The Best Gluten Free Products – From Baked Goods to Bread

gluten free oatmeal cookies

Are you going gluten free? And wondering how to start cooking gluten free? And what gluten free products are the best ones? Well, my cousin, one of my favorite people in the world, asked me to share some recommendations on my favorite gluten free products and where to find them.

Who am I and how would I know this? I have been cooking gluten free for years and even had a gluten free baking business before being gluten free was cool. It was long before you could find gluten free products at Target and when finding anything that tasted good was difficult. I used to mix my own flour and experiment with different flavors. Now, it’s easy to find great gluten free mixes, flours and breads and I’m happy to share my favorites here with you.

Gluten free oatmeal cookies

The best gluten free flour

My favorite gluten free all-purpose flour is from King Arthur Flour. I use King Arthur Flour Measure for Measure gluten free baking flour for cakes, cookies, and when a recipe calls for a thickener. It already has Xantham gum (a binder you need when you don’t have gluten. If you don’t have one, your baked goods will fall apart) and works just like regular flour, in my opinion. It’s amazing. You can get it on Amazon for a good price or Sprouts has the big bag.

Another good option for baking mix is Trader Joe’s gluten free flour. It works well and has some good recipes on the bag. I must also mention Bisquick™ Gluten Free Pancake & Baking Mix. I only use it when I’m making this recipe for baked fried chicken and it’s worth buying it just for that.

Pecan Pie with gluten free crust

The best baking mixes

King Arthur baking mixes are also excellent and I’ve tried almost all of them (except the donuts, which are in my pantry right now). The pie crust is very good as is the brownie and cookie mixes. You can get the baking mixes and flour on Amazon and sometimes Target has baking mixes for a good price.

I also like Bob’s Red Mill pie crust mix, which is what I used for my Thanksgiving pies. (I made three even though we only had 5 people because pie is the best part of Thanksgiving.)

Gluten free birthday cake and cupcakes

The best gluten free cake mixes

If I have one superpower it’s that I can whip up a birthday cake in the time it takes some people to make a sandwich. I love making cakes and for birthdays I like to switch it up depending on what the person likes. My favorite birthday cake mix is Pillsbury Funfetti Gluten Free Cake Mix. It tastes like regular cake – my biggest complement.

One of the best cakes I’ve made was with King Arthur Flour Yellow Cake Mix. I made four layers and filled with good quality raspberry jam and frosted with a fresh raspberry buttercream. The cake was the perfect base.

The cake that everyone goes crazy for and is the most requested when I get together with friends (in before times, of course), is an almond cake that I got the recipe for off of a bag of Bob’s Red Mill almond flour. It’s delicious and perfect for every occasion. You can serve it as a birthday cake with chocolate frosting or serve it with powdered sugar and berries for a lovely snack with coffee. In the picture below, I filled it with homemade lemon curd and frosted with a lemon meringue buttercream.

Gluten free almond cake with homemade lemon curd and lemon meringue frosting

The best almond flour

Almond flour is expensive so if you have a Costco membership or know someone who does, then I would buy it there. Or buy a giant bag of Bob’s Red Mill online. Almond flour is tricky because it has a lot of fat so it can’t be used as a one to one substitution in gluten free baking. It’s just ground up almonds. It’s amazing, however, as a flour substitute in brownies or in meatballs. Trader Joe’s also carries a good almond flour with one of my favorite cookie recipes on the back.

The best gluten free bread

Bread is a hard one when it comes to gluten free. It’s just not the same, I’m not going to lie. I don’t make gluten free bread and haven’t tried any mixes lately, but I will update this if I do. As far as gluten free sandwich bread, I think Trader Joe’s bread in the pink bag is the best one. It tastes good, doesn’t fall apart and isn’t super dense. I also really like Udi’s (which may be who makes it for Trader Joe’s) for the same reason. Every once in a while, I’ll try a new sandwich bread and I keep coming back to these two.

Gluten free pasta with spinach and meatballs

The best gluten free pasta

I’ve tried quite a few pastas and my favorite dry past for texture and flavor is Trader Joe’s quinoa pasta, which is quinoa flour and brown rice flour. There are a lot of pasta’s made with corn, chickpea, or white rice flour, but I like the Trader Joe’s one because there’s fiber in it and it seems to hold up the best. Like all gluten free pasta, you have to make sure not to overcook it.

The best fresh pasta is Trader Joe’s Egg Fettucine pasta. It’s got a great texture and goes well with any sauce. The TJ’s ravioli is also excellent.

We just tried Udi’s gluten free ravioli that I’ve seen at Target (I ordered it from Amazon Fresh) and it was really good. It comes in a sauce and you can cook the whole thing in the microwave.

