Wellness Part 1: Connecting with June Cleaver

Molly and Jen recently taught me to knit. It’s very exciting. During our weekly knitting lunch, I looked at Molly and exclaimed, “Ooh! I can make my own dishcloths! How domestic will that make me?”

To which Molly gently replied as only a good friend could, “Maybe you should just try making your husband dinner first.” Touché, Molly. Touché.

I have a tendency to get really busy and then really lazy about certain things. Between extra doses of travel and company this fall, Josh’s busy schedule, our very different diets, and me rarely being home before 6:30, we’ve pretty much kissed home-cooked meals goodbye. I was hardly June Cleaver to start with, so I’ve got some work to do. Molly and I laughed really hard at her joke, but I’m actually trying to put it into practice. At least a couple times a week, anyway.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about living intentionally and about the most important things in life. Molly’s 30 list is inspiring me to take another look at my list and be a little more proactive about it. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about wellness and what that means. Is it possible that a homemade dinner at the table can contribute to wellness? I think so. Here are four areas of life I’ve been mulling over a lot lately.

In no particular order . . . except that food is first because that’s mostly what this blog is about . . . here are four areas that I want to really be intentional about in my life:

  1. Diet. Not the four-letter version of that word, as in “I’m on a diet.” If you’re on a diet, may I be blunt? Stop being on a diet. I mean “diet” as in what you eat and drink on a regular basis. Our well-being is so tied to what we put into our bodies. It’s actually shocking how this affects us, but hang on, I’ll address more about that in a minute.
  2. Exercise. Move it or lose it seems to be a pretty accurate adage. If you want to be mobile when you’re 80 you have to be mobile when you’re 30. That means I have got to stop hitting my snooze alarm.
  3. Spiritual and Emotional Health. This might be two, but I’m going to lump them together. For me, they are intricately connected. Two words: Be Still. I need so much work on this it’s ridiculous.
  4. Relational Health. Turns out people really affect us. And we affect them. It might as well be for good.

So let’s chat about the first one today.

1. Diet

If you’ve spent some time on this blog you know that Molly has to be gluten-free, Jen mostly has to be gluten-free, and I just tend to feel better when I’m gluten-free. But this is about more than not eating gluten; it’s also about eating things that are really good for you.

Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

That’s brilliant. And I believe it. It’s become my mom’s mantra as she is battling some severe health issues. I’ve seen it transform my dad’s life. Molly, Jen, Lisa. I could go on. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we need actual medicine. But sometimes just changing what we eat and drink can be life changing.

Here’s the thing. Healthy diets can look a little different for everyone. It’s a matter of finding what works best for your body and being pretty diligent to live that way 85% of the time. Cut some bad stuff and add some good stuff.

Adding good stuff is key, but here are a few positive things I’ve experienced or heard of others who have experienced from cutting the gluten.

  • Weight loss and maintenance. I have been consistently 11 to 14 pounds lighter since I’ve cut most of the gluten from my diet ten months ago.
  • Allergy relief. Some people actually get relief from other allergies by cutting gluten from their diets.
  • Improved mental health. People with depression and even things like autism notice improvement from being gluten-free.
  • Being happy. One of my mom’s doctors told her recently that the human body’s intestinal tract has more serotonin receptors than the brain. Serotonin leads to feelings of well-being and happiness. Don’t smash your receptors! Don’t clog them, block them, or smother them. When I’m really dedicated and intentional about my diet (and for me that means being gluten-free), there are days you can’t smack the smile off my face. When I’m not, well, it’s touch and go.
  • Improved digestive health. If you have any kind of digestive problem, I highly recommend trying gluten-free living. Indigestion, heartburn, bloating, feeling too full. Whatever your problemo is, I have personally felt a lot better, and I know others who’ve had the same experience.

It’s not easy to change. It’s not easy to live intentionally. But life flies by so quickly. I want to soak up every last good drop of it. So I’m going to work to cook homemade meals at least twice a week. Pitiful? Yes, a little, but progress. June Cleaver? Hardly, but I like leftovers.

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I’m going to take a page from Molly’s book and do some crock-potting. That’s what I’ve done that last couple weeks, and it seems like a good fit for those of us who spend more time in the office than in the kitchen. Do any of you busy folks have some tricks and tips for preparing healthy meals on a regular basis? Do you have a life-changing food experience? I’d love to hear about them.

