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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Speechless in Seattle... with a side of road trip reviews

     Oh, so much change in my life of late. All (or at least, the majority) of it welcome and immensely invigorating.
     That said, it's been hard for me to make the time to post on this here blog, mostly because I haven't been able to find the words. My mind is whirring with all the newness surrounding me... people, plans, places. Everything is a' changing.
     Yes, along with its shifting winds and turning of leaves, September brought me safely to Seattle, Washington. I wrote a post back in August about my impending relocation and all the passion and anxiety that went into my decision to move out west, and to those of you who read it and wished me well on my westward journey, thank you.
     The cross-country drive from New York to Seattle was pure loveliness (with the minor exception of getting my fender cracked by an 18-wheeler outside Chicago). All those rolling hills, sweeping plains, and mountaintop views left me soothed and stirred... and a bit speechless.
The Painted Canyon, North Dakota
Salem Sue, also in North Dakota: the World's Largest Cow
Flathead Lake, Montana
Glacier National Park, also in Montana
buffalo poo

      The preceding photos are just a taste of the natural wonders my journey bestowed upon me. But to get my blogger juices flowing again, I figure I'll start with writing about the simple stuff. A nice, easy post to give you the low-down on the various gluten- and dairy-free dining options I managed to find along the way, which you may or may not get to sample for yourself at some point...
  
     Initially, when I started planning my Washington-bound road route, the culinary prospects seemed bleak. Too many open roads and tiny towns for food-sensitivity-friendly fare, or so I imagined.
     But lo and behold, I did manage to work a few scrumptious and satisfying food stops into my trip, and as I already said: for now, that is what I wish to share with you all. I promise, more insightful meditations and reflections on my transplantation to this fine West Coast city will follow soon enough. That said, I do hope you enjoy this road trip review roundup...

     Food-Allergy-Friendly Stop Number One: 
     Say hello to stop one. I realize this photo is pretty lame. However, this little bakery was well worth the 15 minute detour to the town of Eagan, MN, just south of Minneapolis. After two days of tuna crackers and bananas with peanut butter, I was thrilled to savor the sweetness of their Lemon Poppy Seed muffin, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip cookie, and Rosemary Garlic Breadsticks. (I meant to take pics of the actual products, but I guess I enjoyed eating them a bit too much to remember in the moment.)
     The verdict? Although my dairy-free options were semi-limited, out of the selections I made the Lemon Poppy Seed muffin was by far the most satisfying with regard to taste and texture. Moist and delicious. I recall the PB cookie being good, but it wasn't a particularly memorable gluten-free indulgence. And the breadsticks, while full of flavor and breadtastic for sure, didn't really come into their full glory until paired with a bottle of white wine a couple days later at a motel in Glendive, MT.
     Overall, BitterSweet Gluten-Free Bakery = YUM. Oh, and they had a copy of Triumph's GF Dining Guide at the counter for customers to thumb through at will, which I thought was quite kind of them.

     Food-Allergy-Friendly Stop Number Two: 
     So, this little joint was fun. And the pizza was tasty. In fact, after a long day of driving from Baraboo, Wisconsin, to Fargo, North Dakota, gluten- and dairy-free pizza (with Daiya cheese!) was about the best possible thing I could've had in front of me. Seriously, its aroma was heavenly and the flavors melted into my taste buds. I loaded my personal pizza pie with fresh garlic, mushrooms, spinach, basil, and banana peppers... One word: Mmmm
     The verdict? Again, mmmm.

Food-Allergy-Friendly Stop Number Three: 
     Of all the places we stopped and slept in along the way out west, I have to say that Bozeman was one of my favorites. I get it; it's a college town, which is part of what makes it cool, I'm sure. All I know is, I didn't want to leave. And Naked Noodle, this lovely little noodle bar of sorts, simply made my day with its clever array of gluten- and dairy-free menu options. I ordered the Pad Thai and it was oh so unbelievably delicious. Fresh, food-sensitivity-safe ingredients; rich, tantalizing flavors... I didn't want to stop eating even when I could feel my belly filling to maximum capacity. 
     I tried to save some for later, but Conan (the barbarian) pounced on my take-out carton as soon as I left him to explore the wonders of Naked Noodle's neighbor, a natural foods store complete with aspiring Bastyr student working in the supplement section. Needless to say, she and I got caught up chatting and before I knew it, Conan had climbed in the backseat and pawed his way into my pad thai. Sigh. Thank goodness Thai food is everywhere in Seattle or I think I'd be having a much harder time forgiving him.
Conan licking his chops as I sat at a nearby sidewalk table enjoying my semi-naked noodles.
Oh, how could he resist?
     
     The verdict (which I'm assuming is obvious at this point)? Absolutely loved it. You must eat here if you are ever in or around Bozeman. Just thinking about that dish is making me hungry.

     Okay, and that's it for my cross-country road trip reviews. You'd think I'd have more to share considering the almost 3,000 miles I drove to get to my new Seattle home. But it was a bit trickier than I thought it would be to work in all of my intended stops. A good deal of food-allergy-friendly cafes and restaurants don't have late or flexible hours, and I missed out on a few simply because I wasn't in the right town or city at the right time. 
     In fact, these are the places I would've checked out if I'd had the chance:
Pegasus Blu Restaurant (Great Falls, MT; no website)

     Of course, I've also had the pleasure of sampling some gluten- and dairy-free delights in the Seattle area over these past few weeks (with one not-so-pleasurable experience), and I'll soon be sharing my thoughts on those. 
     For the time being, however, I am spent. Good night.
     

Thursday, September 30, 2010

You need only to be still, child...

