Monday, October 31, 2011

Gluten-free Halloween treats

What do you make for today's elementary school kids since so many of them have allergies and sensitivities to foods?

Our class decided to have a gluten-free, milk-free, nut-free party where we focus heavily on toy treats and more lightly on candy treats. Above we filled treat bags with Halloween favors including a pencil, pad, pencil sharpener, erasers, plastic spiders, squishy eyeballs, eyeball rings, Halloween stickers and puzzles.

We did make some cute cupcakes with a Halloween/fall theme covered in candy corn. The cake for these cupcakes was from a Bob's Red Mill chocolate cake mix. They are light and fluffy, rich cocoa cakes baked in muffin pans with cupcake liners. The icing, made from the recipe below, but using margarine with no trans-fats and soy milk is very good and hard to tell from the original recipe.

Creamy Cocoa Frosting
(Dairy-free recipe)

1 cup softened margarine with no trans fats (Smart Balance or Earth Balance)
2 lbs. confectioners' sugar
1 cup cocoa (packed)
1/2 to 2/3 cups soy milk or almond milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat margarine in medium bowl. Stir in vanilla flavoring. Add powdered sugar and cocoa alternately with milk a little at a time until frosting is easy to spread. Pipe onto cupcakes using a large piping tool.

We are transporting the cupcakes in a large flat plastic carrier that holds tons of cupcakes. This is my tip of the day because if you have ever had to transport cupcakes, you know that this makes carrying them easier. It is similar to an "under-the-bed" tub and is about the size of a regular plastic tub but this is perfect because it keeps them fresh until it's time to go. When buying a tub for this purpose, make sure the bottom is flat with no ridges around the sides.

We also made marshmallow ghosts by melting vegan chips and piping on a face. It goes well with the all-chocolate cupcakes.

One mother is bringing a "cauldron" that the kids will fill with gluten-free pretzels, mini marshmallows, vegan chocolate chips and other gluten-free items. The kids will take turns pouring in the items and stirring the pot.

The kids will also make a "ghost" by using a Dum-Dum sucker, a coffee filter, a white ribbon and self-adhesive wiggle eyes.

Will the kids enjoy the cupcakes? I will add to this post tomorrow to let you know!

Friday, October 28, 2011

A day on the farm

It was all excitement as I went with the children of my grandson's kindergarten and first grade class to Uncle Bob's Pumpkin Patch. It is really a working farm, but during the fall they host children, and some adults for an educational tour of their rural farm. They give the children a taste of what life on a farm is like from late September until the middle of November.

I think most kids in our county go to Uncle Bob's at one time or another. Some of the mothers who were chaperoning had been there a number of times. I was a bit surprised and it was also a surprise that so many kids were there. It was a very busy place. 

It was a new experience for both my grandson and I and it all began with a hayride around the farm. At one point we stopped and the tractor driver encouraged all of the kids to throw hay for some of the nearby horses to eat. Our enthusiastic group wasted no time in dumping out hay.

The horses backed away from us and stood about 30 feet away while the kids threw hay. I am wondering if some of the children who had thrown hay before were a little too enthusiastic. After we pull away to resume our hayride the horses decided to come back and check out the fresh hay. Luckily we still had hay left in our wagon.

We were able to pet some of the animals and there were quite a few -- sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits, a pig, peacocks, turkeys, ducks and probably a few I didn't see.

Then all the kids got to see baby chickens under the lights that were keeping them warm as they grew.

Uncle Bob's wife and our hostess demonstrated how to spin hair into thread. The hair was from sheep, goats and rabbits. She also told us how she dyes her wool using ammonia and copper.

We walked through the corn maze.

 And we heard a Halloween story.

 We saw an observation bee hive and heard how they extract the honey the bees make.

And saw a video about bats.

Before we left, we saw a how a potter uses clay to make pottery ...

and bricks.

The last thing we did was pick out a little pumpkin (I think it was actually a gourd) to take home. We had a great time and I know most of the kids in the kindergartens and elementary schools in our area really enjoy this fall event every year. If you haven't been I think it is really worth it. They have special events on weekends, too.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween Treats

Trick or Treating is less that a week away and I usually buy a ton of candy for the kids that come knocking on my door expecting treats. While I will still buy some candy, I think this year I will add toy treats to my pile of sweets. I am troubled that there are so many children with allergies who can't have candy and it's really not good for them anyway. I think these little toy treats are the perfect alternatives to candy.

