Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Foodiness

One of the highlights of spending Christmas with my parents in Florida (besides the salt-water swimming pools and the Siesta Key drum circle) was the visit to Katy Rose Olive Oils in Sarasota.  Before any real foodie gets condescending about it, let me say that in southwest Michigan the idea of an oil and vinegar bar is pretty damn exotic, so I was mainly limited to what I could find on the shelf at Meijers.

You walk into this place and it is rows of "casks" of olive oils and vinegars.  You can taste each one, and/or they will fill bottles for purchase.  Everything they have is gluten-free, and they stock other gluten-free items, such as pastas and candies, elsewhere in the store.

The foodie impulse, of course was "one of EVERYTHING!" I ended up with a large bottle of an herbed olive oil, a medium bottle of a fig balsamic vinegar (so delicious on fruity salads!) and a tiny bottle of the red apple balsamic vinegar.  The last is a thick vinegar with a rich, dark tart apple flavor, and I had a specific purpose in mind for it.  As soon as I tasted it, I knew it was destined for homemade caramels.

Now the caramels are made, and so very, very tasty.  I'll share the recipe, but know that you can either substitute another fruity balsamic or leave out the vinegar and they will still be very, very tasty!

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup corn syrup
2 1/4 cups (lightly packed) brown sugar
2 cups heavy cream (can use whipping cream)
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon high quality, thick, fruity balsamic vinegar 

Extra butter for greasing

Other handy things to have include a large sauce pan with a heavy/thick bottom, a basting brush, parchment and wax paper, and a 9x9 pan.  A candy thermometer is handy, but not crucial.  A flat-edge wooden spoon makes an excellent stirrer for candies.  A bowl of ice water allows you to test for firmness and brush down sugar crystals on the inside of the pot. 

line the pan with parchment paper and use the butter to grease the paper.  I used two loaf pans and poured half the batch before adding flavorings (so that I'd have a plain half-batch and a fruity half-batch).

In the saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
When it is melted, add the sugar and stir well until it is all incorporated. 
Stir in corn syrup and cream
Cook over medium heat for two to three minutes, then raise temperature to medium-high.
Stir constantly until the mixture boils, then reduce back to medium heat.
Keep at an even boil until the mixture thickens (30 minutes to 1 hour), stirring frequently to prevent separation.
If sugar begins to crystallize on side of pot, use a wet basting brush and cold water to rinse down the crystals.  They will cause the mixture to crystallize and separate if allowed to stay.
When mixture reaches 245 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer or a spoonful dropped into ice water forms a firm ball, remove caramel from heat.
Add sea salt and vinegar and stir briskly for a few seconds to incorporate.
Pour immediately into buttered parchment-lined pans.
Allow to cool for several hours or until completely firmed.
Cut into small pieces with heavy duty kitchen shears, a knife, or a pizza roller.  Greasing the cutting edge with butter will help prevent sticking.  Wrap each piece in wax paper.
The flavor of the vinegar will be subtle at first, but will develop more over time. 

Next year, I think, I'll need a bigger bottle.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Personal Note (and kitty health care)

After a 10 hour drive home from my parent's place in Florida, I woke up Foxie cat and she started crying and walking in circles, bumping into things. The pet-sitter's report from the day before was normal, but at some point in the night or day she had gone completely blind. We found a veterinary emergency room. After $1000 and only five hours of sleep we found out that she has mild kidney dysfunction, which caused her blood pressure to soar, which caused her retinas to partially detach.

There is some hope that with medication she'll regain her sight, but in the meantime the poor thing is completely blind, and had already gone mostly deaf. She's 17 years old, and in fairly good shape for all that. We're assured by many people that (indoor) cats can function just fine by sense of smell and navigate by memory if you're careful not to rearrange rooms. Her quality of life will be fairly good (other than when I'm trying to get her to swallow her pills). But it means we have maybe 2 years left with her. Not the best ending to a vacation, but it definitely could have been worse.

If you have an older cat, make sure that your vet checks blood pressure at the annual checkup.  It can have many underlying causes, but it is the most common cause for sudden blindness in cats and can be controlled with medication.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

SAAS (Sewing at Any Size) Fatkini Season Bandeau Top

You can find many more simple sewing projects by clicking the sewing link at the side of my blog.  

 It's almost here...the frantic messages screaming from televisions and newstands about post-holiday "beach bodies." These next three months or so always strike me as the most actively body-shaming time of the year in our culture. So in response, I say celebrate your beach body! It is your body, as it is, right now. Because people of any size, shape, color, etc. deserve to get out in the sun and sand, or down by the pool, and bare some skin!

To that end, this is the second in my series on Fatkinis. This is a super-simple bandeau-style bikini top.  You can find instructions for a halter-style string top here. 

First, the measurements.

Measurement A is just above the breast. A good way to find this point is to look where your cleavage starts. Measure around the chest, under the armpits.

Measurement B is from under the breast, over the nipple, to above the breast where you measured for A.

You will need stretchy fabric, but if you have larger breasts you may want to look for something more supportive than standard swimsuit fabric. You can even recycle an old tee shirt, sweat shirt or yoga pants for this. If you use a thin, light-color fabric, get it wet and drape it over your hand in bright light. This will tell you how see-through it will be at the beach. You may have to sandwich several layers of lighter fabric to keep from flashing nips to the world.

Cut a long rectangle of fabric that is Measurement B plus 1" wide, and Measurement A long.

You will also need 2 lengths of string or ribbon approximately 12" long and 4 lengths 6" long. These can be a different material or you can make it from the same material by folding over a 1/2" wide strip, stitching on the long edge, and turn it inside out. Stitch or knot the ends.

Fold all four edges of the long rectangle over 1/4" and press or baste. Fold the edges over again 1/4" to hide the raw edge and use a stretch or zig-zag stitch to hem.

Fold the two short edges over 1" and stitch with a stretch stitch at the hemmed ends, creating a tube of fabric at each end.

Thread one of the 12" strings through each tube.

Tie a 6" string around the center of the top. This will go between your breasts. This is optional, if you want a solid tube-top style instead of a sweetheart top, you can leave this off. 

If you need additional support for the top, you can use a much longer string, knot it tight at the center as below, and then tie the ends behind your neck as a halter.

Tie the top on behind your back. On each side, mark the spot directly under your armpit. Take the top back off again, and knot one of the remaining two 6" strings at each armpit mark. 

Put the top on again and adjust the ties as needed. When they are in a good spot, make sure you tie them in a solid square knot. If they're in danger of coming undone or shifting, put a few stitches in to hold them in place. You can cut off dangling ends if needed at this point, and use stitches or glue to prevent fraying.

You now have a complete bandeau bikini top, so rock it whenever you please!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Chris Christie Calls out Jon Stewart for Fat Jokes

Chris Christie was on Jon Stewart this week (December 6).  It was a fairly good conversation, but for me the best part came right at the end.  Christie actually called Stewart out for previous jokes and comments Stewart had made about Christie's weight.  It was fantastic!  Here was a fat man on national television telling this respected comedian that what he did was NOT OKAY. 

Here's the episode link.  The bit I'm talking about starts at 33:54 on the timer and lasts about a minute or less. 

Now I have a lot of respect for Jon Stewart as a brilliant, rational man and a mostly compassionate human being.  The one place he repeatedly falls down is in weight bias.  Not in every episode or even the majority, but he does take up the cheap shot fat joke when it presents.  While he didn't actually apologize to Christie (there's a moment when he seems about to, but is interrupted), he was at least given some visibly uncomfortable moments when he realizes that the person he mocked not only listened, but felt.  Here's hoping it'll make him reconsider his words in the future. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Fatshion

 I have just recently come to a stunning, world altering realization:  I no longer have to dress for the office.

I know, obvious right?   But after spending 10 hours a day, 5 days a week in office clothing for 13 years,  it comprises some 75% of my wardrobe.  Another 10% is "going out clothes" (with some crossover with officewear) and the rest were camping/cleaning/yardwork style grubbies.

Now I'm a student.  Not only that, but I'm an online student.  I don't have to get up and put on a conservative skirt or dress and sit in a cubicle all day while I represent a company.   I get to represent myself

This is an amazing thing.  When I was a teenager looking to find my "style," it was pre-Internet.  We lived in a small town with one available plus-size store (Lane Bryant) and they were back in their conservative, loose-fitting, "woman of a certain age" phase (you know, the styles that got farmed out to Catherines).  So as a teenager I was in outfits suitable for a 33 year old office worker.  I often just wore things out of my mom's closet.  I never got to develop a style, because I was entirely limited to what was available. 