     So... I believe the time has come for me to write a blog post. My motivation has been lacking of late, and today I woke up semi-inspired, so I'm thinking I should go for it. I tend to move in waves when it comes to anything even remotely creative in my life, and the tide has definitely shifted a bit concerning this particular outlet.
     I enjoy writing here; really, I do. I just think so much has changed and is changing for me these days that it's hard to stay ultra focused on any one thing for any significant length of time. But I'm getting settled into my new west coast home, and while I haven't quite figured out my daily routine here yet, I know that once I do, the juices will start flowing quite freely.
 
     The cross-country road trip from New York to Washington was lovely and exhilarating and all those good things. I did manage to find a few gluten- and dairy-free food stops along the way, too, which I intend to highlight at the end of this post... or maybe in a later one; we'll see.
     Today, I'm more interested in musing and reflecting a bit. For the record, change is officially good. I desperately needed a change of scenery, and Seattle is absolutely working for me. I love it here, in fact. I'm even getting used to the slightly schizophrenic weather. I especially enjoy when it's gray and groggy in the morning and then magically sunny and warm by noon. It makes me feel more in harmony with nature, I suppose, seeing as how I don't really come alive until about noon, regardless of where I am or what I'm doing. It's like a God-given excuse to be moody and slow-moving as the world begrudgingly wakes up around you. Of course, I would despise it if I was a morning person, I'm sure. But for my nocturnal self, it's bordering on bliss.
     Speaking of bliss, I've started meditating again. I don't know what it is about this place, but I'm suddenly feeling compelled to start listening to the old inner spirit again. So far, the overall message I'm getting is to shut up and keep listening. (She's pretty smart.)
     Seriously, though. If you're having trouble quieting your mind, go find a hammock. One of my ultra-cool roommates positioned this purple one in our living room, and it lulled me into the most soothing state of relaxation the other night.

      It's a truly beautiful thing to enjoy your own company. And I've decided I like the inner me. The me I project to the world on a day to day basis drives me insane at times, but when I'm able to slow down and listen to that oh so gentle and wise inner voice, suddenly everything just seems... okay.
     Like when I made the very difficult decision to leave a soul-stifling relationship situation a few years ago, uprooting myself from all that was comfortable and familiar and clumsily attempting to be my "own person" for the first time in umm... years. Let's just say it took a heavy toll on my psyche. And when I finally broke down and let it all out (you know, the kind where you moan and shake and sob until there's nothing left in you but silence), the inner loveliness took a deep breath and whispered from the depths:
     You need only to be still, child. You are witnessing your own becoming.
     Those words have stayed with me ever since, comforting me in my moments of panic over all the craziness and uncertainty in my life. And now, I can look back on my moments in that hellhole of breakup-induced darkness and despair and smile. She was right; I needed only to be still. Be silent, be still, or depending on my mood, shut up and listen.
     So to sum it all up? I am happy. Not a jump for joy can't stop smiling giddy sort of happy. More like the whole peace that transcends understanding sort of happiness. And to some extent, I have this city to thank for that. Someone recently reminded me of the "wherever you go, there you are" bit of wisdom. While this is true, I've decided that I like myself better here. As I embrace my new surroundings, I realize that for the first time in an achingly long time, I feel like I am home.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Change is... Good?

     So, I’m moving to Seattle. From New York. In one week. Eek.
     Don’t get me wrong; I am excited about this—really excited, in fact. I’ve been craving a big life change for quite some time, and I’ve been working my way toward this particular one for about a year now.
     But let’s face it: change is scary. Maybe not for everyone, but I fear it. The uncertainty and inevitable challenges of this move are looming before me, both enticing and unnerving me. I like to fancy myself an adventurer—ready for anything, afraid of nothing. But alas, in reality, I am an anxious, overly analytical, and slightly neurotic individual. I try to relax, meditate, stay calm, and keep my wits about me. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. 
     So why am I putting myself through this? Well, eventually to pursue my master’s degree in nutrition at Bastyr University. It’s a natural health arts and sciences school, and their (fully accredited) nutrition program focuses on whole foods—cooking, healing, and counseling with them. They even have a fresh veggie and medicinal herb garden on campus! In my opinion, it doesn’t get much better than that.
      Of course, seeing as how my background is in English—writing, editing, and analyzing—I have quite a bit of catching up to do with regard to science classes. I've spent the past year struggling my way through chemistry classes in an effort to stretch my artist brain to embrace the complexities of chemical formulas and equations. Fun!
      Among other things, my severe lack of science credits means that I won't be diving into my studies at Bastyr just yet; one more year of prerequisite courses still to go... hello organic and biochemistry, ugh. I could have opted to stay put and finish these up here in Rochester, but like I said, I'm ready for a change. 
      Anyway, regarding my lingering anxieties, I’m a big believer in the therapeutic power of the written word. Pen hitting paper, fingers hitting computer keys. The simple act of forming visible words with my thoughts taps me in and connects me to my psyche in a way that nothing else can. And usually, I end up feeling just a little less crazy, and a lot more calm. Let’s just say the pages of my journal (and the keys of my laptop) have seen me through some seriously tough times.
     But sometimes it’s not enough to form words that only my eyes will see. So, now that I have this lovely blog, I thought I’d put some of my most pressing fears on public paper, so to speak, and see what sort of cathartic release it brings…
    