The best gluten free beer

Gluten free beer has come a long way in the last few years! There are some amazing and complex beers from microbreweries and a familiar tasting beer from Anheuser-Busch. I’m no authority on beer, but I know that I really love Green’s Dubbel Dark Ale. For a list of other gluten free beers, check out Thrillist’s list.

Try all the things

If you have Celiac and don’t have any allergies to other foods, I suggest trying everything until you find the foods you like best. Make sure to look at the ingredients for any food you buy, even if you think there’s no way it can have gluten in it. You can find gluten in soy sauce, packaged meat, candy and ice cream. I also recommend looking at the sugar and carbohydrate content. Sometimes manufacturers will add sugar and salt to make up for the gluten. And some items have more carbs than you’d think because they’re adding white rice or starches to mimic the gluten.

Let me know if you have any questions or if there’s a product you love that I haven’t mentioned.

Gluten-Free Banana Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins

Gluten Free Banana Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins. #glutenfree #peanutbuttermuffins #glutenfreemuffins #quarantinebaking

I’m all about comfort food these days. I know I should spend more time working out and less time making muffins, cake, cookies and mashed potatoes, but I think we should all do whatever we can to get through this time. What’s more comforting than a gooey gluten free banana peanut butter and jelly muffin?

These Gluten Free Banana Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins may be the best thing I’ve ever made. If you love peanut butter you will love these. They’re gooey and soft and sweet and they make me happy. My teenage boys liked them too.

It may sound like a lot with the banana and peanut butter and jelly, but it all works. And they are pretty easy to make. I didn’t have to break out the mixer and only used two bowls. The only mildly labor-intensive part was scooping in the jelly. I used strawberry jelly from Costco, which is so good, but I also love the 365 Mixed Berry Conserve. But use whatever you have and I’m sure it will be great. I do recommend using natural salted peanut butter, without oil or sugar. These muffins are lightly sweet.

I also recommend King Arthur Flour Measure for Measure Gluten Free Flour because everything comes out really good when I bake with it and it already contains xantham gum, which helps bind the gluten free flour together (wheat flour contains gluten, which is how it binds together, but you probably already know that). If you don’t have the King Arthur mix or can’t find it anywhere to purchase, any gluten free all-purpose baking mix will do, but add 1 teaspoon of xantham gum to the recipe.

If you don’t have or like jelly, substitute 1 cup chocolate chips for the jelly.

Gluten Free Banana Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin pan.

Melt a stick of butter in a bowl in the microwave. Set aside.

Combine 2 cups King Arthur Measure for Measure Gluten Free Flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and set aside.

In a large bowl, mash four ripe bananas. Add two eggs and whisk together.

Add 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1 cup of natural peanut butter, 1 stick melted butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla and mix until combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the banana peanut butter mixture and mix until combined. (If you’re using 1 cup chocolate chips instead of jelly, fold them in now.)

With an ice cream scoop (or big spoon), scoop the mix into a sprayed muffin pan.

Next, spoon in about a tablespoon amount of jelly into the center of the muffin.

Gluten Free Banana Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins. #glutenfree #peanutbuttermuffins #glutenfreemuffins #quarantinebaking

Try to cover as much of the jelly as possible with the mix.

Cook for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the muffin part comes out clean.

Gluten Free Banana Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins. #glutenfree #peanutbuttermuffins #glutenfreemuffins #quarantinebaking

Let cool (jelly will be hot coming out of the oven. I learned this the hard way when I shoved a warm muffin in my mouth and was burned by the jelly). They also freeze well. I hope you enjoy them!

Gluten Free Banana Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins


4 ripe bananas

½ cup butter – 1 stick melted

2 eggs

½ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup natural peanut butter

2 cups King Arthur Measure for Measure Gluten Free Flour*

2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon



Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin pan. Combine gluten free flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and set aside.

Melt butter in a bowl in the microwave and set aside.

In a large bowl, mash bananas. Add two eggs and whisk together. Add brown sugar, peanut butter, melted butter and vanilla and mix until combined.

Add dry ingredients to banana mixture and mix until combined. Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, scoop muffin pan 3/4 full.

Spoon in about a tablespoon of jelly into the center of the muffin. Try to cover jelly with muffin as much as possible.

Cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the muffin part, comes out clean.

Let cool. Muffins can be frozen. Enjoy!

*King Arthur Measure to Measure Gluten Free Flour contains Xantham Gum. If you use a gluten free baking mix without xantham gum, add 1 teaspoon xantham gum to the 2 cups of gf flour.

This is not a sponsored post. I received no compensation or free product.

Gluten Free Banana Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins. #glutenfree #peanutbuttermuffins #glutenfreemuffins #quarantinebaking

How to Donate and Volunteer in Los Angeles During the Coronavirus

Updated 5/6 It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 2 months since the Los Angeles Mayor told us we’d be Safer at Home – because it feels like it’s been this way for a thousand years. There are many ways people can volunteer and help out people in need in Los Angeles. Thousands of kids are going without the regular meals they get from schools and many parents are without a paycheck. 