Now I can lust after e-shakti dresses and others on the internet.  I can wear a man's suit and wingtips out on the town to mess with peoples' gender perceptions.  I can push boundaries.  Finally, as a 33 year old, I can wear whateverthehell I want.

But I'm not a fatshionista.  I don't choose to make high-end clothing labels a priority in my life, and really don't see much of a point in handbags (I own one purse).  I am, thanks to the fatshion blogs and others, developing a specific set of styles I want to play with more to see which feel right.  I think it's going to depend on my mood of the day.  I still love menswear, but high-end formal menswear.  I would spend more on a suit than I ever would on a dress.  I have my Donna Reed days and my punk days.  Maybe my taste will settle into a style, and maybe it won't.  But the choice is finally up to me instead of a company dress code.  You wouldn't believe how powerful that feels.

So here's a Fatshion pic:

Awesomely geeky tee shirt from  Tweed pencil skirt courtesy of my sewing machine.  Extended-calf boots from Payless.  This is my "flirty nerdy" look, but really needs some zero-prescription glasses with square black plastic frames.  Alas, the low-script reading glasses I got from the dollar store would have been perfect, but they gave up the ghost (and a lens) that afternoon. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

New Tumblr!

I have finally bitten the bullet and started a Tumblr site!

It will pretty much be a collection site for the size positive quotes and photos I find around the internet.  This blogspot blog will still be where I post articles, recipes and longer writing.  The Tumblr site will focus on the positive and constructive site of FA and social activism.  While not safe for work, it will hopefully not use up any sanity watchers points either! 

Just remember that I'm really new to Tumblr, and may still have to experiment with the layout and other aspects. 

A note to the Threatened....

In response to people who feel threatened by body acceptance for fat people, and feel it is somehow oppressive to thin people for us to love our bodies and demand representation, role models, and a these people I quote Jon Stewart and say you've "confused the loss of absolute power with persecution."  We are taking away your power over our bodies and emotions.  That is a loss you'll have to cope with.  We're not, however, taking away your power over your body and emotions,  or your ability to love yourself.  There is no finite amount of acceptance in the world that accepting me creates a risk that you'll be excluded. In fact, accepting me makes it more likely that I will accept you in return, and closing down the monologue of body criticism in your head makes more room for you to have meaningful experiences and connect with others.  So think about it.  I'm going to love my body whether or not you approve, but accepting it benefits you more than it does me.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

SAAS: Sewing at Any Size: Fatkini Season Part 1

This is my series on Sewing at Any Size, or making basic wardrobe items from scratch to fit any body.  Please feel free to print/save for personal use.  You can find other patterns and instructions HERE


Yes we're already hearing about the "beach body" panic from ads and media trying to hock you the latest fad diet, surgery or gym membership.  Now here's the best part of body acceptance. Go to a full length mirror and take a look at yourself.  THAT is your beach body....right now...with no changes needed!  So if it was on some mental list somewhere you can go ahead and check it off and enjoy the holidays. 

Maybe you feel more comfortable covering up on the beach, but if you feel up to baring some skin then you should check out the fatkini threads on Tumblr. It started earlier this year, when Gabi Fresh put up a gallery with XOJane of fat bodies rocking their bikini swimsuits. It got a lot of media attention (some good, some bad) and inspired others with bodies of many sizes, shapes and color to post Tumblr pics sporting bikini. It is super-empowering to flip through the images. You can find a lot of submissions using just the Tumblr tagfatkini, but warning; some triggering items are mis-tagged (like weight loss and body-negative posts). 

So this summer, I have every intention of wearing a bikini in public, and screw anyone who has a problem with it!

While the XO Jane site has a list of places that sell plus-size bikinis, I thought I'd show how easy it is to sew your own so that you don't have to guess at the fit. These instructions are simple and will work for any size and shape body.

Today's project will be the string bikini top (all bottoms will be addressed in a separate post).

You will need a few measurements:

Measurement A: around your chest just beneath your breasts, where your bra band usually sits.
Measurement B: from beneath your breast to above it, over the nipple.
Measurement C: across your breast at the widest point (up and over like for measurement B)
Measurement D: from the top of your breast to the nape of your neck.

Here's a visual:

 You will generally need about a quarter to a half yard of fabric, but if you plan to make matching bottoms you may want to get a full yard. You can use almost any fabric with some stretch for this, down to and including an old tee shirt or pair of sweat pants you want to recycle. You want something that will dry well, and is somewhat chlorine resistant if you plan to be in the pool. If you use very thin, light color material you will want to do two layers unless you really want the world to see your nips.

Note: If you have one breast a different size than the other (whether due to nature or surgery) then just take measurements B and C for both breasts separately and keep track of which is which (Left and Right). If you plan to wear an insert or pad of some kind, measure to include it. If you wear a mastectomy or other prosthesis, you can make two layers and leave one side open as a “pocket” with a velcro closure. Message me if you need help with this. 

A Note on Knits

Swimsuit material and other light, super-stretch knits are notoriously difficult to deal with. It slides, stretches out of shape, and your sewing machine really wants to suck it down into the bobbin casing. You'll want to be careful when measuring and cutting to make sure the fabric isn't stretched or distorted. If you pull on it while measuring or cutting the end result will be off.

Since we're working with straight lines here, an easy way to set up the fabric is to use masking tape. When you measure, use 1/2” wide masking tape to outline the shape you want to cut. Place it so that you cut down the center of the tape. This not only helps keep the fabric from distorting when you cut, but it keeps it from unraveling and developing runs. Remove just before hemming. 

A sewing machine needle specifically for knits may help if your material is subject to runs, but is not necessary for heavier fabrics like tee-shirt fabric.  

When you sew, use your machine's stretch stitch settings (look in your manual). If you don't have a specific stretch stitch, use the zig-zag stitch. Use a thread of similar type as your fabric (cotton for cotton, synthetic for synthetic). Don't bother with the stretchy elastic thread unless you really know what you're doing. I tried it, and the hassle of finding just the right machine settings to keep it from shredding completely outweigh any extra stretch benefit. If you make it to fit your body, normal thread on a stretch stitch will be stretchy enough.

You will want to pick up some neutral-color tissue paper, like you use in gift bags, or wax paper. By placing this under the fabric as you sew and stitching through it, you keep the machine from sucking the fabric down into the bobbin case. It should come out afterwards with a hot water soak and tweezers. If you want to get fancy you can buy water-soluble stabilizer from a fabric or craft store. This saves you some tweezer plucking of paper scraps and simply dissolves in soap and water. I don't mind the extra work, and the tissue paper is cheap.

Making the String Fatkini Top

You will first need a piece that will tie around your chest under the breasts. You can use a ribbon, bias tape, or a piece of your swimsuit fabric for this. Cut it to measurement A plus 13 inches (for tying). Hem or otherwise secure the ends.

If you're making it out of fabric, cut a strip that is measurement A plus 13 inches long by 2 1/2” wide (you can make this wider or narrower as you'd like, but this produces a band about 1” wide). 

This gives you about 6 inches of end for tying in the back.  If you want a bigger, showier bow then add a few more inches.  

Fold the short ends over 1/4” and stitch the hem.

Fold the strip in half lengthwise with the wrong side of the fabric on the outside. Run a line of stretch stitches 1/4” from the raw edge down the length to make a tube.

Use a large safety pin or other tool to turn the tube inside-out so that the seams are on the inside. Stitch the ends closed. This is your chest band.

Now you are going to make the breast pieces. Draw two triangles of fabric where the base is Measurement C plus 2 inches wide and the height is Measurement B, plus 1.5”, plus the width of your chest band (1” if you made it as above).

 Start by making a 1/4” hem on all sides of each triangle.

Fold up the bottom edge to the width of your chest band. Sew across, but leave ends of the “pocket” open to thread the chest band through.

Fold down the tip of the triangle 1”. Sew across, leaving a pocket open on both ends. 
For the neck tie, you can again use any two ribbons or strings twice the length of Measurement D plus 12 inches, threading it through the open pocket at the top of each breast piece and tying it all behind your neck.

