Taking the full measure of life

The Year of Self-Care: Embrace Gradual Change

December 31st, 2008 · 22 Comments

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We want change to happen instantly.  We want fast results.  We want to dive head-long into something and discover success within days, or even moments.  We think that instant success will feed us for the long haul—keep us going until we are truly great at something, or until we’ve accomplished what we’re trying to do.

That used to be my mode of operation about life in general, and weight loss was no exception. As a chunky kid to a plump teenager to an obese adult, I tried relatively extreme and very precise measures of self-control as ways of losing weight.  I tried to be strict and controlling with myself—ahh, that catch-phrase ‘self control’—to get the results I wanted.  I did think being thinner meant being healthier, but being a healthier person wasn’t really my ultimate goal.  Being thinner was my ultimate goal.  Low-fat, South Beach, Sugar Busters, Weight Watchers, the Oprah diet, etc.—I would grab control of my life and squeeze it into the diet’s confines. I’d try to embrace the diet whole-heartedly, and usually, for a while it would work.  Then I’d slip up—maybe something in my life would startle or upset me—and I’d rebel against the diet by having something it didn’t allow. Then I would think that clearly, my self-control was not up to par, and I’d feel guilty at my inadequacy.  One slip-up would lead to others, which would lead to me being more off the diet than on.  And that would lead to me quitting.

There had to be a better way.  Or maybe there was just no way for me.  For a while, I tried not to think about my weight and just let it be, even though I felt unhappy about my looks and unhealthy in general.

This was around the time my husband and and I got married.  In our premarital counseling, our pastor told us, “People often think that the day you get married is the day everything changes, because you’re making a commitment to each other.  It is a step in your commitment, but your commitment process has been going on as long as you’ve been dating, and it will continue as long as you’re married.  If you think of this as some big leap you’re taking, you’re putting your marriage at risk.  You’ll expect things you don’t like about each other to change when you’re married, and that won’t happen.  Or you’ll expect things you like to maintain themselves, and they won’t.  If you think of the marriage as a relationship that you work on day in and day out, and you always keep the health of your marriage in mind, then you’re working towards a successful marriage.” His words weren’t an epiphany to me, but they did clarify the past and develop my vision for the future. Looking back on my relationship with Dan, I could see we’d been building a foundation of trust and love from the moment we met each other.  It was, and would be, a gradual and endless process of growth and renewal that would keep us going throughout our lives together.

As soon as we were married, my husband and I spent a year concentrating on gradually getting our finances in order. Those baby steps paid off enormously as we got rid of our consumer debt—$17k of it—and began to build our savings and retirement investments.  Taking on that process was one of the most satisfying, relieving things I’ve ever done.

Maybe you can see where I’m going with this.  I couldn’t see it clearly at the time.

About nine months after we married, my husband was hit by a car when he was walking in a crosswalk.  In the recovery from that terrible accident, while he was in the hospital, I had to face what had become of my body—a body I would avoid in mirrors.  I had been avoiding buying new clothes, had instead been washing and rewashing my increasingly threadbare few that fit me.  After the accident, I had to go buy comfortable clothes in sizes that fit so that I could spend more time at the hospital and less time at home.  I had to accept that I felt miserable—with an upset stomach, a constantly sweaty body, and an inability to do much without getting exhausted.  At the same time, I had to recognize what my body could do—which was function well enough to take care of my husband’s broken body while dealing with the emotional trauma of him nearly dying.

In his recovery process, I gained admiration for my husband’s can-do spirit.  My self-respect grew, as well, and as I watched his body recover, I grew determined to appreciate my body and take better care of it.  At the end of December in 2006, something inside me shifted.  I could see how taking a gradual, consistent approach in improving areas of my life had been much more successful than my leaps into various things. I grew to believe that if I focused on gradually taking better care of myself—body, mind, and spirit—instead of controlling myself, I had the opportunity to change everything.  As I was developing this path of thinking, I read The Best Life Diet by Bob Greene.  Some of the book rehashed what I knew, but part of the book was amazing to me because it echoed how I had been feeling.  Bob encouraged a gradual approach, and he reassured me that if I kept a focus on taking good care of myself, I didn’t actually have to count anything to lose weight. Not count anything? Lose weight without counting anything?

Well, that made up my mind. I made a deal with myself:  I would take steps to take better care of myself, recognizing myself as a whole person and not individual elements that could be spliced apart from each other.  I would work to make myself more self-actualized and complete; I would focus on the pleasure of improving my life rather than one element.  And as long as the process led me to better physical health and a more reasonable weight, I wouldn’t require myself to count anything—no calories, no points, no carbs.  I would love myself into shape instead of whipping myself into shape.  I thought, with excitement, that perhaps as long as I kept myself focused on self-care, I couldn’t hate the process.  I could only appreciate the process, because it was leading to a fuller version of me.  The idea of exerting force on myself fell away.  The idea of taking care of myself took hold.

It revolutionized my life.  It was the start of what I now see is a life-long path.  And this year, every two weeks, I’ll be sharing some of the gradual changes I’ve incorporated to take better care of my whole self and become more the person I want to be.  I hope you’ll come along, and if you’ve been thinking it’s time to take better care of yourself or you’ve been on a similar path for a while, I hope you’ll adopt these steps into your own life.

Clearly, the first step is embracing gradual change.  Some people seem to have been blessed with the natural ability to understand that in order to develop well, they’ll have to take the long, slow approach.  The person who first told the story of the tortoise and the hare had the idea.  Many of us struggle with the idea of gradual change, though, and when I started (especially when I would see a friend on a fad diet losing 10 pounds in two weeks), I would struggle sometimes, too.  But then I would think to myself, A year from now, would I rather be miserable about starting something intensely and then quitting it, or would I rather have taken a slow approach that improved me holistically? Would I rather lose 10 pounds in two weeks knowing I would regain it, or lose 30 pounds in a year and keep it off? The answer was clear.

There are a few ground rules of gradual improvements in self-care that I’ve learned.  They’ll be the underpinnings of the steps that I’ll be writing about this year, so if you’re engaging in the process with me, you should think through how they resonate in your life so that you can take them to heart and make some decisions for yourself.

1. Accept where you are.  It is what it is. You’ve been trying out various ways of living, and some of the elements of your life aren’t working for you.  That’s okay.  When you get frustrated, gently tell yourself, “Even if I don’t like things about me or my life, where I am is just for now, and I’m heading somewhere better. I’m going to focus on the beauty of that, because beating myself up for where I am will only upset me and won’t benefit me.” It’s true, after all.

2. Be gentle with yourself in general.  We’ll get into this more later, but you know that harsh inner critic that screams at you sometimes when you do things imperfectly?  Yeah, he/she doesn’t do much for you except make you feel bad and then hide from life or rebel.  The thoughtful voice of self-care guidance can gradually take over for the nasty yeller.  Focus on giving yourself the gift of gentleness.

3. Trust yourself to take care of yourself.  You can do this; I have absolute confidence in you.  We all have the capability to grow gradually in our self-care.  You know how you take imperfect but good care of one of your family members, a pet, a significant other, or a friend? You can apply that same understanding and love to yourself.  In fact, applying it to yourself can help you apply it more to others, in a beautiful cycle.  If you struggle with believing in yourself, proving to yourself that you can take good care of yourself can be one of the most enlightening things you can do. (I know from experience.) Will you mess up sometimes and make impulsive decisions? Will you occasionally lose your way? Will you have moments of panic? Of course—you’re not perfect. You don’t have to be. You just have to be on a path that’s heading you generally in the right direction, even when it winds a bit.

