Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fresh from Florida

The parents flew us down to Florida for a week, which was really hard to come back from.  We spent most of the time in their gated retirement community swimming, sleeping and sunning.  It was a very welcome break after the craziness of this past semester.

About mid-week I noticed an absence of body consciousness on my part.  We were spending about two hours a day at the pool, and I was running around in sleeveless outfits the rest of the time.  While I go sleeveless in my usual haunts, I still have an undercurrent of anxiety whenever I do.  I feel conspicuous, and somehow daring (even if I know on some level that no one actually cares one way or the other if they can see my shoulders).  I suspect there was something about the age group in the community (55+).  When a gaggle of teenagers visiting their grandparents came to the pool to show off their bikinis, I would feel the anxiety creeping up again. 

There was something about the older crowd that made me feel free of body judgement.  Even though most of them seemed to be on Weight Watchers, I really felt that their criticism didn't extend beyond their own bodies.  They would tell friends they looked great, but the compliment seemed to arise from their clothing or health, rather than their weight. Is this a generational thing?  A reordering of priorities and prejudices as people age?  Or is it a false assumption on my part?  After all, feeling safe and being safe are not the same thing.  Has anyone else experienced a similar feeling?

If you're ever in the Sarasota area in winter, go see the Lipizzaner training sessions.  They're free (a hat is passed at the end) and you get to see how the young horses learn the various moves.  You also provide an audience for them to get used to clapping and visual distraction.  It's a much more intimate way to experience the Lipizzaners, and it can get really exciting if they're feeling fractious!

You also have no idea what grapefruit is supposed to taste like until you've had it right off the tree.  Who knew that it should be more sweet than bitter?  Well, other than people who live in the south of course :-)

If you're gluten-intolerant and flying Delta Airlines (maybe any airline) consider bringing a small bottle of handsoap on the plane.  The soap in the airplane bathroom said that it left a "coating of wheat proteins on your hands for long lasting moisture."  I've written the airline to complain. 

I hope everyone continues to have a safe winter season, wherever you are!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Students Speak on Photoshop and Body Image

I came across this great discussion on the NY Times Learning Network, asking students to share what they think about the effect of photoshopped celebrity images in the media.  The blog mentions the attempts by several countries to force advertisers to reveal when an image has been altered using a scale of 1-5 for the degree of alteration. 

I read through the first page of comments (there are four pages at this point) and it was both heartbreaking and hopeful.  Girls talked about how terrible they would feel about themselves after exposure to a retouched, impossible face and figure in a magazine.  Boys and girls both talked about the beauty of "real" people.  Instead of ivory tower academics discussing the theoretical impact of false beauty standards, here are the targets crying "foul!" all by themselves. 

It's a good read when we start to get discouraged about fighting the good fight for body acceptance.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gluten-Free Buttermilk Pancake mix

Pancakes are tricky in the gluten-free world.  There are a few mixes that make whole-grain flavored pancakes, heavy on the sorghum flour.  I really missed that perfect buttermilk pancake taste, and the gluten-free bisquick was expensive enough to make pancakes an occasional treat.  I'm very picky about "substitutes" actually having the same taste and texture as the thing they're substituting for.  I don't want an unsatisfying "something vaguely like what I'm craving."  I want the real thing. 

So JD set out on a mission to find the perfect from-scratch gluten-free buttermilk pancake mix.  He's finally calling it good and letting me post the recipe.

He starts out with our gluten-free flour mix, which he measures by volume by pouring the flour into the measuring cup.  Since different flours compact differently, you should never scoop it: you'll end up with a slightly different amount of flour every time. 

4 parts white rice flour

3 parts potato starch
2 parts sweet white sorghum flour

Whisk these together thoroughly, then place in an air-tight container and shake well.  We use a glass container with a stopper, and it keeps just fine on the shelf for months. 

From that, he makes up a batch of pancake mix he can store in the cupboard for weeks and make into pancakes whenever he'd like.  For 6 cups of dry pancake mix, you'll need:
3 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour (recipe above, or your own)

1-1/2 cups buttermilk powder  (NOW brand is gluten-free and available on Amazon if you can't find it locally)
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup shortening

Mix all the dry ingredients, then cut in the shortening with a pastry cutter, pair of knives, or food processor until it's crumbly and evenly distributed.  This will store on the shelf for at least two weeks. 

To make the mix into pancakes:

1 cup dry pancake mix

1 egg
1/4 cup milk

This makes plenty for two people.  JD does silver-dollar size pancakes by dropping the batter by tablespoons onto a buttered nonstick pan.  They can be made with water if you have a casein allergy, but they won't be as fluffy.  I'm assuming that since the proteins in the milk are responsible for the fluffing (they form a surface to trap air bubbles in the batter) that you could use any protein-containing milk substitute.  If you use a sweetened milk substitute (like vanilla soymilk) you may want to adjust the sugar in the mix. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Taking Pickles Off the Back Burner

So this weekend I caught up on a lot of things, like cleaning and packing five whole boxes of clutter for a giant garage sale next spring.  I felt like I should reward myself by tackling one of the "unnecessary" creative projects I've had sitting in my inspiration box for nearly five years now: homemade pickles.

Every single year when the world is inundated with so many cucumbers that people leave baskets of them in the office break room with a "free" sign, I sigh and say, "I should make pickles this year."  It never actually happens.  The reason it never actually happens is that I always assumed that pickling involved a huge, expensive, messy and complicated process. 

Then I found a recipe for cold-pack pickles on Dave's Cupboard.  It couldn't possibly be that easy...could it?  If the recipe was correct, the only thing I needed that I didn't already have was pickling salt, cucumbers and a few spices. 

So I grabbed some off-season cucumbers, dried spices (the grocery store didn't have fresh dill) and gave it a whirl.  I re-used some plastic yogurt containers to hold everything, sliced the big cucumbers into spears, and after about an hour's work I have four 1 quart containers of pickles brewing in the back of our fridge, each one with slight variations on the base recipe (extra spicy, extra garlic, extra dill). 

I love cold pack pickles:  They're much fresher tasting and crunchier than cooked ones.  The downside is that they do have to be stored in the fridge and are only good for about three months.  But I can make small batches at a time.  It opens up all kinds of possibilities (pickled peppers, anyone?).  The cost would, of course, be much lower if I grew my own herbs. 

After a semester of constant running around on "necessary" tasks, it felt really good to do something entirely for the sake of tasty, creative fun.  It shows that I don't actually have to slow down to take a break.  I won't know for sure if it worked until December 8th when I crack open the pickles, but I love being able to say I make them.  It has to do with the kind of person I want to be.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Gluten-Free Turkey Day Review

The great gluten-free post-Thanksgiving dinner was a mixed bag, but the good more than made up for the bad!   With a nine pound turkey breast and plenty of extras, we still have a week of leftovers and some good memories.