      In moving approximately 3,000 miles away from where I currently reside, I am afraid that I will:
  • Not meet anyone who wants to be my friend and end up curling into a ball and crying myself to sleep at night. I am sociable, but I am also shy. Always have been. Plus, I have a tendency to isolate.
  • Get fat. Stress = sleep deprivation, risk of overeating, and production of excess cortisol in my body (specifically, my belly). I have yet to make it through a period of personal upheaval without gaining weight. Even when I exercise.
  • Go broke, and end up homeless. Rent payments, car payments, credit card payments, and umm, staying alive expenses. When I left my full-time NYC job last summer, I came back “home” to figure things out and ended up staying to work through some of my nutrition prereqs at the local community college. The downside of this? I was living with my parents for the first time in eight years. The upside? No rent or car payments. (And lots of quality time with the fam, of course.) Yes, I’ve still been buying my food. But the roof over my head is not of my doing.
  • Graduate with so much student loan debt that they’ll need a bulldozer to dig me out of it. Grad school is scary in this regard, no matter what, I suppose. And this program is expensive. I don’t have savings or a trust fund or a sugar daddy to see me through it. So all I can do is hope to the high heavens that I can find a way to pay my way out of it once I graduate. Ugh.
  • Miss the ones I’m leaving behind too much to bear. Loss is devastating. Yes, there is e-mail and phone service in this modern age. But it’s just not the same. And there’s one person in particular I am leaving behind who I really don’t want to be leaving, and that’s the one that’ll hurt the most.
     Okay, there. I feel somewhat lighter. Less anxious. A bit more in touch. I’m even inspired to share some of the things I am totally not afraid of when it comes to this enormous life change.

     In moving approximately 3,000 miles away from where I currently reside, I am incredibly excited that I will be:
  • Opening myself up to new people, places, experiences, and ideas. I love people—all different types, especially the ones who have interesting stories and similar passions. I can’t wait to make new friends (and keep the old, of course). Having four roommates, all Bastyr students, should make this part a bit easier.
  • Living on the West Coast! Ever since I first visited the Pacific Northwest back in high school (I have family living in Oregon), I fell in love and dreamed of one day making it my home. So, in many ways, this move is like a dream come true for me!
  • Reasonably close to some of my favorite people in the world. I have two uncles, two aunts, a cousin, a cousin’s friend, one childhood friend, and one high school bud currently living in Seattle and the surrounding areas (meaning Oregon). This is pretty damn cool.
  • In the midst of a folkish music scene—I think? I miss playing out (I sing and play guitar), and I’m hoping to get back into it and meet some fellow folk rock-ish musicians.
  • Rooming with four food-loving girls, including Iris, author of The Daily Dietribe! I met Iris via the Bastyr web portal for new students, and we’ve been bonding in the blogosphere ever since. Now, we're moving into a big house together with three other Bastyr students, and they seem like some cool chicks.
  • Starting over. The past few years have been rough for me. Lots of change, of the sort that really wears you down. I’m ready for a fresh take on life.     
     And now, onto where I could use a bit of your help... 
     Aside from the aforementioned perks, one of the coolest things about this upcoming transition is that I'll be driving out west: leaving Rochester (NY) on Tuesday, September 7th and arriving in Seattle on Monday, September 13th. Originally, I wanted to spend the entire summer WWOOFing (a.k.a. volunteering on organic farms) my way across America, but quite simply, life—primarily the need to make money—got in the way. Now, I'm down to a seven-day road trip, but still super excited about it. 
     Of course, the one thing I'm a tiny bit anxious about is... FOOD. I've actually driven cross country once before, back in 2007, but that was before I went gluten- and dairy-free. The trip was amazing, but even as a not-too-restricted eater, the food options were, well, sparse. My recently discovered food intolerances will only further limit those options, so I thought it might be worth my while to put the word about my trip out there in bloggerland and see what sort of responses I get. 
     I do plan to bring my own supply of sensitivity-safe sustenance, but I learned from my last 3,000-mile adventure that snack bars and tuna crackers can only go so far; even the most economical food preparations will get old, and besides, I'd really like to sample some of the GF/DF cuisine being offered out there in small-town (and big city) America!
     That said, I'm listing a handful of the cities and towns along my road trip route below, mainly the ones I'll be staying in overnight. Keep in mind that while I may not mention them here, I will be passing through a few major cities (not many) like Chicago, IL, for example. I'm doing some research of my own, but if you have any suggestions on safe places to eat in or around these areas, as well as things to see, do, etc., along the way... please share them with me! (I plan to compile a full list of eating options and post it in the semi-near future.)
   
Road Trip 2010, Gluten- and Dairy-Free Dining in...
Day One: Toledo, Ohio 
Day Two: Baraboo, Wisconsin (between Madison, WI, and Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN)
Day Three: Fargo, North Dakota
Day Four: Glasgow, Montana
Day Five: Cut Bank, Montana (eastern side of Glacier National Park)
Day Six: Kalispell, Montana (western side of Glacier National Park)
Day Seven: Seattle, Washington (a.k.a. my new home!!!)*

*From my visit earlier this year, I'm already familiar with a few GF/DF places in the Seattle area (listed below, but I'd love to learn about others, as I'll soon be making my home in this fine, food-sensitivity-friendly city!

GF/DF Dining Options in Seattle, WA:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

And the winner is...

     It was such a lovely treat to get to know Pamela of Pamela's Products, as well as to host my first-ever giveaway last week. Thanks to all who stopped by to read the interview and participate! It's funny... I realized that I'm not very good at giveaways because I want to send everyone a prize package!

     Well, if I could have, I would have, but I had to just choose one lucky gal and leave it at that. And so, the winner of the Pamela's goodie box is... Alea of Gluten-Free Flavor Full!!! Alea, thanks so much for reading and have fun experimenting with those baking mixes! Please e-mail me your mailing address and the Pamela's cookie you'd like to try at sweetsensitivity@gmail.com.
     Thanks again to all who participated!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hello Pamela, and a Giveaway!!!