4.  Decide on some form of measurement, and stick with it (though you can change it later if you’re driving yourself crazy).  Perhaps this isn’t primarily about weight loss for you—in which case you might want to journal your developments or use a tracking system of how you’re improving emotionally or healthwise over time.  Possibly, you’re at what’s considered a ‘normal’ weight, but you know your habits aren’t healthy.  You could go by medical measurements like cholesterol and blood pressure, or you could measure your results by how you feel. Maybe you are in this in the hopes of feeling more whole while you grow smaller.  If that’s the case, you could use anything from inch measurements to weight to clothes sizes to measure your progress.  Whatever the case is, keep in mind that you’re going to have stops and starts in the process.  It’s just natural.  The body is partly a mystery—-weight, emotions, hormones, etc. are at times just unfathomable. We can’t always understand exactly why a moment in ourselves is occurring, and that’s okay.  What you’re going for is a trend.  And if your trend is toward better self-care, a few stops and starts or struggles are going to be part of the process.

My initial method of measurement (which I still do, but which isn’t as important anymore) is to weigh myself daily, first thing in the morning, naked, on a reliable scale. (The scales I bought aren’t cheap, but inaccurate scales can drive you insane, I’ve learned.  My insanity is worth a little investment, especially given that I use the scale daily!)  I track my weight online weekly, using one of my two weekend weigh-ins, on the free tracker at www.extrapounds.com.  I used to think people were nuts weighing themselves daily, but now I know that weighing daily gives me a sense of how my weight goes up and down regularly.  If I weigh once a week, I may weigh in on a bad day in my fluctuation. If I weigh daily, I can see if my gradual trend is downward, upward, or the same.  For that reason, weighing daily (and accepting that weight as a tiny piece of info that will fluctuate) actually helps keep me sane. That’s not true for plenty of people, but it works for me.

Whatever your measurement is, when you’re done reading this (or tomorrow at the latest—or over the next week if you’re doing tracking that takes more time), get a base measurement, and record it somewhere you can keep up with it easily (website, blog, email, or maybe a notepad that’s so big you can’t lose it).

By the way, speaking of measurements, just because giving up counting food measurements was a step in self-care for me doesn’t mean that it’s your path to it.  At the time I gave up counting, I felt like I’d read 100 books and 200 websites about dieting.  I knew all sorts of dietary information like the back of my hand. (My R.D. told me I should go get a Master’s in it to make it official.) But if you find that your self-care path takes you to counting something as a measurement, that’s okay.  What you’re going for is what will set you on a path to embracing good decisions long-term. But if you want to go without counting, and you’re in this for long-term self-care, I do believe you can do it without counting.

5. Accept opportunity cost. I’ve written an in-depth post on this topic before and discussed it in this interview, so I won’t talk about it too much here.  But briefly, I’ll tell you that despite what we sometimes push ourselves to think, we cannot do it all.  If we do one thing, another doesn’t happen.  If this is your year of self-care, you’re going to have to prioritize the self-care over some other things that interest you.  You’re going to have to say ‘no’ sometimes to other people (and to yourself) to say ‘yes’ to becoming a more fulfilled, healthier version of yourself.

6. If you’re living with a family, make the obvious changes a family affair.  You don’t have to tell anyone you’re following along here, though if you have a generally supportive significant other, I’d tell him/her that you would appreciate that person being willing to incorporate some changes with you.  Some of these changes are entirely internal and quite personal; I’m not suggesting that you sit your kids down and tell them you’re all going to work on your emotional health this year.  I’ve discussed some of the changes I’ve made with my husband; others, I’ve kept to myself. (It’s only been in the last six months he’s had permission to read my blog!) And I didn’t tell anyone else when I started out that I was starting something new, because I was tired of stopping and starting with new eating plans/diets/lifestyle changes, and I didn’t want to get embarrassed.

What I am saying is that what you make clear you value by your actions is what those around you will realize that you value.  And if you have a spouse or children, and you’re sitting here today thinking that you need to make changes and that your life isn’t as healthy as it could be, you’re currently telling your spouse or children, through your actions, that being emotionally and physically healthy isn’t what’s important to you—and shouldn’t be important to them.  If you eat ice cream for dessert daily, if you feel ashamed of your body, if you don’t make time for exercise—why would anyone around you develop actions or values different from those if those are the ones you teach?  So when you need to establish that you’re making a change to be healthier—when you need the support of others to make it happen—tell the people around you and enlist their support. Show them you mean to be committed to living a healthier life.  And when you get to the points in this year of change where you are altering what you put into your body, don’t reserve those changes for yourself.  I’m assuming you’re the cook in the family, and if you are, when the times for food changes come, change what everyone is eating at the meals you prepare—with no guilt about it, accepting no whining. (Even if your kids aren’t obese from that food now, they’ll be much better off long-term getting their palates adjusted to healthier habits.) If you’re not the cook, enlist the involvement of the cook, and offer (if you’re able) to help with the changes.  Get into the changes with a sense of pleasure at what you’re creating, and you’ll encourage those around you to see these actions as positive instead of limiting.

Those are the ground rules, which require some thought and decision-making on your part.  Going back to what our pastor advised in counseling:  If you think of your self-care as a relationship that you work on day in and day out, and you always keep the health of your whole self in mind, then you’re working towards creating a more fulfilled version of yourself.

I’ll be posting encouragement for Step One in a week, and on January 14th, I’ll post Step Two in The Year of Self-Care.  I hope you’ll join in and comment regularly with questions and thoughts you have.

Resources For Step One: Embrace Gradual Change

The Best Life Diet Revised and Updated”>The Best Life Diet by Bob Greene
The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness”>The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey (the process we used to get out of debt)
Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward by James O. Prochaska
Why Saving Is Like Dieting
Getting Comfortable With Gradual Change (a guest post I wrote on Angry Fat Girlz)

→ 22 CommentsTags: 26 changes: the year of self-care · New Year's resolution · non-scale victories · weight loss

Overcoming Frustration

December 22nd, 2008 · 9 Comments

I was in a deep funk.

In the midst of packing boxes and making holiday plans and attending my grandmother’s funeral and trying to work in a half-empty apartment (part of the contents of which had already disappeared with their new owner), I unraveled.  I grew anxious and angry.

Why was it always my responsibility to make plans with my friends—did it mean they didn’t want to be around me very much? What did it say about me that I lost friends? Why couldn’t I let go of people who didn’t want to be close to me anymore? Why did my family have to be so complicated and frustrating? Why was my husband expecting so much of me—didn’t he know I was feeling frail? What was wrong with me that I couldn’t function better? Why were the holidays always so hard?

I’m good at stewing.  I can ruminate on a sole topic for days, or weeks, or longer.  I can go to bed exhausted and then still lie awake hours later, spinning and respinning particular events, thoughts, words, emotions, writings, over and over through my brain, seemingly unable to stop the cycle.  On rare occasions, I get this worked up over good things, but usually, it’s the opposite.  Why did he get that look on his face? What did she really mean by those five words? If I dream at these times, it’s always of puzzles with too many missing pieces.  I’m usually lacking full eyesight in these dreams—it’s me without my glasses—and I’m overcome with confusion. But I keep striving and striving to no avail.

At one point in this episode, my sage husband told me, “Never attribute to malice what you can attribute to any other cause.” I laughed good-naturedly and called him Confucius.  Part of me felt he was right, but part of me felt wronged.  By anyone, everyone, myself included.  I tried to be gentle with myself to ascertain what was really wrong, but I struggled against that, too.  What could I be worth if all these people didn’t care to try harder to understand me?

We were in the car, my husband driving, and I stared blankly out the window, ruminating further—my frustration at a low boil.   Even though it is important for us to have boundaries and expect other people to treat us decently, I don’t generally struggle with that.  I struggle with the opposite—expecting too much of others and myself.  The thought popped into my brain that perhaps, in this season of Advent, I should stop for a while asking why others couldn’t give me more, and I should start asking what I could give.  Somehow, that thought was a revelation to me.  And so I thought about what bothered me, and I asked myself:  what can I give to these situations? What can I give to these people?

Like the Grinch, I felt my heart expand with the questions.

