Gluten-Free Tomato Soup: An Easy, Flavorful, Snowy-Day Recipe That’ll Blow that Canned Stuff Away

gluten-free tomato soup pictured in an antique german china bowl covered with flowers

Gluten-free tomato soup served up on my great-grandmother’s china.

Now that I’ve made this easy gluten-free tomato soup in the slow cooker, I will never eat canned tomato soup again!

I don’t think my mother ever made soup from scratch in her life. If she did, it was so rare that I don’t remember it. I grew up on canned soup. It’s convenience food and since my mother worked full time, she was big on convenience foods. When I first moved out on my own at 19, I practically lived on grilled cheese and tomato soup.

I honestly didn’t know what I was missing until I started making my own soup from scratch. I have developed a bit of a love affair with my slow cooker and it is a easy way to make delicious soups from scratch.

A little over a year ago I gave up eating gluten because of an autoimmune disease. Bread will never be the same and I do miss it, but I don’t miss the constant, body-wide pain it caused.

I was in the grocery store recently and really had a hankering for tomato soup so I did what my mother usually did and headed for the canned soup aisle. I picked up so many cans of tomato soup and couldn’t find one that didn’t contain gluten in some form. I was surprised by that. Why did tomato soup need to contain gluten? Answer: it doesn’t.

Thankfully, I hit a sale on canned crushed and pureed tomatoes (BPA free) and decided I was going to invent my own version of tomato soup. The East Coast blizzard of 2016 seemed the perfect time to give it a whirl.

Gluten-Free Tomato Soup

Gluten-free grilled cheese sandwich

Gluten-free grilled cheese sandwich

Makes 6-8 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 28 oz can tomato puree
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes with basil
  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • 14 oz can chicken broth
  • 1 cup finely diced carrots
  • 1 cup finely diced celery
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1T olive oil
  • 1t black pepper (adjust to your taste)
  • 1t salt (adjust to your taste)
  • 1t dried oregano
  • 1/2t dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 frozen cubes of pesto (I make pesto every summer from the garden basil and freeze it in ice cube trays for later use. If you don’t have pesto on hand, you can substitute 1/2 cup fresh basil, 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, and a splash of lemon juice. Alternately you can also buy canned pesto and use the equivalent of three large ice cubes–approximately 1/2 cup.)
  • 1 3/4 cups warmed 2% milk (I used lactose-free milk and I think nut milks would taste lovely here as well)
  • 1T cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • large flake natural salt (I prefer guerande grey sea salt or pink himalayan salt)

Directions: 

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the celery, carrots, and onion and cook for about 5 minutes until they start to turn golden. Add them to your slow cooker

Add the tomato puree, crushed tomatoes with basil, and chicken broth to the slow cooker. Use the water to rinse the inside of the the tomato cans and add that water to the slow cooker as well. Add the salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, bay leaf, and pesto (or substitute ingredients) to the slow cooker. Give it a good stir.

Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours (you can also cook on high for 2 1/2 to 3 hours) or until the vegetables are soft. Remove the bay leaf and using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth (you may also carefully do this in small batches in a standard blender if you do not have an immersion blender).

Dissolve the cornstarch in the water and add to the slow cooker. Stir again. 

Return the lid to the slow cooker and continue to cook on low for 20 minutes.

Top dress each bowl of soup with a sprinkling of the salt and grated cheese. Best served with a pan-fried grilled cheese sandwich (mine was made with gluten-free bread and lactose-free cheese). It’s even better if you dip the sandwich in the soup when eating. Yum!

Gluten-free tomato soup and grilled cheese on great grandmas

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Cabin Fever: 7 Ways to Keep from Going Stir Crazy

car buried in snow with tree

The car is buried and it’s still snowing!

If you are anywhere in the United States mid-Atlantic region as of the writing of this post, you’re probably stuck inside as what the forecasters are calling a snow hurricane dumps buckets of snow and wind on your area. While cabin fever is not something that I’ve ever suffered (my home is my happy place and there’s always plenty to do inside for me especially if the power stays on), I’ve known plenty of others who find being stuck in the house nearly unbearable.