I did the turkey in what I call the "Scarborough Fair" style (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme) with the herbs pureed and spread under the skin of the turkey breast to flavor the meat.  Herbs on the surface of the skin don't penetrate; the skin is designed to keep things out.  I nearly burned the turkey when I turned it up to 400 to brown, but caught it just in time. The drippings were pretty brown, but when I poured a few cups of water in the pan and let it sit, it made gorgeous, dark, flavorful gravy. The Honeysuckle White brand frozen turkey breast did come with a gravy packet, but I prefer to make my own.  I did look at the ingredients to see if the website had accurately listed the entire turkey as gluten-free.  The gravy packet used white rice flour, corn starch, and guar gum as thickeners instead of wheat flour! It was good to see that the company was making an honest effort to make their product safe for more people.

I cheated a bit on the cereal-based stuffing.  For lack of time and money to hit a specialty store for gluten-free corn flakes, I used corn chex instead.  The result was a gooey, nasty tasting mess and went straight into the trash.  I've no idea if the flavor of flakes differs so much from chex that it would vastly improve the dish, but I can't imagine it being enough to be edible.  I want to be fair to the recipe in that I did change the cereal, but I don't feel inclined to waste time and money on a re-try when it came out so terrible.  It would be different if it were just slightly off. 

The crustless strawberry cheesecake with fresh vanilla whipped cream was perfect, even if I did feel ready to explode by that point! 

It felt a little odd having Thanksgiving dinner with just the two of us instead of the big family crowd I'm used to associating with holidays.  I think I have some work to do in redefining what it means to be a family. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Very Gluten-Free Thanksgiving

The last-minute hunt is on for a Gluten-Free Thanksgiving dinner!  Our plans are still a little up in the air for Turkey Day itself, and if plans do happen then we'll have our meal on Sunday instead of tomorrow.  The problem is that Thanksgiving is a minefield of gluteny traditions.

The first and least obvious hurdle is the turkey itself.  Of course turkeys don't normally contain gluten, but manufacturers quite commonly baste, inject, fill and marinate their meat for sale.  This accomplishes a few things for them: it adds weight to products sold by the pound, and they're hoping that they can trick cooks into thinking their product just naturally cooks up all juicy and flavorful.  Unfortunately, they almost never reveal the ingredients of their "secret sauce" injections on the packaging, nor do they list allergens. 

Butterball's website says they're moving away from gluten ingredients in their turkies and gravy packets, but you have to call their customer service hotline with a lot number to verify that the turkey you're buying is a safe one.  My local butcher shop sells plain turkeys, but they're enormous and we have limited freezer space.  Ideally I wanted to buy just a turkey breast to roast, since I'm not a fan of dark meat anyway.  I found what I was looking for on the Honeysuckle White website, where they list their bone-in fresh or frozen turkey breast as gluten-free.  Their whole turkeys, however, are NOT labeled gluten-free (probably because of a gravy packet).  I also know that the local big box stores carry them, which means they're perfect for last-minute plans. 

The next hurdle is the stuffing.  I had originally planned to make the cornbread stuffing recipe from the last "Better Homes and Gardens" (don't ask, the connards cancelled "Ready-Made" and sold my subscription to BHG).  It seemed ideal because the corn bread recipe they used didn't include wheat flour.  Luckily I made a test batch and found out that it comes out eggy tasting and dry.  I ended up tossing the whole batch (and the recipe). 

Then I was listening to NPR on the way to work this morning and heard a piece with Chris Kimball of America's Test Kitchen.   He gave a fantastic sounding recipe for turkey stuffing made from corn flakes.  It sounds pretty flakey (bah dum dum *ting*) but it's Chris Kimball.  I can't believe he would offer up his reputation on a less than fabulous recipe.  So I'm going to take a leap of faith, grab some gluten-free cornflakes, and give it a whirl.  The recipe and other delicious-sounding goodness from the piece can be found at the NPR website.  It includes a honey-herb brie appetizer and a pumpkin spice cheesecake that would be gluten-free without the crust.  You could find a gluten-free graham cracker to substitute for the crust, but I haven't found one yet that didn't taste awful.  He also gives some tips on how to flavor the turkey with fresh herbs.

Mashed potatoes are easy; I would just use leftover chicken broth and herbs from the other recipes.  For cranberry sauce, I have a particular nostalgic fondness for the Ocean Spray canned cranberry sauce, complete with little jellied can ridges molded into the cylindrical lump, carved into slices.  I think it's all about what you grew up with.  The fancy homemades just don't hit the craving the same way.  Luckily, Ocean Spray's website says that all their sauces and juices are gluten-free.

Going Caffeine-Free

I know, right?  But while most people do just fine on caffeine, I found myself in a cycle of insomnia, leading to extra caffeine the next day, leading to worse insomnia.  I wasn't even that heavy of a caffeine drinker.  I would generally have one or two 16 oz cup of ice tea in the morning, then a 16 oz coffee.  After a sleepless night, I would sometimes add another 16 oz coffee or coffee drink from McDonalds before noon, plus one or more 32 oz ice teas (There's a McDonald's across from my office, which makes it an easy money-sink for drinks). 

First I just cut out the coffee, under the mistaken impression that iced tea had so little caffeine that it wouldn't make a difference.  When there was no difference in my insomnia levels, I did a little research.  According to Energy Fiend's caffeine database, 8 ounces of brewed ice tea contains 47 mg of caffeine, while a 16 ounce cup of brewed coffee from McDonalds has 145 mg caffeine.  So if I had two cups of ice tea in the morning plus a 32 ounce ice tea at lunch, I was at about 188 mg of caffeine, and might as well have had a large coffee. 

Further research found studies that suggested caffeine has a significant effect on blood sugar levels.  I have PCOS, and take Metformin to help control blood sugar.  Studies from 2004 and 2008 claim that caffeine has detrimental effect on blood sugar equal to the positive effect of blood sugar medication, in that it causes spikes after meals.  So my caffeine intake may have been cancelling out any benefit I was getting from taking Metformin.  I have to take this with a grain of salt because there are a lot of studies with exaggerated or correlational effects mis-reported in the news when it comes to pop medicine topics like diabetes.  But while the blood sugar theories did not make or break the decision, it was one more piece of the puzzle. 

So I first cut down to one 16oz ice tea in the morning, then stopped altogether.  I chose a long weekend with no plans so that I could sleep off whatever headache came up (only a mild one, nothing like when I quit smoking!).  We both missed ice tea with breakfast, so we looked for alternatives.  After trying a few herbal combinations, we finally settled on regular decaf tea.  As we did with the caffeinated tea, we put six teabags in the coffee pot and brewed hot water through the coffeemaker.  We let it steep a few minutes, then pour it off into a pitcher for the fridge.  It's massively cheaper than buying bottled tea or mixes, and I think it tastes better.

