for a lot of groceries for more than a month.

My original plan for the gift card was to supplement my normal grocery budget by only buying produce, meat, sale items and a few staples every week, in the hopes that I could use the gift card for six or seven months. Then life and a lot of unexpected bills happened, and I used the card for almost all my grocery shopping. What a blessing it was!

All too soon, there was only $100 left on the gift card. Sad, right? Even though I’d been using the card for weekly grocery shopping, I still wanted it to help our budget in the long term. That’s when I devised a plan of attack.  I would use that last bit of money to royally stock our pantry with staples and go-to items. It was the shopping trip dreams are made of.

After going through our pantry, I split my dream shopping trip items into three categories:

  • Expensive staples we’re always running out of – like extra virgin olive oil and gluten-free pretzels
  • Quick meals – like ingredients to make pasta
  • Splurges – I don’t need a few bars of chocolate…wait who am I kidding? Of course I do. Other splurges were things like a tube of high-quality tomato paste and a bottle of chipotle Tabasco sauce.

Accidental Okie Shopping Spree 1

And here it is…the bounty of my dream pantry-stocking shopping trip.  Oh, and it cost a little more like $150.

I’ve taken individual pictures of many of the items, but here is a quick rundown, left to right: Balsamic vinegar, raspberry balsamic vinegar, two bottles of extra virgin olive oil, grape seed oil, four packages of gluten-free pasta in various shapes, rice, coconut milk, whole-grain mustard, local honey, almond butter, dijon mustard, three bottles of chicken broth, chocolate, three bottles of high-quality marinara sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, gluten-free pretzels, gluten-free crackers and cookies, bell peppers, Tabasco sauce, bulk almonds and bulk pinto beans.

Oh and wouldn’t it have been helpful if I’d closed the back door and moved those chairs before the picture?  

Accidental Okie Shopping Spree 2

 I also got some meat, but I put that up as soon as I got home. Bacon, chicken thighs and ground beef. That ham hock’s for a big pot of beans.

Accidental Okie Shopping Spree 3

White and brown jasmine rice, how I love thee! I also grabbed several boxes of Schar pasta. It’s my favorite pasta brand, and Italy’s number one according to the box. I love their tagliatelle.

Accidental Okie Shopping Spree 4Here’s where it gets really exciting – local honey, pure maple syrup, dijon and whole grain mustard. These are things I use all the time in cooking, whether it be for pork rubs or salad dressings. It always hurts the budget on shopping trips I have to buy a new $10 bottle of maple syrup, so having it on hand is amazing. Also, thanks Sprouts for carrying local honey. Way to be awesome.

Accidental Okie Shopping Spree 5This is my favorite chick stock. Buy it. Use it. Heck, bathe in it if you want. Allow it to change your life.

Accidental Okie Shopping Spree 7I splurged and got some nice pasta sauce. Emergency pasta dinners are ready to go.

Accidental Okie Shopping Spree 8Glutino is probably my favorite gluten-free brand. Their bagel chips are as good as anything with gluten and our house is seldom without a bag of their pretzels. Then I got Schar shortbread cookies. You’ve seen the amazing things I do to those

Accidental Okie Shopping Spree 9File this one under necessity. These are my two favorite chocolate bars.

Accidental Okie Shopping Spree 10Sprouts has such high-quality, inexpensive produce and their produce workers are so knowledgable. They had bell peppers on sale, so I obviously bought 20. I mean five.

Produce isn’t really a pantry staple, especially because I use it up fast. However, you can dice bell peppers and freeze them. And that totally counts as a staple.

Accidental Okie Shopping Spree 12

Accidental Okie Shopping Spree 11

The last thing I used my gift card for was a very special Easter dinner. My dad came up because my sister and mom were en route to Massachusetts. I made a rack of lamb, roasted parsnips and carrots, roasted asparagus, marinated tomatoes and a Schar gluten-free sourdough baguette. My dad, who is not gluten-free, said the baguette was one of the best he’d ever had.

