Homemade Girl Scout Cookies - Gluten-Free!

WARNING: These pictures may make you drool ;)
I'm gluten-intolerant, so in order to enjoy most desserts I have to break out my various gluten-free flours and make them myself.

I have SO missed Girl Scout cookies since becoming gluten-free 4 years ago. Especially Samoas (which I understand are now called Caramel De-Lites, but they'll always be Samoas to me). So when I ran across THIS blog with a recipe to make them gluten-free, and somewhat easily, I HAD to try it. (You can make these gluten-full, too...just use regular flour.)

What you'll need:
3 cups shredded coconut (I used sweetened)
12 oz dark or semisweet chocolate (I used Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips)
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
2 cups all purpose gluten-free flour*
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
up to 2 tbsp milk, as needed
12 oz chewy caramels (I used an 11 oz bag of Kraft caramels)
2 tbsp water

*I keep a brown rice flour mix on hand: 2 cups brown rice flower, 2/3 cup potato starch, 1/3 cup tapioca flour. You can also use Bob's Red Mill or other brand all-purpose flour mix.

I started out making the topping first.
  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. 
  • Spread the coconut evenly on a foil-lined baking sheet 
  • Toast for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until coconut is golden. 
  • Cool on a baking sheet.
While the coconut is cooling, make the dough.
  • In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar.
  • Mix in flour, baking powder, and salt at a low speed.
  • Add vanilla extract and mix until the dough comes together. Add milk only if needed so the dough  becomes thick, not too sticky. 
Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. (I left mine in overnight.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Scoop tablespoons of dough, roll into a ball, and flatten to about ¼ inch thickness.
  • Place on foil-lined cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned and cookies are set. (Keep checking on them, mine took about 15 minutes. Betsy says hers took 20-25 minutes.) 
  • Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
I followed Betsy's recipe and added 1 tablespoon of milk as she suggested. However the dough was a little sticky, as you can see in the picture below. This was even after refrigerating overnight. When I make these again I will try without the milk altogether, and only add a tiny bit if needed. (I'm sure soy or almond milk would also work).
The cookies look like basic sugar cookies when they come out of the oven. Be careful, they're a little brittle.
While the cookies are cooling, melt the chocolate in a double-boiler, or put in a glass or metal bowl over a pot with an inch of water in it. Make sure you don't get ANY WATER in the chocolate...it will ruin it.

This next step is the hardest and most time-consuming part...

The chocolate is kind of thick, so you can't just simply dip the cookies in. I put the cookie in the chocolate upside-down, then used a rubber spatula to spread a little on the bottom. Next time I make these I might try thinning the chocolate a bit. Place on wax paper to set. Reserve extra chocolate.

Now comes the best part!
  • Place caramels in a microwave-safe bowl with water. Cook on high for 2 minutes, stopping to stir a few times to help the caramel melt.
  • When caramel is melted, fold in toasted coconut with a spatula.
  • Spread the topping on cooled cookies, using 2-3 tsp per cookie. 
  • Once all of the cookies have caramel topping, drizzle extra chocolate over cookies.
  • Devour 1 (or 2) and store leftovers in an airtight container or zip-lock bag.

They are scrumptious when kept in the fridge! And if you want to double the recipe, they keep very well in the freezer.


Mini Cheesecakes with Fresh Fruit Topping

I'm finally getting around to posting the yummy treats I made for the Fourth of July. Chris and I went to Mammoth and met his parents and family friends there for the long weekend. We were also celebrating his mom's birthday which was a couple weeks prior. SO...I made gluten-free mini cheesecakes, which were a HUGE hit!

I used a mini cheesecake recipe I found on MarthaStewart.com, and made some revisions to it. First off, I wanted to make them in ramekins; and secondly, I had to make it gluten-free. Instead of a traditional cheesecake crust, I used gluten-free gingersnaps from Trader Joe's. They were PERFECT for the job. Since we were at a high altitude plus using ramekins, I don't remember exactly how long or at what temperature I set it...I just kept my eye on it. Then I just topped them with crushed fresh strawberries (tiny bit of sugar added) and blueberries for a festive look.