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Phase 1: Detoxing for Dummies

I didn’t know what to expect when I first started seeing Dr. WooWoo. After that initial allergic reaction, I’d been on a prednisone and Benadryl bender and generally felt jumpy, sick, and miserable. Any kind of solution that didn’t involve a drug was exactly what I was looking for. Someone who had seen Dr. WooWoo a couple years prior had shared some of the diet changes, so I knew some restrictions were coming my way. This was all a little bit scary to a girl who had been on a junk-food-a-palooza for the five months prior.

Let me tell you: those first weeks were hard. Some nights after work, I would wander around Whole Foods, sniffing loaves of bread, whispering sweet nothings to the boxes of pasta, cradling wedges of brie, looking longingly at everything in the deli cases and food bars, all of which I couldn’t eat. The doctor wasn’t kidding about how saturated all our foods are with these three key food groups I had to cut out for the first eight weeks. I learned pretty quickly that the absolute only way to hold to this eating regimen was to cook for myself–and to set aside adequate time for all the prep, which was a little daunting at first.

You’re probably thinking, Hey, Jen. It’s so rad that you’re telling me about this terrible eating plan that is so hard and made you miserable. Sign me up!

I’m really selling it, huh? No cheeseburger-colored glasses here! I just want to put it out from the get-go that that this isn’t a piece of cake. (See? Already I’m preparing you. There is NO CAKE in Phase 1.)

But there is a huge and compelling reason to give this lifestyle change a try: you will feel awesome after a couple weeks. This gluten-free thing for me is about more than finding cheats or replacements for all my former favorite foods. I’m trying to change everything about the way I care for my body, and I can tell you that it has made a huge difference in my well-being. Some days are harder than others and I’ve had to re-learn and re-think many things, but the payoff has been undeniable. Take what you will from this, and feel free to ask me questions! I do love blabbing about this stuff . . .

Some notes:

  • The goal of Phase 1 is multifaceted: a gentle detox from all the garbage that has built up in your system (refined, processed foods; empty white products; SUGAR; bad fats), an overall reduction of inflammation in the body, alkalizing your system, and kind of a reset button on your cravings (especially sugar).
  • This isn’t a “diet.” You are not depriving yourself. It’s not some kind of fad or quick-weight-loss gimmick. It’s not low-carb, sugar-free, cabbage soup, or any other get-healthy/thin-quick plan. There is no counting of points, no carbs vs. protein, no “fruit is bad.” It’s a new way of life based on whole foods, the way they’re found in nature.
  • Some of the elements might seem counterintuitive to you. I understand that. Americans have been programmed to consume low-fat, high-grain, high-dairy. I challenge you to research anything on this list that doesn’t fit your current mentality. I think you’ll be surprised, like I was, about how truly backward many of our mind-sets are.
  • Try to shop organic if you can. Refer the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen so you can make some distinctions. Be prepared to shell out a little more dough at the grocery store. I don’t know what to tell you: real food is more expensive. But I think you’ll find relatively quickly that you are spending less eating out and that you are in a pattern that is doable. There are ways to make lower-cost items go further (eggs for example), and once you get to Phase 2, costs should go down further. Prepare to shop more often as well since you’ll be consuming so many perishable items. Here’s a good reminder: if it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, skip it!
  • Remind yourself that this isn’t forever. Phase 1 is only eight weeks. You can do it! And remember that you are giving your most valuable resource–your body–a chance to heal by truly feeding it, maybe for the first time, with real and life-giving foods. If anything, look at this as a vacation for your body–a chance to revel in easily digestible and healing foods.
  • Try new things! The Internet is a wealth of ideas and information. Look for recipes. Try new produce. Open your mind. It’s kinda fun, people.
  • Complete legalism will only make a person stumble. Give yourself a couple cheat meals every week. It makes a huge difference to allow yourself this in the early stages. Down the road? Those cheats will likely become less intriguing.
  • I’m only going to share a rough outline of what the naturopath and many sources online laid out for me. If you want more specific or thorough details, I suggest you find a Dr. WooWoo of your very own or take charge of your health and start doing some research. I’ll answer as many questions as I can, but I’m not an expert by any means. I will lay out what NOT to eat, a few key things to add, and a basic list of foods you can have on Phase 1.