What's interesting is that I have a certain conditioned reaction to the tea.  I feel more awake after I've had a cup, even though it's decaf.  I believe that the flavor of the ice tea is the conditioned stimulus for my brain to feel energized, because I don't have the same effect from drinking juice or water.  Blessings upon the placebo effect, and may it last forever!

One surprise is that I'm not any more tired than I was.  I expected to be a zombie for at least a month once I quit caffeine.  There was a drop for a few weeks, but then I re-adjusted to what feels like the same level of alertness I had when I was chugging the caf. I've also seen a significant reduction in my anxiety levels. The brain has to adjust to different levels of blood flow and pressure, plus learn to work without the stimulation provided by the caffeine.  What I don't have is the crazy zen-like boundless energy some anti-caffeine proselytizers claim.  Perhaps that's really the experience for some. 

The lack of difference in my energy tell me that caffeine wasn't accomplishing anything for me, besides interrupting my sleep, costing me money, spiking my anxiety, messing with my blood sugar levels, and giving me occasional withdrawal headaches on weekends.

That's good enough for me!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Recipe Box: Gluten-Free Apple Coffee Cake

I found a fantastic recipe for peach coffee cake with streusel topping over at the Gluten-Free Goddess.   I just wanted to give her full credit for the original recipe, to which I made several changes.  I adapted a few items to fit what I had in the cupboard, added additional spices to give it a more spice-cake flavor, and added buttermilk powder to really up the moistness of the cake.  

Dry Ingredients:
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup almond meal
1/2 cup tapioca starch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2  teaspoon guar gum
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon clove
1/4 cup buttermilk powder

Wet Ingredients:
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

5-6 tablespoons milk as needed
1 can (min 12oz) apple pie filling

For the streusel topping:

1/3 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons brown rice flour
3 tablespoons mayonnaise (use full fat, no miracle whip)
2 tablespoons chopped pecans or pecan meal
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, 325 degrees for dark nonstick pan.  put a circle of parchment paper at the bottom of a round 9-inch cake pan.

Mix dry and wet ingredients in separate bowls.  Whisk dry ingredients well until completely combined; beat wet ingredients together until uniform.  Combine in one bowl.

Add milk one tablespoon at a time until batter is smooth (will vary depending on flour and humidity)

Pour the batter into the cake pan and smooth.  add a layer of apples from the pie filling.

Mix all the streusel ingredients together in a small bowl until the consistency of wet sand.   Sprinkle over the top of the cake.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until brown.  Check at 30 minutes; if already browning then cover with foil for last 10-15 minutes.  Toothpick should come out clean.  Cool to touch before serving.  Run a plastic knife between edge and pan before serving for easy removal. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Al Franken gives anti-gay witness academic bitch-slap

Normally I avoid specific candidate endorsement or tear-down on this blog, but I just saw this video:

Al Franken Takes Down Anti-Gay Witness

Over at Talking Points Memo.  I actually wanted to shout "SHAZAAM!!  TAKE THAT ASSHAT!" at the end :-)  Does this mean that despite all the insanity, some members of our government still actually think for themselves?  Now I'm tempted to move to Minnesota just to vote for him. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Eating disorders on the rise amongst young children

CNN Health reports that the average age for eating disorders is dropping, so that children as young as 7 are requiring treatment for anorexia and other disorders.

I was very pleasantly surprised to see a lot of references in here about how our fat-hysteria is impacting children negatively.  A mainstream news organization very rarely wakes up to the idea that body judgement might be doing serious harm.


"Our culture serves up such a vast smorgasbord of body judgments, is it any wonder that so many kids are unhappy with the way they look?"

The news itself isn't positive; the epidemic increase in eating disorders in children is absolutely devastating and the human element of personal stories from kids and parents really drives home the feelings of helplessness and fear surrounding these disorders.  But the issue is treated with a very considerate touch and not as an excuse for hate. 

Finally...they're getting it. Well done CNN and Margaret Renkl.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

SAAS: Business Clothes on a Budget

I'm adding this to my Sewing at Any Size series, even though there's not a whole lot of sewing necessary.  You can click on the "Sewing" link under Happiness Tools to your left for more projects like this one. 

There was a great post with some also great comments over at The Rotund on the challenges of work attire for us "death fat" women. Especially on a limited budget (i.e. can't afford custom tailoring). I started to write a comment, but it grew long enough that I thought it better to put it out as a post instead.

Unfortunately, I have accepted that as a tall, broad-shouldered, big waisted woman, the reality is that if I want something to look a certain way, I have to develop the skills to make it happen. Which means sewing. But you don't necessarily need a sewing machine to do some basic alterations on a budget.

Your first stop is Goodwill, Salvation Army, or other thrift stores. We said budget, right? These stores almost always have better choices in large men's clothes than women's, but the difference between the two isn't as wide as you think for business wear.

For altering the men's clothing we'll be doing some very basic tricks with elastic.

From the fabric/craft store (and some big box stores with craft sections) You'll need less than a yard each of:

1/4 inch wide elastic

elastic cord or narrow stretch lace (sometimes sold as pyjama or lingerie elastic)

and a yard or more (depending on your waist size) of 1/2 inch elastic.

You'll also need a sewing needle and thread. You might want to wait on buying the thread until after you've picked out your garments, because you'll want to match the color as closely as possible.

For shirt method 2, you'll want some light fabric ribbon or bias tape that either matches or coordinates with your shirt.

You'll need a quilting hoop, which is a large wooden hoop with a second hoop that fits inside it tightly. You place the fabric over the smaller hoop and push the larger hoop onto it, trapping the fabric between (there should be a screw to tighten it). You want one at least a foot and a half diameter, but preferably larger. Our local thrift stores ALWAYS have these for a dollar or two from people cleaning out their hobby room. Make sure they have the tightening screw and both hoops.

The next stop is the thrift shop.

You're looking for men's button-up shirts (short or long sleeve) and a men's suit coat in good condition. If you can find men's slacks that fit you and match the suit coat, bonus!

You should also hit the women's section and look for dresses, which look good under a suit coat for women in a business environment. If they don't have any that fit you, look for dresses of any size with the following criteria:

1. The fabric and color below the waist of the dress coordinate with the suit coat

2. the skirt of the dress flares below the waist

3. There is a point below the dress waist where the skirt will fit around your waist with enough fabric below that to reach your knees, plus two inches.

We'll be chopping off the bottom of the dress and turning it into a very simple elastic-waist skirt.