     I’m honored and excited to share this particular post today; as I’ve mentioned before, this blog was partly inspired by a cookie: a Pamela’s Products Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Chunk Cookie, to be exact.
     Ever since that savory moment of inspiration, I’ve wanted to know more about Pamela, the woman behind these deliciously indulgent treats—made sans gluten, wheat, and in most cases, dairy. Thanks to the wonderful world of Facebook (and social media in general), I was fortunate enough to hook up with some of Pamela’s people, and voila! An interview with Pamela is what followed.

     So, without further ado… Hello Pamela!
Sweet Sensitivity (SS): I have to ask what the story is behind the Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Chunk Cookies; they are, after all, the product of yours that made me fall in love with your line of gluten-free goodies! Is there a particular place and time that you came up with the idea and/or discovered the perfect combination of ingredients to make them taste so irresistibly delicious? (Because they are by far the best wheat-free, gluten-free, non-dairy chocolate cookies I’ve ever tasted.)
Pamela (P): That is so sweet—thank you for the kind words. The story is, I am a chocoholic, and I was working on the Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Chunk Cookie (because what is better than chocolate and more chocolate) and testing various recipes on my bachelor neighbor. I started with the first version and tweaked it, and my neighbor and friend Dino would always go back to that first version. He was so passionate about it, that I figured I had it right.
SS: I read a bit of background on your website, so I know that you grew up in the midst of health foods and food-allergy-friendly “treats” via working in your grandparents’ store when you were younger. What motivated them to open the store and cater to the gluten-free and otherwise food-sensitive population?
P: My grandmother became a vegetarian in 1920 and remained [one] throughout the rest of her life. She meditated, did yoga and drank carrot juice for over 50 years. My grandparents attended nutritional lectures and found out that one of the first  health food stores in San Francisco was for sale. This was a perfect opportunity for my grandmother to be involved with a world that she was passionate about. There was a small bakery in the back where “special dietary baked goods” were made daily. This included salt-free, dairy-free, alternative sugar, raw food, organics, and gluten-free goods. We outgrew the store after about 15 years, and became a wholesale bakery and flour mill (the mill is still in business today). I worked at the wholesale bakery, which by then my father and uncle had purchased from my grandparents. It was and still is an industry that we understand and care deeply about.

SS: How did they (and the store) influence your personal food choices and overall health consciousness?
P: I was the kid with the brown bread and carob chip cookies during the 1960s in a world of white bread and Ho-Hos. I completely understood what it meant to eat food that looked different than your friend’s. But my parents raised me [with the understanding] that “natural” foods were what was healthy for you. As a family, we never ate out so I was very influenced by the meals that my mom put on the table and the baked goods, wheat flour, brown sugar, [and so forth] that my dad brought home from the bakery. Also, having a vegetarian grandmother, alternative lifestyles and diets were a part of my upbringing. It never seemed odd to me.  
SS: What drove you to take on the challenge of venturing out on your own in 1988?
P: I could see the need for improved gluten-free foods, and I felt that if my products tasted good then everyone could enjoy them and the retailers wouldn’t have trouble selling them. I wanted to alter the typical attitude of just having something on the market no matter what it tasted like. What frustrated me was that I loved the family business but had two brothers working there. I was told that I couldn’t run the company because I was a girl, so I packed up my belongings and rented a warehouse down the street (close enough to steal boxes from my dad and use his copy machine…), and I was on my way.
SS: Did you have a lot of outside support, or did it feel more like a lonely pipe dream at the time?
P: I did not have a lot of outside support in the form of cash. I had friends and my husband and mom who believed I was smart and believed in my abilities, but my dad kept asking me, “Can you see the light at the end of the tunnel?” I could only see that I owed money and I couldn’t stop until the debts were paid. I sometimes would find myself crying at my desk, feeling alone. It’s a long, stressful process to grow a business, in particular when you are learning on the job.
SS: When you look back now, do you think you could have envisioned at the time just how successful your company would become?
P: I never knew that gluten-free was going to become mainstream. Natural food stores were very small in 1988 and I assumed I would only be selling to them, same as my dad’s company.  No one cared about gluten-free foods back then except those who had to eat GF. I don’t believe anyone thought that it would become a recognized issue. I was only thinking about the customers that had to eat the horrible GF food my dad made. I just wanted food to be different for them.
SS: How have you seen the gluten-free community evolve over the years? 
P: The grassroots Celiac Support and Gluten Awareness Groups have been the catalyst for moving the gluten-free industry forward. Without their unrelenting dedication to getting the message out and asking stores, doctors, manufacturers, and the like to understand their needs, I believe gluten-free foods would still be ignored. Technology is also a part of the huge surge in awareness. There are meet-up groups, websites, blogs, and so much more going on because of it.
SS: I notice that you seem to go out of your way to use top-quality ingredients in your products. From a business perspective, I’m aware that the good stuff typically costs more (which is why the majority of processed, packaged food producers opt for the cheaper ingredients). Why is it so important to you to use organic, top-of-the-line ingredients?
P: It’s important to me that food satisfies both mind and body. I look for flavorful ingredients to completely satisfy the palate, and ingredients that will not harm—no artificial anything, and organic if I can. If you have a special dietary need, the last thing you should have to worry about is the food going in your mouth. Food needs to be delicious and nutritious, and in the case of Pamela’s Products, not harmful for those eating gluten-free. 
SS: Of the cookies you’ve created, which one is your favorite?
P: That depends on my mood. I don’t like really sweet cookies so I tend to go for the Extreme Chocolate Simplebites, the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, the Spicy Ginger Cookies, or the Pecan Shortbread. But every time I try one of the others, I am pleased that I still find them delicious even though they are not my favorite. 
SS:  Empty your mind of all thoughts, but contemplate the cookie. This is one of the meditative cookie reflections that appears on your website. What does this mean to you?
P: I love these meditations. I believe in being aware of the smallest treasures in life. Stop and smell the roses, acknowledge how perfect the blue in a blue sky can be, and how nothing else matters as you eat your favorite cookie.