So what can you do to combat cabin fever–that feeling like you need to get out of the house no matter how dangerous or ill-advised it might be?FullSizeRender (6)

Try These Strategies for Avoiding Cabin Fever

    1. Watch Television or Movies – This is a go-to for many people, but after a few hours, it can cause you to feel even more antsy as watching something is such a passive activity. Start with this one and move on to another in the list when the program you are watching stops holding your attention.
    2. Cooking or Baking – If you’re like most folks in my area, you made sure to get your bread, milk, and toilet paper before the flakes started to fly. Those are Maryland staples during a snowstorm and the empty grocery store shelves prove it. I baked my way through a cold Alaskan winter to stave off cabin fever. I became an
      Gluten Free Oatmeal Apple Crisp

      Oatmeal apple crisp ready to go in the oven.

      excellent bread baker during that time. There’s nothing quite like the smell of rising dough and freshly baked bread when you’re stuck inside. That goes for any baked goods for that matter. There’s something about those scents that make your home feel more inviting and that’ll help you feel more relaxed while you’re hunkered down inside. It doesn’t hurt to have the oven on either for that little extra bit of warmth. While I’m unable to eat the bread that I used to bake, I’m looking forward to putting a batch of my oatmeal apple crisp in the oven later. I use a slightly modified version of the linked to recipe. Not sure what to make with what you have on hand, set up a free account on Supercook and enter your ingredients. They’ll find matching recipes for you online.

    3. Cat enjoying laying on rag rug

      Murphy and his favorite rag rug.

      Crafts – Even if you’re not a crafty person, there are crafts anyone can do. Some require having materials on hand before you get snowed in, but you’d be surprised with how many you can make by repurposing things from around the house. Check out Pinterest for all kinds of crafty ideas or maybe turn those old worn out clothes, sheets, or fabric of any kind into a rag rug? This is a great way to clean out your closets AND make good use of

      Rag rug tool made with a piece of wire hanger and duct tape.

      Rag rug tool made with a piece of wire hanger and duct tape.

      clothes that are beyond repair and would end up in the trash because they’re too full of holes and stains to donate. These are my favorite rag rug making instructions because they don’t require any special equipment. Some people call this a toothbrush rug, but I made my rag rug tool out of a bent piece of wire coat hanger and duct tape.

    4. Games/Cards – If your cabin fever is more the result of someone stuck inside with you driving you batty, then how about pulling out those old board games or a deck of cards? That gets everyone playing together (hopefully nicely) and it can occupy a group of people for hours at a time. Take the time to learn a new card game. Do a web search and you can find pages of new card games. Stuck inside by yourself? There are lots of different ways to play solitaire.
    5. Finish A Home Project – Have you been meaning to finish hanging that shelf, caulking the bathroom tub, or tightening the loose knobs on the kitchen cupboards? Now’s the time.
    6. Escape in Your Mind – Is that antsy feeling creeping up inside you? Do you have to get out at all costs no matter how dangerous? Pick up a book and let your mind go somewhere else if your body can’t. Don’t have a book at hand (really???) you can download one from the library through programs like Overdrive. Check with your local library website to see if they participate. You can borrow a book and mentally travel the world without ever leaving the house.
    7. Snow Cream, Adult Style – Cabin fever still eating you up inside? Maybe you need a drink to calm your nerves. Put a twist on snow cream by boozing up this classic children’s snowstorm treat. Drunken snow cream can be made many ways. If you don’t have Irish Cream, consider Kahlua, schnapps (buttershots is nummy), cream de cacao, or amaretto. Even flavored vodka is tasty. The upside to this is if you eat enough of it, you’ll no longer give a damn about being stuck inside.

Best of luck to all of you who are trying to ride out this blizzard.

What do you do to stave off cabin fever? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Listen Up! Is Active Listening Dying Out?

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Aya Thorne, formerly of the band Albannach, having a thoughtful moment after a performance in 2008.

What Does it Mean to Truly Listen?

I’ve been an active listener my entire life. That might not seem like something that makes me stand out–we all listen, right?

Wrong.

How many times have you been talking to someone and had the feeling that they weren’t paying attention? Have you ever felt that they were hearing you, but not truly listening to what you were saying?

Active listeners engage with the person who is speaking. They don’t just listen to the words coming out of your mouth.

They might have an empathic nature that allows them to connect with the person who is speaking, whether they’re standing right in front of them or chatting with them hundreds of miles away through a phone or computer. Active listeners not only hear your words, they often hear what lies beneath those words.