My gift card is now empty. I keep it in my wallet, though. It’s a reminder of a lot of things – of friends and community, of God’s provision, and of the time I got to stock my pantry full of staples for a busy day, a rainy day, or a day I just need some chocolate.

Who am I kidding. That chocolate is long gone.

Experts Series: How to Travel Alone…Even if You’re a Girl

accidental okie alex travel 6

It’s the next installment of my summer Experts Series featuring cooler, more interesting people than me.

This week, I’m excited for you to meet Alex. Alex and I are pretty close. You’d be pretty good friends with her too because she’s just that great. Among Alex’s many talents is her persistence in keeping in touch with me. Sometimes I fall into a cave of solitude and she comes and finds me and reminds me to interact with the rest of the world. In the rare moments I call her and don’t get a response for days, I inevitably hear these words when we do finally talk, “Sorry. I was out of the country.” To which I always reply, “Of course you were.”

Alex is a fearless world traveler with more stamps in her passport than most will get in a lifetime. All the pictures below are Alex’s. She loves to travel and is savvy about the whole operation, particularly about going at it alone.

I hope you enjoy Alex’s tips on how to travel, even if you’re a girl.

Ask people the one thing they really want to do, and most would agree it’s to travel.  There’s something about getting outside your everyday and exploring God’s amazing creation. I love my life, but I live for the next adventure.

This isn’t easy when you are a girl and don’t always have someone to join in your grand adventures. Over the years and after many trips and even a four month internship in Spain, I’ve learned that if you want to travel, you can’t always wait for the right timing or even the right partner in crime.

In my travels, I’ve been to: New Zealand, Austria, Virgin Islands, Switzerland, France, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Belize, Guatemala, St. Lucia, Germany, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, England, Canada, Kenya and a few others. This includes going to Chile, Portugal, Wales, and Spain all alone.

I can’t say it’s ideal to travel alone as a girl, but that should never stop anyone from living a dream or making a few memories.  All it takes to get started is picking a place and making a plan. It’s never going to be perfect or easy, but that’s what traveling is about…expecting the unexpected! 

As a girl who loves to travel, I want to share just a few of the tips that have helped me the most, especially when having to do it alone. 

accidental okie alex travel 4

Decide where to go

Is it national or international?  Don’t let the thought of having to get a passport or maybe even a visa stop you from crossing the border.  Maybe you worry about getting lost, not knowing the culture or more importantly not being able to communicate.  None of these things should ever stop you because no matter where you go, you are always going to encounter the unfamiliar.  You have to put yourself in the mindset that you are there to experience a country and not be an outside observer.  As long as you are prepared to engage and come with a plan, you will be fine. It’s all about the attitude.
accidental okie alex travel 5

Always be prepared

As a girl traveling alone, you can never be too prepared.  Do your research, ask questions, make a plan. One of my favorite resources is TripAdvisor.com because you get some great reviews from actual travelers and don’t have to rely on other sites that just want to sell you something.

Some other things to consider when traveling alone and to get together before you take off are:

  • What do you want to see?
  • Do you want adventure or relaxation?
  • Transportation Plan/Backup Plan
  • Get a guide book or get familiar with the safe areas of the place you are going
  • Leave your agenda with someone at home…let them know your schedule along the way.
  • Always carry some cash…not every place has an ATM.  Most of the time you should be able to pull out cash or use your credit card but they will probably have a fee.
  • Be aware that you may not have a ton of access to internet, but know that most foreign countries have great internet cafes…perfect to connect or even get some local recommendations.
  • Make a copy of all your documents front and back and email them to yourself and family member…passport, credit cards, driver’s license, debit card.
  • Don’t wear fancy jewelry…or anything that will draw extra attention to you.