If you’re looking for ways to help, here is a list of organizations collecting everything from food to diapers to money. Please let everyone know about any other volunteer or donation opportunities in the comments. 

Los Angeles Regional Food Bank

The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank is asking for monetary donations to help feed everyone that needs assistance. The coronavirus closures are disproportionately impacting lower-income families. “The Food Bank is working hard to meet this extra need, but we need your help. School closures, quarantines, business shut-downs and reduced work schedules all impact access to food.” For more information, click here.

No Kid Hungry is helping kids during the cononavirus pandemic.

No Kid Hungry

No Kid Hungry is asking families to help ask Congress pass emergency SNAP funding for low-income families and donate to help feed kids missing out meals provided at school. No Kid Hungry is diverting resources to the hardest-hit communities, providing emergency grants for the hardest-hit communities and helping get information out to families. More information can be found here.

City of Los Angeles COVID-19 Response and Relief Fund

The City of Los Angeles has set up the COVID-19 Response and Relief Fund to help provide support for families, relief for healthcare workers, equipment for health response, services for unhoused neighbors and research. More information can be found here.

Project Angel Food has an urgent call for donations due to coronavirus.

Project Angel Food urgent call for volunteers and donations

Project Angel Food is asking for volunteers to help out during the COVID-19 crisis. More than 60 percent of their clients are over 60 and need help getting meals and some of their volunteers have canceled shifts. They are also asking for donations to meet the needs of more people requiring assistance. You’ll find more information including safety procedures here.

United Way of Greater Los Angeles Pandemic Relief Fund

The United Way of Greater Los Angeles has set up a Pandemic Relief Fund “to support L.A. County’s unsheltered residents who are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus, and low-income individuals, students and families at imminent risk of homelessness and hardships due to health and economic impacts of coronavirus. Currently, an estimated 59,000 people are experiencing homelessness on any given night, without the ability to obtain consistent shelter or health care, and 1.7 million working families in L.A. struggle in poverty.” Donations will help support public health programs, prevent homelessness, provide support for low-income students and support for nonprofits. For more information, click here.

Cedars Sinai needs blood donations

Cedars Sinai is asking people to donate blood due to cancelations of local blood drives. They said this in an email. “Due to a decline in community blood drives, we are asking that our generous blood donors continue to share their good health and help us maintain adequate blood inventories during this uncertain time.” Click here to learn more and see if you are eligible to donate and information about visiting the donation center.

A Place Called Home, which provides services for young people in South Central Los Angeles, has had to close to visitors due to the COVID-19 outbreak and had to reschedule a bowling fundraiser – Stars & Strikes. But don’t worry, it’s now a virtual fundraiser. For more information, click here. 

World Health Organization Solidarity Fundraiser

The United Nations Foundation announced a $20 million matching donations to support global relief efforts for COVID-19. ” The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fundraiser supports WHO’s global efforts to track the outbreak, help patients and frontline workers, and speed up vaccine and treatment development.” Click here for more information.

LA Works is asking for in person and virtual volunteers to help during the stay at home order in Los Angeles due to coronavirus.

L.A. Works virtual volunteer opportunites

L.A. Works organizes volunteers to do good things for people all over Los Angeles. Here’s what they have to say, ” Now, more than ever, we need one another to help get through these unprecedented times. The L.A. Works team has been working tirelessly with our partners to identify critical needs and determine how to best connect volunteers to address and meet those needs.” They are asking for virtual volunteers to set up groups and help seniors. If you have any tech or social media skills, please consider reaching out here to L.A. Works.

L.A. Works hunger-relief volunteer opportunities

L.A. Works is also looking for volunteers to help with hunger relief. Here’s what they say, “The “Safer at Home” order allows food banks to operate so your hungry and homebound neighbors can get what they need.  These food banks desperately need your volunteer help to sort donations, package food kits, or deliver meals.  All banks have incorporated thorough distancing and hygiene procedures.” Follow this link and find out if you can help.

Help a Mother Out diaper drive

The families served by the nonprofit Help a Mother Out are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus crisis. ” We are working with our community partners to anticipate and address the significant increase in diaper need, especially from families who do not receive any form of public assistance, including service employees and undocumented immigrants.” For more information, click here.

Los Angeles Unified School District

LAUSD will open 60 grab & go food centers throughout Los Angeles on Wednesday, March 18 for students in need. They can take home two meals on weekdays. I will update if any donation information becomes available about donations. For a list of Grab & go centers, check here.

There are other ways to help as well as the ones listed above. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged residents to check in on each other especially the elderly. And maybe call someone you haven’t talked to in a while and make sure they’re okay.

It’s been an unsettling couple of weeks with so much information coming at us from all over the place. I hope everyone out there is safe and healthy and your kids aren’t driving you crazy. Take care of yourself.