    Phew! Wherever you are, Pamela, thanks again for taking the time out of your busy schedule; this was such a treat!
    And now, for the giveaway… 

    The folks at Pamela’s have a lovely package prepared for whoever wins my first-ever product giveaway: a bunch of baking mixes and one box of cookies (of your choosing!).To enter, you just need to do three things:
  1. Leave a comment on this post sharing your favorite Pamela’s Products cookie. If you’ve never tried her cookies before, choose one from the following gluten- and dairy-free flavors that makes your mouth water: Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chunk; Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip; Spicy Ginger; Peanut Butter; Chunky Chocolate Chip; Old Fashioned Raisin Walnut; and Espresso Chocolate Chunk
  2. Visit Pamela's Products on Facebook and "like" their page.*
  3. Visit Sweet Sensitivity on Facebook and "like" my page.*
*Obviously, if you don't use FB, numbers 2 and 3 don't apply to you!     
    
     It’d be lovely if you would share about this giveaway on other social media outlets, too, seeing as how I'm still fairly new to the blogging world. But that’s just a request—not a requirement. 
     And finally, Pamela's next Gluten-Free Challenge isn't until May 2011, but it's never too early to start prepping. Click here to find out more about how you can receive recipes and tips from Pamela's in the upcoming months.
     Thanks! 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Simply Sweet Recipe Reviews

     I'm tired. As in, can't get off my butt right now and do a single thing exhausted. This is, in part, because of my long day working at the restaurant, and in part because I haven't been getting much sleep lately. Just a few hours a night if I'm lucky, and the self-induced sleep deprivation is catching up with me.
     I am beat.
     That said, I haven't been doing much in the kitchen these days. But occasionally, I bake. And because I've been so ridiculously tired, I am incredibly grateful for the plethora of gluten- and dairy-free recipes available to me in the blogosphere. Like many of you (or so I imagine), I have a steadily growing list of bookmarked recipes in my Web browser, and over the past months of fatigue and pre-moving stress, this list has certainly come in handy.
     For example, the night of my dad's 56th birthday, my mom bought a Wegmans Ultimate Chocolate Cake, which for those of you who aren't familiar with Weggermans, is to-die-for delicious. Moist and chocolatey, I used to eat this cake more often than I'd like to admit when they first started selling it. But all that gluten, wheat, and dairynot to mention the laundry list of additives and other strange, hard-to-pronounce ingredients—simply put, makes me sick.
     And of course, my family adores it. It's become a staple at birthday gatherings since my mom has gone back to work full-time and doesn't have as much time or energy to bake at home. So I knew that it was either watch everyone else indulge and enjoy while I stood by salivating and cursing my food-allergic insides, or suck it up and make a little side dessert that would satisfy both mine and my brother's sweet tooth (he's gluten-free, too).
     Well, thanks be to Chelsey over at The Crazy Kitchen. I had marked her Bad Ass Black Bean Cake recipe months ago, but it wasn't until this celebratory night in August that I had a reason to buckle down and bake it.
     So, I did. I followed her recipe exactly, with the exception of the pecans. I don't like nuts in cake, so those got the boot. I decided to use chocolate chips instead. Also, I substituted Earth Balance vegan buttery spread for the butter, and I used 100% dark chocolate cacao powder.
     And the verdict is?
     Delicious! Seriously, this cake is one of the most pleasantly surprising recipes I've ever tried. Of course, the batter is a little funny looking until you get the beans fully blended. But once it's smooth and creamy, it's also one of the best-tasting GF batters I've sampled to date!
     Out of the oven, this cake is moist, smooth, and light enough to not be too rich or fattening. Oddly enough, I kept commenting to my brother about how much the texture reminded me of cheesecake. Overall, quite a delectable treat.
     However, I do not recommend the Mocha Cream Avocado Icing recipe listed along with the cake. This was my first time experimenting with avocados in frosting, and it really just did not work with its pudding-like consistency and mildly unpleasant aftertaste. I know there must be a way to make avocado icing taste good, but this one just doesn't cut it for me. Any thoughts? Because I like the idea of staying away from all that confectionary sugar, and mocha cream frosting sounds like the perfect topping.
     Regardless, even without any frosting, I liked this cake so much and it was so easy to make that I baked it again tonight! Mmm, mmm good.

     I tend to be a bit lazy when it comes to my food pics, but I put in a little extra special effort this time with the strawberry garnish (which makes for a refreshing pairing in your mouth, as well!).
     And this post wouldn't be complete without a brief mention of those Rainy Day Chocolate Chip Cookies over at Hope for Healing. I wrote about these a while ago for May's Adopt a GF Blogger carnival, and I've made them several times since. It wasn't until last week, however, that I tried using sunflower seed butter instead of cashew butter (as per Stephanie's suggestion) in this super simple, five-ingredient recipe (five when you include the gluten-free vanilla extract, which I like to add for a little extra flavoring).
     I don't know what it is about those sunflower seeds, but when buttered down and blended with a little sucanat and some chocolate chips, they make an unbelievably tasty treat!
     Last night, I baked these same Sunbutter Chocolate Chip Cookies, as I'm now calling them, to bring into work this morning. I really didn't know what to expect, considering the gluten- and dairy-friendly palettes of my coworkers, but to my utter delight, the cookies were a hands-down hit! I had to endure a decent amount of food-allergy-related teasing, but as a whole, these cookies held their own. One girl kept saying how delicious they are. Another of my coworkers actually told me they're the best cookies he's ever tasted.
     I can't tell you how happy this made me! I used to love baking for people prior to the wheat- and dairy-intolerance diagnosis, and it's been a long road getting to a place where those same people actually enjoy my culinary concoctions now that I'm baking sans flour, dairy, and refined sugar.
     So here's to the GF and DF blogging community and all these lovely little recipes being passed around! I have no idea when I'll get around to making everything on my list, but as for the ones I've tried so far... Yum!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Fibromyalgia, and the Beauty of Release