Here are the three big things you will AVOID during Phase 1:

  • DAIRY (anything from cow’s milk)
  • GRAIN (all grains; that means NO bread, pasta, no rice, and pretty much all packaged foods)
  • SUGAR (anything refined–this does not refer to fruit)

Here’s a big “no duh”: NO artificial anything. This stuff is poison. No fake coffee creamers, no diet soda, no artificial sweeteners, no “low-fat,” no “fiber added.” For now, you also won’t be having “gluten-free” products–no mixes or pre-made stuff. You will naturally be eating gluten-free by cutting out all the grains. Don’t add any empty GF stuff in Phase 1. And no fast-food, chips, candy, soda, or any of that other junk.

Here is what you will be eating:

  • GOOD FATSstart cooking with coconut oil! I’m serious. Your body needs fat. It’s just doesn’t need garbage fat. America has this all backwards. Coconut oil is incredibly healthy (see Lisa’s torrid love letter to coconut oil), full of medium chain fatty acids and healing properties. The only fats you should use for cooking are quality coconut oil and butter. Use olive oil only for dressings (lower smoke point = carcinogens. You feel me?).
  • MEAT: (NO pork or roast beef; if you buy deli meat, buy quality preservative-free and nitrite-free ).
  • EGGS: you might be eating a lot of these.
  • GOAT’S MILK PRODUCTS: chevre saved my life. I’m not kidding.
  • NUT/SEED MILKS: almond milk, coconut milk, hemp milk.
  • NUTS/SEEDS: (NO macadamia nuts, peanuts (butter), pecans, pine nuts, pistachios).
  • VEGETABLES: (NO potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, jicama, waterchestnuts).
  • BEANS/LEGUMES: (NONE on Phase 1!).
  • FRUIT: a few restrictions here based on glycemic level; otherwise the sky’s the limit! (NO dried fruit, canned fruit, apricot, cantaloupe, dates, figs, grapes, guava, kiwi, mango, oranges, papaya, peach, pear, pineapple, plum, quince).
  • CONDIMENTS/DRESSINGS: (NO pre-made); make your own vinaigrette (I’ll share recipes later!).
  • SWEETENERS: agave, honey, and stevia for now, and even these should be limited.
  • BEVERAGES: water, green or herbal tea, fresh-pressed juices.

I know it probably looks like I’ve just given you a long list of NO. Believe me, the list of YES is so much longer! Just go the produce department and wander. Do you honestly consume everything that is there for the taking? I think you’ll be surprised by how much delicious whole food you’ve been missing out on.

In the coming weeks, I’ll share some of my meal plans from those first eight weeks. (This isn’t as fun as cookies and Yumm sauce, but I think it’s important! You’ll get to these things in time.) Believe it or not, I’ve been out of Phase 1 for over two months, and I still haven’t added back dairy, sugar, or most grains (I do enjoy occasional brown rice and quinoa). I feel so much better and am so satisfied that I haven’t felt the need or urge to add these things back in. I’m truly shocked that this lifestyle change has stuck . . . but it has. I feel so much better that the bread/brie/pasta makeout-fest I dreamed of all those months ago mostly leaves me cold. Amazing, no?

Now I’m off to enjoy a veggie scramble with goat cheese and a quiet evening of cuddles with my fat cat. See you here again soon!

A Setback and Some Perspective

Over the weekend, I took care of a sick husband. I disinfected. Made soup. Juiced. Took lots of supplements. Washed my hands religiously. This was no man cold; it was actual illness. I may have overshared about phlegm and coughing and sent “I don’t want to get sick” texts to a couple friends. When he could barely stand or hold his eyes open on Sunday, I took him to urgent care. (Spoiler alert: several hundred dollars later, we walked out with no remedy.) After watching a young woman stagger past us clutching a barf bucket and seeing the look of terror on the check-in lady’s face as Andy wheezed and coughed while trying to decipher the text on the intake form (“Am I a mildly frowny face of pain or a stern frowny face?”), I asked the nurse how she stays well. My hopes of a medical career were thwarted years ago by my extreme disinterest in getting sick. Like, it’s probably a bit of a condition how much I avoid sick people.

“Hand washing,” she said. “I don’t get sick, and I wash my hands like crazy.”