How Writing About Teenage Boys Has Made Me a Better Mom

Teenage boys at Topanga State Park

Raising teenage boys is harder than I ever imagined. When my boys were little, they would run around, injure themselves and go to the emergency room. It was so stressful and also so normal, everyone said. Boys are more challenging when they’re little. When they become teenagers, they mellow out and it becomes easier, I was told.

Mellower, yes. Easier, no. I thought the most challenging part would be juggling all of the driving around. In reality, it’s more complex. While they’re not as energetic, they have complex emotions, lives outside of our house with friends and social media, the pressure of school and friends and changing bodies.

Thankfully, I’ve had help with many of my parenting questions thanks to my freelance gig at I’m writing about teenagers and it’s been amazing getting my questions answered by professionals, research studies and other moms of teens.

I’ve learned that one of my teenagers isn’t getting enough sleep (I kind of knew this already), how to get teen boys and girls to open up, and how to teach teens about healthy eating without shaming them.

Here are a few of the posts where I learned the most about raising two sons:

How much sleep do teenagers need?

The answer was… way more than my older son was getting. They need between 8 to 10 hours a night, which is difficult during the school year when teens have so much going on – sports, after school activities and (especially in Los Angeles) a time-consuming commute.

We made a change and while he’s not getting 8 hours, he’s getting more than he was and it seems to have made a positive impact on his energy level and schoolwork.

What happens if they don’t get enough sleep? People who sleep even one hour of sleep less than they should a night report having trouble concentrating and remembering facts. Plus, lack of sleep has been linked to obesity, diabetes, poor mental health and behavior problems. You can read more here.

How do you get a teenage son or daughter to open up?

Getting a teenager to talk to you about something meaningful can be difficult for some parents. One great tip came from my older son. He said to make sure and listen. Sometimes parents go through the motions and ask questions and then tune out. If you get to know your kids as people with interests and feelings, they’ll be more likely to talk to you. Here’s a link to a post about talking to teen boys and teen girls.

Fun questions to get your teens talking around the dinner table

I wrote another post about getting teens to talk – this time around the dinner table. Questions include, “Is Baby Yoda related to old-timey muppet yoda?” “Who do you admire most in the world?” and if you can’t get them to talk to you try “The first time you had sex was…” Find it here.

How to talk to teens about healthy eating

After writing this post, I decided I needed to cook more healthy meals. I had gotten into a rut where I would cook the same things over and over or pick something up on the way home. Not only did I actually start cooking more, but my boys have been eating the meals I cook. You can read more here.

Should your teenager get a job?

Yes. Yes, they should, in my opinion. I learned so much about life, people and money by having a job as a teenager. But can teenagers today really have a job and do everything they need to do in school? Teenagers are so overscheduled these days that fitting in a job along with sports, extra-curriculars, and a commute may seem impossible.

According to the experts in the article, having a job teaches responsibility, how to manage time and money, and looks great on a college application.

If you’d like to read more, here are articles about –

Experiencing a New Los Angeles

My DMs are blowing up. Birthday parties, festivals, concerts – every weekend there’s something super fun to do and lots of people to do it with. No, I’m not a 25-year-old that just arrived in Los Angeles, but I feel like I’m new in town. 

I moved to LA 14 years ago with a newborn and a toddler and, other than my husband, I only knew one person. Since then I’ve made wonderful friends – all of them through a connection to my kids or from being a mom blogger. Everything I did for so long was about momming.

As a family, we went to neighborhood potlucks, camping trips and even vacations with our new friends, and kids were always at the center, “Mom, Mommy, Mom, Mama, momomomommmmmm.”  And as a blogger, I went to every museum, every festival and countless family-centric events all over Los Angeles with my kids.


Whenever an older woman would stop me on the street when my boys were freaking out (or doing something adorable) and say that I should cherish this time because it goes by so fast, I would scoff. I was young, my kids were babies and I had plenty of time.

But then when I wasn’t paying attention, it happened just like the ladies said; time passed more quickly than I ever thought it could.

My boys are teenagers now and they have their own lives. They don’t want to hang out with their mom. When we do the neighborhood potluck thing, the parents have to coax the kids to come out of whatever cave they’re playing video games in or text them wherever they are to come and get something to eat. If we’re lucky, they might stop to talk to us for a few minutes.

Sometimes I wonder if I will look back on those years when my boys were little and think that those were the best of times…

But there’s no use in dwelling on that (as a I brush the tears off my keyboard) because not doing as many things with my kids has freed up a lot of time. I’m finding that there’s a whole other Los Angeles to explore and it starts after 6 pm. 

I was thinking about this recently while I looked for last-minute tickets to see Lizzo. Why? Because I love Lizzo so much and my kids had plans and it didn’t want to miss out.