The best places I have found for these kind of treats are Party City and Michael's. They have cute AND cheap treats that are kids love -- some of them are even useful. Things like these little pads above. These came from Michael's and right now, you can get coupons from their website. There are also coupons in the paper each week. Michael's treats are a little more expensive but they can be charming.

 Halloween pencils are perfect. These from Party City are twelve for $1.99.
Cute pumpkin bookmarks are useful, too.

 I've seen plenty of spider rings and kids love them. I'll bet they would really love bat rings, too.

And my favorite, eye ball ping pong ball. Who wouldn't like those?
Both stores have some great partyware, too. I bought these Friendly Spooks party plates, napkins and cups from Party City. It is on sale right now for 50 percent off and perfect for a child's Halloween party. You can also find coupons for $10 off the first $50, $20 off $75 and $30 off $100.

They also have games, pumpkin carving supplies, costumes, pumpkin pinatas and my favorite, balloons. Party City has the best helium balloons. Best of all everything Halloween is 50 perfect off. These stores make celebrating affordable if you can take advantage of the sales.

Pumpkins, pumpkins

 It's time to cut out -- or paint -- or at least decorate  our pumpkins. Tomorrow we will go to Uncle Bob's Pumpkin patch and after we pick out at least one pumpkin there, it will be time to start carving.

I do like the idea of painting faces on the pumpkin rather than cutting them. The pumpkins above from might be less messy -- I guess. Paint is messy, too but it does look good. The only negative is that you can't light your pumpkin if you don't carve it.

 I also love the idea of dressing up pumpkins. Hats, bow ties, funny glasses and noses, fake mustaches are all great ways to give your pumpkin a personality of its own. The pirate pumpkin and the mummy pumpkin are adorable. I don't know if everyone has an extra hat or wig laying around, but you can buy "disguises" at craft stores and they would look very good on your pumpkin.

Masks are great ideas. You can make a mask from cardboard and paint it black like these at

The pumpkins above are made from resin with stick-on eggs and rickrack mouths. Find the how-tos at
These whimsical pumpkins, above, are both carved and decorated with adorable eyes and even pointy teeth. These strange creatures are so cute.
Here's a great pumpkin design from Looks like they use small electric lights to illuminate their pumpkins rather than candles. Good idea, especially for little ones.
These pumpkins with false teeth are still my favorite. The people at came up with this great idea. found these pumpkins simply made from blocks of wood and decorated with ribbon. It looks like they glued a stick to the top.

Aw-w-w-ah. These are so cute! See how to make them at

 Tissue paper and pipe cleaners make adorable pumpkns! I love this idea.

 Another great idea--a perfect container and centerpiece from
Popcorn, candy corn and rice puffs with green string candy for the stem. A great idea from

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fresh Apple Cake--Two Ways

My search to find the perfect recipe for fresh apple cake is underway -- again.

Every year about this time, I try new fresh apple cake recipes to see it I can replicate a memory. I bought a couple of fresh apple cakes from a lady baker in Fayetteville, Georgia, more years ago than I can remember and it was the best cake ever! I have made some good apple cakes but never made a cake that beats the cake from my memory.

Two cakes from this past week, one containing wheat and an easy gluten-free cake from a mix were quite good but not quite like the cake I hold up as "the holy grail of Fresh Apple Cakes! These are better than any I have made to date. They are good enough to share, even if they are not as good as the cake I remember. These are easier tube-pan versions. The cake I remember was a layer cake.

Fresh Apple Nut Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons cinnamon
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups vegetable oil
4 cups peeled and finely chopped apples, about 4 medium apples (tart varieties always yield more flavor)
1 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla
Optional: 1 cup of chopped pecans (I rarely add nuts to my cake batter because I have those who don't like nuts in my family. I do add them to the glaze on top.

Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside. Beat eggs, sugar and oil until creamy. Mix in dry ingredients. Add apples, vanilla and optional nuts. Pour batter into a greased tube pan and bake at 350° for 1 hour or until cake is firm and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Immediately pour the  brown sugar/nut glaze over the top of the cake and allow to cool for ten minutes. (See recipe below)

Brown Sugar Nut Glaze
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup milk (I used soy milk and it was great!)
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup chopped pecans (You don't have to add the nuts for this to be good!)

Combine all ingredients in a medium to large saucepan. Bring to a full boil for several minutes. Pour over cake right out of the oven. Allow to cool for ten minutes. Turn the cake out onto a plate lined with wax or parchment paper. Invert immediately onto a serving plate. The nuts will be on the top of the cake and the glaze will drizzle down the sides.