“Don’t you worry, Nurse Nancy. I’ve got that COVERED.” In neatly lined-up, OCD spades. Andy was barely conscious for most of the doctor visit, but I have no doubt he saw the look of victory on my face when she affirmed my hand washing rules. I do love being right. After my mom’s cancer battle and bone marrow transplant, I never let go of the thorough hand washing and hygiene practices we ratcheted up during that time. I figured I was one-upping the nurse with my super healthy lifestyle these days. I’ve got this. After we got home, I continued to disinfect, juice, smoothie, and herb myself and Andy and hope for the best. And then . . . I started to feel the beginnings of an ache in my joints, a scratchy throat, my sinuses filling.

At that point my complaining reached new levels. I’m not sure how people stay friends with me on the Internet, let alone in real life. My personal life is a little, well, solitary, so Facebook sadly gets to hear about my every move (sorry, people! hide me from your feed!). My immediate situation apparently dictates all I’m capable of acknowledging in the world at large: I’m sick. Hear me. I am incapable of talking about anything else. Oh, the drama that is mine.

Thing is? I really hate it when people talk about that kind of stuff on Facebook. I get irritated with updates about which kid is vomiting, who had a long night, and so forth. And then I go and do the same thing!? Also . . . it often seems like the people who talk the most about being sick are the ones doing all the healthified stuff. I don’t want to be that person.

By Tuesday, I was ready to pack it in. This whole “lifestyle change” obviously hadn’t delivered on its promises. A little over two weeks ago, I replaced my allergy prescriptions for one day with an herbal supplement and was almost instantly overtaken by an allergy attack. (I hadn’t done the gallbladder flush Dr. WooWoo had prescribed, which still sounds weird and gross to me, but still.) Then this darn flu. I shouldn’t be sick. I have forsaken dairy, gluten, and sugar (mostly) for the last few months. I have supplemented appropriately for what my body needs. I have started sleeping for the first time in 15 years. I have felt stronger. The minute I took a turn for the worse, I was ready to have a Coke and a box of donuts and say a big, fat “Screw you!” to all this effort. Tons of people neglect their health and don’t get sick. If I went back to my eating habits of yore—coffee, Coke, bread, chips, fries, sweets, eating out, and more—I probably still would have gotten sick. But at least I would be happy! Mouth full of HFCS and MSG! Gut full of garbage! Clutching a half-eaten cookie and passed out in front of the TV, where I belong!

I’m all tangled up. I can’t understand why dear friends and family—who take good care of their bodies, far better care than I ever have—are battling serious illness. How does that work? You know what? It doesn’t. Amid my confusion and self-centeredness, I’m trying to remind myself of a few things:

I didn’t get as sick as I might have in the past.

Perhaps this is due in part to my body being able to fight the germies with a little more stamina? Normally, after one day of a cold, I’m already at the doctor’s office with a sinus infection, bronchitis, what-have-you. That hasn’t happened. Lord willing, tomorrow will be much better. My body seems to be miraculously fighting this on its own.

have felt much better the last few months.

Some days I’m truly shocked that I wake up a) having slept and b) without being miserable. I get through my afternoons without a ginormous Coke or iced tea. My afternoons are productive. I know other people have noticed the change as well. My energy is different, my mood and emotional well-being are consistent, and my brain is sharper (most days). As of Tuesday, I had completely forgotten that reality.

I am catching up with a pretty hefty nutritional deficit.

Although I had made one healthy lifestyle choice a year ago, I hadn’t even tried to clean up my eating. When I started working out of the home again last May, I basically stopped cooking altogether and spiraled even further into processed garbage. Those first six months at my job are the unhealthiest I have ever eaten. I don’t know why. Transition? Laziness? Stress? Add an autoimmune disorder, and I was a hot mess.

Getting sick isn’t a nutritional failure.

Part of me is embarrassed that I’ve preached this healthy lifestyle nonsense for the last few months and then been knocked down hard twice in the last two weeks. Who am I to be spouting off about gluten-free this and no-sugar that if I’m still going to be a “delicate little flower,” a family nickname that has always upset me? I don’t want to be annoying and false and wrong, you know? (See “obnoxious ‘healthy’ and yet sick people,” above.) (See also “girl with uncontrollable need to be right.”) I’m also embarrassed that the flu or an allergy attack even register on my radar. This isn’t cancer. I obviously have some personal work to do in this area.