Back in 2011, Prince played 12 shows at the Forum and it only cost $25! Did I go? No, because I am an idiot. I mentioned that to a friend recently who had no kids at the time and had gone to several of the shows. She asked the obvious question, “What the hell else were you doing that was better than that?” 

Nothing. I wasn’t doing anything that was remotely better than that. I have a husband who was perfectly capable of taking care of our kids so I could go out, but I just couldn’t get my mind around it at that point in my momming career. Plus, I was just too tired to go out. Working and having small kids is exhausting. And we did so much together as a family. There wasn’t time left for me.

Well, now it’s all about me because my kids don’t want it to be all about them anymore. So I’m experiencing LA like I’m new in town because I can’t sit at home crying about how I can’t turn back time.

Outside of Beauty and Essex in Hollywood

So on nights when my kids are out with their friends, I’m going out, too. My husband and I get cheap, last-minute tickets to shows. I spontaneously meet people for dinner at new and interesting restaurants. And I go to the movies with a group of ladies on a weeknight ($5 Tuesdays at AMC) without worrying about getting kids to bed because now they can do that their own selves.

So whoever wants to join me, I’m researching all the fun things to do in LA for ladies of a certain age. If anyone knows a fun place to go dancing where you don’t have to arrive after 9 pm, let me know!

It’s possible that I’m having a midlife crisis or I’m worried that I’ll soon be an empty-nester, but I can’t think about that right now because I’m late for happy hour.

Elvia’s Albondigas Soup Recipe

albondigas mexican soup

Everyone says this, but I truly believe that my mom, Elvia, is the best cook in the world. Her posole, beans, enchiladas and albondigas soup are better than any restaurant and definitely better than anything I make. 

Trying to recreate her recipes is not easy because, like many great cooks, she doesn’t write anything down. She throws together ingredients and whatever dish she’s making comes out great every time.

I talked to her on the phone recently while she was in the middle of making Albóndigas, which is a Mexican meatball soup with vegetables and spices. It seemed like the perfect time to get the recipe because she was in the process of making it. Ha, good one. She basically said to make the meatballs, throw some water in a pot with a bunch of ingredients and a couple of hours later, you’ll have your soup. After a little more chatting, I was able to get the basic ingredients for the soup with a little more detailed direction.

Here’s what I came up with and it turned out great – just like I remembered. It’s not spicy (one of the few dishes my mom makes that’s not spicy) so even my boys tried it. I used organic beef and gluten-free bread crumbs because we’re fancy like that (just kidding, my husband has Celiac so everything I cook is gluten free), but feel free to use regular beef and regular bread crumbs.

I just love my mom's recipe for albondigas soup - it's easy and not spicy so kids love it. #soup #albondigas #meatballs #soup #easysoup #easyrecipe

Combine 1 to 1¼ pound organic beef in a large bowl with ½ cup bread crumbs, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, salt and pepper.

Mix the ingredients together with your hands and shape the meat mixture into small balls. Set aside.

Chop half a large white onion and 6 pearl tomatoes.

Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil to a soup pot and sauté 2 cloves of crushed garlic, the onion and tomato until the onion is soft. Then add the water and bouillon (or stock) and bring to a boil.

Lower heat to a simmer and cook for 2 hours. While that’s cooking, chop 1 large potato and two medium zucchini.

After cooking the soup for about two hours, add the potato. After 2 ½ hours add the zucchini. Then add more salt and pepper to taste and you’re done. You can serve with cilantro and avocado slices or by itself.

I just love my mom's recipe for albondigas soup - it's easy and not spicy so kids love it. #soup #albondigas #meatballs #soup #easysoup #easyrecipe

Elvia’s Easy Albondigas Soup Recipe


1 to 1¼ pound organic beef
1 egg
1 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper

2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 large white onion, chopped
6 pearl tomatoes chopped (or a can of diced tomatoes)
1 large potato, chopped and set aside
2 medium zucchini, chopped and set aside
7 cups of water and one bouillon cube (or 7 cups of chicken or vegetable stock)
Olive oil

Combine beef, bread crumbs, egg, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix together with your hands. Form small meatballs and set aside.

In a large soup pot, sauté onions, garlic, and tomatoes until onions are soft. Pour in water and bouillon (or stock) and add meatballs. Bring to a boil then immediately turn it to simmer. Cook for about two hours then add potatoes*. After 2 ½ hours add the zucchini. After the zucchini is soft, but not mushy, your soup is done. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Serve and enjoy!

*You can put everything in at once, but the potatoes and zucchini will become mushy. My grandmother puts everything at once and says it’s fine. My mother was adamant that the zucchini be put in at the end.

Hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park

There it was. The thing that kept me up at night, that woke me from sleep. It was Angels Landing in Zion, one of the most exciting hiking trails in the National Parks.