Gratitude—that was the first thing.  Yes, I spend much more time planning activities with friends (and fielding ‘no’ responses, which I often take too personally) than my friends do for me.  But a few days before, who had come over to help me move items from one house to another  (which I view as one of the most irritating jobs in friendship)? Several friends.  And who had written me a very thoughtful email about my recent difficulties despite being nearly overwhelmed with her own? My friend.  And so on—friends, family, the world, and my husband:  they all deserved gratitude and not just frustration.

What else could I offer? Understanding—the same understanding and empathy I felt I wasn’t receiving adequately from others.  I thought about how nearly everyone is juggling too much this time of year, and coming into the holidays with their own fears, expectations, hopes, and trepidation . . . their own emotional baggage from their life histories and personalities.  Just like me.  The combination makes things difficult, and people are generally doing the best they can.  “Never attribute to malice what you can attribute to any other cause”—he has a point.  Even if the person is being malicious, you may be better off emotionally if you work from a different assumption.

Gratitude for what I was receiving, understanding for what others weren’t able to offer me:  somehow, in offering other people those elements, I was able to be more generous with myself about my own gifts and shortcomings, as well.  In the coming days, through additional aggravations in our move, as I would feel the anger and frustration well up inside me again, I would think, “How do I offer gratitude in this situation? How do I offer understanding?” and I would calm down to a manageable level of emotions again.

Three days ago, someone stole boxes of my clothes, shoes, and jewelry from the back of our car while we were moving.  I was rightfully furious and sad when I realized what I’d lost, especially since I had already pared down my belongings to only keep what I really wanted.  I could have ruminated for weeks on that one loss.  At our Christmas party two nights ago, a friend told me he’d heard about the theft of my belongings, and that he was sorry.  “It does suck,” I replied.  “But I’m trying to look at it positively and remember that at least I have renter’s insurance to cover most of it.  The benefit now is that I can be very careful about what I purchase to replace those things, to make sure I’m only buying what I will cherish.”  He and another friend looked at me skeptically. “But it’s okay to be mad!” they said.

And it is, absolutely.  As I’ve covered before, hurt hurts–there’s no denying it.  But it doesn’t do me any good to stay stuck in mad, or sad, or anxious, forever.  It’s my own life I’m harming when I don’t make room for more pleasant viewpoints.

→ 9 CommentsTags: gratitude · sturm and drang

A Belated Post of Thanksgiving

December 11th, 2008 · 11 Comments

You might think from my earlier Thanksgiving post that traditional holiday foods don’t do much for me.  Au contraire—one of the more difficult things about food allergies has been dealing with family holiday gatherings where everyone, including me, has specific ideas about what we should be eating, how it should be constructed, and how it should taste.

Yet I’m also an adventurous spirit, and food can be nothing if not an adventure.  My best friend, who has recently moved to California and who has been diagnosed with food allergies in the last six months, was coming home to celebrate Thanksgiving and to meet her new, first niece.

After I told her Dan and I were spending Thanksgiving alone, she proposed that we get together to make a holiday meal we could both eat the day after Thanksgiving.  With my party-hosting ways, I extended the invitation to a variety of our friends and family, specifying that the meal was a potluck, that all offerings should exclude gluten, eggs, soy, dairy, tomatoes, almonds and lemons to cover the allergies she and I have, and that anyone who wanted to come but didn’t feel comfortable making food could bring wine.   T-Day 2 was born.

On Friday afternoon, 10 of us—11 if you count baby Marie—gathered to share in a delicious feast that excluded my and Margaret’s allergens but lacked nothing in taste or texture.

Here’s what we served:

Drinks:  White, red, and pomegranate wines, plus a pitcher of water with lime and orange slices in it

Salad:  A light starter of spring greens with avocado, jicama sticks, orange pieces, and a simple muscat orange vinaigrette with olive oil

Turkey:  A turkey from Greenberg Smoked Turkeys (Oprah calls it the best turkey she’s ever eaten, and I’d have to agree it was incredible and completely reasonable at about $5 a pound including shipping.  It came entirely cooked and ready to eat—so simple, and it left us room in the oven for other dishes!  (Oh, and the smoked turkey stock I made from it later was out of this world.)

Autumnal Squash Puree:  Rich yet somehow light, and incredibly flavorful, this recipe is definitely a keeper. Nikki and Thomas, who made the dish, advise cutting the spices from the original recipe in half (or doubling the squash and leaving the spices the same).  Next time they make it, they intend to roast the squash to see whether that makes the dish even more wonderful. (The only sub we had to make was to use ghee or olive oil in lieu of the butter.)

Dressing With Dried Fruit:  An actual great use for the dry, heavy white rice bread that’s available in the gluten-free section of most grocery stores!  Savory, sweet, and delicious. (I did add extra kinds of dried fruit and doubled the chicken seasoning it calls for.)

Cranberry Relish:  A sliced orange—peel and all—combined with a 16-oz. (or so) bag of cranberries and agave syrup, sugar, or maple syrup to taste (1/2-1 c.) in the food processor, starting with the orange to make sure it breaks up well. (I doubled the recipe for 10 people. Tastes great the same day but better the next day, so I make it in advance when I can.)

Roasted Brussels Sprouts:  Brussels sprouts with the ends cut off, sliced in half, and any tough outer leaves removed—combined with some olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.  Roasted at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, tossed to give the opposite side a chance to brown, and popped back in the oven for 10-20 minutes. (I used three pounds of Brussels sprouts for 10 people.)

Deconstructed Apple Pie (We were too busy eating this one to shoot it):  Vanilla-flavored coconut milk ice cream scoops topped with apples sauteed with cinnamon, roasted and salted pecans, and homemade caramel made with coconut milk yogurt.  (We used up three pints of ice cream, 2 cups of nuts, and a single batch of the caramel.)

We ate to our hearts’ content, talked until we were sleepy, and wandered down the street together to watch a movie to end our evening.  It was a rejuvenating, lovely gathering that filled me with gratitude for my friends.

→ 11 CommentsTags: 2/3 veggies · allergen-free recipes · autumn · celebrations & holidays · dessert · gratitude · meal planning

Peace Be With You (& Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free Nutella Waffles, Too)

November 29th, 2008 · 18 Comments

My family is . . . complicated.  My food restrictions, for those who aren’t used to dealing with them, are complicated.  My emotions around Thanksgiving are complicated, too.  Thanksgiving isn’t always the best time of the year for me.  Okay, honestly, it’s often one of the worst days, emotionally, and has been for a long time.  This year, I decided by about February that my husband and I would celebrate differently this Thanksgiving, to see if we could remake it into something I can enjoy.  Then, as the months passed, I wondered if I really had the guts to walk away from the family traditions for a year to reconfigure Thanksgiving for myself.  Focusing on self-care will do some interesting things for you, though.  I found a way to tell my mother and other family members that even though I would miss them (and I did), Dan and I would be alone this Thanksgiving.

And we stuck to it.  We slept late, made fabulous chocolate-hazelnut waffles with raspberry sauce for brunch, hiked and took photos at a gorgeous state park (a new tradition), made my favorite tuna salad with homemade ‘cream’ of tomato soup for dinner, and walked down to the closest theater to see a movie.  As it grew dark around us, I stopped walking and turned to Dan with happy tears in my eyes.  I had realized that Thanksgiving had passed by with no drama or tears.  A lovely day—peaceful and rejuvenating—that filled my heart with gratitude.  It was just what I had wanted for the day to be.

I have to share the waffle recipe we created for our brunch.  It is an over-the-top, indulgent kind of celebratory breakfast.  We served ourselves two waffles each but could only eat one. . . . Waffle-making is an art in general, but when you remove gluten, eggs, and dairy from the ingredient options, it’s a much more complicated art.  Fortunately, these turned out just beautiful—crisp outside, with soft insides that weren’t gooey (a common issue with gluten-free, egg-free waffles).  They were heavenly.  The raspberry sauce and toasted hazelnuts we put on top of the waffles were just right, too.