One thing that I would definitely say has been a highlight of my solo trips has been joining up with some kind of tour group.  Even if you don’t like travel groups, most countries have free walking tours to join for a few hours to explore the city and get you familiar.  Plus, they are usually pretty inexpensive because they are supported by tips and not a set price.  Look up the tour before you go and reserve a spot.  I have joined several and have been impressed every time by the guides and also the fun people that you can meet.  

accidental okie alex travel 2

You are never alone

One of the most daunting things about traveling alone are the times where you don’t have anyone to talk to, to laugh with or maybe even freak out with.  I know the thought of exploring alone sounds scary, but it can actually be a bit of a blessing sometimes.  Not only do you get to do what you want to do, but it opens you up to meeting new people.  You’d be surprised how open people are to you when they see you traveling alone.  Take advantage of the opportunity to start a few conversations and maybe even make a new friend. 

accidental okie alex travel 7

Be Smart

As I mentioned before, you can definitely expect the unexpected.  It’s not always a bad thing, and truth be told, you are likely to get a pretty good laugh when looking back. 

Again, when you are alone do your best to blend in.  Stick around the areas with a lot of people, don’t wear anything flashy and be ready to be approached.  You would never imagine, but people are more likely to come up and talk to you while traveling.  I look back and think about the time in Greece where someone asked me to marry him in the middle of the metro station, the time in Spain where I was approached for the time and ended up in a conversation about the history of America, and even when I made a friend from Australia who I stayed in touch with for over a year. 

It’s a mixed bag of experiences…but don’t freak out…just take it all in.

I sure hope that someone reads this and sees what kind of possibilities are out there and maybe takes the next step in planning a fun get away…whether it be half way across the world or even just a short drive away.  Once you get started…you will never want to stop.  Next stop for me is Brazil and Argentina!

accidental okie alex travel 3

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget, if you work up the courage to go on a trip based on reading this article, and everything in the world goes wrong and you think you might be part of a Chevy Chase vacation movie, it’s not my fault. That stuff just happens sometimes. Be prepared, use common sense and listen to your intuition.

Rick’s Cowboy Meatloaf

skillet logo tablecloth (1)It is week three of the Great Gluten-Free Campout! I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far! From me, you’ve seen an advanced and beginner’s version of campout peach pie, and an amazingly easy loaded baked potato salad with a secret ingredient that might just blow your mind. Today, you get to see my main dish.

I hope you’ve also been visiting my partners in crime in this series to view their yummy creations.

Today’s recipe lineup is exciting!

Breakfast: Campfire Biscuits and Gravy from Better Batter

Side: List of Unrefrigerated Snacks from Angela’s Kitchen

On the Fire (Main): Meatloaf from me!

Dessert: Stuffed Bananas from Gluten Freedom and Loving It

 

 Rick’s Cowboy Meatloaf

Cowboy Meatloaf 9 Accidental OkieMeatloaf in a Dutch oven is a good thing. Unlike the time you decided to fend off mosquitoes with sheer will power, you will not regret this camping choice.

Cowboy Meatloaf 1 Accidental OkieStart by cubing four pieces of gluten-free bread. Any gluten-free bread will do.

You can also use breadcrumbs, but I prefer bread.

 Cowboy Meatloaf 3 Accidental OkieNext, if you’re using bread, soak it in about half a cup of milk. After a few minutes, it’ll be goopy and slop-like. That’s a good thing. Skip this step if you’re using breadcrumbs.

Cowboy Meatloaf 2 Accidental OkieWhile the milk and bread are doing their thang, do your thang. Chop and dice all the wonderful veggies. Start by dicing the garlic.

Cowboy Meatloaf 4 Accidental OkieAnd chopping two big, juicy tomatoes with their seeds. Summer tomatoes and camping – it’s a match made in heaven. Can I get an amen?

Cowboy Meatloaf 5 Accidental OkieAnd rough choping some red onions. When I say “rough chop,” I mean don’t worry about the pieces being super uniform or super small. They’ll cook down in the meatloaf and will provide a nice crunch and subtle flavor. This is a rustic dish, so we can be rustic.

Cowboy Meatloaf 6 Accidental OkieSometimes I forget to buy cilantro for dishes, and I think, “Oh, it’s just cilantro. Not a big deal.”

Now is not that moment. Cilantro is the star of this dish. It is mucho importante. You simply must add cilantro. Lots of it.

You see, this meatloaf doesn’t have a topping. Most toppings create flavor by playing harsh mustard, tangy ketchup and sweet sugar together. This meatloaf achieves that balance of flavors by pairing lots of cilantro with brown sugar. It is amazing.