You can also use the same technique as you used with the chest band. Cut two strips of your fabric 1½ inches wide, and the length of Measurement D plus 12 inches. (note: this gives you 6 inches to tie a bow at the back of your neck. If you want a bigger bow then make it longer).

Hem the short ends, then with the fabric wrong-side out, fold it in half lengthwise and stitch along the long end. Turn the tube inside out and stitch the ends closed.

Thread the chest band through the bottom of each breast piece, and a neck tie through the top of each piece. You should get something like this:
If you don't like the double strings around the neck you can use a knot, bead, or bow just above the breast piece to bring them together and make them look like one piece. You could also alter the pattern, so that instead of the breast piece coming to a triangle point, it extends up and becomes the tie itself. This will be trickier to cut and hem, but it is entirely doable. You can also cut a single tie and sew it on at the top of the triangle (in which case you would not make a separate pocket at the top).
 So now you have a rockin' fatkini. You can go to town with adding ruffles, beads, fabric paint, etc. to make it your own. You can wear it with a tankini bottom piece, or wait for the instructions on bikini bottoms to make a matching set.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


So after a few months of being way to busy to get any exercise, I finally went online and looked for local parks with easy hiking to get back in the game before we tackle something more strenuous.  I was really happy to find Big Trees Nature Preserve less than 20 minutes from my house.  It has a couple of miles of relatively easy trails (although the hills are "easy" relative to mountains, not good old flat Michigan.)  I took a few pictures on my cell phone, and look forward to getting more as the seasons change.  It felt so good to stretch out and move again.  My joints feel better already.  Hopefully by next summer I'll be ready for some days up in the mountains a few hours north, or even some all-day hikes at Mammoth Cave.  In the meantime, I know nature isn't everyone's bag, but just spending time in a beautiful place (whatever that means to you) can have a healing effect on the body and soul. 


What I love about our move to Atlanta and our final decision to rent a place north of the city itself, is that places like Big Trees and the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area are about 20 minutes away, and so is this:

Ya know...provided there's no traffic.  Meaning no later than 6am :-)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Turkey Day

Due to a shared respiratory bug and a tight work schedule, JD and I ended up spending Thanksgiving with just each other for company.  That's actually okay; we haven't had enough of that lately :-)  I found myself thankful for many things, but especially for being able to eat, without shame, the holiday food I remember from my childhood.  Part of that is FA and getting rid of the baggage and apocalyptic thinking around holiday food.  Even at a time when we're supposed to be celebrating we have magazines, commercials and sometimes family heaping on remorse and stress for food choices.  Part of that is my recent gluten-free recipe discoveries and experiments.  After three years without my favorite Thanksgiving dish (stuffing) I was able to put it on the table, along with rolls and pumpkin pie with a crust.  The prep was a little more work, but I was able to sit down with my life partner and eat a traditional Thanksgiving meal without any reminders of food restriction or guilt.  I'm thankful for that, because I know not everyone who experiences the holiday does so with enough food, or with supportive people, or with good memories.  I haven't always done so either.   This year was good. 

And by the way, for those who want to know, I used this recipe for the stuffing base and rolls (the stuffing requires about 1/2 cup more broth than you would normally use, 'cause GF soaks up the liquid) and this recipe for the super-flaky, delicious pumpkin pie crust. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Social Justice Bingo

In the grand tradition of Red No.3's Fat Hate Bingo, I bring you:

With the fun of discussing any marginalized group on the interwebz :=)  It is still a work in progress, so please feel free to send suggestions!

If you're not familiar with the concept, whenever you have a discussion with someone about a marginalized group that turns trolly, you can use the bingo card to check off the stale, overworn arguments they use.  I'd say that if you actually fill a row or column, you should win and get to instantly end the conversation (it's probably not worth having anymore). 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Body Acceptance Favorites List

I've added a new list to the sidebar, under "Body Acceptance Favorites".  Since most of my regular reads are on the Fatosphere or Fat Chat blog feeds already,  I wanted to focus on blogs and tumblr streams that are not on established feeds and that focus on underrepresented groups in FA or are representative of the diversity in FA. 

There are a few exceptions, and the few blogs on the list that are on one of the existing RSS feeds are my "go-to" blogs that I read regularly even when I skip the feeds. 

If you have a suggestion of something that belongs on the list, please let me know!  I'll be adding as I crawl through followers of followers :-)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

French Bread: The Gluten-Free Holy Grail

I have actually found and successfully tested a gluten-free french-bread recipe that turns out crusty, chewy, yeasty, delicious demi-baguettes of bread!  Mind you, they're closer to the grocery chain bakery version of a baguette than a Parisian one, but the texture is authentically chewy and not gritty or mealy. 

When stored overnight in a sealed bag they stay soft and chewy, but lose some crispness to the crust.  They stay in great condition for sandwiches and spreads.  I have not yet tried secondary recipes like stuffing, but I've made two rounds of french dip sandwiches that soak up the au jus beautifully without falling apart. 

Here is the recipe and detailed instructions from the blog Simply Gluten Free:

Easy Easy Easy French Bread

I went to Amazon and got an inexpensive baguette pan for baking, but the recipe includes instructions to make crusty dinner rolls.  I would try out the rolls first to see if you like the result before investing in new equipment.  The perforated baguette pan turns out beautiful, evenly crusty loaves.

The author is not kidding about any of the steps; make it according to directions at least the first time before you fiddle with it.  In the mixer, the dough will start off fairly tough and cling to the beaters or paddle.  As the mixer goes, it will aerate the dough and it will settle into a thinner, VERY sticky batter.  This might take as long as 5 minutes if you're not using a heavy-duty industrial mixer.  If it still looks like it did 30 seconds in, it isn't done yet. 

The batter is really sticky (like pate a choux) so use the spatula to shape it.  It will cling to your fingers like you wouldn't believe and only soap with hot water will take it off. 

Bread has been the one thing I've had the hardest time adjusting to missing with the gluten-free household.  Packaged GF bread from the store freezer is dry, tough and crumbly.  The GF bakery wants $10 per loaf.  I had entirely given up on sandwiches as a feasible food choice.  Now I have sandwiches, and potential for stuffing, bread pudding, breakfast casserole and all kinds of goodness!

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Lies We Tell....

Greg Hodge at the Huffington Post did an article last month that I'm not linking directly to because of some problems I have with the tone and language.  The one thing of value from the article was the data he found by commissioning a survey of male and female internet dating site users from the U.S. and the U.K.  More than half of them, he says, lie about themselves in their dating site application.

The part that interests me is not that they lie, but what they lie about. 

Number one lie for women was weight, followed (in order) by age, physique, height, money, bust-size, claiming to have a glamorous profession, knowing celebrities, having an assistant or other employees, or working in the entertainment industry. 

Number one lie for men was how good their job was, followed (in order) by height, weight, physique, money, seniority at work, how interesting their profession was, knowing celebrities, having an assistant or other employees, and working in the film industry. 

(Data from research agency Opinion Matters via Greg Hodge, Huffington Post online article 10/10/2012)

Notice that for men, physical appearance ranks higher than how much money they have, or their seniority at work.  I don't know if that would have been true twenty or thirty years ago, but it is a clear sign that men are now feeling strong pressure to conform to appearance ideals set by our society.  We are seeing mannequins for mens' clothing shrink around the waist.  We are seeing the beauty ideal for men shift to slim, tall and youthful. We are seeing it in rising eating disorder diagnoses in both boys and men. 

I absolutely hate oppression olympics, so please no responses debating whether men or women "have it worse" when it comes to body acceptance.  Just because one subjective experience is different does not mean we should ignore the other.  When we fight for body acceptance, we are fighting for all bodies.  The gender that occupies a body is no more a determining factor of it deserving human dignity than that body's waist size or current ability.  

Now this is a smallish survey (1000 people) and I have no idea how the data was collected or grouped.  It is simply one piece of a pattern that says men share in our body shaming culture to an unprecedented degree. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Other Kind of Diet

We talk a lot in FA about diets.  In general, we mean diets that restrict food in an attempt to lose weight.  However, everyone has a diet.  It is a term referring to what foods you eat.  It's difficult for me, however, to shake the association with restriction, and all the triggering scarcity thinking and food-obsession a weight loss diet entails.