In a fast-paced culture of 140 character tweets and status updates that we send out into the ether, we’re using our words and hanging on tender hooks to see if anyone will acknowledge them and reply.

We’re talking, but is anyone truly listening anymore?

Instead of the give and take of natural conversation, our heads fill with digital chatter. Everyone is talking, but there’s no soul receiving what we’re saying.

I could shout from top of a building with a megaphone and 9 out of 10 of you would take cursory notice then keep walking past. Is the fabric of the modern world with its circuits and drives, actually turning us into passive listeners?

From the strangers who strike up conversations with me about the most intimate and personal details of their lives, to the friends and family who confide in me, people have sought me out to listen ever since I was a child. Where are you, my tribe of listeners?

An active listener can make you feel less alone, less frightened, less like you’re drowning. They can join you in your celebrations and soften your defeats. They are invaluable to the social nature of the human animal, but are they a dying breed?

I’m listening…

 

Creativity and the Independent Woman

Kilgore Falls Full 8Last night I was washing dishes and the next thing I knew, I was standing in a puddle. Water was pouring out under the sink as if a waterfall had magically manifested in the cabinet.

I wiped up the water, emptied the cabinet, and climbed under the sink to figure out what plumbing disaster awaited me. I was relieved to find that it appeared a plastic fitting had cracked, which seemed like an easy fix. I removed the fitting and headed to the hardware store to match it with a replacement.

I returned home with my $2.33 replacement and wiggled under the sink to install it. But, as every person who has ever had an “easy” fix knows, it’s never as easy as it looks.

I put the fitting on the pipe and just as I was starting to screw it on, the garbage disposal fell out.

I am, in no way, a plumber. And while replacing a cracked fitting would have been easy, hooking the garbage disposal back up was not. It’s not that it’s something particularly difficult to do, but the disposal is heavy and I needed one hand to hold the disposal and two to screw it back into place.

Guess you can see my problem. I was lacking one necessary hand.

That’s where being an independent, creative woman comes in. I’ve spent too many years as a single homeowner when so many repairs or projects need more than two hands. It makes you have to be creative and figure out new ways to manage things on your own.

In the case of the garbage disposal, this was remedied with the scissor jack from my car, which acted as a third hand, holding the disposal so I could lock it into place with the necessary two hands.

After that, replacing the cracked fitting was easy. I’m not saying that I didn’t channel my father and his creative use of profanity during the execution of this home repair, or that I didn’t scare the cats with my expletives, but I am saying that I fixed it all by myself. And creativity helped me do it!

Just sayin’… Problem solving has its roots in creativity and the creative among us find a way.

Stress Hacks Book with FREE Coloring Book Launches Today!

No, you may not punch your coworker in the head-fire demonPick Up Your Copy of Stress Hacks Now!

Get it HERE!

 

Have you ever found yourself on the precipice of a long-wished-for dream? Did you take a deep breath and step off the cliff, hoping for the best?

I feel like that’s what I’m doing now. I’ve wanted to write a book for so long, but I let life and other people’s expectations get in my way. I’m so excited to share my book launch with you.

Stress Hacks BookHonestly, I never thought the first book I published would be nonfiction. I’m most definitely a fiction writer at heart, but as I said in my previous post, Stress Hacks: 166 Tips and Tricks to Free Yourself from Stress and Sleeplessness and Reclaim a Relaxed Life needed to be written.

So please (I don’t usually beg, but I’m not above it for something this important), please pick up a copy, buy one for a friend, and don’t forget to stop by my website michellelwhitney.com to pick up your FREE coloring book for adults.

 

“You know nothing Jon Snow…”

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So These Are Happening… Both of these books will be available on November 30!

And the coloring book will be FREE to anyone who signs up on my website (still under construction, but will be ready by launch day).

I’ve chronicled the path toward writing my first novel in previous posts. That novel, tentatively titled The Bitterness of Growing Things is still in revisions. I hope to publish it sometime in spring 2016 if all goes well.

What I didn’t tell you was that I signed up to participate in a Self-Publishing School so I could learn more about the self-publishing process. Like an echo of Game of Thrones, “You know nothing Michelle Whitney,” kept ringing in my ears every time I tried to learn something about publishing my own work. It was a good investment, I learned a lot, and it got me to the point I’m at now–on the verge of launching my first book.