Cowboy Meatloaf 7 Accidental OkieOops - Rick and I both forgot to bring a mixing bowl. This is a the dishwashing tub (thoroughly cleaned before and after this use).

Mix the meat and veggies, a few eggs, sugar and and soaked bread with two cups of sharp grated cheddar. Add a generous amount of Worcestershire sauce.

Cowboy Meatloaf 8 Accidental OkieAnd mix.

Place it in a foil-lined Dutch oven.

Accidental Okie Camping 6Now it’ll cook in the Dutch oven with about 20 coals on top and eight on bottom, which will achieve an internal oven temperature of about 400 degrees. Replace some of the top coals halfway through cooking.

Cowboy Meatloaf 9 Accidental OkieAnd here is the result.

Sorry for the bright and blurry picture. It was so bright when I took this that I couldn’t really see anything.

We were really camping outside for this recipe. It is legit. And sometimes there are super bright pictures to prove it.

Cowboy Meatloaf 10 Accidental OkieServe hot with your favorite camping sides!

Rick's Cowboy Meatloaf
Print
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
1 hr 30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
1 hr 30 min
Ingredients
  1. 1.5 c. breadcrumbs - OR - 4 slices g.f. bread soaked in about 1/2 c. milk
  2. 4 cloves garlic, diced
  3. 2 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
  4. 2 small or one large red onion
  5. 1/2 c. cilantro, chopped - measured after it's chopped
  6. 2 lbs lean ground beef
  7. 1/4 c. Worcestershire sauce
  8. 2 tsp. kosher salt
  9. 1 c. brown sugar
  10. 2 c. sharp cheddar, grated
  11. 3 eggs
Instructions
  1. Tear apart bread and soak in milk.
  2. Chop vegetables.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together and place in a foil-lined Dutch oven.
  4. Cook on 400 for 1.5 hours.
  5. In a Dutch oven, 400 degrees is achieved by placing 20 coals on lid of the oven and 8 on bottom. Replace about half the top coals after an hour.
The Accidental Okie http://theaccidentalokie.com/
 

The Time I Won A Shopping Spree

One day, I was closing up shop at work. I checked Facebook before shutting off my computer. That’s when I saw a call to enter an essay contest to be a part of a supermarket sweep at Sprouts Farmer’s Market for their grand opening in my town.

I figured what the heck and entered the 50-word essay contest about why I was Sprouts’ biggest fan. Because I’ve shopped at the Sprouts near my parents’ house in Dallas, I really am Sprouts’ biggest fan. So I wrote a funny little essay in five minutes about how thankful I was that Sprouts finally got my ESP messages to come to my town and how I was going to gorge myself on New Zealand lamb and giant bell peppers. Hey, I figured, that master’s degree in professional writing has to be worth something, right?

Then I pushed send and forgot all about it.

Until a few weeks later when I got an email that I’d won.

That was not expected.

I was one of two finalists picked to have two minutes in a store by myself to pick out groceries. That’s a lot of pressure.

I strategized for days, coming up with items that could fill our pantry. I was excited, thrilled. Winning came the month our finances went cray-cray with thousands…yes, THOUSANDS…of dollars in unexpected taxes, doctor’s bills and repairs on The Professor’s ancient SUV. And at that time, we were still blissfully unaware my tires would need to be replaced and this ball joint thingy holding my wheel to my car was about to break off. Oh, and that our house was being eaten by termites.

A supermarket sweep was a huge blessing, and I had my game face on.

On the day of the sweep, I went to Sprouts at the appointed time and found out  I was completely. utterly. wrong.

This was not me running through the store to get my supplies. This was a supermarket sweep like that game show I used to watch as a kid where people throw frozen turkeys into their carts.

This was me running through the store at the same time as a competitor, grabbing the most expensive items possible in two minutes with the goal of having the most expensive bill.

I wasn’t a winner. I was a semi-finalist. There would be a winner. And a loser.

I froze.