When I first entered FA, I went through the period most people do, where I ate a lot of the foods I had denied myself in the past.  Once I convinced myself that it was okay not to diet, I satisfied frequent cravings for ice cream, pastries, fried foods, and all the other foods assigned negative moral values in our diet culture.  After a lifetime of scarcity thinking, I had to prove to my body and brain that I really could eat these things whenever I wanted.  I wasn't going to suddenly take them away again.  I was actually going to listen to what my body needed.  The only way to prove that was to acknowledge my cravings and fulfill them when they happened.

After a while (about 6 months to a year) my body was finally convinced that I wasn't pulling a bait and switch.  The food really was going to be available and I really could have it when I wanted.  My body started to trust me again.  The intense cravings stopped, and I began to actually want a varied diet with food that was good for me.  Healthy eating went from a form of punishment (during my dieting periods) to a form of self-care. 

Now, my life partner has Celiac disease.  For him, a healthy diet restricts any food containing gluten.  It also restricts all fast food and most restaurants.  Even restaurants with gluten-free menus have often made him sick from minor cross-contamination in the kitchen. 

Then there's me.  Bread and baked goods have always been a major staple in my life.  I've often said that I could live for months on nothing but good bread and cheese and be perfectly happy.  If left to my own devices, my ideal meal would be a whole-grain baguette and a wedge of imported cheese, maybe with some wine.  Entering into a relationship with a person who gets extremely sick from even the slightest exposure to the major part of my diet has required some adjustments. 

We have tried to compromise where I can eat gluteny food when I'm not in the house or with him.  It involves careful clean-up including a change of clothes, brush and floss, and face scrub. Even then, there is a period of about 24 hours where the particles of gluten in my mouth make it unsafe for him to kiss me.  That is the worst part.  I can go out to a restaurant with friends but afterwards I have to spend a day and night actively avoiding kissing the person I love.  I have to keep my glass and eating utensils separate.  I risk making him sick every time I touch him, in case I have unconsciously touched my mouth.

You would think, considering all this, that it would be an easy decision to go entirely gluten-free myself.  It may have been an easier decision had I not spent most of my life betraying my body with an unhealthy relationship with food.   It might be easier if I were gluten-intolerant myself, because he has developed unconscious aversions to the foods that made him sick, even as a child when he had no idea what was really wrong. 

To me, giving up gluten feels exactly like weight-loss dieting.  It means I cannot eat intuitively.  It means scarcity thinking, anxiety spikes, deprivation and unfulfilled cravings.  Can I convince my body that I'm not betraying it by denying it familiar foods? 

Recently, we both discussed it and decided that I was going to try to go entirely gluten-free myself.  He has had a few gluten exposures since we moved, and he cannot afford the time and progress lost when he's working 12 hour days in graduate school.  I should say we cannot afford it, because the whole point of us coming to Atlanta was to make that happen for him.  The risk is too high.

At his end of the compromise, however, he is working really hard to make sure I can make foods available that fulfill my cravings.  In a lot of ways this feels like coming into FA all over again.  When I started missing belgian waffles, he made sure we could get a waffle maker and I started looking up recipes.  (This one is the best we've found so far).  We got a stand mixer so that I could do better breads and cakes.  We got a toaster so that I could make gluten-free bagels and toast them to be as authentic as possible.  He doesn't argue when I say we need to get something that will help me transition.

It does feel just like going off weight-loss diets.  I have anxiety and scarcity thinking.  I get stressed over foods I can't have.  I've probably eaten a waffle every day this week just to prove to my body that I can have them whenever I want.  I made three batches of cookies with the new stand mixer, and two dozen bagels in the last two weeks.  I'm eating far more bread products now than I did before we decided to both go gluten-free.

The difference is that I've been through it before.  I know that if I just take care of my body, let it work through cravings, and prove that I can still give it what it needs, that my eating habits will return to normal.  The cravings will ease.  Any weight I gain (probably minimal) in the meantime will go away as my body adjusts my energy levels and sends me different food messages.  Most importantly, my body will trust me again.  And considering the risks and benefits, it's worth it. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Recipe Box: Meringues

These are gluten-free, fat-free, very cheap to make, and are great if you need something to keep fresh for a long while before a potluck. 

You will need an electric mixer.  Whipping egg whites by hand is a test of endurance.  Even one of the $20 hand-held mixers from Wal-mart will work, even if it takes a little longer than a stand mixer. 

4 egg whites 
2 cups confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 200 degrees and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or foil.

Beat eggs until they turn white and frothy.  Add cream of tartar and vanilla, then add sugar gradually as you beat until it is all incorporated.  Beat on high (or gradually up to 8 on a Kitchenaid stand mixer) until stiff peaks form.  When you lift the mixer, the resulting point should stay sharp instead of folding over. 

Spoon mixture into a pastry bag with a large round or star tip.  In a pinch you can cut a corner out of a gallon ziplock and use it as a pastry bag, or even just two spoons to make meringue mounds. 

Bake at 200 degrees for 2 hours.  Switch the sheets and turn them after 1 hour for even baking.  After 2 hours, turn off the oven and leave the meringues where they are for another hour to gradually cool.  They are more drying out than baking. 

If you're in a hurry, you can bake them at 225 for an hour and a half, switching and turning after the first hour.  You'll need to watch them carefully for any signs that they are browning on the bottom (best test is the taste test!) at which point you should turn off the oven and let them rest for 30-60 minutes to finish drying.

Store immediately in airtight container.


You can reduce the sugar to 1.5 cups if you increase the cream of tartar to 1/2 tsp, or eliminate the cream of tartar by adding an additional 1/4 cup sugar.  Either sugar or tartar is needed to stabilize the whites.

The meringues will not expand any more than they are, so you can set them almost touching each other on the baking sheet if you need the room.  I like to make mini-meringues by setting 1" dots very close together.  This recipe will fill two baking sheets completely with mini meringues. 

You can make meringue "baskets" just like the clay baskets you made as a kid by coiling a long snake of clay.  Once they're baked you can serve them filled with something, like fresh berries, custard, or ice cream. 

Eggs will separate better cold, but will give you more volume at room temperature.  Once you separate the eggs, let the whites sit for 30 minutes to warm and they will whip up higher. 

Fresh eggs will give you more stable meringue, 4-5 day old eggs will whip up with more volume (because the fluid is thinner).  For this, the stability of fresh eggs is better for handling in the pastry bag. 

Play with additives once you have an idea of how the meringue behaves.  Try adding 1/4 cup shredded coconut and some almond or coconut extract.  Try adding mini chocolate chips and a few tablespoons of cocoa powder.  Or maybe a few tablespoons of orange juice.  frosting dye added at the soft peak stage will give you colors. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Recipe Box: Flourless Chocolate Cake

Flourless Chocolate Cake

An extremely rich, dark chocolate concoction with the consistency and taste of a truffle.  It sounds (and tastes!) much more complex than it is, and the result is something that will wow the crowd.  This is best served with a topping to off-set the intensity of the chocolate.  Fresh whipping cream is my choice, but for a potluck fresh berries may be a better pick because the cream may fall unless it is kept well-chilled.  Even fresh fruit like sliced bananas would be an interesting twist and complement the chocolate well.  cream-cheese frosting or fruit dip may be too sweet for your taste, but try it and see!

The liqueur does not entirely bake off, so if alcohol is an issue try substituting another liquid.  Water will give a more basic chocolate flavor, while coffee would add a touch of mocha.  A chocolate-compatible fruit juice such as orange, cherry or pomegranate would do interesting things as well.  Use water and add 3/4 tsp peppermint extract for a chocolate-mint flavor.

If you use a spring-form cake pan, either wrap the outside really well with tin foil to prevent the water bath from leaking in, or set a large pan of water on the rack directly below the cake pan (as close as possible).  The bain-marie adds moisture so that the surface of the cake does not dry out and crack during the long baking. 


1/2 cup Grand Marnier liqueur (see note above for substitutions)
1 cup salted butter (or unsalted, with 1/4 tsp salt added to the sugar/liqueur mix)
3/4 cup white sugar
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
14 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
3 large eggs
3 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

start a pot of water to boil.  You'll be either setting the cake pan in a larger pan filled with boiling water, or if using a springform pan, setting a pan of boiling water directly underneath it.  Make sure you boil enough water to give you a 1" deep "bath" (bain-marie).