            I just got back from the gym. I almost didn’t make it there tonight. I worked at the restaurant all day, I’ve been feeling bloated, moody, and hormonal, and I just didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to get up, get changed, get in the car, and go.
            But I did. And it was almost entirely thanks to a video I borrowed from the public library the other day: Mayo Clinic Wellness Solutions for Fibromyalgia. Here’s a teeny little sneak peak at its contents:



            Seeing as how it’s been seven years since I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), it’s easy for me to forget that it’s even a part of who I am. Chronic pain is something that you just learn to live with when it’s happening to you on a day-to-day basis. Headaches, fatigue, and overall achiness have simply become my reality—to the point where I don’t really think about the label the doctors have given me anymore. After all, an FMS diagnosis doesn’t leave you with any real answers. There are no tried and true treatments; ultimately, the only way to cope is to learn how to live with the pain. Day after day after day.
            So, this video was an excellent refresher course in what exactly is going on inside of me, and how the absolute most important thing a person who has been diagnosed with FMS can do is to slow down, take a few deep breaths, and relax.
            As one of the docs in the film reiterates, FMS is, among other things, the end product of an overly sensitive person’s tendency toward “an overactive mind and an underactive body.” Stress, depression, and negative thought patterns all play a part in this lethal combination. And exercise, along with other outlets and relaxation techniques, are crucial to the health and well-being of anyone suffering with the symptoms of FMS.
            Dietary issues, of course, are an essential component, too. For me, discovering my allergy to dairy and intolerance to wheat—and changing my diet accordingly—has vastly improved my symptoms. Eliminating overly processed foods and avoiding chemical additives and preservatives has proved enormously beneficial, too.
            But stress… that’s a whole other story.
I don’t handle it well; I even have the blood tests to prove it. Apparently, according to my neurotransmitters, everything is a crisis. My body’s fight or flight response is on overdrive. And the rest of my body suffers for it.
            As a result, it's easy for me to sit around feeling helpless. But that brings me to one thing I really appreciated about this video; it emphasized the importance of understanding that we are in control of our own minds. Yes, we are inclined to think and react in certain ways; some of it is genetic, and some of it is learned. But that does not mean we are enslaved to those habits and patterns for the rest of our lives; we have the power within us to change.
            It’s such a beautiful, amazing thing when you think about it. No matter how stuck we feel, a simple change in perspective is all it takes to lift us out of it. And in the case of an FMS patient, those changes in perspective take an extra special amount of effort, because everything in our bodies is whining and crying and screaming against it.
            In fact, as I sat there watching that video tonight, all I could think about was how much pain I was in. I had a headache, my muscles were tense and sore, my belly felt swollen, I was craving chocolate and sugar, my jaw ached from the grinding and clenching of my teeth all day long, and even my eyes were feeling sore from wearing my contacts for too many hours in a row.
            And yet, something about listening to those doctors and seeing and hearing the stories of fellow FMS sufferers and how they deal with their daily struggles made me feel lighter—a little less burdened, and a lot less alone. Suddenly, I was breathing more deeply, easing myself into yoga poses, and realizing how badly my stiff muscles needed to be exercised.
            And let me tell you—when you are in almost constant pain, there is nothing like those first few moments of true relief. It makes the slightest of tension-releasing movements near orgasmic!
That said, I try to be consistent with my workouts, and some days and weeks are better than others. Lately, it’s been a challenge. I made it to spin class on Monday, and I try to take my dog for at least one walk a day, but with all the changes going on in my life right now (more to come on that soon enough!), I have not been taking the time I need to just relax and let my pent-up anxieties and resulting toxins pour out of me.
Writing, singing, stretching, breathing, and sweating: these are my most reliable and rejuvenating modes of detoxification and release. My best days are the ones where I get to do all of these things on my own time, in my own way.
Of course, it’s a rare day that I can move entirely at my own pace and do exactly what I want to do when I want to do it, and due to certain upcoming changes in my life, I fear that those days are going to become even rarer in the very near future. So it is essential that I get on track and stay on track with working these crucial moments of re-centering into as many of my days as possible.
Tonight, that meant spending 10 minutes stretching, deep breathing, and yoga posturing; 15 minutes playing my guitar and singing; and then 33 minutes sweating on the treadmill. Followed by about 45 minutes (or so) of writing… here, on this lovely blog.
And breathing, well, I do it all day long, but do you ever just stop and take a really long, deep breath—one of those five-second inhale, five-second exhale types—and suddenly realize how disturbingly shallow your habitual breathing has become? I do. And I’ve found that just pausing every so often to take one of those incredibly deep, cleansing breaths can do wonders—for my body, mind, and spirit.