I hate competition. As a kid on my soccer team (go Orange Crush!), I’d never play because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. In high school on the club swim team, I begged to not have to actually compete. All I wanted to do was go to practice and enjoy swimming. And don’t even get me started on kindergarten gymnastics.

The world was spinning and I was losing all ability to think. What would I do? How? And now that I looked, Sprouts’ prices were really low. 

My spiral of self-doubt was interrupted by a familiar voice calling my name from across the store. I looked up and saw four of my good friends who came to cheer me on.

I was saved!

One of these friends is my sister-in-law, Amber. Unlike my lackluster athletic career, Amber was an NCAA athlete. The stories of her competitiveness are the stuff of legend. Amber, Amy, Rebekah and Janet walked the store with me and helped me strategize. The vitamins and meat were off limits, so we settled on an expensive dog food and infant formula plan. All to soon, I was at the go position with my competitor and we were off!

Two minutes flew by. I loaded up on dog food, never thinking about putting bags at the bottom tray of the cart. Then I went to infant formula where my competitor had already been. I grabbed some other expensive infant items and then loaded up on pricey organic almond butter. They were $18 each, and two fell onto the ground into a giant glassy mess. I kept going and got to the checkout station early. I didn’t think to grab any pricey cashier items in my remaining seconds because I hated every second of this and wanted it to be over.

sarah sprouts

I look happy there, but on the inside I’m screaming, “Someone get me out of here! I just want to practice swimming, and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and don’t even try to make me do the splits!” 

In the end, my competitor and I both managed to put more than $800 of merchandise into our carts in two minutes.  But I lost by about $15, or one jar of organic almond butter.

I was bummed and sad that I’d taken off work and had nothing to show for it. Thankfully the nice people at Sprouts had other plans. We both won substantial giftcards. Substantial as in more than a month’s worth of groceries. She just got $100 more than me. 

Afterwords, I found out that her essay was about how she was a single mom struggling to afford groceries, and I was glad that she won. Also, she was new to the area and there at the store all alone.

Looking back on that day and my cheering squad, I feel so blessed. To be sure, the giant gift card was a huge blessing that helped with groceries during the months when we didn’t know if we’d have enough to cover all our expenses (which we always miraculously did).

No, as I think about the blessings of that day, I think about my cheering squad, my community, the people who have helped make this red-dirt land home.

Stay tuned on Thursday for part two where I explain how I tried to use my gift card to be the biggest help in our grocery budget.

Experts Series: Paula’s Healthy Spaghetti Bolognese

PaulaPaula is one of my favorite people in the whole world. She was my host mum when I lived in New Zealand. And since that first day when I stumbled into her house, travel worn and exhausted and she cooked a big baked chicken, we’ve been buddies. Now she’s more like my big sister or cool aunt. Her family has become part of mine.

Every evening in New Zealand after the children went to bed, we would watch an episode of Gilmore Girls. We watched almost the entire series. And nothing bonds two people like witty banter from Lorelai and Rory.

We also share a love of cooking and I’m thrilled that Paula is going to share her expertise with all of us!

Paula is a nutritionist and before that, she was a food scientist. She’s adept at stretching her grocery budget while still using fresh ingredients. Her spaghetti Bolognese is especially amazing because she includes tons of vegetables into her mince (ground beef), to make it flavorful, healthy and dollar stretching.

Her son, Daniel, is a budding photographer. I hope you enjoy this wonderful recipe and beautiful pictures all the way from New Zealand!

 

Paula’s Healthy Spaghetti Bolognese

Paula's Healthy Mince 21 - Accidental Okie

Paula's Healthy Mince 2 - Accidental OkieStart by assembling your ingredients.

Paula's Healthy Mince 3 - Accidental OkieNext, finely chop two onions.

Paula's Healthy Mince 5 - Accidental OkieYou want a uniform, small chop.

Paula's Healthy Mince 8 - Accidental Okie

Now wash and peel the carrots and grate them. You can use either zucchini (courgettes) or spinach. If you’re going with zucchini, grate it now too.

Paula's Healthy Mince 6 - Accidental OkiePut the onions in a large dutch oven with some oil to start sautéing for about five minutes. Keep stirring so they don’t burn.