Nutella Waffles
Gluten-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free, Vegan
Adapted from Sheltie Girl’s hazelnut waffle recipe here
Makes 4-5 Belgian waffles

Those who’ve tasted the chocolate/hazelnut combination of Nutella know its lure—rich, smooth, luscious. But Nutella and other chocolate-hazelnut spreads typically contain dairy. This waffle recipe combines the flavors without the casein—or gluten or eggs.

3 T flax meal + 6 T very hot water (or 2 eggs + 1 T flax meal)
2/3 c. hazelnut meal
1 c. brown rice flour
1/3 c. cornstarch
1/3 c. sweet rice flour
3 T. unsweetened cocoa
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
4 T. cane sugar
1.5 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. milk alternative (I used hemp milk)
1/2 c. dark chocolate chips
1/4 c. vegetable shortening or ghee, melted
Oil spray to grease the waffle iron

In a small cup or ramekin, mix the flax meal with water, and allow to sit so that it gels.

In a large bowl, combine the hazelnut meal, flours, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir. Break up any lumps.

Combine the flax gel (or eggs and flax) with the sugar and vanilla extract. Whisk together well. Pour in the milk and melted oil. Stir until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredient bowl. Stir well to combine. Allow the mixture to rest for 15 minutes before pouring the waffles into the well-greased waffle iron.

Bake according to your waffle iron’s instructions.

Have you participated in the drawing on my Art Sale & Giveaway post? If not, be sure to look at that next!

→ 18 CommentsTags: allergen-free recipes · autumn · Uncategorized

I Am

November 26th, 2008 · 6 Comments

That some of the people who have known me the longest are still some of the people who are most important to me;

That I married someone who never gives up on me, and who laughs with me many times a day;

That I get to have sex with said man as often as I like, no guilt or worries;

That I live in a place and time where at least the struggle for equality is taken seriously by many;

That Dr. Harry first told me, “I can tell by looking at you that you have gluten intolerance”;

That I have the privilege of many life options and choices, which offer a burden but one that is contained within a great gift;

That I live in a society where I have access to amazing foods influenced by the cuisines of Mexico, Thailand, India, China, Italy, France, Ethiopia, Morocco, and many other countries;

That I live in an apartment with insulation in the walls, glass in the windows, heat and a/c from the vents, clean hot and cold water in the faucets, and electricity through the outlets;

That poetry, and plays, and music, and paintings, and sculpture, and photography, and dancing exist;

That when I am home, sweet kitties come to curl in up in my lap;

That I get to know some of the farmers who grow my food;

That I am learning to accept paradoxes, ambiguities, and other complexities as an integral and even beautiful part of life;

That I have access to the thoughts, beliefs, feelings, wisdom, and experiences of others by my ability to read what they have written;

That some others embrace me, and offer grace for my faults and limitations;

That I have learned and keep learning how to extend myself mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally;

That, as an adult, I have found a church community where I feel at home;

That I get to keep growing so that, even in the painful times, even when I feel inadequate or alone or depleted, I can know that I am wiser each day, with more to offer than the day before;

That I can take naps when I am utterly tired;

That I have a web of people around the world I can support and be supported by, through this electronic medium:

I am grateful.

→ 6 CommentsTags: celebrations & holidays · gratitude

30 Self-Care Gifts For the Holidays (To Give Away Or Keep for Yourself!)

November 26th, 2008 · 11 Comments

The last couple of years of my life have been a time of enormous growth into greater maturity, satisfaction, and self-actualization.  While I certainly don’t think I hold the keys to all the world’s self-care knowledge, I have discovered ways of endowing myself with greater well-being financially, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  In case you want to treat someone you love (including yourself!) to an opportunity for greater self-care this holiday season, or if you want to gear up for a New Year’s resolution—or an entire life revolution—I’ve created a list of resources for you that have helped me as I’ve grown.  (If you’ve come to know me at all, it shouldn’t surprise you that most, though not all, of these resources are books!) I’ve categorized the resources, but of course they’re all related:  your financial health affects your physical well-being which affects your emotional state, for example.  Taking gradual steps to overall well-being means engaging yourself in the practice of looking at a variety of your life’s elements.

Financial Knowledge

The Total Money Makeover: The author, Dave Ramsey, who also has a financial radio show, and I have very different political views, but this book’s series of steps to financial peace was central in the process of me and my husband getting out of $17k in consumer debt in one year—after which we began to save 1/4 to 1/3 of our income.  Is the set of steps Dave prescribes the perfect or only way to get out of debt and get your financial priorities straight? No. But for those of us who have struggled for many years with taking control of our finances, this set of concrete ‘baby steps’ that work is a godsend.

Your Money or Your Life: My simplicity group discussed our readings from this book on money and lifestyle at a series of our meetings.  I don’t think any of us believed the author’s ultimate conclusion is the only right way to view life, but the series of thought-provoking exercises before the conclusion helped us all understand our views on money and lifestyle—and led many of us to reorganize our lives around our actual priorities.

Emotional Well-Being

The Highly Sensitive Person or The Highly Sensitive Child:  My friend Jenn suggested The Highly Sensitive Person, and reading it was as much a watershed for me as it was for her.  If you or your child are emotionally, psychologically, physically, or otherwise more sensitive than the people around you, or if you or your child get sensory overload more easily than others, you or your child may qualify as being an HSP. (People with allergies are more likely to be an HSP!)  Reading this book opened my eyes to a new way of looking at my personality and physical characteristics.  It helped me develop empathy for my choices and restrictions and evaluate what the healthiest path for my life would be.  (Reading it is one of the things that contributed to me deciding to leave my job and become self-employed!)

Necessary Losses:  Sometimes I can be quite naive about the emotional workings of both myself and other people.  I can be too demanding of myself, and I seek immediate perfection instead of seeing the various cycles of life as times of growth.  Reading Necessary Losses helped open my eyes to the stages of life and how loss and growth are tied together as we develop.  (The author, Judith Viorst, gets a little too Jungian for me at times, but most of the book fascinates me.)   I wish I had discovered the book when I was 13 or 14 instead of 25, but I’m glad I found it at all!  I reread pieces of it when I begin to feel overwhelmed. (I think I’ll go take it off the shelf and put it beside the bed right now. . . .)

Gift certificate for a massage:  Touch is one of the greatest gifts someone can give us.  Some of us are fortunate enough to have people in our lives who lay their hands on our bodies caringly on a regular basis.  But I think all of us can benefit from the touch of someone who expects no engagement in return, and that type of touch—for me—comes best through the hands of a massage therapist.  When I leave a message therapy appointment, I feel refreshed both physically and emotionally.

Good in Bed: Sometimes you just need a good novel that resonates with what’s in your head and heart.  I first read (or actually heard—I listened to the audio version on a very long drive) Jennifer Weiner’s first novel at a time when my life was in flux and my weight was nearly at its peak.  I literally laughed and cried in the car as I listened to the book echo many of the thoughts and feelings I had experienced.  I felt supported by the echoes of my own experiences in Weiner’s writing about protagonist Cannie’s struggles with weight and self-esteem. (Unfortunately, I can’t recommend Weiner’s other books as highly, but I do love this one!)

What Should I Do with My Life? Author Po Bronson set out to find how people around the U.S. (and a few from around the world) found their life’s purpose.  The answers he found are complex, engaging, and comforting.  If you are wondering why you’re here and what you can do to find out, I would highly recommend this book. (You might also start thinking you’re falling in love with Po Bronson.)

Donations to worthwhile organizations:  One of the best ways we can develop our sense of self-worth is to find ways to give to others.  As the holiday season approaches, it’s a great time to donate in someone’s name to a non-profit you believe in. Heifer International, Habitat for Humanity, and Global Giving all come to mind for me because you can choose where to focus your money through those organizations.  Alternately, you could make a donation in someone’s name to your local food pantry.  (Did you know food pantry needs have doubled this year, but donations are down 2/3? Scary when you consider our economy and how desperately some people are in need.) Of course, if your financial chips are down but you have just a bit of free time, there’s a ton of non-profits who could use your assistance in person.  I plan to become a Big Sister when Dan and I make our move after he graduates next spring. (It’s a 1- or 2-year commitment, or I’d do it now!)