Anyway, I guess this is a long post. All I really wanted to do, in my endorphin-induced state of enlightenment, was share my thoughts regarding the tremendous benefits of exercise.
Because after my 33-minute low-impact cardio workout this evening (that’s all the time I had before they started shutting off the lights and announcing, “The time is now ten o’clock, and the YMCA is closed”—man, I miss my 24-hour NYC gym sometimes!), I left feeling uplifted, exhilarated, and about ten million times better than I did just 33 minutes earlier.
            And the best part? No pain. As in—no headache, no muscle aches, no gnawing feelings of anxiety and depression, and no sugar cravings.
          In short, I know exercise is good for me. I know it’s what a healthy person does to stay, well, healthy. But my primary reasons for doing it can be whittled down to the following:
(1) feeling pain-free 
(2) staying sane and stable 
(3) calming my cravings 
(4) maintaining a weight that makes me feel good and pretty
            So there you have it. As a closing remark... Whether you have FMS or not, life involves suffering. And I am so incredibly thankful for the many options available to us as human beings to relieve our various aches and pains, both of the physical and metaphysical sort.
            If you don't mind my asking, what are some of your stability-seeking outlets? You know—the ones that keep you from ramming your head into a wall or curling up in a ball and hiding from the rest of the world for days on end, or perhaps, if you're more the "take it out on everyone around you" type, going postal... 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tale of a Chocolate Chip Cookie Craving

      Your belly is swollen, but you can't figure out why. Your face starts getting all puffy and your skin breaks out. You go to the gym to try and sweat out the bloat, but it only seems to get worse. You start to think about how much you hate your body and your life, and how no matter how diligent you are with your workouts and your eating habits, nothing will ever change.
     Oh, and you can't stop thinking about food, specifically, sweets. And salt-laden snacks. And more sweets. Give me chocolate, something inside of you groans. Nachos, now! another voice demands. And all the while, you think you're going crazy. You think those 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 pounds you lost (and so on) are only one handful of corn chips away. By next week, you'll feel and look like a whale, and none of your clothes will fit. After all, you just tried to put on your favorite jeans (which fit perfectly just three days ago!), and you could barely get the button to close.
     You know what's happening, but something won't let you realize it until you've already spent hours berating yourself.
     Yes, it's here.
     That ever so enjoyable time of the month that makes you want to scream and cry all at once and then curl up in a ball and sleep for hours on end... and of course, eat everything in sight.
     Once the realization hits, something in you quiets down and remembers; this has happened before, it will happen again, and oh yesit, too, shall pass.
     So you smile inwardly, change into your favorite green shorts with the loose elastic waistband and open the cupboard. You've been feeling sluggish the past few days, so there really isn't much in there for you. You already devoured the multi-grain chips with melted Daiya cheese and black beans smothered on top for lunch today. And because you share a house with four other people, all you can see staring back at you from the depths of the pantry is the glowing red bag of Chewy Chips Ahoy. Their high-fructose-corn-syrup-soaked, dairy- and gluten-rich sweetness is calling to you, making your mouth water and your knees go weak.
     But you have a freelance project to finish, your voice of reason chides. You have to get up for work tomorrow and wait on tables all day long... 
     You come to your senses and agree: I cannot eat the Chewy Chips Ahoy. Not only will they make me feel fatter, but I will be sick. Headache, bloating, swelling... I cannot eat them. I simply cannot. 
     You run through the possibilities in your mind of how to satisfy this now resounding cookie craving echoing through your entire being. You could bake, but you don't have the time (or the energy). You consider just grabbing a handful of chocolate chips and seeing if that does the trick. (Ha! the craving laughs.)
     And then it hits youwhat you absolutely can do, no matter how ridiculous it may seem. You can get in a car and drive to the grocery store, which happens to be about three minutes down the road from your house. You can then head straight to the natural foods section and pick up a box of Pamela's wheat-, gluten-, and dairy-free Chunky Chocolate Chip Cookies, and you can even eat them in the car on the way home if you so choose.
     Excited by this irresistibly delicious revelation, you run upstairs, throw on the jeans that don't quite fit, hop in your car, and do exactly as your mind-numbing chocolate chip cookie cravings are telling you to do. Right down to the eating them in the car on the way home from the grocery store bit.
     And you know what? Once you get over the horrified Oh my God, I am acting like a full-out fat girl right now criticisms racing through your brain as you savor each chewy, chocolate-chippy bite, you must admit that you feel absolutely, 100 percent satisfied. Not in an I wanted to overeat and now I did and so that frantic, disturbed, emotionally unsettled part of me has gotten what it wanted sort of way.
     No, it's much more simple than that. You are hormonal and premenstrual, and your steadily swelling body just wanted a few chocolate chip cookies to ease the monthly misery of it all. And thanks to Pamela's, you were able to listen and indulge, without making your food-sensitive self sick.
     Yum.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Swiss Chard and Skinny-Dipping