See how beautiful they turned out?! I just took this photo on my iphone, but I think they look pretty darn scrumptious! I could have eaten 4 more :)

Here's the recipe from Martha Stewart:
  • 3/4 cup crumbled gluten-free ginger snaps
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 pound cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • Pinch of salt
  • Fresh fruit for topping


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. (I omitted this part and baked in ramekins.) Mix cookies and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar in a bowl. Stir in butter. Press 1 tablespoon of mixture in bottom of each cup. Bake until set, about 7 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks.
  2. Reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees. Beat cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, then vanilla. With mixer running, add eggs slowly, scraping down side of bowl. Add sour cream and salt. Pour batter into muffin cups, filling almost to the tops.
  3. Bake until sides are set but centers are wobbly, about 20 minutes (maybe longer if using ramekins, which are larger than muffin tins). Let cool in tins on wire racks. Wrap tins tightly with plastic, and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.
  4. Spoon some fresh fruit on top of each cake. I mashed some strawberries with a little sugar, then added a few blueberries on each cake.

Wordless Wednesday: Sittin' Pretty

A Dream Shattered

Someone has finally managed to photograph the pot at the end of the rainbow. Wouldn't you know it!

Teaching my 2-Year-Old Niece How to Stamp

I posted this on my craft blog first, but thought it was appropriate for this blog as well :)

A couple of weeks ago I visited my family in San Diego. I'm itching to be able to craft with my niece, Madison, but she's still just a little too young. But she always shows an interest in my crafting supplies (in addition to my makeup), so I thought she would have fun learning how to stamp. She loves animals, so I got out the Life's a Jungle stamp set, a few colors of ink, and a plain white sheet of cardstock. I demonstrated for her a couple of times, then she went to town! She totally got the concept of tapping the stamp onto the ink a few times, but then every time she stamped the image onto the paper she did the same thing--tapped it a few times. So she always had at least 3 (usually partial) images on the paper. It was adorable!

She loved picking out the animals from clear sheet of acetate that the stamps come on. Then I'd put the clear stamp on the block, and she'd have at it. Once I cleaned a stamp to use a new one, I let her put it back on the sheet. It was like a puzzle for her...a good learning activity :)

At one point I stamped the lion on her hand. Then she wanted it on her other hand. Then she proceeded to take her sandals off and wanted her feet stamped. I used the fishy from the new Hot Diggity stamp set on her feet.
She is at an age where she loves copying. So she added more stamps to her hands and arms. And instead of stamping her feet, she simply added the acrylic stamps right onto them! She's so funny. This girl was covered in ink and had a giant smile on her face when we were finished. Mom may not have been too happy, but Auntie and Maddie sure had fun!!

CLEANING TIP: Madison leaned into the ink pad a few times and got ink on her cute little shirt. We used a combination of Zout and Shout stain removers, let it soak, then scrubbed w/ a toothbrush and the ink came out of the fabric after it was washed.

Here's a pic later that day of Maddie loving on her baby brother, Connor. She still doesn't quite get the concept of "gentle," so her loving usually gets interrupted quickly by Mommy :)

How to Begin a Gluten-Free Lifestyle and Stay on a Budget

I have spoken with many people lately who were either thinking of going gluten free, needed to be gluten free, or have kids who needed to be gluten free. Some have found out they have Celiac Disease, some that their kids have allergies, and others are doing it for health benefits. It has also been suggested that children with autism can benefit from a gluten-free lifestyle.

Whatever your reason for a gluten-free diet may be, I hope I can help shed some light on the subject. I've been gluten free for just over 3 years, so I'm happy to share all this information that's been rolling around in my head for so long. It's definitely a more expensive lifestyle, but it's often healthier than your current way of eating and you can still stay on a budget.

