Craziness. Because life goes on....

Discombobulated craziness. Yes, craziness in its purest form has come to reside in our home. Her name is Sonoma. And she's blue. And she's a Weimaraner. Our second. Just because.

Life was put on hold for a while. Would I work? Could I work? Would there be energy for anything besides just making it through each day? The Maroon Bells were waiting, but I was climbing a different sort of mountain that demanded not only my full dedication and concentration, but that of my loved ones around me as well. The "stuff" of life was trimmed, from my hair (shoulder length cropped to 1" long) to our routines to our budgets. All to prepare for the climb of our life. Cancer. Her2+ breast cancer....And chemo.

Amazing how pervasive the Big C's noxious cousin, Chemo, is. All thoughts and actions were sieved like we were panning for gold. And gold is what time and good health truly are. When you think either will be curtailed by so much as a minute, they become even more precious. Fortunately for me, the chemo risks outweighed the benefits and it was "suggested" that I hold off on the toxic therapy. Suggestion taken -- with all my heart!!! Honey, I snatched that suggestion and raced back to life and planning and vacations and work and love and everything else that had been put on hold for the last months.

Funny how you always think you won't put your life on hold for something, especially something negative. I'll plow right through that stumbling block. The proverbial steamroller, right?? But most of us aren't in a position to drop everything, live life to the fullest, see those top 10 destinations of the world, do those things you'd do if you have 6 months to live. Who came up with that advertisement, anyway??? For most of us, it's more like, "How am I going to pay the mortgage if I have to take FMLA?" or "I hope my job lasts long enough to get the deductible paid," or "God, let me please just get through this and I'll be a good girl for the rest of my life."

In the end, we somehow find the happy middle ground and take care of the daily grind while gaining a deeper appreciation for everyday life and the ones we love. Life is good. And life indeed goes on. And we indeed move on. And the daily grind begins...over and over again. But this time around, it's a little less of an industrial boulder grinder and more of a coffee grinder. (Heh heh, remember the coffee grinder scene in City Slickers?? I'm telling you, sometime it's the little things that effect the big things.)

Thus, the need to add one more to our pack. The story goes that Sonoma had been thrown out of a car onto the highway. Bruised and battered, she dragged herself to nearby woods, and was finally picked up and taken to a vet who saw to her wounds. The Weimaraner Rescue of North Texas was contacted; they picked her up; nursed back to health; fostered her; we saw her photo posted on the website; and the rest is history. Well, a complicated history. After all, we already have Princess Leia, a "special girl," as everyone likes to call her. Long story short, the princess had been abused and was very fearful of people. The first time we met her at the WRNT, she bit J on the face as he reached down to pet her. That was a reaction, a fear bite. Me she nipped twice during that first meeting, and both times it appeared as though she meditated whether or not to do it and, yep, she went for it. J and I recognized that she was just scared and reasoned that if she growled at and bit people, she'd scare them away and they wouldn't hurt her.

Little did she know that J and I would go home, do all the research we could about fear-biting animals only to return and approach her in a more appropriate way. The rest is history. We brought her home in August and, although we had some drum-roll moments, she is the best dog either of us has ever had. We LOVE our Leia. She's not perfect; she doesn't like or want to be around most people, especially when they try to pet her head; she doesn't want to have anything to do with other dogs -- but she is a love hound when she's with us. Incredibly intelligent, she knows all her toys by name; she loves to play hide and seek; she will sit and wait for an hour if she thinks you will throw her a ball; she will play fetch (but she won't "give") till she nearly collapses. We LOVE our Leia.

And she has been a true princess as we have included Sonoma in our pack -- gracious, patient, hospitable. Only occasionally has she given Sonoma the "don't you dare sniff my hiney one more freaking time" glare or nip. She's not perfect, but she's trying so hard to be accommodating. And Sonoma's learning that life with Leia could be good -- she just needs to give her some space. After all, royalty had its needs and privileges.

And so, in just a few short months, we've gone from a couple, to a trio, to "the four of us." Because life is good and life goes on....

Here's Princess Leia

Here's Sonoma

And here are our girls....

P.S. If you're ready to add a furry friend to your pack, please please please consider a rescue animal. Check your local area for rescue organizations -- the reward is incredible.