Healthy Eating & Weight Loss Support

Super Natural Cooking:  Heidi Swanson takes mostly healthy ingredients and all whole foods and combines them in ways that make the ingredients sing.  The pickiest eaters wouldn’t touch many of the ingredients in these recipes, but even mildly adventurous eaters who are seeking healthy, tasty meals will return to this cookbook again and again.  It’s one of the few cookbooks that stays in my kitchen rather than on a bookshelf. (Incidentally, it’s vegetarian, though that’s not the point of the book.)

Great Good Food: Several times a year, you can find me sitting on the couch in our living room paging through this cookbook, enjoying the sketches and notes in the seasonally designed book as much as I enjoy the recipes.  Julee Rosso, the author, teaches us how to lighten up many favorites while retaining a focus on whole foods (nutritional info is included), and she includes a variety of cooking lessons and celebration/holiday meal plans along the way.  I can’t eat a good number of Rosso’s recipes now that I can’t have dairy, eggs, and gluten, but I alter her recipes to fit my needs pretty regularly, and I cherish the cookbook even with my restrictions.  One of my dreams is to visit Rosso’s B&B in Michigan and have her make an allergen-free meal for me!

Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites: Flavorful Recipes for Healthful Meals:  You can’t go wrong with any Moosewood cookbook, but this one focuses on the low-fat, high-taste end of cooking.  Another cookbook that includes great sketches, the Moosewood cookbook is a delight to look at and cook from.  I can honestly say that a Moosewood recipe has never let me down, which is extremely high praise I can grant only a few cookbooks.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think:  How do you sabotage your healthy eating intentions without even knowing you’re doing it? The author of this book, Brian Wansink, is a researcher on food habits (with fascinating and hysterical stories of lab experiments) and discusses a variety of actions you can take to set yourself up for greater success with healthy eating.  I think I have probably read the majority of books out there about weight loss and thought I had heard it all, but I changed at least five habits after reading the book.

Salad Plates:  Yes, salad plates.  One of the greatest lessons of Mindless Eating is to switch out your normal dinner plates for salad plates and eat all of your meals on those instead.  The smaller plates mean smaller portions that feel just as satisfying.  A mental trick? Exactly–that’s the point, and it actually works! My husband and I eat our meals only off salad plates now, and this trick saves us food for leftovers, ingredient money, and calories.  It’s one of the small steps to which I attribute my weight loss success.

The Best Life Diet:  I read Bob Greene’s book the week before I decided to challenge myself to take weight loss as a gradual, count-nothing, self-care process.  I already had in my mind what I wanted to do, but I found great encouragement from Bob saying that you don’t actually have to count anything to lose weight—and that gradual is the way to go.  (I wish later he hadn’t marketed so much extra stuff to go with the book—like a weight loss journal—since the idea was you don’t have to track anything, but that doesnt mean the original book is less valuable.) Different books about diet and exercise spur different people on (and many of them are useless), but this one was certainly helpful to me as I began this journey toward better self-care.

Becoming Whole:  After bouts of life-threatening breast and bone cancer wore author Meg Wolff down, she healed her body and life by applying the principles of macrobiotics.  Meg’s story of her struggles and triumph is forthright, moving, and inspirational.  To read Meg’s writing is to be touched by her experiences—and maybe even to be encouraged into action toward a macrobiotic healing diet, as well. (The second part of her book includes recipes and suggestions.)

Homemade food gifts: When a food is made for us by someone who loves us, that love shines through somehow when we consume the food; we can taste the care the person took in preparing the food.  A relatively inexpensive gift option is to prepare a volume of one or two types of delicacies for a large number of people on our gift lists.  We all need treats now and then—in fact, having an occasional treat without any guilt has been one of the greatest gifts to my health—and if those treats are made by our friends or family, even better.  Many of my relatives this year—along with hosts and hostesses of holiday parties we attend—are getting jars of jams and jellies I’ve made along with boxes of organic tea bags.  (There was a bit of overhead in getting the materials to start canning, but I’ve easily already made up those costs with previous gifts.  Pesticide-free fruit that is bought from local farmers in bulk in season (especially using you-pick!) helps keep the cost low. (It is important to either understand pH and bacteria issues or to use a reliable source for canning recipes.)   Another fun, relatively easy-to-make comestible gift idea is chocolate truffles.

Spice Set:  A variety of spices are essential for good cooking.  Those newly living away from parents, newly learning to cook, newly dealing with food restrictions, or newly engaged in healthy eating all need support.  One important contribution is to gather spices that the cook will be able to utilize to make tasty meals.  Commercial spice sets are common; there are stores and websites that let you buy spices by the teaspoon
(good for experimentation, not so good for packaging waste over time); and bulk spice sections at natural foods stores let you get as much or little of each spice as you want.  (As long as your spices are less than six months old, you can also share from your overabundance of certain spices!) A gift of packets or bottles of five to ten common spices would be a welcome gift for any cook who wants to be good.

One Good Chopping Knife:  Preparing food from scratch for yourself is unbelievably easier (and less dangerous) if you are using a sharp, well-designed knife rather than a dull one.  I absolutely adore my Henckel knives.  If you go buy a full set of them (the double-man kind, my chef boyfriend once warned me—never buy the single-man Henckels because the quality is much lower), they are rather expensive, but if you only own bad knives now, there’s no reason you can’t start with a single good chopping knife.  If you’re going into 2009 committed to making more meals at home, having a good chef’s knife would be high on my must-have list for you.

Steps to Sustainability

Clean & green gifts:  When you live a more sustainable lifestyle, you help your own body by decreasing your body’s chemical load, and you help others by decreasing the planet’s load of chemical by-products, pesticides, and other forms of pollution.  One of the key starter ways to embrace sustainability is to green your home care products.  For a friend or family member who suffers from chemical sensitivities or who is trying to embrace greater sustainability, a gift basket of green cleaning products can be a great offering.  Green cleaning products are available from companies like Seventh Generation and Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day (love the lavender products!), but you can also make your own ecologically sound laundry soap, glass cleaner, and all sorts of other cleaning products really cheaply—and without requiring the purchase of as much product packaging. I used to have to leave our house for hours after we cleaned the tub or mopped the floors, but now that we use natural products, I feel fine staying at home after a round of cleaning.

The Kindle:  If you love books like I do, you can find yourself with a library that expands rapidly over the course of your lifetime (or even the course of a year!) as you grow in knowledge from your finds (even if you use the library for some of them).  From an ecological perspective, the use of so much paper and so much shipping to get the books to you can be a downer, though.  Enter readers like Amazon’s Kindle, which allow you to download and read books (or blogs, or newspapers) on a screen that is very similar in appearance to paper—no painful eye strain like these pesky computers cause.  My husband has an electronic reader, and beyond the positive ecological element, it is extremely handy as a carry-on for long flights.  Three books for one flight? No problem—still plenty of room in your bag for your other needs.  And if you decide you want a book, you can download it straight to the reader within one minute, which sure beats shipping or shopping time for those of us who are impatient.

Fast Food Nation: Reading in this book about the often horrifying industrial processes of our food system got me to cut out fast food from my diet entirely.  Want to live a healthier life with less processed food?  Want to feel pushed to do more to take care of your body and the planet at the same time? This book will propel you forward. (I know there was a movie version that came later, but stick with the book to grow your knowledge.)

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Written very accessibly in short story form with some research thrown in, Michael Pollan looks at the history of four meals:  a McDonald’s meal, an industrial organic (Whole Foods) meal, a local-foods meal, and a meal of food he has grown, caught, or hunted himself.  Along the way, he discusses why certain foods and processes are healthy or unhealthy and what we can do to protect ourselves and our land.  The Omnivore’s Dilemma is one of my all-time favorite books for deepening my knowledge about our roles in sustainability and health.