Healthy choices don’t equal immunity.

The healthiest person on the planet could drop dead tomorrow. The unhealthiest could live to be 100. There is no magic formula.

And I guess that’s where I’m still tripped up.

Why am I doing this? Why do I feel the need to evangelize? Is it all in my head? Where is the balance? (I’m going to ask myself that again in a week, when I presume I’ll be feeling fully myself again.) And why am I convinced that this has changed my life and could be a positive change for you? The biggest part is my personal experience. Part of it is based on a lot of reading and puzzling over statistics and figures (although we all know that food science seems to change rapidly and often, so I’m not going to hold to anything too tightly). Part of it is trust in the naturopathic doctor who hasn’t led me astray so far and has gotten me off one prescription med completely and gotten my thyroid working again. Part of it is my gut (ha). This lifestyle makes sense to me. I feel like I’m feeding my spirit instead of my flesh—and that feels really good (even if cake pops aren’t part of the deal).

I read an article on NPR Monday night, and one line immediately made me laugh: “People who consumed about one serving of red meat (beef, pork or lamb) per day had a 13 percent increased risk of mortality, compared with those who were eating very little meat.” My mortality could be reduced by 13% if I cut out meat? Immortal! But without steak or bacon? What would be the point, I ask you?

I guess this lifestyle change and the blog come down to one thing for me: stewardship. I want to care for the body I’ve been given and to feel energized and interested in experiencing the world around me. I want to have energy for creativity, relationships, and adventure. And in a brief amount of time, I’ve already seen the fruits of changing my stewardship (with a little bacon-y risk thrown in every week). How could I not evangelize? I’m not saying that being gluten-free or dairy-free or cutting out refined sugars is right for you, but I would love for you to know that there are options, that there is another way to eat and live than what Americans are accustomed to, a balanced approach that can be healing to your body and spirit—and that it’s not that hard and doesn’t involve deprivation or dieting. An amazing array of life-giving foods is here for the taking.

And I can’t wait to tell you more about it . . . as soon as I stop sneezing.

I’m Having an Affair . . . with Coconut Oil

You read right. I’m officially in love . . . with an oil. I feel as though I should hang my head in shame that I’ve let anything capture my thoughts and admiration and desires other than my husband. But I just can’t help myself. The more I learn what coconut oil is and does for my body, the more I want to indulge in its pleasures.

It was definitely not love at first sight. I was actually repulsed, literally, at the thought of cooking with anything other than the old standbys, canola and olive oil. But when Jennifer assured me, what, four to five times, that cooking with it wouldn’t make my food taste like coconut I hesitantly decided to give it a try. And . . . she was right! It didn’t taste like coconut—it didn’t taste like anything. It didn’t even taste like canola oil, which is something I’ve come to appreciate.

So once I became comfortable with the cooking aspect, Jennifer then said you can eat it. Straight or laced with a nut and agave. She actually said it’s good to eat up to three tablespoons a day (although she confessed she didn’t do that)! Okay, I was officially grossed. Steve was pretty grossed by the thought as well. You should have seen us standing huddled in the kitchen, jar open, spoon full (the dog was even watching), looking at each other saying, “You first!” And after a few chides the spoon went back in the jar, lid closed tight, then a mad rush to the couch to indulge in Swamp People for comfort.

Then Jennifer said that if you can’t handle eating, rub it—you can actually use it as a body moisturizer. And even as a sunscreen. What?! Okay, now that I was over the “eating” episode trauma, I soon found myself drying off from a shower and about to apply some creamy Olive Body Butter when I remembered Jen’s words of dare. Sigh . . . okay, I would give it a try. My skin is (or was) so dry, I felt I had nothing to lose (and at least it didn’t involve the mouth). So back to the kitchen for the jar I went. And on my body I rubbed. It felt fabulous. If you rub the solid oil between your hands, it quickly melts to liquid form and absorbs right into your skin. Very nice. I haven’t looked back.