Cookbook Give-away

Just perusing my blog, and re-read the entry about Ricky's random act of kindness (I prefer to think of them as premeditated acts) on her Diet, Dessert and Dogs blog. She was giving away cookies to lucky recipients in the Toronto area. Got me thinking about a give-away here on Charivari Life.

Since I've been gluten-free, I've had to rethink my baking. GF flours just flat don't behave the way other grain flours do. And although I still use some "regular" baking recipes as guides and inspiration, my cookbooks are getting opened less and less frequently. Honestly, part of it is that I truly don't feel like looking at (read drooling over) things I know I can never again bake and eat. Well, I could still bake them....for others. But why? GF stuff has taken over our household and deliciously replaces anything -- except bread!! -- gluten-laden.

So, in an effort to "zen" my life a little, my cookbook collection is going to get trimmed to my bare essentials.

The first book I'd like to give away is the drool-worthy "The Cake Book" by Tish Boyle.

At 368 pages, with gorgeous photographs, it's truly a lovely guide to making fantastic-tasting and beautifully decorated cakes of all kinds: Angel food, pound, coffee, fruit-based, flourless, cheese, mousse, and meringue cakes. The instructions are clear. There are mail-order sources listed for special ingredients. In short, a gem of a book.

If you'd like to win the book, please leave a comment along with the first name (only) of someone you love. End of February, there'll be a random drawing -- yep, the time-honored pull-a-name-from-the-hat routine. Hopefully you'll win the book and you can bake that someone you love a sweet little surprise -- in a premeditated act of kindness :)

Yes, we have no (dana) banana muffins

Banana. That's been the suffix to my name for as long as I can remember. DanaBanana. And since the 'dana' part of my name is pronounced like the last two syllables of the edible yellow fruit of the lovely Musa genus, I usually introduce myself as "Dana, like banana." To which most people then usually respond, “Oh, Dana,”....with a long “a” sound. Hm, do you say ba-nay-na and I say ba-nah-na??

"Banana!" is how J usually calls to me when we're separated at a yellable distance. Heads always turn with that, “What did he call her?” look. Although I thought it was slightly deprecating when I was younger, I’ve grown attached to its sound. DanaBanana. I LIKE it!

Good thing, because I also happen to like bananas. I’ve always got fresh ones around: the big ones like Cavendish, the little finger bananas, the little red ones. And ripe chunks in the freezer – ready for smoothies, cake, or muffins. And does anything smell better than banana muffins baking? Mm, laden with toasted walnuts, chocolate, and perfumed with vanilla.

Banana muffins were the first recipe I sought to deglutenize when I went gluten-free. I’d been using a recipe based on one Nini Belle had given to me years ago that I’d already changed up by using whole wheat, flax seeds, and omitting the egg. Could it be that much harder to also make it gluten-free?

I came up with a combination of flours that seemed to work right off the bat: brown rice, tapioca, sorghum, and teff. I’m sure you could substitute for anyone of them, but this mixture always works great for me. And you can fancy-schmancy the muffins with whipped cream, buttercream, glaze. Or do as I sometimes do, and bake the batter in two small cake pans and serve in wedges or squares, maybe with an anglaise. Or leave out the chocolate – NOT. Leave out the nuts; add coconut; add different spices. Like the varieties of bananas, the possibilities are many. But like bananas, get these homemade muffins while you can – they’re an endangered species – so you can say, “Yes, we have no banana muffins."

The Best (Dana) Banana Muffins (gluten-free and vegan)

1 good cup mashed bananas (I usually use 3 really ripe bananas)
2/3 cups sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil (or olive, grapeseed, etc.)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup soymilk (or other milk, or even orange juice)
1 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup each of tapioca, sorghum, and teff flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
good 1/2 cup chocolate chunks
good 1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line muffin pan with liners. Or butter 2 small (6” diameter) cake pans.
2. Mash the bananas and stir in the sugar, oil, vanilla extract, and milk.
3. Mix together all remaining ingredients, except chocolate and nuts.
4. Stir the dry ingredients into the banana mixture. When it’s just about mixed, stir in the chocolate and nuts. Spoon into the muffin or cake pans and bake, about 13-15 minutes for the muffins and about 20 minutes for the cakes.
5. Cool (at least long enough not to burn your tongue!!) and enjoy.