The Not So Big House: Architect Sarah Susanka debunks the myth that what we all want is increasingly larger houses. What we really want, Susanka argues, is houses that feel like home.  She talks about the design options where people can create a house that feels just right—cozy, often archetypal—without being overly large. Some of Susanka’s design ideas are quite expensive to implement, but others can be created with limited funds in even home rentals.  This book has influenced the way I view houses (and it’s fascinating in that element), but it’s also encouraged me to question the consumerist assumptions that lie so much at the heart of what we think we want versus what we really do.

Relationship Guidance

Passionate Marriage: Our pastor suggested this tome during our premarital counseling, and though it’s a dense read, wrestling through it is entirely worthwhile for anyone in a long-term romantic relationship.  At the core of the book—at least in our reading of it—is the concept of how to be both an individual and someone in union at the same time.  Not a simple task, but one worth devotion.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: This book was written by Dr. John Gottman, who is perhaps the foremost marriage scholar in the U.S.  Cutting through the pop culture concepts of what does or does not make for a happy or disastrous marriage, the author explains (as the title denotes) what seven basic principles couples should adhere to in order to create lasting, satisfying marriages.  The lessons of this book have been a cornerstone in how my husband and I have worked to treat each other.

Allergy, Restriction, & Intolerance Assistance

Sophie-Safe Cooking:  Those who are new to or frustrated with top-8 allergen-free (wheat-free, dairy-free, soy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, fish-free, and shell-fish free) cooking but who can tolerate gluten-free oats should give Emily Hendrix’s cookbook a try.  She developed tasty, simple, kid-friendly recipes for her allergic daughter, Sophie, that would put even the more frightened cooks at ease in the kitchen.  I particularly love her various oat-based quick bread/muffin recipes.

The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook: This reliably good top-8-free cookbook was quite a relief to me when I was first diagnosed and struggling with how to adapt recipes for my restrictions.  The author’s focus on whole foods means the dishes are relatively healthy, and her adept use of seasonings means the meals are tasty.  She does use spelt flour, which is wheat-free but contains gluten, but she includes substitution recommendations. (This cookbook is not recommended for vegetarians or night-shade avoiders, though—the book is pretty meat- and tomato-heavy.)

Karina’s Cookbook:  Okay, I don’t own Karina’s Tastebook cookbook yet, but I’ve never made a recipe from her site that I haven’t loved.  She truly is the gluten-free goddess, as well as being free of a huge number of other allergens.  Her Tastebook would be an excellent addition to any cook’s set, but especially someone who doesn’t want to sacrifice taste and health in the gluten-free, allergen-free cooking quest.

Bare Escentuals Starter Kit:  Makeup made purely from minerals that does not make my nose itch or my skin break out? Sign me up!  Many women with allergies have discovered that allergens or chemical sensitivities make many makeup brands a bad choice for them; of those, some have fallen in love with Bare Esenctuals, and I am among them.  (I did have to watch the included video to figure out how much of each powder to apply, but using it is easy and quick now.)

Assistance from a Registered Dietitian:  Can you manage on your own, without professional support? Most of the time in life, you can get by well on your own.  But sometimes, you really need the support of a knowledgeable professional, and your dietary issues are no exception.  Whether you or your loved one are looking to achieve weight loss or gain, deal with food restrictions or the need for food restrictions, or manage diabetes or another medical condition, having the support of a Registered Dietitian can be what you need to help you stay on track with your changes.  My mother gave me the gift of a starter meeting with an R.D. after I began dealing with food restrictions due to I.C., and meeting my cheerleader for health, Molly Paulson, added a special component to my work towards self-care.  For weight loss or diabetes, I highly recommend Molly.  For food restriction issues, I recommend the knowledgeable Cheryl Harris. Of course, there are great R.D.s (and R.N.H.s—Registered Health Nurses) around the world, so if finding someone to meet in person is what you or your loved one want, that’s a great way to go, too.

I hope some of the items on my list have encouraged you to look for ways to give yourself and others nurturing gifts for Christmas, Hannukah, and other holidays.  I’m still in the life-long process of growing, of course.  What suggestions do you have for self-care gifts I or others might enjoy?

(P.S. Have you checked out my Art Sale & Giveaway post? Have you left a comment about your favorite print to see if you can win it? If not, what are you waiting for, silly?)

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What We Can Ask

November 21st, 2008 · 8 Comments

We pulled off into the drive of an abandoned house that I wanted to photograph, and we got out of the car.  My husband’s irritation emanated in palpable waves—directed at me.  I wanted to shoot the house: we were two hours from home, and I didn’t know when or if I’d get the chance to shoot this ancient beauty again.  Our visit with my friend Rachel at her house on the lake, and our photography shoots at the stores at Lake Oconee, had me feeling life was pretty alright, and I wanted to hold on to that feeling a bit longer.  Besides, what if we waited to photograph the house until the next time we visited, and someone tore the house down in the meantime?  My husband just wanted to get home and do more work on his thesis; he wanted me to understand that he always needs to do more work on his thesis, whether or not he feels like doing the work, so that he can relieve the pressure of getting the work done to graduate on time.  We had been two stubborn souls at an impasse about the house, but I had pushed until I got my way.  He had relinquished, unhappily, and now he was letting me know without saying a word.

It sounds so simple and minor, but the stress had been building.  I’d already talked to him a bit a week prior about how I felt he’d been treating me—which is to say, as a nuisance.  Not all the time, certainly, but often enough to make me cringe inwardly and question myself.  I had tried to be accommodating to his need to work longer hours, to have me assume more of the burden of house cleaning, to have me accept that his stress level was just going to be higher than normal even though he’s usually the laid-back one in this duo.  I kept telling myself that everyone goes through tough patches, that to have a husband who clearly loved me (everyone who meets him knows he loves me) meant we’d work through this, that the way we were getting along 70% of the time should make up for the way I was feeling the other 30.  But we all come into marriages packed with burdens and expectations from our earlier lives.  I grew up watching my mother assume more and more of the work of maintaining our family while my father withdrew, except when he was angrily thundering in, before he eventually walked away.  I always knew I never wanted what they had in their marriage.  And here in fall, at the time of year that I watched my father walk away, I found myself standing in front of that abandoned house, looking at my husband, wondering, How did we get to the point where this man who has adored me so much now considers me a burden?

The adjustments of me quitting my job to create a unique one while he has worked on his thesis have been large.  The decision was a good one, but even good decisions cause stress.  Finding a way to work for myself and not overwork or underwork has been taxing on me.  I have questioned myself and have struggled, like Jacob wrestling with the angel, to find the empathy for myself that I thought had become an easy part of my core. Meanwhile, our financial investments, like nearly everyone’s, have been tanking, and they took their largest hit the week after I left my job.  My husband’s job prospects—even though he is an excellent student, well-liked by his peers and well-known for his accomplishments—have been receding with the economy.  My husband has his own set of fears and self-doubts, of course, and his own burdens and beliefs he’s brought into our coupledom. I know all this cerebrally, and yet—

My emotions welled up in my eyes and flowed down my face as my throat caught on a sob.  I stopped walking and clenched my fists.  My husband turned, concern replacing irritation on his face, and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I feel like I’m not as important to you as I used to be,” I said, my voice cracking in the middle of my sentence.  Having said the words, I broke down further, weeping openly, afraid in that moment that he might agree.  My husband was clearly shocked.  He drew me to him and said, “Of course you are as important as you were. You’re my everything.” He continued to soothe me with sweet descriptions of what I meant to him.  He told me that I need to tell him as soon as he does something that makes me feel unimportant.  I told him examples of what he’d done to upset me.  I felt him stiffen, and I stiffened waiting for his response, but then he relaxed, didn’t counter the examples, and actually listened. “Yes, I see what you mean,” he said.  Our conversation deepened, and I relaxed a bit.  In the end, I told him, essentially, that words and feelings mean little without action to back them up—which I knew he knew, but I thought deserved some new consideration.  In the relationships I had had before being with my husband, I would have been setting myself up for a big argument, but my husband and I both know that seeking to really listen, understand, and take action are at the heart of a good marriage.  We struggle against that knowledge at times, because we can be as stubborn and self-righteous and indignant as anyone, but we always come back to the fact that if we aren’t listening to each other, we can’t support each other.  With the support of the other, we can at least survive, and we can sometimes do great things.  Without that support, we fall apart as a couple, and we are less individually, as well.