Angels Landing in Zion National Park (photo by Yvonne Condes)

My husband and some friends had hiked Angels Landing years ago and still tell the story. When we decided to make the trip again to Zion National Park over our boys’ Thanksgiving break, my husband mentioned that he wanted to take our boys on the trail. I immediately panicked.

The way he had described Angels Landing was terrifying; you hike up holding on to chains because it’s so steep. There are cliffs on each side with nothing stopping you from plummeting hundreds of feet to your death.

The day my husband hiked Angels Landing it was freezing and windy. His hands could barely hold on to the chains. My boys, 11 and 12, were absolutely not doing it.

Zion National park near the Angels Landing trail. photo by Yvonne Condes
The beginning of the Angels Landing hike

But then we got there. It was a beautiful fall day, warm and sunny with a light breeze. I told my son, who was then 12-year-old, that he was not doing it even though there were kids younger than he was with moms that looked just like me – some older and some younger.

We had already hiked up about 1,000 feet on the Western Rim Trail and I felt good. The conditions were perfect and who knows if we’d ever get back there again.

My son begged me to go. “Why can’t we go?” He asked over and over and over. Finally, a woman sitting on a rock turned to him and said, “Because she doesn’t want you to die.”

“See,” I said. “No one thinks it’s a good idea.” But after going back and forth and telling myself that I was a terrible mother for even thinking of it, I finally said, “OK!”

I was very nervous. But the thing about being a control freak is that if you control everything then it will be fine. Which is what I told myself as we prepared to start the hike.

Phones away, I told my son. Pay attention. Stay Close. Listen to me. My husband and 11-year-old went off to do a different, strenuous hike and off we went.

Angels Landing in Zion National Park (photo by Yvonne Condes)

It’s a popular hike and there were a good amount of people on the trail. It wasn’t scary at all once we started hiking. Well, there was one scary moment when I lost my footing and almost fell. If I had been in the wrong spot, it could have been very bad. But I shook it off and made a point to pay attention to where I was stepping (and never again buys shoes on sale that don’t fit right just because they look cool).

Angels Landing in Zion National Park (photo by Yvonne Condes)

I honestly don’t remember how long it took to get to the top, but we had a great time getting there. We were very close to the group hiking in front of and behind us.

We listened to one 30ish man talk about traveling around the world guiding people through beautiful places. There was a young woman who was camping by herself who had chatted up a young guy who was driving around the country in his Toyota Camry visiting National Parks and sleeping in his car. It looked like they were going to hook up, but we lost them on the way down. It was fun for my son to hear about the cool adventures people were having and imagine that he could do the same someday.

Once we got to the top we took a rest, had some water and took in the incredible view.

View from Angels Landing in Zion National Park (photo by Yvonne Condes)

The hike down went by pretty fast, but much more crowded than the way up. There were times when we had to hold on to the chain and wait for people to go around us or squeeze by other people.

It’s one of those things where it only works when everyone does what they are supposed to do, which was why I was alarmed to see a guy run past us, hopping from rock to rock, up the trail. We also saw a man with a baby in an external backpack baby carrier. I’m sure he was safe, but it made me nervous.

Angels Landing didn’t turn out to be scary – just really fun. It turned out to be one of the best days of my life.

I’m so glad that I didn’t let fear stop me from doing something that my son wanted to experience and was perfectly capable of doing. The best part of the hike was getting to talk to him and hear him tell stories. We’re so busy with school, work and life that we don’t have much time to just chat about what’s going on around us. It was an incredible bonding experience that we won’t forget.

Angels Landing in Zion National Park (photos by Yvonne Condes)

Pumpkin Spice Cheerios Marshmallow Bar Recipe

I know, I know. Pumpkin Spice is everywhere. Before you tire of the ubiquitous mix of flavors, you might want to make these delightful pumpkin bars made with Pumpkin Spice Cheerios.

General Mills sent me a box of their Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cheerios, marshmallows, caramels, Ghirardelli white baking chips and a recipe. I can’t say no to caramels and white chocolate chips (and an easy recipe!).

Pumpkin spice cheerios ingredients.

The marshmallow cereal bar recipe was very easy to make and one that I’d make again.