Line the bottom of a 10" cake pan with parchment and grease it and the sides lightly.  See notes above for using a springform pan.  You can make mini-cakes with liners in a cupcake tin, but reduce cooking time to 40 minutes and check it at 30.  Remove if the tops look dry or have any cracks. 

Place the chocolate pieces in a large glass mixing bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds on high.  Stir, then microwave for an additional 20 seconds.  Continue stirring until smooth, cooking for an addition 10 seconds at a time if the pieces are not melting after stirring for one minute.

Combine liqueur (or substitute) and sugar in a small saucepan and stir constantly over medium-low heat until the liquid is clear and sugar is dissolved. Set aside. 

Soften butter (microwave 5 seconds at a time on high, turning sticks 1/4 turn after each interval until very soft)

stir butter well into chocolate until smooth

stir sugared liquid into mixture until smooth

beat eggs in a separate bowl.  Slowly add about 1 cup (doesn't need to be exact) of the chocolate mixture to the eggs while stirring briskly.  Then stir the egg mixture back into the main bowl, continuing to stir.  This is called "tempering."  You are bringing the eggs up to temperature before adding them to the hot liquid.  This prevents bits of cooked egg from spoiling the texture of the cake.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan.  Fill the bain-marie with boiling water 1/2" up the sides.

Bake for 45 minutes.  the center will still look wet when you pull it out, but it will continue baking for a while even after you've removed it from the oven and will set up when chilled. 

Leave the cake in the pan to chill.  Let cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, then chill for at least 4 hours or overnight in the refrigerator to set. 

To remove from pan, let the bottom rest in hot water for 2 minutes.  Then use a knife dipped in hot water to run around the edge and loosen.  turn over on a serving dish and let loosen/fall.  Cut with a sharp knife dipped in hot water between slices.  See notes above for toppings/garnish.  Store in fridge up to 1 week. 

Note:  Baker brand baking chocolate is listed as gluten-free as of the 2012 Cecelia's Marketplace guide.  Check with the manufacturers because baking chocolates rarely label for gluten. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Four Agreements of Body Acceptance (Part 4)

This is part Four of my series applying the concepts from the book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz to self acceptance and body acceptance.  You can read the previous parts here: 

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Part 4

Fourth Agreement:  "Always Do Your Best" (Don Miguel Ruiz, "The Four Agreements")

The key part of this agreement is the idea that your best is not a constant, because you are not a machine.  It is okay if your 100% today is very different from your 100% last week.  It is important that you give yourself credit for what you can do today.  In body acceptance, your best today might be going to a protest rally, shaming the haters, standing up to every body-negative message you encounter.  On the other hand, your best might be getting through your day without actually killing someone. 

Christine Miserandino is a writer who came up with what's now called the "spoon" theory.  She was using the analogy to describe the very limited energy available to her as someone living with Lupus, but it has since been adopted by many auto-immune and pain disorder sufferers including those with Fibromyalgia and Celiac. She described her day to a friend in a cafe' in terms of a handful of spoons.  Each activity in her day costs her one or mores spoons, from waking up and showering, to doing the dishes, to dealing with a friend's trouble.  At the end of the day, with one spoon left and many different people and chores bidding for it, she has to make serious choices about what she is capable of accomplishing and what she needs to let go. 

The spoons, of course, represent a unit of energy.  The energy can be any combination of physical, mental, and emotional energy depending on the person and the day.  You may have days when your brain is going a mile-a-minute but you are too physically exhausted or emotionally overwhelmed to really act on your trains of thought.  Or, you may be physically restless but feel like you're thinking through a fog.  If you do suffer from a disorder that saps your physical and emotional energy, the number of "spoons" you can allot to loving and accepting your body may be very limited. 

But everyone, whether or not they have an identified disorder, does have a finite amount of physical, mental and emotional energy each day. Through media, ads, and societal pressure we are sometimes fooled into thinking that it's possible to go through life giving the same or greater smiling 100% every day without fail or discouragement. I have never personally met or heard of a person with no off-days. Have you? I have some days when I feel like I can conquer the world, write a novel and declutter the house in the same afternoon.  On those days, body acceptance is easy.  I can laugh off negative body messages with scorn and engage the haters with cool confidence.  I have other days when a casual fat joke in a television show or a billboard for bariatric surgery will send me into a dark, unshakable, pessimistic funk for the rest of the day.  On the latter days, my best is to simply be forgiving of myself, avoid shaming messages as much as possible, and seek out support from loved ones.  Most days are somewhere in-between.  I suspect that's fairly typical. 

So in deciding to yourself what your "best" effort is towards body acceptance, be careful of setting static or absolute goals for each day.  People with pain disorders know that they often don't know when a flare-up will arrive until it does, and the rest of us could wake up any morning with a cold, a bad night's sleep, or generally an inexplicably crappy mood. The discouragement of not reaching a goal is the worst possible addition you can make on an already discouraging day.  Instead of saying "tomorrow I will accomplish XYZ," it might be helpful to set a sliding scale of goals, where you include some body-love activities that come very easily to you and some that are more difficult.  That way, you can decide how much you do based on what you actually can do. On a low-energy day, reward yourself for the little things.  On a high-energy day, tackle something bigger.  Either way, you find something to feel good about.  Just be honest with yourself about what constitutes your best. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Four Agreements of Body Acceptance (Part 3)

This is part two of my series applying the concepts from the book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz to self acceptance and body acceptance.  You can read the previous parts here: 

Part 1
Part 2

Part 3

Third Agreement:  "Don't Make Assumptions" (Don Miguel Ruiz, "The Four Agreements")

Joy Nash has a great sequence in her YouTube Video A Fat Rant where she stands on a sidewalk and verbalizes the assumption shared by a lot of larger women:  "There's no way that guy would be interested in me.  I'm fat!"

Then she really addresses the assumption.  After all, she explains, there are many different reasons why anyone would choose to talk to someone or not, including the band on the other person's tee shirt. It may have absolutely nothing to do with our bodies, and yet we tend to blame them for every negative encounter we experience. 

We have probably all experienced a moment where we made assumptions about how other people feel about us.  Maybe a stranger glared or a teenager giggled in our direction, or someone seemed to snub or ignore us.  This can trigger a litany of self-criticism and recriminations: 

"That staring woman looks really disapproving.  I'll bet she thinks I'm too (old/fat/tall/short/pierced/weird)."
"He walked right past me without making eye contact...he must be angry with me about something."
"There's no way that person would talk to me; they must find me repulsive."
"Those teenagers are laughing and looking in my direction; they must be making fun of me!"

Interestingly enough, it has been found that we frequently assign motivations and emotions to people based on very little nonverbal input. We assume a person is annoyed when they speak loudly, when in fact they might just speak loudly all the time.  They may even have hearing loss.  In addition, we tend to assign more positive and nuanced emotions or motivations to those we like, and more negative and absolute ones to strangers and those we dislike. 

This means that if the guy who bumps into you without apologizing is a friend, we are more likely to think, "he must be having a rough day" or "he must be thinking hard about something."  If they're a stranger or someone you dislike, you're more likely to simply dismiss them as a rude, insensitive jerk. So when making assumptions about what someone is thinking about you, you are more likely to fill in the spaces with your own fears if you're dealing with strangers. 

You are also more likely to assume the emotions and motivations of others are negative if you are feeling negative yourself.  This creates a loop, where you are feeling down about yourself, leading to assuming negative judgement about you by others, which reinforces the negative feelings you have about yourself.  You create your own negative encounter in your mind without ever actually interacting with the other person.

The good news is that you can break that loop and turn it around.

Golda Poretsky on Body Love Wellness addressed this directly.  Her advice is that every time you find yourself wondering what someone else is thinking about you, replace it with a positive assumption.  "That woman's really staring at me.  I must be looking particularly fabulous today!" or maybe "she's jealous because my burger looks so damn tasty". Or maybe "she's wondering if she can get that top in her size".  Or maybe "she's wondering if she should paint her walls the color of my jacket".  It doesn't matter what you substitute, as long as it is a positive reflection upon you and your body. 

By changing the assumptions to affirmations, you can elevate your mood.  This in turn makes it easier to make positive assumptions. 