This was yummy, but ...

Here is the easy, easy, gluten-free from a mix version:

Gluten-free Fresh Apple Cake
(This will make a smaller cake than the one above because the gluten-free cake mix I used only makes one large layer. Isn't that a bummer? With the addition of the apples, this cake should be almost the size of the non-gluten-free recipe. This could be made with a non-gluten free cake mix.)

3 cups peeled and chopped tart apples
1 cake mix, mixed to package directions (I used the Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Yellow cake mix)
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
Optional: 1/2 cups of chopped pecans

Brown Sugar Nut Glaze (See above.)

Peel and chop apples and set aside. Mix cake mix according to package directions. Add cinnamon, vanilla and (optional) nuts.

Pour into a tube pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes or until cake is firm to the touch. Don't overcook.

Pour the glaze over the top an allow to cool for ten minutes. Turn the cake out onto a plate lined with wax or parchment paper and immediately invert onto a serving plate.

My search continues. If you have a great recipe, please send it to because I would love to find the perfect fresh apple cake!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Red berries on an antique wall

I work in a historic downtown area, so it is not surprising that I would see some surprising things on my way to work. In an area like this, the buildings may crumble but some of the plants remain.

What I see as an old ivy plant has the prettiest profusion of red berries I have ever seen on a plant. I have ivy in my front yard and never have I seen berries on my ivy. That is why I was so surprised when I saw this plant creeping over an antique wall and had to get closer for a photo. All I had with me was my camera phone but I need to go back very soon with my camera to see if I can get some better shots. Pretty things like this don't always last very long.

I have purchased fake ivy at the craft store and it had red berries but this ivy just blew me away it was so lovely and untouched. Click on it yourself to see all the lovely berries. Incidentally, the berries around the edge are dark blue and black.

It made me think of our upcoming issue of Newnan-Coweta Magazine and the feature on "Red Berries," just not the kind I have pictured here. I guess it is a reminder of cool weather and the end of harvest, but I think of it as one of those lovely surprises we can find when we just look for them, and one you should see when you pass by it every day.

If you have any more information on ivy  -- since I apparently don't know much about it, I would love to read your comment.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dainty Dining

I have a great suggestion for holiday gift giving. My friend, editor, tea enthusiast and all-around creative person, Angela McRae, has a new book that should be back from the printer around the first week in November. The book, "Dainty Dining: Vintage recipes, memories and memorabilia from America's department store tea rooms" is a beautifully-crafted look at early 20th century, department store tea rooms and restaurants where shoppers could take a break from their shopping and enjoy a delightful meal.

Featured department stores include Bullock's Wilshire, Burdines, Denver Dry Goods, Filene's, Frederick and Nelson, Gimbels, Hess's, The Higbee Company, J. L. Hudson Co., Innes Department Store, F. and R. Lazarus, R.H. Macy and Co., Maison Blanche, Marshall Field, Miller and Rhoads, Neiman Marcus, Rich's, John Wanamaker, Woodward and Lothrop and Younker Brothers. 

Along with colorful memorabilia from each store and entertaining descriptions, quotes and interviews, there are well-researched recipes of some of the famed dishes prepared and served at each restaurant. The author carefully prepared and photographed each recipe to make sure each was precise. The photos are a feast for the eyes and the postcards, menus and other items from McRae's collection will bring back fond memories

It was so enjoyable to read about my favorite store (of all time), Rich's Department Store in Atlanta -- gone but not forgotten. I know I remember shopping and lunching there as a teen and the Big Tree was a huge holiday tradition. I also remember going to Macy's in New York and though I only went to their ice cream parlor, I will always remember the sundae they served as the best ever. The other day I asked a friend from New Orleans if she had ever had a Mr. Bingles?" and she said, "Get outta here, of course I had a Mr. Bingles! How did you know about that?"

This book has mostly full-color photographs and will become a treasure that would make a great coffee-table book since it is so pretty, well-written and brings back so many pleasant memories. Even if you never dined at one of the tea rooms included, this book is worth it for the nostalgia it presents and the fine recipes included.

I know she is taking pre-orders now and I would suggest ordering as soon as possible to be sure and get your copies for Christmas gift giving. Click here if you want more information. I can't wait to get my copies.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wishing for rain

Last night my Mother said she would love for it to be sunny today because she really wants her deck painted. I told her that while I really wanted her deck painted, too, I was hoping it would rain on our fall garden. We both agreed that one of us would get our wish and the other would just have to wait.