The stressors haven’t disappeared, of course, since that conversation.  But he’s taking the time and energy to respond to me better when he’s feeling stressed out, and to avoid making me feel the brunt of his frustration.  I see him working to make sure he’s patient and loving with me at a time he is finding it difficult to feel patient and loving about much, and I fall in love with him more, realizing, yet again, that I really can trust him with myself.  And in turn, I’ve been seeking ways to better balance myself so that I rely less on him for my well-being:  increasing and diversifying my exercise; sleeping a bit later in the mornings to balance my poor nighttime sleep; spending more time with other friends; looking for additional sources of income while I wait for writing checks; decreasing some of the expectations on myself; letting myself cry even if I don’t understand why I’m crying, just to get the emotion out.  I’m doing a better job of giving myself the gift of patience so that I can extend more to my husband, as well.

I’m in the process; I’m becoming; I’m trying.  That is what we can ask of ourselves, and I am better able to grow when I remember that.

→ 8 CommentsTags: autumn · gratitude · on the soapbox · sturm and drang

Great Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, & Vegan Bread

November 14th, 2008 · 283 Comments

Note: I originally published this post in April, but my friends and I have tweaked the bread recipe since then, so I’m making the changes and bumping it up for the rest of you to see.

From April:

It’s been nearly a year since I was diagnosed with serious food allergies, which was followed pretty closely by me being diagnosed with atypical celiac disease. (A set of food allergies often indicates a further gastrointestinal issue at the heart of the allergies.) For nearly a year, I’ve gone without really good bread–and for the most part, I’ve adjusted. Before my diagnoses, I had already cut back the number of starches I consume, limiting my starch preparation to one kind per meal in the process of taking care of myself. After all, I figured, do I really need bread and potatoes, or cornbread and rice, at the same meal? Unlikely–the calories usually stack up way past the nutrients when starches are doubled. After my diagnoses, for most of my meals, I’ve either used an alternate starch or just skipped the starch—and will continue to do so.

But there’s something about bread, right? And I’ve missed that something. So when I came across a gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, dairy-free (vegan) bread recipe reputed to be great for sandwiches, I had to give it a try. My hopes were not too high, because I have altered and tried several well-reviewed gluten-free bread recipes that have not turned out so well. It’s hard to make good bread when you’re cutting out the soy, dairy, and eggs in addition to the gluten, because those other ingredients are often used to prop up what breads are lacking from the gluten. But this one I could make purely as it was written, and that excited me.

Mixing the various flours for the bread, I relished the experience. I thought, Even if the bread doesn’t come out right (and it probably won’t), this is fun. It was a bit like playing in the mud or in some rain puddles as a child. Some of the very starchy, light flours I was using puffed clouds into the air as I measured them out. As I continued to measure and combine flours, I looked down to realize I was covered in smears and streaks of the various flours. A friend arrived at my apartment, and she laughed at my powdery coating. “Why didn’t you wear an apron?” I just shrugged and grinned.

Once I had combined the flours, the bread came together very quickly in the mixer–but not without me managing to splatter my bluejeans with dough (I do not claim physical grace as one of my virtues). The bread rose on top of the warm oven and then baked inside it. Another friend, upon arrival, sighed in pleasure as the heavenly scent of baking bread reached her nose.

When I pulled the bread out of the oven, I frowned as I pulled off the aluminum foil: the color was not quite was I expecting–it was lighter–and there were mottled streaks in the bread. I thumped the top of one loaf, and it sounded right–just hollow enough on the interior. I held my breath as I sliced into it–crunchy outside, soft interior. But what would the taste be? I was torn between feeling dubious and hopeful. I took a bite and chewed. And closed my eyes. And felt a surge of pure joy. Then I opened my eyes and wondered, Do I think this is great purely based on my loss of the ability to remember gluten-y things correctly? I called a friend to the kitchen pass-through window. This friend was recently diagnosed with severe food allergies–it causes a chain reaction of diagnoses when people around you see your symptoms and healing and get tested themselves. Because she had only gone without gluten for three weeks at that point, I knew she’d be a better judge of the comparison to regular bread. “Taste this,” I said, holding out a piece of bread and offering no further information. She took a bite and closed her eyes. When she opened her eyes, they filled with tears. Her face flushed, and she looked a bit embarrassed. “It’s okay to cry,” I said. “It is that good.”

“It’s real bread,” she replied with a teary smile, and asked for another slice.

We sat down to dinner–two gluten-avoiders, two gluten-eaters–and together, we demolished a loaf over the course of the meal.

Delicious Gluten-Free, Vegan Bread

Recipe for 2 loaves—it is okay to halve the recipe if you want to make just one

Note: If you are using a mixer that doesn’t have a great engine, you may want to mix it by hand at the end to ensure it’s all mixed.  Since there’s no gluten to get tough from overmixing, you can mix until you’re confident.

In a large mixing bowl combine:

1 1/2 cups millet flour
1/2 cup teff flour
1 cup sorghum flour
1 cup cornstarch (or double the potato starch if you can’t eat corn)
1 cup potato starch
1 cup tapioca flour
4 tsp xanthan gum
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp active dry yeast (not rapid rise)


4 tsp olive oil
3 1/4 cup warm water (not hot)

Mix with electric mixer–using paddle attachment, NOT regular beaters or bread hook–for two minutes.  The bread dough will be more like cake batter than traditional bread dough.

Two options for the rising:

For the best rising: While mixing the bread, create a proofing box from your microwave. Microwave a small mug or ramekin with water until the water boils.  Leave the water in the microwave.  Pour the bread dough into two nonstick or well-greased pans.  Tuck the loaves into the microwave with the water—the container of water should not be touching the pans. (I have to remove the turntable in my microwave to do this.) Allow to rise until batter extends a bit over the top of the pans–generally 30-50 minutes.

Standard method: Pour into two nonstick or well-greased loaf pans, place on a warm surface (such as on top of the pre-heated oven), and cover with a towel. Allow to rise until batter extends a bit over the top of the pan–generally 50-70 minutes. (Batter should take up about half the loaf pan before rising.)

Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove loaf pans from oven and cover with aluminum foil. Return to oven and bake for an additional 35-45 minutes, depending on your oven. (Insert a toothpick or knife into the center to see if it comes out clean or doughy, if you aren’t sure when you pull out the bread.)

As with most breads, it is easiest to slice if you allow it to fully cool. But who can wait that long? I usually let it cool for a little bit, and then remove the loaves from the pans and place them on a rack to cool more while I slice it up. The bread tastes delicious warm, dipped in olive oil and herbs or spread with honey and ghee. It also works well for sandwiches after it has cooled. If you won’t be eating it within 2 days, after it’s cooled, slice it, wrap it in a couple of layers of plastic wrap, and freeze it.  Never refrigerate this or other bread—it will get dry and hard if you do. If you leave the bread on the counter (wrapped), it will be good for all purposes for a couple of days.  After that, it will be best used for bread pudding, French toast, croutons, etc.


Note on recipe alterations: It’s been several years now since I published this recipe, and there are over 250 comments on it at this point.  If you need to make alterations to the recipe, you will probably find an example of where someone has successfully changed the recipe to suit your needs if you take the time to read the comments.  I’m no longer replying with suggestions when people need alterations, because there are so many options already included in the comments.  Also, though you may be able to reduce it or change the kind you use, some form of actual sugar (fructose, glucose, sucrose) is essential in this recipe, because the yeast consume it and release carbon dioxide as a result, and that’s what makes the bread rise. If you cannot eat yeast, I would suggest looking for quick bread or soda bread recipes, but yeast is essential for traditional sandwich bread texture.

