Thursday, October 25, 2012

Life Lately: A Weekend in the Mountains

When the rest of the world starts to turn gold, we stay firmly rooted in the warmth of something-like-summer. We cross our fingers and hold our breath for the days that fall somewhere under 80 degrees, slowly and one at a time, until we can feel the stifling of southern heat begin to give way. Everything stays green. I love summer (and the south) as much as the next person, but there is something to be said for pulling a long sweater over your wrists, wrapping your fingers around a warm mug of tea, and burying your face in a scarf. Something to be said for not having bare legs carry you all the way through October. And mornings have only ever been worth it for me when you can feel the cocoon of sheets curled around you trapping in heat, the softest barrier between your skin and everything outside.
fall foliage and a view of the Shenandoah Valley
This post is less about food and more about life, and the way travel has always pulled at me. I'm not sure what exactly it is, but interstate sunsets have always looked more beautiful and something about an airplane window makes my heart feel at peace (even amid motion sickness...fun). I love the road stretched out in front of a dashboard with nowhere to be.


Blame it on growing up driving I-10 every holiday or reading too many books set in far-off places, but this desire to travel has been in my blood for as long as I can remember. I don't quite understand people who don't have it. In fact, travel was one of the very first things I worried about upon diagnosis. ("But I'm studying abroad! And I want to see so many things! How am I supposed to eat?!?" etc., etc.) And while I definitely don't have traveling down quite yet, and it takes quite a bit more research (I can't tell you how many times I've been to Chipotle's website to find the nearest location), there's also something rather nice about eating blackberries sprinkled with sugar on a drive in the morning or slices of ham halfway up a mountain. It's something real.
(side note: I've been eating so many blackberries lately--definitely my snack of choice.)
 So we went to the mountains and experienced all things fall. We got away from the flatness of our land. I wrapped myself up in sweaters and scarves, several deep breaths of cool air, and let myself run away until I got tired.
my first pumpkin patch experience

I've always known travel would let me see new things, but it's always nice to see the same things in a fresh light. Like the way people interact, or a place you call home. Even just to feel a different wind in your hair.
...and got lost in a corn maze
We got to imagine different futures and have adventures we never planned. New trees, new faces, new cold-bitten cheeks. Not all of them were pretty, but they were all wholly unique. Something that we'll never experience exactly again.

 I don't know if you're itching quite the way I am, but I hope that you go. Happy travels.
(p.s. I made a playlist for our drive into the mountains, if you'd like to hear what I've been listening to lately.)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Easy Chicken & Lime Tacos

So, there are a few things I didn't anticipate missing when I changed my diet.

I knew the big ones, of course: easy pasta, delicious breads, the entire world of cakes...sure, there are gluten free varieties, but they just aren't the same.

But crunch. Oh, the crunch! That, I never would have guessed.

Fun fact to all you blissful people living in a world with gluten nowhere near your radar: it's kind of crucial. It's the "glue" in grains; a protein that helps hold everything together and makes it all light and fluffy...and, I've also found, allows it to hold a crunch.

That's right. In gluten free bread, there's no flaky, buttery, crisped outside crust (at least that I've experienced). I know what you're thinking: that's the best part of a fresh-baked loaf! I know, I know. Even gf pretzels don't have that snap.

That's why after a few weeks of going gluten-free, I found myself *craving* something crunchy.
For a while I did with potato chips.
Then, I decided to try something else: tacos.

The problem with tacos, however, is that they usually contain a decent amount of spice, and cayenne and chili peppers are now off-limits for me (speaking of other things I miss...).  But the good thing about tacos is that you can essentially make them anyway you want. They're a dream come true for families with varying tastes or any other personalizer extraordinaire. And, with hard (corn) taco shells, you're not missing out! Because they're not specifically made or changed to be gluten free, you get the exact same taste as you would be getting if you were anyone else, which is great especially for still-adjusting taste buds. Count me in.

 Now, something you may not know about me: I am a fan of limes. A huge fan, you might even say. I've been known to bite in to one or two on occasion without any real direction or purpose, other than just straight up enjoying it. After some nights of experimenting, I found these to be the perfect solution to providing my tacos with unmistakable flavor, while avoiding the realm of spice-laden taco seasoning.

I didn't get any photos of the finished product...it was late, I was hungry, and it's been a long couple of weeks. Forgive me?

These tacos are simple. Like, incredibly simple. They almost shouldn't taste this good. I also think this provides the perfect base for changing or spicing it up a little, if you so choose. (Though I obviously haven't tried it, I can see a little bit of cayenne pepper fitting right in with these flavors.)

Ingredients (for approx. 3 tacos--though I like to double it and eat leftovers the next day):
  • 2-3 limes
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, or 3 chicken tenderloins (I like to keep frozen chicken and defrost it in a sealed bag under hot water for 10-15 minutes)
  • approx. 1-1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • approx. 1 T olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • brown rice (I'm guilty of regularly using boil-in-a-bag rice...what can I say, I like convenience!)
  • pico de gallo (I actually quite like WalMart's pico...I know, I was surprised, too.)
  • hard taco shells*
  • any other toppings you may like
*Note: I feel most comfortable with Whole Food's brand yellow corn taco shells for those of you with gluten sensitivity. They're made with simple, clearly distinguishable ingredients and I feel slightly better about the cross-contamination risk. I've gotten away with others, but just never feel quite as good.

Place thawed chicken in a gallon-sized plastic bag. Add olive oil; at least enough to lightly coat all chicken. Press and roll limes against the counter to make them easier to juice, then slice in half and squeeze juice into bag, reserving one lime half for cooking (don't worry if seeds or pulp get in). Add garlic, salt, pepper, and seal bag, turning so that the ingredients coat the entire chicken. Let marinade in fridge for about 1 hour (longer is fine, too).

Lightly coat a skillet with olive oil (or cooking spray, but I like the extra flavor) and place on medium-high heat. Remove chicken from marinade, and discard excess liquid. Slice chicken into bite sized cubes and add to the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir regularly to keep the chicken cooking evenly and to prevent pieces from sticking together. When chicken is essentially cooked through (this will happen relatively quickly because of the small size), add the juice of the reserved lime and allow to brown lightly.
While chicken is cooking, begin boiling rice and warming taco shells according to directions. Turn cooked chicken on low heat to keep it warm while you wait.

Assemble tacos with rice, chicken, and pico. If you have leftovers, simply heat up new taco shells the next day and assemble from the reheated remains!