1. Find a men's suit coat that fits the widest part of your body (i.e. chest) and has some room at your natural waist. You should be able to pinch about 2-3 inches of fabric at the back. Much more than that and it will look odd. Sometimes a coat that's a single size too small can give you a "shrunken jacket" effect that looks feminine all by itself without any alterations. If not, try the steps below for a back gather.

2. Cut a six-inch piece of 1/4 inch elastic

3. Put the coat on inside out and have a friend help you pin the elastic to the fabric at the center of the back at the level of your natural waistline so that the elastic is at rest (not stretched) and enough fabric is gathered between the two ends that the coat looks fitted (but not too tight) from the front. Pin it securely at each end, leaving the middle loose (you may want to use big safety pins).

4. Stretch the fabric and elastic over the smaller half of the quilting hoop so that either the fabric or the elastic is taut. Push the larger hoop over the top, being careful that the fabric is even in all directions. Use the screw to tighten down.

5. On a sewing machine or by hand, sew zig-zag stitches (they look like the letter Z) across each end where you have it pinned.

6. Sew zig-zag stitches down the center of the elastic. If the fabric is loose under the elastic, gather it as you go so that it's puckered evenly down the elastic.

7. Remove the pins, remove the shirt from the frame.

The elastic should gather the coat at the back of your waist, giving the coat a more feminine sillouhuette. You can also use two pieces of elastic to make smaller gathers at the sides for a different look.


Women's jackets are generally shorter than men's. If you're ambitious and a shorter jacket is better for your body type, you should consider shortening the jacket and using darts to shape it. If the hem from shortening looks less than professional, a strip of contrasting satin ribbon or lace sewn along the edge will add a touch of style to the coat and hide mis-stitching.

If you don't like the look of the gather as is, you can mask it by adding a faux-belt for a very classical British look. Hem a piece of fabric to about 2 to 3 inches wide, with each end folded to a point. Secure it to either side of the gather with large flat buttons about the position of your kidneys.


I have despaired of finding a simple, business appropriate cotton button down shirt that fits me in any women's section of any store. They;re either full of "froofera" or they're cut very baggy casual.
The shirt can be gathered at the back with the same steps as outlined for the coat above. The thinner fabric will make a feminine sort of ruffle at the back, which is not at all a bad thing.


This is the tie-back version. Step 1 is the same as above.

2. Start with two pieces of ribbon or bias tape at least a foot long. You can finish the cut ends by knotting, taping, superglue or burning (if acrylic or nylon). For the end stitched onto the shirt you'll want to fold it under neatly.

3. Follow step 3 as above with the shirt right side out, but instead of elastic pin the end of one ribbon at each gather point.

4. Stitch the ribbon onto the shirt at the pin point.

5. Tie the ribbons to gather the shirt at the back and give it shape

You can also stitch the ribbon all the way around the shirt for a more decorative look. Start at the buttons and stitch it to the shirt all the way around until you reach the point where you would have pinned in step 3 (you can use chalk to mark this point).


Another way to feminize the shirt is to change out the buttons to something more decorative. Few people will realize they're technically on the wrong side if they're pretty.

You can add a gather to short sleeves to make the outline more feminine. Using either elastic cord or stretch lace, sew it around the cuff of the sleeve (cord on the underside, lace either under or over). Stretch the elastic slightly and evenly as you sew so that it will hug your arm when it's finished.

Sew a strip of lace to the underside of the buttonhole side of the shirt so that it just peeks out 1/8th inch or so when the shirt is buttoned. It's a very subtle and simple touch. You can use fabric glue or iron-on fusible if you don't trust your stitching. You can continue the lace up along the inside of the collar for an additional touch.


Click on the SAAS (Sewing at Any Size) tag or topic link to find my guide on how to make the easiest of all sewing projects: a gored skirt. You could use the same instructions and matching or coordinating fabric to make a variety of skirts to go with your jacket (pencil, A-line, straight line, etc.)

If you find a dress at the thrift store that doesn't quite fit, but the bottom would go well with your jacket, it's very easy to convert it.

1. Find the level of the skirt below the waistline where it fits around your waist with about 1/2 to 1 inch to spare. This is easy to do by just flipping the dress upside down and pulling the skirt up to your waist until it starts to tighten. If, at that point, you have enough skirt material to reach your knees plus about 2 inches, you have a potential skirt.

2. Cut the skirt off the dress at the point you found before.

3. Pull a piece of 1/2 inch wide elastic around your waist so that it fits snugly but not uncomfortably. Add 1/2 inch and cut the elastic to that length.

4. Fold the cut edge of the skirt over about 1 inch and hem it. Sewing is the best way to accomplish this, but you can certainly use fabric glue or iron-on fusible to do it; they just won't stand up as well to washing. Leave about 2 inches of it unhemmed for now.

5. Thread the elastic through the hem. I use a large safety pin to feed it through, pinning the other end to the fabric so it doesn't get lost.

6. Pull the two ends of elastic out to where you can work with them. Make sure the elastic hasn't twisted inside the hem. You should have a continuous flat loop. Overlap them and stitch very thoroughly so that they hold.

7. Tuck the elastic up into the hem and finish the last few inches of hemming by whatever method you chose.

8. Even out the fabric around the elastic.

Note that a medium to wide belt will easily cover the elastic waistline if you don't like the look of it with the shirt tucked in.

Also note that you can wash a wool suit coat, despite what you've been told.  Personally the idea of wearing a never-washed chemically cleaned used coat is icky.  I washed a thrift store wool tuxedo jacket by soaking it in a few tablespoons of Dawn dish detergent in room temperature water in the sink for a few hours, agitating gently every now and then.  I rinsed it well in the bathtub, rolled it in a towel to squeeze out excess water, and laid it flat to dry (hanging it will distort the fabric).  There wasn't any shrinkage and it really made the fabric look newer.  Make sure the water is room temperature and not warm or cold, and don't use the washing machine.  There may be the occasional coat where this still shrinks or damages it, so consider cost/reward when giving it a try.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gluten Free Product Review: Cookies

First the standard disclosure that I'm not receiving anything from these companies to review their products, not even free samples.  I'm just sharing my own personal impressions of some of the gluten-free products we're trying out since my partner's diagnosis with Celiac Disease.  It can be quite a complicated treasure hunt! 

The Good:
Kinnickinik brand KinniToos Chocolate Vanilla Sandwich Cookies
Ah, Oreos, how I missed thee....

These Chocolate Vanilla Sandwich Cookies were a passable to good version of the gluteny cookies. The texture was perfect. The filling was sweeter than Oreo's, but they balanced the overall flavor well by putting in a little less. It wouldn't work as a double-stuff, unless you like super-sweet. I would highly recommend putting some in a bag, smushing them a bit, and mixing them with vanilla ice cream if you sorely miss the classic cookies and cream flavor. Of course, they're pretty darn good all on their own. By the way, they're also dairy, nut, yeast and egg free (according to their website) for those who have multiple allergies. They do contain soy.