Your homework, if you choose to accept it, is to put this into practice.  Go out to a place where you have experienced the negative assumption problem.  Notice people who look at you and assign positive emotions (like approval) to their looks.  Practice it, because you are forming new habits and they take a lot of practice.  Work on catching the negative assumptions and either distract yourself from them or turn them into positives.  take careful note of how it affects your mood. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Four Agreements of Body Acceptance (Part 2)

This is part two of my series applying the concepts from the book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz to self acceptance and body acceptance.  You can read part one here:

Part 2

Second Agreement:  "Don't Take Anything Personally" (Don Miguel Ruiz, "The Four Agreements")

This is a huge struggle when it comes to body acceptance. Face it, humans are social creatures and we may even be biologically wired to seek the approval of others.  It becomes even more difficult when someone who you should be able to count on for acceptance (parent, child, lover friend) voices negative criticism of your body or self expression. 

The psychological concept behind this agreement is Humanistic and has to do with each person having their own personal mythology, or story, that defines our self-concept based on our values, experiences, and goals. Part of that mythology is that we assume, on an almost unconscious level, that other people share our story, experiences, tastes, dreams, and opinions.  That is why seeing things from another person's point of view becomes more difficult the more that view differs from our own.

If someone's personal "hero quest" is to reach a certain aesthetic ideal, they are quite often quick to assume that everyone shares in and approves of that goal (or that they should do so).  It helps when the aesthetic ideal is culturally reinforced through the media and arts.  But the fact that a lot of people share a particular mythology doesn't make that mythology true for you.  You have your own, and it is just as true as the mythology of the fashion marketing world. 

Understanding where that criticism comes from is a big step in deflecting it. It becomes easier to understand when put in terms of clothing, because our ability to change our clothing makes our fashion image less emotionally fraught than our body image. Let's say that you're part of the biker culture.  You wear a leather vest, jeans or leather pants, body art, maybe even piercings.  Your very preppy parents ask you constantly (for your "own good") why you can't dress more "respectably."  Our culture reinforces that your style is unlikely to bring you wealth or status.  You may be rejected by potential partners who make assumptions about you because of your clothing.  You get sideways stares in restaurants and malls.

Whose problem is this? 

Our society, and individuals who disapprove of your image would like you to think it is your problem and any negative effects your fault.  In truth?  They are the ones responsible for their own minds and actions.

It is NOT your responsibility to live up to someone else's mythology or expectations.  As a friend once said, "what other people think of me is none of my business."  Your only responsibility is to determine and live up to your own mythology or self-concept. 

Make it part of your mythology that there is nothing wrong with your body or the skin you're in.  That acceptance changes reality for you.  The more certain you can be, the more you are insulated from other peoples' fear.  Because if someone reacts negatively to your body, it is most likely because they have fear.  They may fear experiencing (even tangentially) the stigma of a body shape that does not fit the popular cultural ideal.  They may fear aging and mortality.   They may fear judgement from others.  They may fear some ghost of an experience inside their head that has absolutely nothing to do with you. 

But it is THEIR fear.  You don't have to own it, and you certainly don't have to support it.  It is not your responsibility to be universally appealing or well liked.  If their fear keeps them from having a relationship with you, then you will find other people without fear.  You don't need to engage in scarcity thinking where you examine where you have failed in obtaining approval from this one particular person.  There are billions upon billions of people in the world, and among them are people who would approve of you as you are right here and now. 

That's what it means to not take it personally.  Your mother's concern about your appearance is fear that she cannot make your life free of pain and judgement from others.  That stranger's derisive comment is their fear of becoming or being something else, or bitterness that they are no longer something they liked.  You can choose to pity the person, or educate them, or ignore them.  The only wrong choice is to take on their fear and use it to hurt yourself. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Four Agreements of Body Acceptance (Part 1)

While I'm not a big fan of the writing style and New Age mysticism of the book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz  the core concept of each agreement applies well to body and self-acceptance.  Some people can really identify with the book, but for those of us who can't,  this is a series of posts distilling it down to the practical. 

Part 1

First Agreement:  "Be Impeccable With Your Word" (Don Miguel Ruiz, "The Four Agreements")

The concept here is based in the idea that you are what you do, and that speech is action.  Every time you speak negatively of your own appearance or that of others, you internalize that negativity and it becomes part of you.

What we often don't realize is that the words we say in our heads may not have the same impact as what we say aloud, but it does have an effect and there tends to be much more of it.  We're taught that it's rude to say negative things, so we say them silently, and to ourselves, and more or less constantly.  Most people are not even aware of the sheer volume of negativity in our lives; it has become normal background noise. 

Wrapped up in the problem is that we tend to suspect in others the actions we are most ashamed of in ourselves.  When you keep a running monologue of criticism of other peoples' bodies, it makes it easy to believe that others are doing the same about our body.  From that comes shyness, body shame, and self-criticism around other people. 

Being "impeccable with your word" means watching what you say to yourself as well as to others.  Each time you find yourself criticizing or reacting negatively to someone's body (your own or someone else's), see if you can cut yourself off.  It's okay to simply tell yourself No. 

Of course, trying to not think about something is extremely difficult for our brains.  There's the old playground trick where you dare someone to not think about pink elephants.  The only way it's possible for most people is to try very hard to think about something else.  So when you catch yourself in a negative thought, deliberately substitute a positive thought. Find something about the person to compliment, or that is at least neutral.  If you can't, at least try to think about something else.  How's the weather?

Dialectic Behavioral Therapy is based on this very concept; that the thoughts, body and emotional state are interconnected.  Changing one can often affect the others (for good or ill).  By policing your negative thoughts, you can elevate mood and improve health.  These are the primary benefits of reducing stress in general, and negative body talk can be very stressful. 

This is something that no one can wave a magic wand and fix, but with effort you can begin to head off criticism at the pass.  Eventually you'll find that instead of having to force yourself to think good things about people, it will happen automatically.  The boost in confidence and happiness this brings is well worth the effort. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Recipe Box: Italian Sausage Kebabs with Orange-Ginger Glaze

These are perfect for gatherings that offer a grill, or they can be done in the broiler.  Mix up the fruits and vegetables however you like!

For kebabs:

skewers (8 large (15") or 25 of the little wooden ones
1 pound sweet Italian sausages
1 small pineapple
1/2 pound sweet peppers
1 medium zucchini or summer squash
6-8 oz whole mushrooms (min. 1" diameter)
1 red onion

For Marinade/Glaze:
1 large naval orange
1/2 tsp dried ginger or 1 tsp minced fresh
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Set wooden skewers to soak in water (this prevents them from scorching while cooking)

Chop veggies and meat into 1.5" chunks if using the small wooden skewers or 2" chunks if using large metal skewers. 

Mushrooms and peppers may need to be in larger pieces because they have a tendency to split, but it will depend on the type and ripeness.  Try a few pieces on the skewers before cutting up the whole container. 

The Italian sausage will be easier to work with if you don't thaw it completely first.  Cutting it up frozen will give you neater slices and it will thaw on the skewers as it marinades.

It will be easier if you cut up everything before you start assembling the skewers.  Trust me!  Then you can pace your ingredients so you don't end up with one last skewer that's all zucchini.  Then again...that might be tasty!

add an assortment of meats and veggies/fruits to the skewers.  They don't all have to be the same!  I find that beginning and adding with a pepper or something "solid" will keep things from sliding off while you handle them.  Don't make sausage the first or last thing on the skewer or it may fall off while cooking. 

Set the skewers on a cookie sheet or foil.  You can keep metal skewers from poking through the ends of the foil with wine corks, but remove before baking.

Mix together marinade ingredients and brush liberally over all the skewers. 

Cover in foil and let marinade in fridge for at least 1/2 hour.  Uncover before cooking.

Grill or broil in oven for 15 minutes in a single layer, turning once during cooking to brown both sides.  If you broil the skewers on a cooking sheet with sides it will catch the juices and keep you from having to clean your oven afterwards!  If grilling, you can brush on more marinade 10 minutes before they're done. 

Feel free to sub other materials of course, but look for combinations of sweet and spicy to compliment the glaze.  Try apples and peaches instead of pineapple, or add/substitute hot peppers if you prefer. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Recipe Box: French Chocolate Truffles

Oh yeah, I said truffles.   These are fantastic little sensory parties in the mouth, starting with the first shock of dark chocolate, followed by the smooth texture of cream, and finally a breath of heady cognac.