Paula's Healthy Mince 7 - Accidental OkieNow your house should smell of sautéed onions, which is one of the best smells God ever made. Add garlic that’s been mashed through a garlic press. Let the garlic cook for just a minute.

Paula's Healthy Mince 9 - Accidental OkieMove the onions to one side and add the mince (ground beef). Separate it with a wooden spoon so it breaks into big chunks.

Also, I have to say that I wish in America, we called it mince, not ground beef. It’s much less repulsive sounding. Let’s all start calling it mince.

Paula's Healthy Mince 10 - Accidental OkieAfter browning for a few minutes, it should look like this.

Paula's Healthy Mince 12 - Accidental OkieNow it’s time to add a can of diced tomatoes.

Paula's Healthy Mince 13 - Accidental OkieAdd tomato paste, ketchup and sugar.

Paula's Healthy Mince 17 - Accidental OkieAdd the beautiful carrots and spinach (or zucchini). At this stage, you can also add two sticks of chopped celery and a cup of chopped mushrooms. As you can see, this is a great recipe for vegetarians who can modify by eliminating the beef and upping the veggie content.

If you’re using dried herbs, add them now.

Paula's Healthy Mince 18 - Accidental OkieRed lentils are added after they’ve been rinsed and picked through to find lentil impostors, usually little stones.

Now add a touch of water and close the lid so there’s just a little gap for steam to escape. Let it cook for 30 minutes to an hour. Use this break to chop your fresh herbs, if you are using fresh herbs. Otherwise, go be productive. Or not.

Paula's Healthy Mince 19 - Accidental OkieAfter 30 minutes, this is what it looks like.  Add salt, pepper and herbs. Stir and cook for another five minutes. Taste once more and adjust as needed.

Paula's Healthy Mince 20 - Accidental OkieServe on pasta with a touch of parmesan cheese. 

It’s your choice – you can tell your guests (or kiddos) just how healthy this pasta sauce is, or it can be our little secret!

  1. Paula's Healthy Spaghetti Bolognese
    Serves 6
    Print
    Prep Time
    15 min
    Cook Time
    1 hr
    Prep Time
    15 min
    Cook Time
    1 hr
    Ingredients
    1. 2 white onions
    2. 1 Tbs oil
    3. 3 cloves garlic
    4. 1 pound lean mince
    5. 1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes
    6. 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
    7. 3 Tbs tomato paste
    8. 2 Tbs tomato sauce
    9. 1 tsp sugar
    10. 2 large carrots
    11. 2 courgettes (zucchini) or ½ bunch spinach
    12. ¼ cup red lentils
    13. ¼ cup water
    14. 1 ½ tsp salt
    15. 2 shakes of finely ground black pepper
    16. A bunch of fresh Thyme & Oregano
    17. A bunch of fresh Parsley if you have it
    18. ¾ packet of vermicelli pasta
    Instructions
    1. 1. Chop onions & fry in oil until soft (about 5 min).
    2. 2. Wash carrots & grate them. Peel the courgettes & grate them too. If you are using spinach, wash it well & then chop. Keep stirring the onions so they don’t burn.
    3. 3. Peel garlic & crush it in the garlic crusher. Add to onions & fry for about 1 minute – until you can smell that lovely garlic smell : )
    4. 4. Scoop the onions to the side of the pot, turn up the heat.
    5. 5. Add the mince & crush it with a wooden spoon to break up the lumps & brown it.
    6. 6. Add the can of tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, tomato sauce/ketchup, sugar, carrots & courgettes or spinach.
    7. 7. Wash the red lentils in a sieve & add to mince.
    8. 8. Add water & stir well. Put the lid on, but leave a little gap for steam to escape.
    9. 9. Wash fresh herbs well (soak in a bowl of water for a while), then chop, set aside for later. If you are using dried herbs, just throw them in now.
    10. 10. Cook mince for at least 30 minutes (can be up to 1 hour if you have the time), stirring often to make sure it does not burn on the bottom.
    11. 11. Add salt & black pepper to the mince.
    12. 12. Add chopped herbs to the mince. Stir mixture well & cook for another 5 minutes or so. Taste to check the seasoning is right and you’re all done!
    Notes
    1. I sometimes add 2 sticks of chopped celery & or a cup of chopped mushrooms if I have them. I used frozen spinach in this recipe, but if I’m using fresh, I don’t pre-cook it, just wash it well, chop it up & toss it in with the other veggies.
    The Accidental Okie http://theaccidentalokie.com/

