November 12, 2014

Be Ye Gluten Free

I recently decided to go gluten free. Although I have not yet pursued a diagnosis as being gluten or wheat intolerant, the change has provided some relief from the beastly headaches that suddenly became frequent postnatal. In what is still a very nascent process, I’ll be sharing some findings here and there in the hopes that other gluten free-ers may benefit – and possibly even rekindle their love for baking and consuming.

Here are a couple of my personal discoveries*:

Bread, Oh Wonderful Bread:
I may have a tiny European living inside of me because there are times when I really need bread. Sometimes it just makes a meal feel whole. Like spaghetti –  this red-saucy, spicy, meaty, pasta-y (GF of course) delight is quite incomplete without a toasted, every corner covered with vegan butter spread (yay, Earth Balance!) piece of bread. Or, say pork and beans. You MUST have buttered bread with which to scoop some beans! Growing up, hot dogs cut into coins and browned before adding the beans was a special meal for Mom and me. I always remember having it with a chewy piece of buttered wheat bread. Yup, we were clearly upper class folk.

I have tried a good deal of GF breads and it was a sad, sad, sad road of a lack of chewyness and taste. Even after a mild toasting, many breads just don’t hold up – or worse, have a weird flavor. But alas, my bread loving, gluten-resistant friends! I finally found Udi’s Soft and Hearty Whole Grain bread. Happiness! The local Trader Joe’s always had it on the shelves but the feel of the bread was not so encouraging. Once toasted a bit, however, this bread feeds that little Euro fella quite sufficiently.

Cookie, Cookie, You Are My Wookie:
Another staple of my childhood – besides the oh-so-classy pork and beans – were chocolate chip cookies. I grew up with the Nestle recipe and moved on to my own version making substituions/additions like Tofu, almond meal, flax meal or other “make it a little healthier so I can eat more” options. A few years ago, I moved onto Ghirardelli’s 60% Bittersweet Cocoa Chocolate Chips, which were my staple until I recently found Kroger’s Private Selection brand semi-weet chocolate chips. These have a fantastic balance of cocoa, bitterness and sweetness. (Important note: Kroger’s chips are not certified GF.) For a GF chocolate chip that also happens to be wheat, dairy and egg free I enjoy the Enjoy Life Foods brand.

So, back to the GF cookie: As a serious cookie lover, going GF would have just about ruined me. Thankfully, a friend of mine introduced me to the Paleo cookie recipe before I ever went GF and I’ve been hooked ever since. Here is the recipe I follow. It's a delectable combination of almond flour, coconut oil, chocolate chips (and a few other staples) that creates a fantastically satisfying cookie. I include my own picture here though, because the one on the site I link to just does not do this deliciousness justice! 

I am still turning the baking corner on my gluten free path. I have had many failures, which is pretty hearbraking each time I have to throw out another chalky, underdone, puck-like mess. But, I am making slow progress. My next venture is making my own GF flour blend, as I have simply not had much success with the pre-packaged blends. One Green Planet is a fantastic blog I found with a recent post - The Ultimate Guide to Gluten Free, Vegan Baking - which outlines some GF baking basics.

Please share your recipes and successes – so we all GF darlings can benefit.

*I have not received any form of compensation to mention any products here. These are really, truly my likes – no promotional persuasion intended.

November 26, 2013

Just Getting By: Parenthood and Other Feats

There are times in life when I bet you’ve felt like you were just getting by. Like you were functioning barely just enough to wake, feed yourself and family and somehow move about the house/day fulfilling your duties. Times when you have had to give, give, give or deal, deal, deal yourself to exhaustion.

Perhaps you’ve been there due to a job that you were struggling to get out of (or that you realized you must keep, in lieu of family responsibilities), or when working through a challenging time in your marriage, or when you’ve experienced loss, or when you’ve entered a new phase of life that demanded more from you than you ever thought you had within.

The Lesson
Becoming a Mother, unbeknownst to me, was to
be the absolute loneliest, most challenged I have ever been in my thirty-some years of life. My beautiful son was not an “easy” infant, so I have often operated on a tank of very limited fumes as a Mother and wife.

I never knew a human being could function on so little for so long. It must be that Mother thing that enables us to go on. But really for me, it was finally learning to stop looking ahead or behind, to stop counting how many hours of sleep I have or have not gotten. Instead to function in a way I have never before: flowing with the crazy flow that is my right now, day to day.