A little info about me first. I am gluten intolerant. There are hundreds of symptoms for gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease and they manifest themselves differently in each person. I got severe migraines several times a week for many, many years and was also always tired. When I was in college I’d take a nap every day when I got home from school…and not just because I was a college student. It was out of the ordinary. Once I saw a nutritionist and cut gluten out of my diet, I not only stopped getting food-related migraines, but I also had more energy and felt better all around.

I remember feeling extremely overwhelmed when I found out I couldn't have gluten. It’s a hard transition, especially since it's not just temporary. It's a whole lifestyle change. I didn’t even know what gluten was and what I could or couldn’t eat at first. But however overwhelmed you may be right now at the beginning stages, I PROMISE it gets easier! It must be especially hard when it's your child who can't have gluten—you just want them to be “normal.” You want them to be able to have a sandwich for lunch at school and a cupcake at a friend's birthday party. I’m here to assure you that your child WILL fit in and be "normal."

If you are not sure what gluten is, the simple explanation is that it’s a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Here’s a general guideline: anything with flour has gluten. Breads, baked goods—anything that is made with traditional all-purpose flour because flour is made from wheat. Of course there are many exceptions to this because gluten is in wheat, barley, and rye, and hidden in things you’d least expect. Like soy sauce—it’s made with wheat. But you can buy Tamari wheat-free soy sauce at any health food store, and even your local grocery store now. You also need to watch out for malt flavoring. Most of the time it’s made from barley. For example, most granola bars and cereals use malt flavoring (but not all). It doesn’t say wheat or barley or rye or gluten, but you just have to know that malt is made from barley. You need to learn how to read labels, and read EVERY label.

On that note, the book Living Gluten-Free for Dummies was a LIFE-saver! The author, Danna Korn, has a son w/ Celiac Disease and she started a Celiac foundation for kids. She's hilarious and makes the transition so much easier. I promise. Buy the book. (I’m not endorsing it, I just know how much it helped me!) She gives a background on gluten and what it does to a body that can't process it, tells you what to look for on labels, shares recipes, and lots more. If you’re on the fence about going gluten free for health reasons you should read it…she covers that topic as well.

Another must-have is a good baking book, because you can’t just go to the bakery and grab some cookies or cupcakes anymore. I recommend Gluten-Free Baking Classics. It has not let me down. It includes cookies, cakes, breads, scones, and everything in between—and everything I've made has been fabulous! The beginning of the book explains alternative gluten-free flours. I won’t go into detail because Annalise explains it so well in the book—but basically you can make an all-purpose gluten-free flour by mixing brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and potato starch along with Xanthan gum (the binder since you don't have gluten). These flours are more expensive than regular flour, but they're becoming readily available at many grocery stores now, as well as health food stores. If you have an oriental market near you, you can often find them pretty inexpensively. And if you want to buy in bulk, Amazon carries them—Bob’s Red Mill is one of the more well-known brands. Arrowhead Mills is another. Rule of thumb for GF baked goods: they go bad faster than "normal" baked goods—homemade or store-bought. Freeze what you can.

If you’d rather not bake from scratch, Betty Crocker has 4 gluten-free mixes now—chocolate cake, yellow cake, brownies, and chocolate chip cookies. All are yummy. If you live near a Trader Joe's, they also have a good brownie mix and pancake & waffle mix.