Confessions of a Blonde

sarah silly copy

I thought I’d compile a list of the stupidest things I’ve ever said. This is, of course, a condensed list. I’ve said way more stupid stuff than this.

I have blonde hair. I can’t help the ditzy things that sometimes escape my lips.

It’s not my fault, really.

1. Talking to a friend about music. (Disclaimer, this happened like 10 years ago).

Me: What kind of music do you like?

Tim (shaggy hair, hipster says coolly): I’m into indie music.

Me: No way! I love Bollywood music! Have you seen Bride and Prejudice!

I start this little Bollywood dance with my hands and he looks at me like I’m certifiable.

For those who don’t know, indie music is independent music. Not Indian music like I thought.

2. Seeing a guy at school with the College shirt John Belushi wears on Animal House: (Disclaimer, I was in high school, so this was a loooooong time ago).

Me: I need one of those shirts. Were you just tired of everyone asking you where you were going to college, so you just got a shirt that says college? Where’d you get it? I’m tired of people asking about that, too. Now people will just know that I am going to college. Somewhere.

Guy: Just looks at me, partly amused and partly dumbfounded. Probably decides any number of things about me from my naivete, my basic lack of pop culture and social skills to my basic intelligence for not knowing about that iconic shirt.

Then he walked off.

Then I went to find my own College shirt. 

Then I found out about the movie. Oops.

3. Trying on an outfit to wear for an evening on the town, while living in New Zealand.

Paula (my host mum): That shirt looks smart.

Me: I’ve never really thought about this sweater making me look smart. (Now really excited.) But, I’ll put on my glasses and then I’ll look even smarter!

I go and put on my glasses to show my super smart look.

Paula: No, smart as in dressed up nicely.

Me: Oh.

So as you can see, not only do I say stupid things, but I commit. It’s sort of a problem.

Please tell me I’m not alone!

Easy Loaded Baked Potato Salad

skillet logo tablecloth (1)Welcome to week two of the Great Gluten-Free Campout! Did you enjoy Week One? If you didn’t read Week One and now you’re sad or confused or feeling left out, have no fear. Read the Series Intro and then Week One, and then you’ll be in the club. You’ll soon receive your secret handshake and official sticker.

Well, maybe not. But you will have tools, tips and new recipes to conquer gluten-free camping without fear!

This is Week Two of The Great Gluten-Free Campout, and we’ve got four more amazing gluten-free campout recipes ready for you. Here’s the lineup:

Easy Loaded Baked Potato Salad

Loaded Baked Potato Salad 10 | Accidental Okie

This potato salad has four ingredients. It can have up to six if you want to get fancy and put oil and salt on your potato before you bake it. It is easy and inexpensive and delicious. It has a secret ingredient that will make you wonder why you never thought of it before.

This potato salad doesn’t contain mayonnaise. I’m always so paranoid about mayo in food during camping. Can you imagine getting food poisoning at a campground bathroom? Shudder!

You don’t only have to make this recipe while camping, either. Make it any time you want to look like a fancy kitchen genius who labored for hours, while actually working for about 10 minutes.

Step one in loaded baked potato salad is baking potatoes. My camp cooking buddy Rick and I baked three potatoes, each with a different method to show you all the options. (Read more about Rick in this post. Not only is he a famous painter, he is also the ultimate authority on camping cooking.)  

Accidental Okie Camping 5Poke holes in a few places around the raw potato with a fork.

Loaded Baked Potato Salad 5 | Accidental OkieEach of these potatoes weighed a little over one pound.

Potato 1: We wrapped a potato that had been sprayed with cooking oil and generously sprinkled in seasoned salt in two layers of heavy-duty aluminium foil. We put directly on hot charcoal for about 40 minutes.

