Friday, June 24, 2011

Think Thin: Satisfying Gluten-free Snack Bars

A granola bar packed with oats, seeds, dried fruits, chocolate chips or whatever tidbits you love best really hits the spot as an afternoon snack or a pick-me-up after a workout. For those of us who've gone gluten-free due to Celiac disease or gluten intolerance, these portable edibles are mostly off-limits.

Before I was diagnosed with Celiac, I loved Luna bars, Nature Valley granola bars and all things oat-y and crunchy. Sadly, Luna bars clearly state "may contain traces of wheat" and Nature Valley doesn't use gluten-free oats, so if you're strict about going gluten-free, those are out too.I tried many types of gluten-free bars only to discover they were mostly the same: nuts covered in sweet goo. I became gluten-free Goldilocks; every bar was too high in calories, too mushy, too expensive, too hard to find, or resembled bird seed too closely.

Then one day I found the Think Thin bar.

 There is nothing not to love about these products! Think Thin bars, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
1.) Every flavor--from brownie crunch to lemon cream pie to cookies and cream is gluten-free.

2.) The full-size bars hover around 200 calories, and these treats are available in Bite Boxes where each mini-bar is only 100 calories.

3.) These bars contain very little sugar (some varieties contain none at all) and they are excellent energy boosters, especially if you try the flavors that boast 20 grams of protein.

4.) I can find these at my local Fred Meyer or even at Winco, where they sell for about 1.30 each. They are probably available elsewhere, too but if you can't find them near you, there's always Amazon!

For a gluten-free bar that is satisfying, nutritious, and very tasty, you can't beat Think Thin bars.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Chocolate Cupcake Toppers

For cake decorators, cupcakes have a versatility that large cakes lack, since each cupcake in the batch can be customized. This Father's Day I made cupcakes for my dad, who is an enormously talented musician, for my grandpa, who still rides a motorcycle at the age of 89, and my sister, who is still a Winnie-the-Pooh fan.

To please the gluten-free foodies in my family as well as the chocolate lovers, I baked cupcakes from a Betty Crocker gluten-free devil's food cake mix. I designed cupcakes to suit each of the three honorees at our party. I ordered two candy molds from Amazon: a musical instrument mold and a motorcycle mold. This seemed a little like cheating, but for two dollars, how could I pass it up?

 Using the professional molds, I ended up with cupcakes that looked like this:

And some like this:

For my sister's cupcakes, I traced three different Winnie-the-Pooh headshots in melting chocolate, which I think turned out really cute!

Considering that, with a pencil, I draw about as well as most 6-year-olds, I was impressed I could draw this well in chocolate. Not to toot my own horn--or strum my own guitar.

Additionally, my cousin graduated from the University of Washington the week before Father's Day, so I made some Husky cupcakes for her party. These were apple-cinnamon cupcakes made using a Betty Crocker gluten-free yellow cake mix plus some additions to spice it up. I'll post the yummy modified recipe sometime.

I used chocolate chips and Milk Duds (both were naturally gluten-free) for the Husky paws.

Whew, now that June is mostly over, I think my cupcake extravaganza has finally come to an end. But I enjoy making cupcakes at least as much as making full-size cakes, so there may be many more cupcake posts in the future!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day Craft: Duct Tape Decoupage Wallet

It's been used to hold bumpers on vehicles, to wrap faulty pipes, to seal broken book bindings, and sometimes it's even been used as a material to make prom dresses. It comes in standard gray or black, as well as an array of solid colors and some flashy patterns like leopard print or plaid. In a pinch, it'll remove lint from your clothes, patch a hole in your tent or to give your strapless bra some extra support. It's duct tape, of course.

This wallet was my first foray into the world of duct tape crafts, but I think it might be the first of many. I decided to try making a duct tape wallet for my grandpa for Father's Day. I also have recently seen some sleek decoupage crafts, so I had the idea to try to combine the two projects.

Using several Youtube tutorials (this one is particularly helpful), I soon had this:

which folded up nicely into this.

The wallet I chose to make is a bi-fold with two side-opening pockets, shown above. I also added another credit card pocket on the left side.

For the decoupage portion, I printed some old photos of my grandparents and my dad in black and white and then arranged them on the wallet. Mod Podge is a decoupage glue that is available at many craft stores and is simple to use. I painted several coats over the pictures on the wallet.

When it dried, it was still tacky. With any other craft, this might not have been an issue, but a wallet will have to be folded so two of its surfaces touch each other--the tackiness made the surfaces stick to one another. So I added a layer of sealant over that didn't cover the shine of the Mod Podge, but eliminated the stickiness.

I will admit I don't really know how practical this craft will end up being. Will it be durable? Is it even something cool enough for an awesome grandpa like mine to carry? We will have to wait and see.

Sloth and Tortoise in Action: Slowest Videos Ever

With over 1,000 school children on grounds some days, with all the new staff who need to be trained, and with exciting events like the arrival of clouded leopard cubs, Point Defiance Zoo can be a pretty hectic place in the busy season. Fortunately, there are animals at the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater who just never rush.

First there's Siesta, the two-toed sloth. Despite all the action around her, Siesta is always in the mood for a relaxing nibble on some leafy greens.

Another animal who knows how to take things slow is Jumbo Jet the radiated tortoise. Mr. Jet is a veteran member of the cast for the zoo's show, but even experienced actors need to brush up on their performances. A "quick" training session for Jumbo will keep him sharp for showtime.