This morning we woke up to a brilliant, sunny sky -- the perfect October day. I am guessing the rain that was supposed to come up from the gulf either dissipated or is taking a bit longer than I had hoped to arrive. Looks like my Mother got her wish and I hope her deck looks really good. Then I hope it rains.

Our broccoli in the above photo looks quite healthy and our Brussels sprouts are growing, though rather slowly. We planted both the broccoli and Brussels sprouts now for spring harvest so we just need to keep them growing until then. They are but we do need a nice steady October rain.

Another shot of the broccoli. Does it look a little wilty to you?

Above is our Bok Choy, aka Pak choi. It is really a wonderful plant and grows almost as fast as the nut grass in our garden. Could use rain, though it looks great.

The collards are on schedule for our Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's meals, especially if we get rain.

 They also look a little limp but the cooler days are helping.

This is turnip greens, mustard greens, rutabagas and at the end, no shown is the spinach we planted but my husband accidentally plowed under. I am not sure if we will have spinach for fall. I am not sure even rain would help the spinach.

Another view of the greens and broccoli. I just love the greens row.

This is kale. It is doing well for not having enough rain.

Last is the lettuce. You can't count out the lettuce. Sometimes it grows slowly at first. Lettuce, after all likes cooler weather and we haven't had too much of that -- or rain! Maybe I will soon get my wish.

Monday, October 17, 2011

GIG of Atlanta Expo News

Last Friday I received an email from my friend Bonnie with this poster attached. Who knew there was a Gluten Intolerance Group in Atlanta and that they were having an Expo this Saturday that the Northeast Atlanta Hilton? I am sure this will be a great event -- especially for those who are just learning they have a gluten intolerance or must leave wheat out of their diets. (A hard thing to learn in a wheat-obsessed country like ours!)

This would be a great place to get information and meet others dealing with the same problem. It is sponsored by some big names in the Gluten-free industry and I am sure they will have samples and hints and tips that can be very useful. Ten dollars is not such a large fee for information you can really use. You can take your kids but not your stroller. H-m-m-m.

Speakers begin at nine and I would love to be there, but I have other plans. If you go, please drop me a line @ and tell me what you learned.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Halloween ideas -- a baker's dozen

There are so many great ideas on the internet. Today I am posting a baker's dozen (the best Halloween number, after all) of the cutest, easy to do Halloween decorating, party and treat ideas I could find and let you know where to find them.

Above S'mores. Perfect for this time of year. Find out how to make them at

I don't usually go for scary things, even for Halloween, but these witchy cookies are great. Go to to see how to make them. I don't think they will frighten anyone.

I love pipe cleaners. Add pumpkins and they make a really great combination. This craft is featured on

I couldn't find anyone to give credit for this one. I also couldn't find the recipe but the idea is just too cute -- and easy. It looks like Vienna fingers dipped in white chocolate with tiny chocolate chip eyes. Use any "ghost-shaped" cookie or cracker of your choice.

This is one of my favorites and it could be used any time of the year. It is just apple slices, peanut butter and miniature marshmallows. You could "glue" this together using Sun butter or almond butter if peanut butter is a problem. It's also gluten-free! This is from

I have already used this idea from for a pumpkin that is now on my front doorstep. Easy, easy, easy. I love it. I bought a bag of "teeth" from Michael's and the decoration is almost instant.

We made these last year from black and white construction paper and black acrylic paint. Still a good idea -- a good one from

Yet another idea. I wanted to try this last year but I couldn't find the jugs. We don't usually drink dairy around our house but I could use water jugs or bottles. Candles can be a fire hazard but these are lighted with strings of lights tucked into a hole in the back. Great way to light the way for little goblins.

If you are always wanting something healthy to cancel out some of those Halloween treats, here is the best idea ever! The idea comes from

Another idea from Do I need to say more. So easy and perfect.

These ghostly treats are from I love truffles, especially cute ones.

This recipe is kind of like the "trash" recipes. It calls for broken Oreos, M&Ms, candy corn and it looks like pretzels and peanuts all mixed up with melted white chocolate. I don't think dark chocolate would look as pretty. Check it out on

This is quite a nice decoration. Pretty and after you are finished with the candles you could eat the candy corn, if it doesn't get too melty. I love this idea and candy corn is prettier than it is good for you so you could use that excess candy corn and not be tempted by it later. I wanted to try this last year but I forgot all about it. If you want to visit the website, go to

Hope you enjoyed the ideas. It was like a treasure hunt for me.