You start by spraying the bottom and sides of a 13×9 inch pan with vegetable oil. Set aside. Spray a large bowl and fill it with 6 cups of Pumpkin Spice Cheerios. Set Aside.

photo by Yvonne Condes

Spray a medium size, microwaveable bowl with vegetable oil and add unwrapped caramels and 2 tablespoons of water.

photo by Yvonne Condes

Cook in the microwave on high for 1.5 to 2 minutes, stirring after one minute until the caramels are melted.

photo by Yvonne Condes

Add 2 cups of mini marshmallows.

photo by Yvonne Condes

Stir until melted.

photo by Yvonne Condes
photo by Yvonne Condes

Add marshmallow, caramel mixture to the Pumpkin Spice Cheerios. Mix until combined.

photo by Yvonne Condes

Pour into prepared pan. Spray a spatula and use it to press the cheerios mixture into the pan.

photo by Yvonne Condes

(You can skip the next part if you don’t want the extra sugar). In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup white baking chips and 1 teaspoon cooking oil.

photo by Yvonne Condes

Microwave on high for one minute or until melted.

photo by Yvonne Condes

Drizzle the melted chips over the bars. Refrigerate until firm, about a half hour.

photo by Yvonne Condes

And that’s it. Really easy and my family loved them. Pumpkin Spice Cheerios are gluten free and none of the ingredients contain gluten (the baking chips say may contain wheat, fyi).

Waitress Musical at The Pantages

The hit Broadway musical Waitress opened this weekend at The Hollywood Pantages Theatre and I was happy to be invited to the premiere. Sara Bareilles, who wrote the music and lyrics for the hit Broadway show, walked the red carpet and talked to the audience after the show.

Sara Bareilles at the Premiere of Waitress at The Hollywood Pantages. #waitress #waitressmusical #pantages #hollywood #sarabareilles
Sara Bareilles at the Premiere of Watress the Musical at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Photo by Yvonne Condes

Bareilles lived in Los Angeles for 15 years and graduated from UCLA. She said she was happy to bring the musical to Los Angeles with such an amazing cast.

“It is the thrill of a lifetime to sit and watch this show come to life,” she said to the audience.

It was pretty thrilling for me to watch it as well. The production was delightful. The show, which premiered on Broadway two years ago and is still running, is about Jenna (Desi Oakley), a pie-making waitress in an abusive marriage.

Desi Oakley as Jenna in the National Tour of Waitress. #waitress #waitressmusical #pantages #hollywood
Desi Oakley as Jenna in the National Tour of Waitress. Photo by Joan Marcus.

She works at a diner in the deep south. The only things that bring her joy are baking pies and talking to her two best friends and fellow waitresses, Becky (Charity Angél Dawson) and Dawn (Lenne Klingman).

Charity Angel Dawson, Desi Oakley and Lenne Klingman in the national tour of Waitress. #waitress #waitressmusical #pantages #hollywood
Charity Angel Dawson, Desi Oakley and Lenne Klingman in the national tour of Waitress. Photo by Joan Marcus

Oakley was fantastic as Jenna. I wondered how her voice would compare to Jessie Mueller who is on the Broadway cast album and Oakley sang beautifully. Dawson and Klingman were hilarious and Jeremy Morse stole the show as Ogie, Dawn’s boyfriend who bursts into spontaneous poetry and movement when he sees her.

Lenne Klingaman and Jeremy Morse in National Tour of Waitress. #waitress #waitressmusical #pantages #hollywood
Lenne Klingaman and Jeremy Morse in National Tour of Waitress. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Jenna’s world is rocked when she learns she’s pregnant and realizes she has to find a way out of her bad marriage. To complicate things even more, she starts up a fling with her adorable (and married!) OBGYN played by Bryan Fenkart. Their scenes are fun, but the most moving parts of the show are when Oakley is alone belting out beautiful songs or when she’s with Dawson and Klingman.

Waitress is a fun show for adults or for families with older kids. It’s recommended for ages 12 and up and children under 5 won’t be admitted into the theatre. There is some swearing, sex talk and funny sex scenes, but nothing graphic and Jenna is pushed around and threatened by her husband.

No matter who you go with, the show will have you thinking about pie. Jenna makes pie, people eat pie and she’s constantly coming up with pie recipes to mirror what is happening in her life. Thankfully, they were selling small jars of pie in the Pantages lobby.

Jar of Pie at the Hollywood Premiere of Waitress the Musical at The Pantages Theatre. #waitressmusical #pantages #hollywood

Waitress is playing now through August 26, 2018. Performance schedule is Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm, and Sunday at 1pm & 6:30pm. Individual tickets start at $49. Prices are subject to change without notice.

The Premiere of Waitress at The Hollywood Pantages with Sara Bareilles, Gabrielle Ruiz and Retta. #waitress #waitressmusical #pantages #hollywood #sarabareilles

Disclosure: I was a guest of the Hollywood Pantages for the show. All opinions are my own.

Gluten Free Lucky Charms Cookies

After months of training, I’m running the LA Marathon this weekend! I can’t believe it’s finally here and I’m very nervous. Not just because I have to run 26 miles, but because I’m fighting a cold and recovering from an injury. I need all the help I can get so I decided to calm my fears with a little baking. General Mills sent me a box St. Paddy’s Day box of Lucky Charms so I decided to make cookies with them.