Trader Joe’s is my personal favorite place to do my grocery shopping; they have lots of GF options. If you just go in and ask, their staff is usually very helpful and can point you to a lot of options. Some staples in my house include:
  • Brown rice pasta—it’s inexpensive (I also like corn or quinoa pasta but TJ's doesn't carry them and they're more expensive—Amazon carries them in bulk though, and now some chain grocery stores have them). Any GF pasta is actually going to be healthier than plain ol' spaghetti—and the whole family will enjoy it. Edited to add: TJ's now has corn pasta and it's less expensive than brown rice and is delicious :)
  • Onion & chive corn crackers—great with cream cheese, hummus, or plain Edited to add:I have not seen these in a while :(
  • Ginger snaps—try as the crust for cheesecake!
  • Cheese puffs—less fattening that other brands
  • Corn chips—I like the blue ones, but they’re all good. A general rule of thumb is that corn chips are gluten free, as are corn tortillas.
  • Gluten-free granola
  • Black bean and cheese rolled tacos—freezer section. Chicken rolled tacos are also GF, but I like the black bean ones better. (Careful—the beef ones are not GF!)
Some other gluten-free foods worth mentioning:
  • Target has Odwalla bars in the vitamin/health bar section that are GF. I like the mixed berry. Edited to add: I have not seen these in quite some time.
  • Most Clif bars are GF and they also make a kid's size. (These “health” bars are on the expensive side though...they're a special treat for me!)
  • Sometimes Costco has Naked Nuggets. I haven't seen them at my Costco but my sister has gotten them for me. They're chicken nuggets without the breading. Very tasty, and much healthier than McDonald's!
  • If you have Fresh & Easy by you, they have a lot of gluten-free foods.
  • I love Glutino crackers—they are similar to Ritz. They're a little pricey but I’ve found cheapest at Fresh & Easy. I’ve found anything from Glutino to be good.
  • Glutino also makes pretzels, but they're about $7 a bag! When I first found them just a few months ago, however, I didn’t care how much they cost—I was just excited to have them after 3 years! 
  • Udi bread is the best GF sandwich bread I’ve found (I've tried lots). This is what I mean when I say your kids can be “normal.” You can still make them sandwiches for lunch at school and they’ll look just like the other kids. (Just make sure they don’t make any trades!) I get it at Whole Foods.
  • Rice Chex and Kix cereals are naturally gluten free! I just saw Honey Nut Chex for the first time at Target that is GF also. But not ALL Chex is gluten-free, so be careful! It's labeled clearly on the box. Edited to add: Cinnamon Chex and Apple Cinnamon Chex are new gluten free cereals now.
  • Whole Foods has TONS of options—including ravioli(!), but they're very pricey. When you want to splurge go there.
  • PCC is in my area in Seattle, they're another great spot for lots of GF options if you have one near you. They have the best price on Udi bread that I've found.
You'll find that many foods you are already used to are gluten free, such as beans. This is one of my favorite chili recipes. Not all chicken stock is GF, so make sure it’s labeled. Costco carries GF chicken stock in boxes. Many recipes that may not be gluten free can often be adjusted to become gluten free. Here are all my favorite GF recipes that I've posted on my blog. Corn meal is safe and a great way to “bread” things instead of using bread crumbs. You’ll see an example in the popcorn shrimp recipe. You can also make your own bread crumbs by putting pieces of gluten-free bread in a food processor, then freeze or dehydrate the breadcrumbs to store for future use. Trader Joe’s carries a gluten-free bread (a small loaf in pink packaging). It’s good for breadcrumbs, however I don’t like it for sandwiches—it’s too dense. But it does toast well for breakfast.

Lots of restaurants are now recognizing the demand for gluten-free menus. Some that I enjoy are: PF Chang's, Pei Wei and Old Spaghetti Factory (they sub corn pasta). Most Mexican food is safe because they usually use corn. Thai is another good option too—lots of rice noodles. You can buy rice noodles inexpensively at an oriental market and make your own Thai food also. Just be sure that whenever you go out, be sure to mention to the waiter/waitress that you can't have gluten, and he/she should know what it is and can make sure what you are ordering is safe. If you go somewhere like Thai food where they may not speak the best English, ask if there is soy sauce...that is usually the culprit in their cooking. I love Thai food, especially Pad Thai...it's GF about 3/4 of the time. Better to be safe than sorry!

I still have moments where I just want to be able to get a pizza at a restaurant, but I've just gotten used to not being able to. However, I have found a few restaurants that offer gluten-free pizza. If you are in LA, Pizza Fusion is great. And if you are in San Diego, Borrelli’s is by far the best gluten-free pizza I’ve had. My family lives in San Diego, and whenever I visit I stop in and buy some of their pizza crust if they can spare it (if you do this, I suggest letting them know in advance). I also sometimes make my own pizza dough (this is my favorite recipe). You’ll find that with gluten-free baking, the dough tends to be stickier than normal dough. When making your own pizza, you will probably have to spread the dough onto the baking tray with a spatula. Edited to add: You can often find gluten-free pizza crust at health food stores, including Whole Foods. Check the freezer section. Also, more and more pizza chains are offering GF pizza. In Seattle, where I live, Garlic Jim's and Luciano's recently added it to their menus.