Photo Credit:
If I try to plan or anticipate or build too much expectation for a certain outcome, I am doomed. If I let my hopes rise high for another night of six consecutive hours of sleep and my son wakes every hour, it is too far to fall. Instead, I still pray and believe but I have gotten much more general. "Father I thank you that as the day requires, so will my strength be."

As I have transitioned thus far through various phases of my son’s life – colicky newborn to a now bubbly, talkative, constantly moving four month old who is still working on sleep – I realize this is just one of those drawn out “just get by” times in life that I will get through. Some days will be better than others and that is okay. I will survive. 

What to Do
So what the heck do you do when caught in the middle of one of these periods of life that requires every ounce of you, your energy, dreams, prayers, sanity? How to go on when you feel you have drained every bit of yourself?

My dear reader, but one moment at a time.

1.) Live in the Now. The Right Here, This is It: This “first baby” phase of my life has best forced me to stop taking in too much of the future or even recent past. Thinking behind or ahead to the sometimes-dreaded nighttime is usually too far for my drained-beyond-belief self. These days, I have to receive and digest only each moment in order to maintain a remnant of my sanity and dignity. Teeny, tiny, baby steps through each day, as it were.

Along those same lines, I don't let others interfere with my family priorities. SO MANY people out there will not understand your situation. Why you are so tired or drained or  why you need to prioritize in a way that limits your availability for various activities. That is okay. They have no insight into your struggles so tune them out, set your priorities and stick to your guns. You've got to take care of you and your family first. Period. 

2.) Laugh, A LOT:
When my child fusses for what seems like the majority of the morning and night hours, (possibly due to teething, gas, lack of sleep??) I have to laugh at it.  I look into the pudgy, cherubim face gazing at me through squeaky, oscillating cries - and see through this challenge of the moment to the road that truly exists there in the background and which is leading me to somewhere much prettier than right here.  But right now this is it. This is ok. I am ok.

I literally have to stare in the face of unpredictable crazy and laugh, laugh, laugh through it all (with perhaps a few tears every now and then).

3.) Take Note of Progress, No Matter How Small:
Days when I think I can go on no longer, my son does something surprising, or sweet, or new. He laughs a whole, rich, unique baby laugh. Or he reaches out his little hand, chubby fingers awkwardly outstretched, and sweetly caresses strands of my hair hanging near his gaze. Or he naps for a whole hour!

I have learned to take note of these seeming small but significant signs of progress. These moments begin not only to fill my son’s baby book, but to reinvigorate my heart and soul.

4.) Find Support:
DO NOT BE ALONE when your wits end is overstretched. Reach out to your family, your friends and find groups of others going through the same phase (or those who already have). Tell people you trust that you need more support; tell them you need help.  Be honest.  Pray for it and then go out and find it.

Find someone with whom you can “let your hair down.” It is okay to struggle. It is okay to not be perfect. You are allowed to be human. More importantly, it is okay to be available to others who are struggling. If you don’t want to admit that you need them, focus on the fact that they need you and reach out.

Remember, Dads and Dads-to-be need support too! Check out this Huffington Post article, written by Matthew Remski, that outlines some simple advice for new Fathers. Be sure to also check out the campaign, "Family Wakes Up," highlighting the need for Dads and Dads-to-be to open up about fears, hopes and insights as they approach and navigate Fatherhood.

5.) Go to Your Yoga:
What does all of this have to do with yoga? For me, yoga is part of my healing; part of my getting “back to normal.” It is a place to find space and heal. Yoga literally decongests my physical body, which only helps to clear out the cobwebs that gather in a heart and mind heavy from trial. Working out the physical kinks and beginning to breathe more fully again can do wonders.

Whatever your yoga is, go to it as regularly as possible – perhaps it’s running, or volunteering or getting a pedicure. When you have drained yourself so completely, you must create time – as short as it may be – to refill, even if it’s only a sip here and there. Those sips will save your life (and your marriage).

~~Love, love, love to all of you going through trial. Strength to you. Remember there is always an end: you’ve just got to be willing to keep moving until you get there.  Anyone who has birthed a child is a first-hand witness to this truth: You may feel you have nothing left, but in reality, surprise! You can miraculously make it to a beautiful finish.