The Bad:
Glutino Chocolate Dream Cookies
Another oreo-like chocolate cookie with cream filling. The cream filling is similar to Kinnickinik brand and Oreos, but the cookie part falls flat. It has a satisfying crunch, then seems to dissolve into fine wet sand in your mouth. It's the unfortunate curse of the rice flour, which simply doesn't break up well on cooking. After two cookies and a full glass of water to wash down the grit, I think I'm done with these. If there was no other GF chocolate cream sandwich cookie on the market I'd probably grin and bear it because the flavor itself is all right. Unfortunately the texture is a significant fail.

The Ugly:
Jovial brand Vanilla Cream Filled Chocolate Cookies
JD and I pondered for some time over the disgusting-yet-compelling taste and texture of these cookies. The closest I can come to describing them is "crack-filled dog biscuits". The texture and overt flavor of the cookie, which I didn't realize was supposed to be chocolate until I saw the package, is dry, crumbly, and disturbingly close to the aroma of milk bones. The filling taste a little like sweetened condensed milk mixed with corn syrup. There is an odd aftertaste, which somehow made me want to take another bite, just to sort out the conflicting messages I was getting between all my senses. Then another bite, probably just to kill the aftertaste. Then a big glass of water because the cookie had sucked all moisture from my mucous membranes. If these have a marketable use, it's definitely as a desiccant.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Recipe Box: Spicy Cinnamon Swiss Chicken Nachos

The cinnamon gives people pause when talking about savory foods, at least those used to western cooking.  This was an off-the-cuff experiment of mine based on a pre-grocery shopping "what do we have in the house for dinner and how can I make it more interesting" day.  I can see this being a hit at a potluck, especially considering the short cook time and finger food appeal. You also know that everyone else isn't bringing the same thing :-)

This is a sweet/savory dish with a lot of unexpected flavors that worked unexpectedly well together!
Our version was, of course, gluten-free :-)

1 cup shredded swiss cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded muenster, mozzerella or monterey jack cheese
1 bag corn chips
1 large boneless chicken breast

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon chili powder (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 cloves fresh garlic or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
pinch salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons olive oil

Chop chicken breast into as small pieces as practical (approx 1/4 inch chunks).  You'll shred it further as it cooks. 
Heat oil in pan over medium heat
Add chicken pieces, onion, cinnamon, chili, lime, garlic and salt/pepper
Fry over medium heat, chopping with spatula until finely shredded and cooked through.  Remove from heat.
Mix shredded cheeses together.

You can layer the nachos on a plate for microwaving, or on a foil-lined cookie sheet for oven baking. Either way, do one layer of chips, followed by a sprinkle of chicken, followed by a layer of shredded cheese.  You can do multiple layers if needed.

Bake in oven at 350 for 10 minutes, or microwave on high for 1 minute or until cheese is melted. 

Serve with guacamole, peach-mango salsa, and/or sour cream. Think mild and sweet.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Et tu, Jim Butcher?

I absolutely adore the Dresden Files book series.  I have them all and have been eagerly awaiting the new one coming out next week.  The characters are nicely complex, the dialogue witty, and there are plenty of crack-me-up moments that make the people in the office break room look at me oddly while I'm reading.  So far they've also been relatively free of overt fat-hate.  The medical examiner Butters could have easily been turned into a blatant, comic-relief stereotype, but instead sometimes shows actual character depth, courage, intelligence and authority.  There tends to be a preponderance of leggy sex bombs, but it's entirely characteristic for a noir-style mystery or a fantasy novel and I just enjoy it as a nod to the genres. 

But in the preview for his new book, "Ghost Story," I hit this line in chapter four when describing a character:  "...definitely dropped from self-destructively obese down to merely stout."  Later in the scene that character, stressed, raids a jar of Oreos. 

Seriously?  I wonder if Butcher could supply a medical or psychiatric degree to define or justify the term "self-destructively obese".  It sounds a little like he dredged up some pseudo-Freudian nonsense from the turn of the century about oral fixation to season the ubiquitous pop-culture medical hysteria.  Does he also think the character wants to kill his father and screw his mother because daddy threatened to cut off his penis as a child?  Or was that just not pithy enough to make the editing cut?

At any rate, Butcher may want to consider jabs like that in relation to his audience.  I mean, he's writing for geeks.  Fantasy and mystery geeks.  I've been a geek for most of my life, and let me tell you, a lot of us are fat.  Probably what he's referring to as "self-destructively" fat.  Last I checked, I didn't have a big red button attached to explosives anywhere on me.  Also last I checked, I didn't have any tendencies a real mental health professional would classify as self-destructive.  What I do have is enough self-respect to walk away from an author who's willing to so casually insult me. 

Maybe this is a one-time slip.  I sure hope it is, because I would actually like to continue throwing money and him and his publishers for the rest of the series.  We'll see where it goes.  Please Jim Butcher...don't descend to this particular cheap laugh.  You're a better writer than that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gluten-Free: The amazing power of buttermilk

One of the most frequent criticisms of gluten-free foods is a texture thing.  Even home-baked GF recipes tend to be dry and grainy.  Mixes can be especially so.  Unfortunately, GF flours just don't break down like wheat flour, and the "chewy" texture is an effect of gluten.

We've been playing with breakfast foods, using the Gluten Free Bisquick now on the market.  The GF Bisquick pancakes were/are decent, and better after JD added chopped apples, dried fruit and honey to increase the moisture content.  While we were experimenting, we were on a hunt for gluten-free buttermilk to add more flavor.  The only type of powder sold in our local grocery stores was not gluten-free. 

We finally found a GF buttermilk powder with no preservatives or additives at a specialty store (NOW foods brand).  JD made the first batch of buttermilk pancakes by substituting reconstituted buttermilk (at about double concentration) for the milk called for in the recipe.  The results were, as I say, "diabolically good".  They were super-moist, chewy and perfectly flavored.  I honestly don't know if I could tell the difference between them and the regular homemade pancakes.

The only thing that could explain the change was the buttermilk, and I went about testing it.  Betty Crocker has a GF chocolate chip cookie mix that we've used.  The cookies taste perfect but there's the texture issue again.  After they cool they become super crumbly and grainy, even if kept in the fridge.  I added 1/4 cup buttermilk powder and 2 tablespoons milk (always balance wet/dry ingredients) to the mix and otherwise prepared per the box.  The result were super-chewy cookies, even the next day.  There's still a slight after-effect of the rice flour grittiness, but they are significantly chewier and more moist than the mix alone.  The flavor of the buttermilk adds a very tasty tang to the cookie as well.