I need to stop thinking so much about food. I need to stop thinking so much, in general. I know this, but it helps to be reminded. And that’s exactly what my experience this past weekend did for me—taught me to once again quiet my mind, open my heart, and just be.
            From Friday, June 25th to Sunday, June 27th, the Rochester Folk Art Guild hosted a Craft Workshop Weekend, which mainly revolved around the arts (pottery, drawing, poetry, weaving, photography, music, and woodworking). But thanks to the East Hill Farm's steadily expanding array of crops—grown in part to support their fairly recent community supported agriculture (CSA) endeavor via the Good Food Collective—the Guild also offered a workshop in biodynamic agriculture. Of course, I had to be there. And because I opted to go as a work-study volunteer, it was an all-expenses-paid experience!
            Quick personal note: If I could’ve found a way to swing it, I would’ve spent the entire summer volunteering on small, sustainable farms via the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) network; that was my original plan, anyway. But for various reasons, it didn’t work out. So instead, I chose to volunteer and get the farming experience when and where I could. (Hence the recent Farm Sanctuary Saturday! post.)
So, on Friday morning, with my tent and sleeping bag in hand, I drove to East Hill Farm in Middlesex, NY (just outside of Canandaigua) for my three-day, overnight farming workshop.
            First impression? Beautiful setting. The community is like something out of an antique painting—a village of custom-built houses and shops, where the community members live and work on their various crafts. And all of it nestled in the midst of rolling fields of vegetable gardens, fruit trees, grape vines, and wildflowers. Oh yeah, and a steam bath, built right next to a big swimming pond.
            After a quick work-study orientation, a hearty breakfast (complete with dairy-free yogurt, gluten-free granola, and freshly picked mulberry jam!), and a long day of agriculture classes, I set up my tent in the apple, cherry, and pear orchard. It’s been a while since I’ve gone camping, and this was my first time sleeping in a tent by myself, so I have to admit, I was pretty proud of myself!
            Aside from the pleasantly picturesque setting, the classes were incredible. Going into this workshop, I knew next to nothing about biodynamic farming; I just saw it as a sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative to industrial agriculture. But I was fortunate enough to have Nathaniel Thompson, who owns and operates Remembrance Farm—a biodynamic, organic vegetable farm in Trumansburg, NY—as my teacher, and now, I know quite a bit.
            I won’t go into full biodynamic detail here, but I will share one truly beautiful aspect of this agricultural method: its acknowledgement of the need to plant and harvest in harmony with the natural world—its rhythms, cycles, and energies—in order to truly nourish the body and spirit with the foods produced.
            Typically, when I think of organic produce, I focus on the chemical-free aspect of it. But with biodynamic farming, painstaking attention is paid to the health and vitality of the soil out of which the plants will grow. The basic idea is that the more energetic and nutrient-rich the soil, the more vibrant and nutritionally satisfying the produce. 
            In short, interesting stuff.          
And thanks to East Hill Farm, I came home with a bag full of freshly picked rainbow bright variety swiss chard, sugar snap peas, and beets. We’d been eating swiss chard all weekend, but still, I prepared it as part of a stir-fried vegetable medley for dinner last night. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that prior to this past weekend, I had never in my life seen nor tasted swiss chard, especially not these lovely specimens of pink, orange, yellow, and green goodness—one of the most beautiful vegetables I’ve ever seen. Yum!

Over the weekend, I had so many wonderful experiences—connecting with open-minded, warm-hearted individuals from all over; eating freshly prepared, home-cooked meals; singing underneath the stars by the campfire with some incredibly talented folk musicians; and sitting at the feet of a remarkably wise and insightful farmer/teacher.
But the thing I love most of all, once again, is that I was reminded of the importance of just being. Quiet the mind, open the heart, and just be.
Oh, and while I didn’t join in the skinny-dipping, I did go for a swim. Sigh. I already miss that place.

            And now, for your contemplative enjoyment… The following is a quote from Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian physicist in the early twentieth century whose essays and lectures set the foundation for modern-day biodynamic theory and practice (emphasis mine):
“Nutrition as it is today does not supply the strength necessary for manifesting the spirit in physical life. . . Food plants no longer contain the forces people need for this.” 
            What say you regarding the energetic quality of the foods produced today? Do you feel satisfied and revitalized after you eat, or just heavy and full? 
            And finally, what's your favorite smoothie recipe? I've been making one every morning for the past week or so, and I must say, I feel so energized after drinking it! My current fave is mango-banana-blueberry-flaxmeal... but I'm open to suggestions!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Farm Sanctuary Saturday!

          Today was a special day—one I've been looking forward to for a while now: Farm Sanctuary Saturday (or at least, that's what I'm calling it)! And I was so happy to have my dear friend, Rachel, join me for the adventure.
          If you're unfamiliar with Farm Sanctuary, here's a wee bit of background: Basically, it all began in 1986, when Hilda the sheep was pulled from the "dead pile" at a stockyard, rehabilitated, and then went on to spend 11 years living life to the full in the green pastures of central New York. 
          Hilda became an emblem of hope and inspiration for rescue workers, who turned her recovery into a lifelong mission to "end cruelty to farm animals and promote compassionate living through rescue, education, and advocacy." Today, Farm Sanctuary is the leading farm animal protection agency in the United States.
brown cow (not Hilda)

          So, why was I so psyched to be a part of this thing?
          My dietary changes may have initially been sparked by sheer physical pain and discomfort, but the more I've learned about foods and ingredients and the way they affect my body, the more my eyes have been opened to the horrific truths behind how certain foods are processed in this country—namely, meat and dairy products. 
dairy industry = mean to cows

          I don't want to go off on a factory farming rant in this small space, but let's just say that I sincerely believe in what the folks at Farm Sanctuary are doing, and I was delighted to be a part of it, if only for a day.... even if it meant shoveling a barn full of cow manure, which it did!
          But aside from the pitchfork poo scooping and shrub-pruning yard work, we had plenty of fun bonding with both workers and animals (and each other, of course!).
meet Snickers, the steer
Rachel and the goat, sharing an inside joke
a particularly goofy goat
turkey says, "wassup..."
bonding with Fiona, the pig
sleeping beauty
me having a moment with another pig...
and finally, meet Emily...
          So, all in all, my muscles are sore and the backs of my legs are sunburned, but I'd recommend a day at Farm Sanctuary in a heartbeat to anyone who wants to get an up close and personal look at what true compassion and kindness can do for a bunch of otherwise ill-fated farm animals.
          To learn more about Farm Sanctuary and their ongoing efforts to rescue, educate, and advocate, as well as how you can get involved, click here. And if you happen to live near one of the two sanctuaries, located just outside of Watkins Glen, NY, or  Orland, CA, sign yourself up for a farm tour or a volunteer work party (which is what we did today)!
          Oh, and here's their most recent blog post: Animal Photo of the Week: Lily

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