Potato 2: We covered in oil and seasoned salt and placed the potato in a small dutch oven and cooked with 1/3 the amount of charcoal under the oven and 2/3 on the oven lid. It baked for about an hour.

Potato 3: We microwaved it on the microwave’s potato setting and then toasted in a toaster oven to get a crunchy skin. 

Loaded Baked Potato Salad 11 | Accidental OkieYou can do any of these methods. You can even bake the potatoes at home and keep them chilled in an ice chest on the camp site. An hour before you’re ready to assemble your potato salad, just warm them up on a skillet or wrap them in foil and crisp them up over charcoal or the grill.

Do whatever you want. It doesn’t matter.

After the baked potatoes have cooled enough to handle, cut them in bite-sized diced pieces. You can keep or discard the skins.

Loaded Baked Potato Salad 3 | Accidental OkieLoaded baked potato salad needs bacon, thick-cut bacon to be exact. Otherwise this salad would have no street cred.

If you’re vegetarian, you can skip this step. If you must.

Loaded Baked Potato Salad 6 | Accidental Okie

Chop up the bacon after it’s cooled. This is another step you can do beforehand, either at home or after making breakfast. Just remember to let it cool and then chill it.

Safety first, fellow campers!

Loaded Baked Potato Salad 4 | Accidental OkieHave I ever told you how essential kitchen shears are to my kitchen tool arsenal? I have three pairs. I use them all the time. They are particularly useful for cutting several green onions at a time, just like I did here.

Okay, are you ready for the secret ingredient?

First, some history.

I invented this recipe in a moment of crisis when I had no starches for dinner except for potatoes, no desire to heat up my house by turning on the oven to make fries, and no butter, milk or cheese to make baked or mashed potatoes. But then I saw the secret ingredient and a little light bulb appeared over my head, angels started singing and a spotlight straight from heaven shone down on me.

Loaded Baked Potato Salad 7 | Accidental OkieWhat is that, you ask?

I’ll tell you.

Are you ready? Are you sitting down?

It is French onion chip dip.

No really, it is.

Not the canned, gross kind in this chip aisle, but the kind you get near the sour cream in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. The first ingredient should be sour cream. I used Hiland Dairy brand because it’s my favorite.

Why French onion dip, you ask? It is the perfect accompaniment to potato salad. It is creamy and has a nice oniony taste, but is not too overpowering. It is already seasoned to perfection. While you may have to make a few small changes, you’re not going to be lugging the entire spice rack to the lake. 

Every brand of dip is going to slightly vary in saltiness and in the strength of the onion flavoring. You may find you prefer your potato salad cut with a little sour cream or you may find you need a little more salt. Adjust as needed.

Stir the dip, potatoes, most of the bacon and most of the green onions together. Taste, adjust. Add a bit of pepper if you want or more dip if the salad is too dry for your liking. Top with the remaining bacon and onions for garnish.

Serve the salad when it’s still warm. Enjoy!

Loaded Baked Potato Salad 9 | Accidental Okie

 

Baked Potato Salad
Serves 4
Easy, four ingredients and tasty. This warm baked potato salad will hit the spot for you and guests!
Print
Ingredients
  1. 3 - 4 pounds russet potatoes
  2. Oil or oil spray
  3. Seasoned salt
  4. 5 pieces thick-cut bacon
  5. 1/2 cup chopped green onions, green and white parts
  6. 12 oz. French onion dip
Instructions
  1. (Optional) - Oil and salt the potatoes.
  2. Bake the potatoes per your preferred baking method.
  3. Fry 5 pieces of bacon until crispy. After they've cooled, chop into large, bite-sized bits. After the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them into bite-sized pieces. Cut the onions.
  4. Reserve a small amount of onions and bacon.
  5. Mix the potatoes, French onion dip, bacon and green onions until well mixed. Adjust flavorings as needed. Move to a serving bowl and top with reserved bacon and green onions.
  6. Serve warm.
The Accidental Okie http://theaccidentalokie.com/