I did a little digging, and the theory that makes the most sense to me is that the acidity of the buttermilk helps break down the dry ingredients. Some of the GF flours don't absorb moisture very quickly, but adding an acid helps it break down. 

On the other hand, too much acid can affect the levening action of other ingredients.  Pancakes and cookies work beautifully with buttermilk because they don't require that much rising.  My buttermilk cookies were flatter than usual, but more than made up for it in improved flavor and texture.  If you're baking a cake or bread, however, you need to take the Ph balance into account. 

My theory, which awaits testing in a few weeks when I'm free of my despotic psychology professor, is that simply adding more baking soda or powder to counteract the increased Ph of the buttermilk is somewhat counterproductive; if the acid is neutralized it cannot break down the particles of the flour, but if it is too acidic you lose the levening action of the alkaline/acid reaction.  I believe the solution is in the order of mixing ingredients.

I propose that you mix the GF flour and buttermilk first, then let it sit.  If you're proofing yeast for bread you might use the same time for soaking the flour.  Otherwise I'd give it about 5-10 minutes. Mix the remaining dry and wet ingredients in separate batches, then add it to the soaked flour.  This gives the acid time to work before putting together the levening ingredients. 

When you mix the remaining dry ingredients, you'll need to add more base to allow rising.  The general consensus seems to be that for each cup of buttermilk you use in a recipe, you need to subtract two teaspoons of baking powder and add one teaspoon of baking soda.  That would be tough to do in a pre-made mix (you may just need to add the baking soda) but simple for homemade baked goods. 

I'll work on playing with the idea, but in the meantime would love to hear from anyone with first-hand experience on how to perfect the buttermilk swap!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Happiness Project: When the thing you're mad about, really isn't

What you're mad about is not always what you're yelling about...

I had an interesting moment recently that, unfortunately, did not reflect well on me at the time. All I can say in my defense is that it was an anomaly.

I was struggling to get ready for work on too little sleep, and for some reason everything JD did or said was irritating. Finally, he said something fairly reasonable that sent me into a fuming raging snit. How DARE he be so...so..smug and calm and condescending and all the other things I read into his just sitting there not taking it personally!

Even in the fit of rage I knew he hadn't done anything wrong, and somehow that was even more frustrating. Luckily, he was able to just wait me out. When the fit was over and I came to apologise and admit I didn't know what was going on, he was ready to help me figure it out.

In the actual moment of anger, I was entirely focused on imagining wrongs. Whether it was JD's fault, or the weather's, or my co-worker's, or Yahoo's mail server, I flipped through a litany of criticism of anything and everything, and in that mix I latched onto any justification for my feelings.

Here's the thing. I actually was upset. Trying to deny that or suppress it was pointless since it would only break out in a different direction. Whether or not my emotion was irrational or excessive is beside the point when dealing with the reality that it was. What had to happen was that I had to sort through all the false reasons for the emotion and find the real ones.

The real reasons? Well, I was tired because I had slept badly. That prevented me from thinking clearly. The weather was stormy and my mood crashes with the barometer. Those were mitigating factors, but they weren't reasons. I had to flip through a lot of easy answers to dig out the real one.

It turns out that if I went back to the previous day, I had experienced a serious disappointment over something I had gotten my hopes up about. At the time, I thought I had coped well with it, and even managed to have a good time with some friends without letting my disappointment ruin the atmosphere for everyone else. By the next morning I thought I had accepted and moved on. Apparently not so. Even though it wasn't consciously on my radar, it was still squatting behind my conscious thoughts and screaming "it isn't FAIR!" like an angry toddler. As a result, NOTHING was fair, and I wasn't even aware of it. I was angry at yesterday and screaming at today.

Until I could actually identify and process the real reasons for my anger, it was just going to keep ramping up and polluting everything I did or felt. It was also going to spread like a bad virus to anyone I encountered that day. So here are some pieces of advise for those experiencing this kind of bitter, frustrated, misdirected rage, from my own experience.

1. Don't fight the anger. You are upset. Denying you are upset is only sticking your thumb in the leak. Face the reality that you are upset and tell yourself you have a right to experience that emotion. You are also responsible for what you do with it and under its influence.

2. Avoid the justification game. If you talk to a partner or family member when angry, the tendency is to goad them into losing their temper at you. Not only does this give you a partner in the emotional experience but it then "justifies" your directing anger at them. It's a game you don't want to risk your relationships on. If you can't speak civilly to people, avoid them until you're under control (and let them know what you're doing so that they don't misinterpret).

3. Find a non-living outlet, if necessary. That may mean a physical outlet such as punching a pillow, running around the yard, doing push-ups, etc. Non-living means that you don't get to physically or verbally abuse a person or animal. Screaming, crying, etc. are all options, provided you control it. Give yourself one minute to scream into a pillow, or ten minutes to cry, then check in to see if the frustration has diminished. Sometimes writing out a scathing letter or e-mail ripping to pieces anything that comes to mind can provide an outlet, even if it only helps you identify misdirections for your anger. My snit was just before work, so I had a strict time limit on my outlet so as to get out the door on time. Your goal is to let off enough steam to take the pressure off and bring you back under control.

4. Admit that you don't know what's going on. When you can let go of all the illusive objects of your anger and admit this, the pressure may suddenly drop and the anger drain. If you're still saying "Yeah but" and finding new things to be angry about, you're not there yet.

5. Note your physical condition. Are you exhausted? In pain? Ill? These have a lot of exaggerating effects on negative moods and reduce your self-control. Also, as much as we women HATE that so many emotions are dismissed as "hormonal", hormones have a huge effect on the emotional state of both men and women. If you've recently changed dietary or exercise habits, started new medication, etc. it could be affecting your entire endocrine system. I remember a brand of birth control I had to suddenly discard when within two weeks of starting them I found myself sobbing helplessly over a preview for Dawson's Creek. Switching brands brought me back to normal. Likewise, a friend's reaction to a medication switch coined the term "going Cymbalta on his/her ass" amongst our social circle as a euphemism for uncontrollable rage. It's possible that my newly increased exercise regimen, for example, increased my emotional reaction last week.

6. Identify any big changes or events that have happened recently. Remember that in a physiological sense, any change is stress. You may have gotten great news that triggers fear of change, risk, the unknown, etc. Have you been "coping" (i.e. repressing) an emotional response to an event or person for the last few days/weeks? Has your environment been significantly disrupted (i.e. moving, renovating, decluttering, new furniture, etc.)? Put yourself, in your mind, in a position to really dwell on any of these that apply. Let yourself feel a response to them, even if you think that response is irrational. If you think hard about a recent change or event and it gives you a strong emotional response, you may have found what you're really upset about.