It's always hard to find gluten-free options when traveling—it can take a lot of research ahead of time. But you will get used to it, you just need to know what to look for. I have found several bakeries, restaurants, markets, etc. by Googling "Gluten Free [city]." If you have a smartphone, download the Yelp app. I usually just type in “gluten free” and it will find restaurants nearby that have gluten-free options (if there are any). I can usually find something on any menu that I can eat…it just may not be the first thing I’d choose. Salads are often safe, but you do need to watch out for salad dressing. Flour is often used as a thickening agent, which is why you always need to ask when eating out. You can also get burgers without the buns, but be sure they don't use breadcrumbs as a filler. Also watch out for blue cheese—it contains wheat. (I used to often order blue cheese burgers!) I personally like cooking myself so I always know what I’m eating, plus I enjoy it…but I do like going out to eat if I know what I’m getting is safe.

I hope this information is helpful for you. If you'd like to share your own tips to living a gluten-free lifestyle, please add them in the comments below so we can all benefit.

Good luck, and let me know if you have any questions. Welcome to gluten freedom!

Tamara Lowe at Christ Fellowship

This motivational rap will take less than 2 minutes of your day, and it's totally worth it!

A Tribute to Coach Wooden

“There is a choice you have to make in everything you do. So keep in mind that in the end, the choice you make, makes you.” — John Wooden

This video tribute is from the Pyramid of Success blog. Please also check out an article in the Ventura County Star on John Wooden and the release of his tribute book in July. The Senior Editor mentioned in the article, Steve Lawson, is an awesome guy...he was one of the first people to introduce himself to me when I started working at Gospel Light, and he was a good friend of John Wooden's. What a blessed man to be able to call Wooden "friend"!

You will never be forgotten, Coach. May you rest in peace with the love of your life, Nellie.

San Francisco: Celebration, Graduation & Food Poisoning

Which part of the title of this post doesn't belong? Yeah, I didn't think so either. Last weekend my husband graduated from grad school...a day I've been looking forward to for 2 years! It was a lot of fun, but it didn't turn out exactly as I had planned...

Chris went to the University of San Francisco at their SoCal campus, but the actual ceremony was in SF so we flew up on Thursday afternoon.

Flashback: 2-1/2 years ago Chris decided to follow his passion and do whatever it takes to make sports his career. He researched a bunch of grad programs and found a few Sport Management ones. Long story short, he ended up at USF, which became an amazing blessing.

One of the blessings of this program has been the friends he's met. This is Gabe. AKA Brown Keanu. Chris has two "best" friends in his class...they used to carpool to class in Orange County when they all lived in San Diego. The 3 of them all call each other Keanu as an inside joke...I don't know the details. But I do know that it's self-explanatory why this is Brown Keanu :)

And this is Brian, AKA Directionally Challenged Keanu. He moved to LA a little before we did, and then started working with Chris at UCLA. He and Chris then carpooled to class, and even after 2 years, Chris still has to tell him how to get to class sometimes. Thus, his nickname.
So, that Thursday night Chris and I went out with a bunch of the guys from his class to CELEBRATE. We went to dinner and a couple bars, and had an AMAZING night!! I was the only girl for most of the night and fit in pretty well. All these sports junkies know how to have fun, and are also gentlemen and truly great guys.