The original recipe calls for 1 cup whipping cream, but it was intended to be enclosed in tempered chocolate as a center.  I made straight truffles with a coating of cocoa, but they were a little too soft and messy to handle.  I would recommend, if leaving them un-dipped, that you reduce the cream by 3 tablespoons to give a firmer and easier to handle piece of chocolate.  Of course, if you have to leave out the booze, for whatever reason, then you've already reduced the liquid portion of the chocolate and should be just fine with a full cup of cream.

These should be stored in the fridge or freezer.  They're very edible straight from the freezer (like little bites of super-chocolatey gelato) but they lose some nuances of flavor from the cream and liqueur.  You could store the bulk in the freezer and take out a few a day to rest in the fridge to really get the many levels of flavor.

Also, don't use cheap booze.  If you can't afford Grand Marnier or an equal quality brandy or cognac, leave it out.  Don't cook with anything you wouldn't drink straight, because the flavor will affect it significantly. With some hunting, you may be able to get Grand Marnier in a 3 oz "airline" bottle, which will give you enough for this recipe.

Makes about 3 dozen.  


9 and 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
1 cup whipping cream (minus 3 tablespoons if powdering truffles instead of dipping)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter (unsalted)
3 Tablespoons white granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 pound ice cubes

You will also need:

Double boiler (or a pot and a metal bowl that fits inside without tipping, must be at least large enough to hold 3-4 cups of liquid)
heavy-bottomed sauce pan
large bowl or pan (one that holds the pan or bowl used to melt the chocolate with a few inches to spare around the sides)
Cookie sheets
Parchment or wax paper

You may also want (but can do without):

Silicone heat-proof spatula
Pastry bag with large tip

  1. Measure out Grand Marnier into a small cup and set it within reach (but not where you'll tip it over).
  2. Fill the bottom of the large bowl with ice and add several inches of water.  
  3. Cover cookie sheets with wax or parchment paper and make room for them in the refrigerator.
  4. Break chocolate into chunks, either as pre-scored by manufacturer or approx 1/2" to 1" pieces. 
  5. Fill the bottom of the double boiler or sauce pan so that the top rests at least 2" into the water, or the bowl floats

Place chocolate pieces in top half of the double-boiler 

Bring water beneath to a boil then reduce to low heat so that it barely simmers.  Stir the chocolate occasionally until it is melted smooth.

In the meantime, bring cream, sugar and butter to a boil over medium heat, stirring slowly but constantly.  Use a flat edge wooden spoon or silicone spatula to scrape bottom and keep it from scorching. 

Once the cream is boiling and the chocolate is melted and smooth, whisk the cream into it until combined.

Add the Grand Marnier and stir it in.

Place the bowl with the mixture into the pan of ice water and whisk lightly until the mixture thickens.  Do not use an electric beater, and don't beat hard as if you're trying to make meringue.  You should get a medium, steady rhythm going because you could be whisking for a while.  Go until the mixture holds its shape, as if whipped cream.  Replace the ice in the bowl beneath if it melts.

When the mixture is fairly stiff and cool, use either the pastry bag or a teaspoon to drop bite-size dollops onto the wax paper.  They don't have to be spaced out very far as they will not expand. 

Cool in the refrigerator until they are set up (could take an hour or two, but you could leave them overnight at this stage).

When they are set, mix the cocoa powder and powdered sugar in a quart size ziplock bag.

Drop a few truffles at a time into the bag and shake gently to coat with the cocoa and sugar.  Remove to a separate bowl or tupperware.

When the truffles are all coated, store in fridge or freezer, sealed. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gluten-Free Shopping Guide

Let me begin with the disclaimer that Cecelia's Marketplace has never offered me anything for this review and my only relationship with them is that I purchased their guide and regularly recommend it to others.

If you have gluten sensitivities, I highly recommend the Gluten-Free Shopping Guide from Cecelia's Marketplace.  It really made the difference for us in surviving the transition to gluten-free. 

The Pros:

An amazingly comprehensive list of gluten-free products, with very visible warning symbols on those at risk of cross-contamination because of shared equipment or facilities. 

Includes many store brands, such as Publix, Winn-Dixie, Meijer's, Kroger and Wal-mart.  Instead of being forced to buy specialty food labeled gluten-free we're able to buy most of our groceries in Publix store brand.  Most store brands don't label, but if they're safe, they're in the book.

Includes over-the-counter pharmacy items such as vitamins, pain meds and cold and flu meds. It was a nightmare finding multivitamins and vitamin E that didn't use wheat grass as the E source.  We were paying upwards of $50 a bottle for safe vitamins.  This book helped us find a safe store brand that saved us a bundle. 

Available in versions that list casein and soy-free products

Compact and portable:  We leave it in the glove compartment of the car so that it's available for shopping trips, then it fits in my purse for walking around the store.

Website updates; if information changes between editions, they list the update on their website under "product alerts" so that you can update the guide. This is crucial information as manufacturers sometimes reformulate without allergens in mind.    

We have used the book for a year, and the information has proven very trustworthy.  My partner has a very high gluten sensitivity and has not yet gotten sick from a product listed as safe. 

The Cons:

From using the 2011/2012 version, my biggest complaint is the categorization of products.  Until you get used to their index system it can be difficult to find items.  For instance, there are separate categories for "Chocolate" and "Candy," and what's included in each seems somewhat arbitrary. A second example is that there is no category for, say, "frozen vegetables." You have to look it up under the individual vegetable type, and the medley mixes are scattered between them.  This can make for a good 10 minutes in front of the frozen veggie section of the grocery store flipping back and forth to find out what you can buy.  Also, it can be frustrating to find an item in the index and flip to that page only to find a "see this other category" placeholder.  It would be easier to put that information in the index itself instead of sending the user on a wild goose chase.

I would like to see more imported cheeses listed, but considering the language and regulatory barriers this might be unrealistic.  There are several domestic brands, so I can still find goat cheese and a good feta when I have a craving.  

I would love to see pet foods included.  It doesn't do any good to keep a house gluten-free when pet mouths come into contact with their fur and furniture after eating.  Someone with high sensitivity could absolutely get sick by petting an animal who ate gluten before grooming itself.  Right now we have to be satisfied with reading labels and avoiding food with gluten grains. 

So it isn't perfectly user friendly.  I found that the first shopping trip using the guide took an extra hour for the time spent looking things up, but saved me more than a third of my grocery bill because I was able to buy store brands not explicitly labeled gluten-free.  Once I had a list of favorite products it cut my shopping time back down to normal.  I was able to grab my "usual," which I knew was gluten-free, and only had to reference the book once or twice per trip for specialty items I didn't usually buy. 

In all, though, the guide greatly expanded my ability to shop and freed me from only being able to buy brands that labeled.  I would still keep encouraging companies to label products gluten-free, but this guide gives you the option of independence from the labels.  I have not tested the casein/soy versions, but if they're as reliable as the gluten edition then they'd be a fantastic resource.  While companies are getting better about labeling for gluten, casein isn't even on the radar yet and is casually hidden in all kinds of prepared foods.

Recipe Box: Gluten-Free Lasagna

Gluten-Free Lasagna

This uses zucchini instead of noodles, but you can substitute summer squash or eggplant depending on what's in season.  The salting and roasting of the squash and the cooking down of the sauce reduces the moisture content.  In regular lasagna the noodles absorb a lot of moisture so it can be tricky to keep noodleless versions from being sloppy.   If you still end up with watery lasagna (it will depend on the moisture content of the ricotta and squash) you can use corn starch to thicken sauce before spreading in the lasagna layer.  This will trap some additional moisture during baking. 

Use a high-sided 9x13 pan or two 8x8.  Freezes well either baked or unbaked.  


4-6 medium size zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef or Italian sausage
1 chopped medium onion
3 cloves minced garlic
1 24 ounce jar marinara sauce
1 small can tomato paste
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup red wine
4 cups ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped and lightly packed
1 Tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt


Slice zucchini into thin, wide strips (you do not have to peel first).  Place on a layer of paper (or clean, lint-free) towels on a cookie sheet and salt.  Place another layer of towel over it and weight it with another cookie sheet.  This will draw moisture from the squash.  Leave for at least 1/2 hour, replacing top towel layer if saturated.

In a medium sauce pan, cook the ground sausage or beef until no longer pink. 
Add onion, garlic and carrots and cook until onions are translucent and sausage is browned. 