I’d like to be traditionally published in the future, but self-publishing seemed to be the way to get myself out there, build a brand, and help some folks in the process.

When I first enrolled in the program, I decided to take a break from editing my novel (it was still too new and raw to tear to pieces during the editing process, which it definitely needed) to get a bit of perspective on it, and write a piece of nonfiction.

I’d never really considered writing nonfiction, but once I started mind-mapping ideas, they wouldn’t stop coming. I originally wanted to write about creativity–see the title of my blog, lol–but when I sat down to plan, this book about stress tumbled out.

I realized that I needed to write this book as much to heal myself as to help others who might be struggling through the same swampy morass I struggled through. I’ve survived several toxic work environments, but one left me with a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I hope none of you have to deal with anything like that in your lifetime, but I wanted to lay out practical tips and tricks (served up with a bit of humor) that helped me survive stress-induced sleeplessness, sociopathic bosses and coworkers, and some definitely toxic workplaces.

I’m always amazed that I came out the other side of that with my self-esteem and creativity intact, if a bit bruised. Some individuals will do everything they can to shatter what makes you unique in order to build up themselves. You owe it to yourself and the rest of the world to hold tight to who you are.

Talking helps us heal, and for some of us, writing does too. And don’t forget the laughter, for I dearly love to laugh. Let’s all do our best to laugh our way out of stress, and I hope my book, Stress Hacks: 166 Tips and Tricks to Free Yourself from Stress and Sleeplessness and Reclaim a Relaxed Life, will guide you on your way.

I’ll post more details about the book when it comes online at Amazon for preorder in the next day or two. And I’ll link to the website page where you can sign up to receive your free downloadable coloring book.

Taking Some Time

Great Oak FallI’ve been a busy beaver over the summer, and contrary to the past summers of nearly a decade, the busy has been for me.  I need to take a deep breath every time I think of spending the time on me.  It’s something we all need to do, but what our western world often considers selfish.

On the first day of fall as I notice the beginnings of color change on the tree outside my window , I realize it has been a good summer.

I’m excited for fall.  It makes me feel hopeful.  There’s something about nature putting itself to bed for the winter that is so calming.  As an introvert, drawing inward is more my speed and fall is all about gathering your resources to you to process over the long winter sleep.  Then come spring, what issues forth from inside you, isn’t just a copy of what you shed in the fall, but is something entirely new.

I’ve finished the rough drafts of two books as the heat blazed outside–the fiction novel that I chronicled on this site with word counts, and a nonfiction book about dealing with stress.  I’ll be self-publishing the nonfiction book on Amazon and elsewhere sometime in November.  I’m getting the rough draft back from early readers now and it’ll be off to a professional editor in the next week or two.

The novel still needs a lot of work, mostly regarding structure, which is the aspect of my writing that I have to fight the hardest for each time I sit down to write.  So significant rewrites and restructuring are in the cards before I can bring it to light.  I’m hopeful about publishing it next year.

My garden grew this summer for the first time in ages because I actually had the time to tend to it.  I’m still getting tomatoes, green beans, and both banana and bell peppers, as well as numerous herbs.

As I cultivated my physical garden this year, I also cultivated my creative garden.  Growth has been all around me and not feeling stagnant anymore was priceless.   My life has been simpler and the quiet and contemplation has done me worlds of good.

I still have a lot of work to do and the learning is never over, but wouldn’t the world be a less interesting place if we weren’t always students of its intricacies?

Breaking 50,000 Words

Kelly in the Trees

Augustfest in Palmer, Alaska

I just past 50,000 words in my quest to birth a novel. I’ll take any victory along the way. Time to celebrate!

Baltimore, I Love You


Dear Baltimore,

I love you.  You’re the quirky uncle that people think is cool, but don’t quite know how to handle when he gets into the booze.  You have your problems; we all do.  You elicit a dichotomy of powerful emotions that sometimes drives you, in your frustration, to violence, but your capacity for community and good deeds is stronger by far.

You are also my home.  A microcosm of our nation.  A city on the border straddling two disparate realities like Maryland straddles north and south.

I could write like everyone else about Freddie Gray, or the cops or politicians, or how the media lies and fans the flames of unrest (peaceful protests don’t sell advertising), but I’m not going to.