Gluten Free Lucky Charms Oatmeal Cookies. #glutenfree #luckycharms #oatmealcookies

These aren’t just any cookies. They’re Gluten Free oatmeal cookies with Lucky Charms and Chocolate chips. I made them because I wanted something to eat while I’m  waiting for the marathon to start. The marathon starts at 6:55 am at Dodger Stadium, but runners have to be there at least two hours early. And it’s not nearby so we have to leave very early.

Anyhoo, I was trying to think of something to eat that contained Lucky Charms – many of best runs were after eating a bowl of Lucky Charms or Honey Nut Cheerios – that wasn’t plain cereal. This is what I came up with and they were delightful! I hope you enjoy them.

Ingredients for Lucky Charms Oatmeal Cookies. #oatmeacookies #luckycharms

In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add eggs one at a time until combined. Add vanilla until combined.

Ingredients for Lucky Charms Oatmeal Cookies. #oatmeacookies #luckycharms #glutenfreecookies

Add flour mixture to butter mixture and mix until combined. Using a sturdy spoon, mix in Lucky Charms and chocolate chips. Using two small spoons or mini scooper, scoop cookies on cookie sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until cookies start to turn golden on top.


Gluten Free Oatmeal Lucky Charms Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups Bobs Redmill Gluten Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour
1 cups gluten-free old fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups Lucky Charms (which are gluten free, fyi)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookies sheets with parchment paper. In a medium sized bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add eggs one at a time until combined. Add vanilla until combined.

Add flour mixture to butter mixture and mix until combined. Using a sturdy spoon, mix in Lucky Charms and chocolate chips. Using two small spoons or mini scooper, scoop cookies on cookie sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until cookies start to turn golden on top.


Gluten Free Lucky Charms Oatmeal Cookies. #glutenfree #luckycharms #cookies #glutenfreecookies

Disclosure: General Mills sent me a couple of boxes of gluten free Lucky Charms for review. This post first appeared on MomsLA.

Lady Bird Makes Being Catholic OK Again

I loved Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. It’s a hilarious and heartbreaking coming of age film set in Sacramento about a girl named Lady Bird (it’s her given name, she says. In that, she gave it to herself). She has a complicated relationship with her mother, which I – and most people who have a mother – can relate to, but the main reason I responded to the movie was the uncomplicated relationship the film has with the Catholic Church.

In most films that have a priest or a nun or the church represented in any way, Catholicism is the devil. The priests are pedophiles, the nuns are ruler-wielding psychopaths and the church is seen as cold and oppressive. I know there are pervert priests and terrible nuns, but they are not all monsters and some of us have good memories of growing up Catholic.

I spent a lot of time at church growing up in Tucson. My family went every Sunday and I had catechism once a week plus youth group. That doesn’t mean I was or am religious. I went to church because I had to (and to look at cute boys) and I went to youth group because my friends were there.

It kept us out of trouble (or more trouble than we would have gotten into) and we had some amazing experiences. We had dances and parties and made new friends. We raised money to go on trips to Bisbee, Disneyland and Washington D.C. Most importantly, we had a place go where we felt safe and cared for.

In the movie, Lady Bird plays a prank on one of the nuns. The nun takes it in stride because the prank was hilarious and the nun had a sense of humor. Because nuns, like other humans, can have senses of humor. There’s a brief scene with a priest who has some kind of depression, which again, lots of people have.

I don’t know why when I think of the jovial priest from my teens, that I always think of this one afternoon when the youth group kids helped him move into his new parish house. A lot of what we moved were big jugs of wine. He was always nice and knew all of our names. The priest he replaced was very serious and had an Irish accent, which in Tucson for me was very exotic.

The woman who ran the youth group and planned all of our events and trips passed away last month. She was loud and opinionated and extremely kind. I read her obituary and was amazed by what an interesting life she had before she came to us.

My time there was all very lovely and sometimes strange. There was that one time when the catechism teachers, a married couple who seemed ancient, but were probably my age now, told my friends that they were going to hell because they talked too much in class. Or the time one of our catechism teachers, a single mom, talked about going out to bars – nothing too crazy, just not Sunday school talk.

She was not conventional, but accepted.

Lady Bird’s director, Greta Gerwig, was on Fresh Air recently talking about her relationship with Catholicism. She went to Catholic High School, but wasn’t Catholic. She said that her not belonging to the church allowed her to have affection for it because she wasn’t really part of it; it wasn’t hers so it couldn’t oppress her.

Being Catholic wasn’t oppressive for me either even though at home we were very Catholic. My grandmother had an altar in the upstairs hallway with statues of saints and a framed picture of a flowing-haired Jesus. My great aunt had a giant oil painting of a Virgin of Guadalupe in her bedroom at her house.

Going to church was a nice foundation for me that is still important today. I can pray even though I don’t agree with many of the rules of being Catholic (but I do love the progressive views of the Pope!). And, like in Lady Bird, it’s always there if I want to go back.