Note: Use really ripe bananas – the flavor reward is all the greater. Thus, the reason for the frozen banana chunks – just thaw and they’re ready to use.

Hell and Vanilla Pudding

"When you're going through hell," Winston Churchill said, "keep going." And once in a while the planets align just enough to allow you to do that, to keep going.

After the myriad emotions, stresses, and physical changes of going for my yearly mammogram in November, to the follow-up mammo, the biopsy, the diagnosis, the mastectomy, the port surgery, to chemo.....the wedding's off. Well, chemo is anyway. And this all happened in only 2 short (only 2??), but incredibly long, months. I still have to remind myself to untie my shoulders from over my head.
Sometimes things happen in rapid-fire succession; we struggle against currents, pant and gasp for breath, reach "the other side," and laugh/cry that we've survived. Sometimes things happen so slowly that we don't realize we've drifted way off course; we go with the flow, then slog our way through the bog of "life" and live to tell about it. And sometimes it's a combination: things are happening rapidly, we realize we're drifting way off course, we struggle, we rant, we nurse our wounds, and pick our battered selves up. War is hell. Maybe we're no longer physically whole, but we're all the tougher for it all.
And we realize that life is still good. I realize that life is still good. And that it's still the little things that make it so "ah, that's beautiful."
Or sweeter. J says my bottom looks all the better for the few pounds I worked to put on before I started chemo. (Thank you, Dr. O, for telling me the words every woman wants to hear: "You're too thin." Now I get to work those pounds back off.)
Or nicer. Thank you, Nini Belle and Mama, for a lovely celebration dinner at Daniele Osteria! Why do we always wait for big stuff to celebrate? I think the Lederhuber Dirndln should celebrate the everyday stuff more often, and together!
Or tastier. When I went gluten-free, I was virtually despondent that, besides my daily bread and pasta, I had to give up Maggi, the "taste" behind nearly every dish in our home. It's like soy sauce in the Orient -- food just is NOT food without it. So I'd been seeing these ads for Bragg Liquid Aminos in my veg magazines, in some food blogs, and decided to buy some. Lo and behold, it tastes just like Maggi!! I was so excited!! About a food seasoning. See how little things truly make the world go round? And this prompted me to make my all-time favorite lunch today: spaghetti with ketchup, parmiggiano, and the secret ingredient....Bragg Liquid Aminos. I called my mom and told her about it while I was chowing my second plate. Hah, gluten-free gets easier and tastier all the time.
So, now that I'd finished off a package of pasta for lunch (OMG, did I really polish off the whole 12 ounce package myself??), I had to think of something for dinner. Leftovers, I guess: Baghali polo (dilled rice with baby limas), smoked salmon for J, yogurt, tomato salad, sliced avocados with lime and salt, and a little something for dessert. Been jonesing for something sweet, so I whipped up some vegan vanilla pudding -- the best. Topped it with some un-vegan dulce de leche and will serve it up with some fresh blackberries. Yum!! Life IS good!! And what tastes better than homemade vanilla pudding when you're going through hell??
Note: This pudding is delicious just as is, warm or cold. I also use it as the base for banana pudding or banana cream pie; add some grated dark chocolate for delicious chocolate pudding; flavor it with cardamom and a dash of rosewater; layer it with fresh orange caramel and/or raspberries; top it with mocha ganache; "unveganize" it by using butter and/or milk and/or cream....the variations are absolutely endless and I think I've tried most of them. Suggestions for some new variations? I'm game....
Vegan Vanilla Pudding (gluten free)
1/2 cup sugar
scant 1/4 cup cornstarch
pinch seasalt
2 cups soy milk (or your choice milk)
2 tablespoons coconut oil*
1 1/ teaspoon vanilla extract
1. In a small saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt.
2. Slowly whisk in the milk, dissolving any clumps.
3. With heat set to medium, stir until the pudding thickens.
4. Once it starts "bubbling," remove from heat and whisk in the coconut oil and vanilla.
5. Spoon it into little bowls, goblets, or whatever container you need for your dessert, or do as I do most often, eat it right out of the pan. Mm, enjoy :)
* Be sure to use only organic virgin, unrefined, coconut oil. The rest just tastes like oil.