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A spiral can lead up or down, depending on your point of view.  Sometimes Baltimore, you’re standing at the top, and sometimes the bottom.  I’ve seen so many powerful people use the backs of others as stepping stones to quicken their own elevation.  I’ve also seen many reach down and offer a hand up to those who were trying to rise.

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Baltimore, there are no simple answers, but your facade is crumbling.  You need more than some patchwork and a coat of paint.  The fractures run as deep as the waters of the Chesapeake.  But out of the bad can come a resounding good.

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The world is finally listening.  Now is the time.  Don’t stay in the shadows.  Lift up every voice because change is on the horizon.

Overcoming One of Writing’s Greatest Blocks–Other People’s Expectations

Creatively Screwed

When I was young and first started letting others read my creative writing, I ended up with a lot of pushback from my parents and other adults that I was supposed to trust.  I would hear, “Oh, you shouldn’t use those words,” or “That’s not lady-like Michelle.”  The whole point of the criticisms, even when I was writing truths, albeit sometimes painful truths, was to tell me that my point of view—my words, my world—wasn’t valid.  That somehow my life experiences were things that shouldn’t be written about.  And during those times, I wrote about some incredibly painful things.  I didn’t really understand that those who were telling me that I shouldn’t write about those things were really concerned for themselves and how they might be perceived through my work rather than how I might be perceived.  In other words, it wasn’t about me at all—it was about them.

It has taken me an age to shake off those expectations and I still struggle with them from time-to-time, but I understand better now.  I know those expectations are not at all about me, but about them.  Just because I don’t fit into someone’s narrow view of who they want me to be, does not make it my problem.  It makes it their problem.  It took someone emotionally and mentally battering me to really see these poisonous expectations clearly and how they were not only stunting my growth as a writer, but also as a human being.

My father’s passing helped with that too.  He had expectations, of course.  All parents do.  Sometimes they think they are supporting us, but their expectations mold us into something they want us to be instead of letting us be ourselves.  I don’t think they always realize that they are doing it.  They are often fighting their own demons when they try to shape us.  My father certainly was.  He grew up in severe urban poverty with an absent father and a single mother who’d have to hock the radio every month to make the rent.  I think the reason he had fond memories of his childhood during WWII was because that was when his mother had a good job working in a factory making a decent wage.  She lost that, of course, when the men came home from the front and took their jobs back. 

My father’s childhood was a constant struggle for money, and having a father (my grandfather) who was an artist (and a drunk) meant that artist in you was not something to be embraced, but hidden and overcome.  If you had a creative side, you suppressed it.  You got a decent job and worked your way up to management through the ranks (you could do that in his time—not so much anymore) and you were afforded The American Dream.  You could buy a house, support a family, send your kids to school, have extra money to save for travel and retirement, and you could do it all without needing a high school diploma (my father joined the Navy at 17 and got a GED during his enlistment).

Dad wanted the same dream for me, but with a college degree.  It didn’t matter if my dreams were different.  I don’t think he ever understood how much the world had changed.  He lived in the past and I’m doing my best to live mindfully in the now.

I’ve always had this incredible desire to be myself.  I didn’t realize how rare a thing this was.  So many people want to be someone else.  In high school, I was at a party where a guy I barely knew was running around drunkenly asking everyone,  “If you could be anyone in the world, living or dead, who would you be?”  People were mostly answering celebrities or sport stars.  I didn’t hesitate; I said I wanted to be myself.  I’d had a few drinks and it was a completely honest, spontaneous answer.  I shocked the guy.  He stared at me in silence for a few minutes then hopped from sofa to chair in his bare feet and shouted my answer to everyone at the party.  At the time, I didn’t think it was a remarkable response, but this inebriated guy thought I’d said the most profound thing he’d ever heard and wanted to get to know me better because of it.  My answer made me interesting.

I’ve never wanted to be anything other than what I am.  I tried to reach the expectations of others because I wanted to please them and wanted them to be proud of me.  What I’ve learned along this journey is that expectations are impossible targets because they are always moving.  And when you release an arrow from your bow and it’s heading straight for the bullseye and you think you’re finally going to meet those expectations, the target jumps aside and you miss it completely.  I’m sure I repeated that shot a thousand times before finally understanding that the game is rigged.  You’ll never hit the target so you might as well be yourself.

Learning that lesson was a breakthrough for me in overcoming my biggest block in writing and in life.