→ 283 CommentsTags: allergen-free recipes · fruits of my labor · gratitude · vegetarian

Working Together

November 7th, 2008 · 8 Comments

Yesterday, I wrote you a long, heartfelt post.  After crafting it for about 2.5 hours, I finally hit “Publish”—just to find out that my internet was down and had been down long enough that my post wasn’t even auto-saving as I wrote it.  At that point, I did the only thing I could: I got in bed and took a nap.

Though I can’t bring myself to rewrite what I spent so much precious time on yesterday, I do think it’s worth taking a few moments to paraphrase what I had tried to illuminate so thoroughly in that post.  Here goes:

I have been created by the culmination of my life up to now.  I am a complex mix of what I was born with, what my parents have wanted for me, what I have discovered for myself, what I have struggled with, what has happened to me outside my control, and what decisions I have made.  I am complicated, just as you are complicated.  Too often in this world, we are encouraged by various forces to look at other people simplistically–to judge them as if one aspect or decision or belief is the core of their being, instead of merely one facet of their being.  And while I have certainly been guilty of doing that plenty of times, I fight against it within myself, because when I am divided from my fellow people by thinking they are just one aspect of themselves, I lose out on the beauty that’s inherent in complexity.  I lose out on being able to accept myself as a complex person.  I lose out on knowing and understanding people who have much in common with me and who have much they could teach me if I would remain open to it despite our differences.

It’s hard to realize that other people are the center of their own lives—with their lives validating their current belief systems—just as much as we are at the center of ours.  And it’s hard, sometimes, to accept how differently they will view certain things than we do.  We think, “Why don’t you see it my way? My way is so clear! My way is right!” And perhaps it is (I do believe in some absolute truths), but our particular beliefs are also because of how our individual experiences have culminated in those beliefs.

If we can pause our judgments to look for the values and beliefs that bring us together, instead of the issues that tear us apart, there’s much good we can do in this world.  I know that for a fact, because in the three years I spent working for Habitat for Humanity, throughout many frustrations, I was often very moved.  I watched white, married, corporate CEOS and black, single, bus-driver moms frame windows together.  I watched Jews, Muslims, Christians, and people of other faiths or no faith work together to raise money for houses.  I watched frat boys, hardcore feminists, and stay-at-home moms work as a unit to hold siding against a wall and pop it into place with nail guns.  I felt spaces in myself shift to make room for others as I saw people who had very different belief systems and backgrounds find common ground in an activity they could all believe in.

There have to be other issues where the collective power of people who care, whatever their beliefs and backgrounds, can take precedence over the various ways those people are divided from each other.  Even if we can’t all get our way with all issues (and we can’t, of course), and even if we rightfully want to expend a chunk of energy on issues where we are divided, surely there are vital issues where we can also work together because of what most of us believe.  I think about the future of our planet—whether our views are that we want to take action for saving animals from extinction, keeping the planet viable for humans, or caring for God’s creation, surely we can agree with others (many others, of all walks of life) that we’re creating too much trash and pollution, and that we can and must do better.  I think about the financial mess—and how, nearly worldwide, we’re in a place where people are going to have to make decisions with thrift, humility, love, and sacrifice to take better long-term care of ourselves and others with our choices.  I think about food—and how we know that we need to be eating more whole foods and less junk, considering the impact of our food choices on ourselves and all who are involved in the food processes, and protecting children from obesity before they are in a position to make educated choices for themselves.  Surely, around issues like these, we can work together whether we are coming at them from a religious, humanistic, familial, or other point of view—even if the people working with us are people with whom we could not discuss some other topics without getting upset.

There’s plenty to divide us, and that’s not going away.  But the problems we can choose to face together, whatever our backgrounds and beliefs, aren’t going away, either, and get more entrenched while we choose the glee of finger-pointing self-righteousness (I know it well, having been guilty of it)—from either side of these divides—over the difficult, important work of coming together.  Let’s remember that we’re not red or blue:  we’re people. There’s much to be done—let’s teach each other how to do it together.

→ 8 CommentsTags: on the soapbox

Creamy Tuna Salad With No Mayo, Eggs, Soy, or Dairy

November 5th, 2008 · 26 Comments

Quite frankly, I find this tuna salad addictive.  To avoid developing new food allergies, I generally rotate what I eat so that I don’t eat the same thing in more than one 24-hour period every four days or so.  But once I’ve made this tuna salad, I’m all in until it’s gone.  I had this tuna salad on my meal plan for later this week, but once I bought the ingredients on Monday, I couldn’t resist making it and eating it for lunch that day.  Then we had it for dinner . . . and for lunch the next day. I had the last bit for lunch today, as well.  And, well, I kept glancing at the clock after 10 a.m. to see whether it was time for lunch yet so I could go eat it.

I came to fish during early adulthood.  We didn’t eat fish at home when I was growing up.  At other people’s houses and parties, we’d sometimes have fried catfish (this is the South).  At seafood restaurants, I’d eat fried seafood.  But seafood that wasn’t fried smelled and tasted far too much like . . . well, like the ocean.  I’m glad to say I’ve been getting over that issue.  In the same way that I now like that beets taste like the earth they grew in, I understand the pleasure of eating foods that are reminscent of the ocean’s complex tang.  Of course, you have to be careful about which fish you eat, as we as a planet are at risk of collapsing various fish populations.  I carry a Monterey Bay Seafood Watch Pocket Guide in my wallet to check my choices when I’m shopping.  With the right source for tuna, it’s okay in moderation.  Or, I hope, in intense batches of consumption followed by temporary abstinence. . . .

Tuna Salad
Mayo-Free, Egg-Free, Soy-Free, Dairy-Free

This salad changes a bit each time I make it. Trust yourself to taste the salad as you go and figure out what you need to add, and it will come out great.

1 c. walnut halves
1-2 avocados (depending on how creamy you want the salad)
1 lemon or 1-2 T. white wine vinegar if you cannot eat citrus—use the zest of the lemon, as well, if you want an extra citrus punch
1-2tsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp.-1 T. hemp milk or other milk alternative
1 tsp. salt or seasoning salt
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. agave syrup or honey (may cut if using sweet milk alternative)
2-3 cans albacore tuna
3-4 T. herb mix, fresh, or 1-2 T. herb mix, dried (the fresh, prepackaged seafood herb mix from Whole Foods is great, or a combination of parsley, dill, tarragon, and/or chervil works. The last time I made this, I used 2 T. chopped fresh parsley, 1 tsp. dried dill, and 1 T. chopped fresh tarragon.)
2-5 green onions (I love onions. Some people don’t love them like I do. It’s up to you!)

Toast the walnuts using your method of choice. When they are toasted and cooled, chop the walnut halves into quarter-size or smaller pieces, and place them in a medium-sized bowl.

Meanwhile, combine the meat of the avocado(s) through the agave in a blender, and blend well. If your avocado is too firm or is pretty big, you may need more hemp milk to make it blend well. Add the sauce to the walnut bowl.

Chop the fresh herbs. Chop the green onions (both green and white parts).

Add the herbs to the walnut bowl. Open the cans of tuna, drain them, and run a sharp knife in cross sections in the can to cut the tuna into bite-sized (or smaller) pieces. Shoo your meowing cats from the kitchen. Stir the tuna into the sauce mixture. Taste the mixture, and add additional herbs, mustard, lemon, salt, etc., as needed. Serve immediately, or cover tightly and store in the fridge a day or two.

Serves 4-6, depending on measurements used.

We like to eat the tuna salad on toasted bread—with fresh tomato slices and lettuce in the warm seasons, and sundried tomato pieces and lettuce in the cooler seasons. (The addition of the sweetness of the sundried tomatoes may be part of my addiction.) I’ve also eaten this on crackers, on cucumber slices, and tucked in Romaine leaf wraps. It’s yummy all these ways!

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