7. Discard false causes. If your reaction to something is entirely disproportionate, it may be a misdirection. If I'm in a fuming snit because I can't find a skirt I wanted to wear, the emotional response is wildly disproportionate to the severity of the problem. If I feel like screaming at an e-mail program because it won't take my mis-typed password, there is a bigger problem than the e-mail program that I'm not seeing. If the house is in chaos because of a lapsed home improvement project, however, a strong feeling of frustration may be perfectly appropriate. These assessments are clues to help you track down the real cause of your upset. If it helps you, pretend you are advising a friend who is complaining about these things. Would you think she's "making a big deal out of nothing" or "over-reacting"? That may tell you something about whether your own emotional response is proportionate.

8. Process. When you have found the real reason for your emotional state, you must process it in order to let it go and prevent it from affecting the rest of your life. Grieve, talk, fix, etc. as appropriate. Sometimes you just need to let yourself be really upset for a while instead of continually struggling against it by inches. Sometimes you need to talk it out with someone else and get sympathy. Sometimes you need to take active steps to correct or remove what's stressing you out. This is where your personal responsibility kicks in, because only you know what will make you feel better. You are also the only one really responsible for what you feel and what you do with it. You'd be amazed how easy it is once you really figure out what's wrong. That first step is the always the most difficult.

Please also remember that I'm not a psychologist, and these are the techniques that specifically work with me on the rare times when I'm experiencing this kind of frustration. If you feel like this kind of situation happens to you a lot and interferes with areas of your life, you might want to get help figuring out the underlying causes. Find a counselor you can trust with your emotional vulnerability and let them help you help yourself.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Run, Part 2

The Shoe Search

As a preliminary step to really starting to train, I started with some shoe research.

I found websites that said that all fat people have flat feet that pronate (roll inward) as part of their gate. Personally, I have really high arches and tend more towards supination (roll outwards). So much for generalizations.  I found websites that said I should go for a lot of cushioning. My feet say I should be barefoot and the cushioning felt like I was trying to run on balloons. Plus, my weight would break down the cushioning more quickly than usual, resulting in either wearing out the shoes or throwing off my stride with an uneven base.

The stupidest thing I saw was at Payless, who were selling shoes advertised to help lose weight by "creating pockets of instability" that made it harder to walk and supposedly burned more calories. Seriously? Pockets of instability are the LAST thing you want under your feet when exercising. That's how injuries HAPPEN. I'm still raging over that one. It's tough to exercise in a leg cast, so how do they expect to sell more shoes? Idiots.   Oh, and that "weight loss shoe" with the toe higher than the heel!?  Can anyone say Plantar Fasciitis and strained muscles?  But I digress...

Your first step is to go to a store specifically catering to runners, and try on shoes. Don't order them on the web even if every running site on the web say they're the bee's pajamas and the cat's knees. There is no such thing as a shoe that fits every foot and gait.

This is a scary prospect because I'm sure super-elitest stores exist out there that will treat a fat person coming through their doors like crap. Even if they don't, I always feel "exposed" in an athletic shop. I am a fat nerd in the jock's natural habitat. Every instinct instilled during junior high and high school screams that at any moment they'll notice me and the mocking will commence. All I can say is, if someone treats you rudely or condescendingly because of your weight, walk out and notify the manager that his employee lost a customer. On the other hand, if you're too keyed up expecting bad treatment, it will make you defensive and your non-verbal communication will come across as hostile. Your hostility will make the other person defensive, creating a self-fulfilling expectation.  Not getting treated like a human being ready to secure them a sales commission should definitely be the exception to the rule, so at least give them a chance to help you.

I went to a place downtown with a fair amount of success. The clerk was very nice, had me try on about 10 different shoes and watched me walk in them to check my gait. You're looking for shoes that hug your feet without squeezing them. If they're a little too tight at first they'll stretch with use, but they shouldn't cause discomfort. Most people have one foot larger than the other, so it's tricky to find the right pair. It should feel supportive and slightly springy underneath, and should not interfere with your natural gait. It should, in no case, feel unstable or wobbly.

Once you've tried on a bunch, you will hopefully discover a pair you really like. At this point you have a choice. There really isn't any reason for a beginner to pay more than $125 for running shoes. If you pay more, you may be buying too much shoe (where the advantage to a marathon runner would be lost on a beginner) or you may be paying for branding (i.e. slap on $60+ just for the little Nike logo on the side). One solution to sticker shock is to ask about last year's shoes. Like cars, shoes come out with new models every year and the previous year's may be on clearance. Another solution is to find a shoe you like, then go to a big box store and try to find shoes that feel the same way. If you're just starting out there's really not a lot of advantage to buying sleek, professional gear. If it fits well (snug but not squeezing) and has good support, a pair of off-brand sneakers at Wal-mart can do just fine for the first six months. If you're still running after that, then upgrade. I know someone who's been running for twenty years in the Dr. Scholl's brand sneakers from Meijer's, for $30 to $50 depending on sales. He only bought fancy running shoes when he needed better arch support.

Just starting out, I went for traditional, neutral balanced low-cushioned runners with a slightly flexible sole. I have a pair of Adidas for home. For my work runners (I wanted a second pair so I didn't have to lug them back and forth) I got a cast-off but almost new pair of Nike's that JD bought and discovered too late they were the wrong size.

I really, really want a pair of barefoot shoes. Even when I was a kid it was hard to keep shoes on me, and I still go barefoot unless required otherwise. Barefoot runners require special training to condition the body to that style.  As appealing as the idea is, I want to save that until I can run any reasonable distance. It would be trying to fly when I'm at the crawling stage.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Run, Part 1

Summer is here and hiking season is fast approaching. Last year we went to the Hocking Hills and Smokey Mountain National Park. Both times I found I was able to put in four to seven miles the first day, then could barely bend my legs on the second. This year the goal is to be able to put in a few miles every day without so much pain that it spoils the rest of our trip.

Because our schedules are so packed, I'm pretty much limited to my lunch hour and a few hours on weekends for any kind of dedicated exercise time. Luckily I have the Kal-Haven trail (a 33 mile railroad bed turned into a hike and bike path) a few minutes from my office. Before the ice cover was entirely off the trails I was out on my lunch hour every day for a half-hour walk.

The time limitations mean that I can't really train for distance. After all, the best training for an eight mile hike is an eight mile hike. When I can't increase my time, I can build endurance to some extent by increasing my intensity.

Despite recent studies showing that running isn't so hard on the joints as often assumed (in fact it can IMPROVE joints by building cartilage and bone density over time), the health mythology of exceptions for fat people continues to linger. I love the catch-22. Fat people should exercise, but fat people shouldn't exercise. Somehow what's good for the joints of a thin person is terrible for mine, in a grand example of "I reject your reality and substitute my own" (quoting Adam from Mythbusters).