Add marinara sauce, tomato paste and red wine to mixture.  Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes or until very thick.  Stir occasionally.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, mix ricotta cheese, eggs, half the Parmesan, chopped spinach and basil.  set aside.

Rinse the zucchini strips to remove salt and dry on paper towels.  Place on cookie sheet in a single layer and brush top lightly with olive oil.  Roast on top rack for 3 minutes or until just starting to brown.  Flip and roast for an additional 3 minutes or until beginning to brown.  Remove from oven.  Don't worry if they seem dry; they will absolutely absorb plenty of moisture from the lasagna.

Reduce heat to 350 degrees F.   Move rack to center of oven.

Coat baking dish(es) with olive oil. 

Spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of the pan. 

Top with a layer of zucchini slices. 

Top with a layer of the ricotta mixture. 

Top with a layer of mozzarella cheese

Repeat until pan is full.  Finish with a layer of sauce, a thicker layer of mozzarella, the remaining Parmesan, and the dried oregano. 

Place finished pans on a cookie sheet or layer of foil for baking; this will catch drips and keep your oven clean. 

Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or until cheese on top is browned and bubbly. 

Let stand 10-20 minutes before serving to finish firming up.

If you're slicing it up for lunches or freeze-ahead meals, it will be much easier to handle if completely cool or even refrigerated overnight.  The cheese has less of a tendency of escaping and you can cut nice neat tupperware-size squares. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Recipe Box: Homemade Plum Sauce with Sweet Cherries

Homemade Plum Sauce with Sweet Cherries

This is a great combination of sweet-spicy-sour that has a much more nuanced flavor that the bottled plum sauce or restaurant version.  It’s also a great mid to late-summer dish using seasonal fruit.  The sauce can be made in large batches and refrigerated for at least 1 week, or canned for longer storage. 

The ginger and pepper both add heat, so you can adjust either one to taste.  The ginger adds a pleasant sort of  hot "buzz" while the pepper or chile oil brings a more direct kick to compliment the sweet fruit.  The cherries add tartness to tone down the sweetness of the plums.

Try it as a dipping sauce, a condiment for rice, a sauce for poultry, fish or tofu, or a barbecue glaze (add only in last ten minutes of grilling because the sugars can scorch easily).

First Step:
2 medium very ripe plums, pitted and coarsely chopped
6-8 ripe sweet cherries, pitted and coarsely chopped
½ cup white sugar
¼ cup tightly packed brown sugar
2 cups water

Combine in medium saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat, scraping bottom, until lightly boiling.
Turn down heat and simmer, covered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally
Uncover and stir for an additional 30 minutes

Second Step :
2 Tablespoons Tamari sauce (can substitute 3 Tablespoons soy sauce)
½ teaspoon powdered ginger or 1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
½ teaspoon garlic powder or 1 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder or 2 teaspoons very finely minced onion
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes or chili oil (or to taste)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar (can substitute white or apple cider vinegar)

Add all to simmering mixture in saucepan and stir until well combined.  Gently simmer for an additional 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If sauce becomes too thick, add a small amount of water to thin.

If the mixture does not thicken on it’s own from the pectin in the fruit, mix 1 tablespoon corn or potato starch with 1 tablespoon cold water in a separate container.  Stir sauce while adding starch/water mix and simmer, stirring, until just thinner than you’d like.  Remove from heat (it will thicken further as it cools.)

Chicken and Rice in Plum Sauce

If you’ve made the plum sauce ahead of time, this is a great potluck contribution or meal for 4 that can be put together in about 30 minutes.  You can substitute grilled tofu for the chicken if you prefer a vegan option.

Brown 8 ounces of chicken until cooked through.  Shred with forks. 
Cook 4 cups of rice (2 cups raw rice, 2 cups water) in separate pot according to package directions
Combine the shredded chicken, cooked rice and 1-2 cups plum sauce in small crock pot.  Set on low to keep warm or serve immediately.

Learn How to Fail

Take a look around at our culture’s media, and one of the many themes that emerges is that failure is the worst thing that can happen to you.  Celebrity mis-steps are made headlines;  fictional relationships explode over a single lapse in judgement; competitions are all or nothing. 

It is no wonder that mistakes and failures, large and small, serve as a considerable roadblock to our self-esteem.  We are programmed to beat ourselves up for small imperfections, agonize forever over a single social gaffe, and assume every single negative thing in our lives is the fault of our imperfections.

In self-acceptance it is vitally important to learn how to fail.  Every single human, no matter how successful or famous, makes mistakes.  It is what we do with our mistakes that defines us as a person and determines how we feel about ourselves.

Step 1:  Admit It

Admit that you made a mistake, both to yourself and anyone else affected.  You get bonus points for admitting your mistake as soon as you realize it exists, rather than waiting to see if it passes unnoticed or letting someone else take the fall.  You also get kudos for admitting your mistake without getting angry or resentful toward either yourself or others. 

The  point here is to accept how things are right now, in this time and place.  If you deny your mistakes, you are stuck in the past; you cannot learn from them or correct their effect.  You cannot give yourself a chance to really make it right and feel the associated boost in self-esteem of knowing you have handled something difficult with grace and dignity.

Step 2:  Apologize

Many people have it stuck in their head that any conflict should be treated like a game of chicken.  The first person to “back down” by apologizing loses the game (along with social status).  In reality, people tend to have much more respect for someone who can easily admit when they’re wrong.  After all, only a person who already has high status can afford to risk it by apologizing.   The people who can’t back down are those who fear any loss of status, which comes across to others as if they have very little to begin with. 

So apologize.  This is a separate step from the first one, so simply saying “I made a mistake” does not count as an apology (although it’s a good lead-in).  The best apology is simple; “I apologize” or “I’m sorry”.  Also, mean it (even if you have to think about it for a while first). 

Step 4:  Make Amends

When your mistake adversely affects someone (including you), it is important to make a sincere effort at amends.  This doesn’t have to be on an eye for an eye basis, but it should show some tangible willingness to compensate.  If you wreck someone’s car, there is no reasonable expectation that you will buy them another (unless you can easily afford it).  A reasonable effort at making amends could be volunteering to drive them to important appointments, paying for the tow truck or insurance deductible if you can afford it, or even offering to cook them dinner or clean their house since they may have less free time or money because of the accident.  In other words, make it relevant, thoughtful and timely. 

Don’t  make it about you.  If they really don’t want you to cook for them, showing up on their doorstep with endless casseroles is not helping them.  It is only serving you make you feel better.  Find out what they actually need and what they might appreciate.  Part of the thoughtful effort is a consideration of how they feel and what they need. 

Remember that you need to make amends to yourself as well.  If you are beating yourself up for a private mistake, do something meaningful to cheer yourself up.  If you’ve slipped into body-bashing, take a few minutes to repeat some affirmations, experience movement, or something else constructive towards self-acceptance. 

Step 3:  Learn From It

Mistakes are not indelible.  You can make a serious dent in your self-esteem by dwelling on past mistakes.  Like any other negative thing in life, mistakes may require some closure to put behind you.

This doesn’t mean brushing off mistakes so that you repeat them indefinitely.  It may mean considering ways to avoid similar mistakes in the future (if possible).  It may mean practicing something in more detail.  It may simply be considered an opportunity to handle it well after the fact. 

It also doesn’t mean that you should beat yourself up twice as hard if you make the same mistake again.  A repeat may mean you need to pay closer attention at how to prevent the mistake, but it isn’t a sign of personal weakness.  Successful business owners often fail at several ventures before they find their niche.  Successful athletes fail at something many times before they perfect it.  When I was learning to ride, I was told I wasn’t a “real” horseperson until I’d hit the ground (unintentionally) at least twenty times.  Mistakes happen.  Each one is an opportunity, not a final judgement. 

So be willing to fail.  You can not only mitigate its negative effects in your life, but also turn it into a constructive experience that boosts your self-esteem and personal growth. 

Here are the steps in action:

Out loud to someone affected by the mistake, or internally if only you are affected:

“I made a mistake.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Is there any way I can make it up to you?  Would you let me do (XYZ)?”

Then, internally:

Is there any way I could have avoided making this mistake? 
What could I do differently next time? 
Did I handle this well?  How could I have done better?
What did I learn about myself or the process?

Most Importantly:
I forgive myself. 
I am proud of myself for what I did right in handling this mistake.