This is Abe, another one of Chris's good friends.
And here's Daniel (with Brian). (You can thank him for a lot of these pictures.) He went to grad school right after finishing his undergrad. Whew...now he can breathe. He's a smart kid, and a great basketball player, too!
Here is more evidence of our super fun night. Chris and Brown Keanu can get a little close to each other sometimes...but I wouldn't let them get too close :)
Me posting pictures of Abe on his Facebook page...
This is Henry, Gabe's friend and roommate (not in their class). He drove up from San Diego.
I'm so glad Daniel had his camera and was good about getting pictures, because I certainly wasn't! (I know, can you believe it...me, the scrapbooker!?) That tends to happen when I have a few drinks. Here are all of us together...so cute.
The next day was the guys' graduation. I was so excited. I even refrained from drinking too much because I wanted to feel good! (Notice I don't even have a drink in any of these pictures.)

I woke up at 5:30am with a slight headache so I drank a bunch of water, took some Advil, and went back to sleep. We slept in until 9:30, when our families arrived at the hotel. I kept feeling worse and worse and thought I may have a slight hangover. I kept drinking water but couldn't keep it down. I couldn't let my family see me like this! Especially Chris's family...they're very conservative.

Well, I didn't get better and I couldn't hide it, so I had to tell them I went out with the boys and was moving a little slow. I pulled myself together, put on the cute new dress and shoes I had bought for the occasion, and we worked ourselves down to the lobby to meet our families. We had a nice reception for the Sport Management program to attend at noon.

As if I didn't feel bad enough, our crazy cab driver was a maniac on the road and made my nausea worse. I had to throw up...but didn't have anything to do it in! I had my purse. My new purse. I held it in my lap and was horrified at the thought of ruining it. Then my mom saw that Chris's robe was still in its packaging. They ripped the plastic off and gave it to me just in the nick of time.

We finally made it to the reception, and I tried to put on a happy face but it didn't work too well. I was embarrassed because at this point I thought it was a hangover...even though I didn't know how. I found a place to sit, and was completely out of it. Luckily Chris's friends had seen me the night before and know that I really am a fun person :) Here's my attempt at a picture with Chris's family. I really tried...
Still thinking I just needed to get hydrated, I kept trying to drink water. Well, this resulted in a few minor embarrassing moments. At one point I started feeling better for a little while, but it didn't last too long. But I did take a few pictures. And my mom took a few as well. Here's the outside of the church where the ceremony was held. Beautiful!
This next one was taken the day before the graduation when it was sunny and no people around.
And the inside was beautiful as well.
My mom caught this picture, just barely!
And me trying hard to get a good shot with Chris. I'm so bummed I don't have any good ones from this special day :( But at least Chris was very understanding and had fun. Even when we did think it was a hangover he said, "It's okay babe, we had lots of fun last night!"
My handsome graduate.
My mom went back to our hotel with me right after the ceremony, while everyone else celebrated :( I was in bed the rest of the night. I reflected on the night before with my mom and we realized I hadn't drank enough to really even be hung over (even taking into consideration that I'm a lightweight), let alone for this long and not even able to drink water! We determined it had to be the stomach flu or food poisoning. Can you believe it...the last time I was in SF I got food poisoning, too!! I guess SF doesn't like me.

I was really sad to have missed the grad night festivities and hanging out with Chris and his friends again, but I am very glad I was able to spend time with family and to have had the awesome night out on Thursday. I'll remember that night as my time spent in San Francisco, and the time I really got to know Chris's friends/classmates as friends of mine as well. Love you guys!

What's next, now that Chris is done with school? I'm glad you asked! He was hired at Fresno State in the Development department of their Athletic department...exactly what he wanted! He began as an intern in Academics and Marketing at USD when he first started grad school. After a year he was hired at UCLA, also in Academics and Marketing, but on a much bigger scale (and at his dream school). And there, after speaking with MANY people, he realized he wanted to get into fundraising, so he applied to many schools and was hired at FSU, which has a growing, well-respected athletic program. It's another internship since it's a new department for him, but hopefully the last. It certainly helps that Fresno's cost of living is much less than that of LA!

Chris's start date at FSU: June 7
Our move date: June 12
I can't wait!

Ashley and Connor

How cute is this photo?! Look at those big blue eyes! I thought you, my lovely readers, would enjoy a recent photo of Connor, and it just so happens you get a recent one of Ashley, too :)

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