What's bad for ANYONE's joints, regardless of weight, is over-exertion and injury. If your frame and joints are small or weak for your body mass, you may need to be more careful to avoid injury. That doesn't mean you can't run. It just means you (along with everyone else) needs to build up a pace gradually, listening carefully to your body to know how to adjust. It means you start slow and add small increments of increased activity.

I started off dedicating half an hour of my lunch break. At first I walked, and the ice hazards meant I went less than a mile in that 30 minutes. As March advanced and the trail thawed, I was able to go faster in clear areas, until I was doing a 20-25 minute mile (approx 3mph). That's what they generally mean when they say "moderate walking speed".

When I could walk for 30 minutes at that pace without huffing and puffing and without pain or tiredness afterwards, I started to incorporate running.

When I say running, of course, I mean a rather slow jog. I also mean for about 30 second intervals. I would do three 30 second intervals in the course of the walk, with about 5 minutes of walking in between. Every other day I would walk only, and do the running intervals on the off days.

That doesn't sound like a lot, but that's what slow and steady means. By starting out slow and being honest about my body's capabilities, I can avoid injuries to my foot, legs, tendons, etc. that would force me to stop altogether for weeks and start again at the beginning.

As my body adapts to the routine, I've increased each interval, so that I'm now at one 30 second interval followed by two 1 minute intervals with five minute walking gaps between. Once I'm at three 1 minute intervals, I'll work on shortening the time in between. I've already noticed that I recover from each "run" interval more quickly every day, meaning that my heart rate and breathing return to normal a little faster.

Once I'm doing alternative 1 minute walk/run intervals, I may add more. Once I'm up to 7 or so, I'll start stringing them together into extended runs. Or I may switch that routine around and keep adding 30 seconds to each interval until I have extended runs.

Regardless, while it may make a marathon runner snigger a bit, this is the pace my body has set. There's really no reason why a heavy body is any more or less incapable of any physical activity. Mine just takes a bit of a run-up to get there.

Pun intended.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gluten-Free Product Reviews

The Gluten-Free household is ongoing!

I'm still going to try and focus on brands available at one of the major grocery chains in my area (Wal-Mart, Meijers) because I think it'll do more good than focusing on very specialized items only available online or through independent health stores.  The point is to try and do this with what's available, not what we can necessarily ferret out of far corners. 

Envirokids Peanut Butter Panda Puffs Cereal

So with the handy excuse of finding gluten-free cereal that JD's super-picky kid would eat when he visited, I picked up a box.  They're fantastic, and almost an exact taste match for Peanut Butter Crunch.  I might keep a box around even if we're not expecting a visit, because a handful of these is a pretty tasty crunchy snack.  A bonus is that a percentage of each box goes to endangered species preservation and has fun endangered species info on the box for those kids who find the box more entertaining than the cereal.  Pricey as cereal (10.5 oz for $4.00-$4.50) but relatively cheap as snacking material. 

Blue Diamond Nut Thins

After a few initial bad experiences with gluten-free crackers that had the taste and texture of foam packing peanuts, this was a win.  These are rice-based, but the nut meal gives it body, flavor and crunch that holds its own against any regular commercial cracker.  I tried the Almond ones specifically, and they're diabolically good either on their own or with cheese.  I'm also guessing they would make a good crouton substitute on a salad.  Relatively pricey (4.25 oz for $2.50-$3.00) but then those tasty nut meals are expensive ingredients!  They're filling (lots of protein) so they may go further than regular gluten crackers as snacks. 

San-J Tamari Soy Sauce

This has been unofficially designated "soy crack" in our house, and would recommend it to anyone regardless of gluten tolerance!  At first I thought (wrongly) that tamari and miso were fish-based, and avoided them because I particularly hate anything that smells or tastes of fish. I think this mistake dates back to when a visiting exchange student made miso soup in our house and the seaweed stink drove me right out on a long hike until it cleared.  I did a bit of research, and found that both tamari and shoyu (what we in america think of as soy sauce) are essentially fermented soybeans.  Shoyu is a combination of toasted wheat, soybeans, salt and a specific mold spore, fermented much like wine or beer.  Tamari used to be the fermented sludge at the bottom of a cask of miso (somewhat like vegemite) and highly prized, but the kind Americans find on store shelves is probably just a blend of soybeans, salt and spores (no wheat) slow-fermented over a longer period of time for a stronger and more complex flavor.  Read your labels carefully, because apparently there are a few brands sold as tamari that are really shoyu and contain wheat.  San-J is labeled gluten-free.  The flavor is very strong so a little goes a long way, but it's oh-so-good in sauces. I've also heard Eden brand tamari highly recommended, but it was not available in the major grocery chains near me.   Apparently Shoyu and Tamari have the same variety of taste and quality as fine alcohols, but what we get on chain grocery shelves in Michigan is the equivelent of boxed rose' wine coolers.  A specialty Asian market might have more varieties of authentic tamari if you're a foodie looking for a new area to explore.

Mrs. Leeper's Macaroni and Cheese

This is so far from a win that I can't invent a category low enough.  Have you ever had the REALLY off-brand dollar store mac and cheese with pasty noodles and a day-glo orange sauce containing real cheese-flavored product that tastes like salt-dough?  Yeah.  It's that bad.  I know that the traditional "substitute" foods for special diets are supposed to look vaguely and taste nothing like the real thing so that you're not only grossed out but frustrated at the bait and switch.  I think we can safely be past that now.  Companies are stepping up and going the distance to actually make cookies taste like cookies.  They have the demand and the competition to do so.  Mrs. Leeper's is old school in the worst way. 

Which leads me naturally to...

 Annie's Homegrown Mac and Cheese

This is the absolute closest thing to the Kraft mac and cheese I have found.  It's exactly what I'm  talking about when I say companies are stepping up and realizing that substitutes have to actually taste like what they're substituting for.  Annie's uses a heavier weight noodle that cooks up firmer and doesn't shed starch.  It's also more forgiving of cook time so you can actually get al dente.  The cheese sauce is real cheese and actually tastes like it.  Personally, I like to augment it with a few slices of american cheese, but I did that with Kraft as well.   Its sticker shock, however (approx $4/box) means it's a "sometimes treat" when I really need comfort food.

Gluten Free Bisquick

This is, to all intent and purpose, exactly like regular Bisquick as far as behavior, texture, and taste.  That makes it a win!  Especially when JD makes pancakes with a little honey, raisins and diced apple chunks.  Like all gluten-free ready-made products, it costs more.  But if you simply HAVE to have the occasional biscuit, pancake or strawberry shortcake, this is a win.