Since then I’ve done my own research online (organicfacts.net is my favorite site) and have found a myriad list of benefits. Here are just a few: it helps hair, skin, digestion, bones, heart, blood pressure, and kidneys. It also helps maintain good cholesterol, increased immunity, healthy bowels, and even brain function in people with Alzheimer’s. Personally, my skin is no longer dry and my bad cholesterol has dropped 22 points in the last three months. I give two teaspoons a day to my dog, and she sheds significantly less than before. (She loves eating from the spoon. J)

So now I’m spreading the love . . .  If you haven’t tried using coconut oil, I hope you will. Do like I did—start small and build from there. If you are already a fan, post comments to let others know what they’re missing. It may be just enough of a push to convert yet another soul to the point of no return.

Happy oiling!!

NOTE: Only use organic, cold-pressed coconut oil (from the Philippines), never hydrogenated.

Chewy Granola Bars

love Smitten Kitchen. I have been reading her for years and have made many of her recipes, all of which have been amazing. I’m especially charmed and inspired because she creates all of these lovely dishes in a postage stamp–sized NYC kitchen (and her previous kitchen didn’t even have a dishwasher *shudder*).

I had to stop reading for a while though. Because of the BREAD. Like the most recent post, for instance. I may be committed to a mostly gluten-free lifestyle right now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t lose my marbles at the thought of a crusty ciabatta roll or whipping up a loaf of no-knead bread, which used to be a staple in my kitchen. For now, that’s not happening.

Thank goodness not all of Smitten Kitchen’s recipes involve bread. Last week, a friend on Facebook linked to this recipe and mentioned that the smell of the baking bars was intoxicating. That’s enough of an endorsement for me. I’ve been looking for a portable breakfast/snack option other than ordering boxes of Kind bars from Amazon (the cheapest avenue I’ve found). I like most of the Kind bars (although they’re a little on the sweet side for me), and I need a grab-and-go option to have in my purse at all times and for busy most nearly all weekday mornings, when I can’t manage to make myself a real breakfast on my way out the door. When my stomach wakes up sometime after 9:00 a.m., I’m always reaching for a Kind bar in my desk drawer.

I decided to whip up a batch of these granola bars on Friday night, with some tweaks. They are insanely good. I think it’s time to cancel that recurring order on Amazon. Seriously. They are chewy, dense (in a good way), and have a nice crunch if you leave nuts in larger pieces or whole. I plan to keep fussing with the recipe and to have these on hand at all times. If I prepare a batch every couple weeks and freeze individually wrapped bars, I should be covered. The options for add-ins are endless too. (Don’t worry, coworkers. I’ll be bringing a few to the office tomorrow for your feedback.) The biggest change I made is subbing the refined sugars. If you want to use regular sugar and corn syrup, you can get the amounts over at Smitten Kitchen’s website by clicking the link below.

Chewy GF Granola Bars

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 1 2/3 c quick-cooking rolled oats (if gluten-free, be sure to use gluten-free oats*)
  • 1/2 c Sucanat
  • 1/3 c oat flour (if gluten-free, be sure to use GF oat flour) (OR 1/3 cup oats, processed in a food processor or blender until finely ground)
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/4 t ground cinnamon
  • 2–3 c dried fruits and nuts**
  • 1/3 c almond butter (or another nut butter)
  • 1 1/2 t vanilla extract
  • 6–8 T melted butter (or melted coconut oil, which I plan to try next time)
  • 1/4 c agave
  • 1/8–1/4 c honey
  • 1 T water
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan {I used a small rectangular jelly roll pan} with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan {I rubbed the parchment with coconut oil}.
  2. Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, melted butter or oil, liquid sweeteners, almond butter, and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing firmly to ensure the bars are molded to the shape of the pan.
  3. Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges {I baked for the full 40 minutes}. Don’t be afraid to get a little color on the top as well. The bars will seem soft and almost underbaked when you press into the center of the pan; they’ll set once completely cool.
  4. Cool the bars completely in the pan on a cooling rack. This part is no joke. I got a little ahead of myself and tried to slide the parchment out onto the cooling rack after about 30 minutes. Too soon! Some of the center bars ended up a little cracked and crumbly. I ended up letting them cool on the counter overnight, in the pan, lightly draped with a tea towel.
  5. Once cool, slide the parchment with bars out onto a cutting board, and use a large knife to cut the bars into squares. To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or waxed paper, or stack them in an airtight container. In humid weather, it’s best to store bars in the refrigerator. I’m hoping they also freeze well.

*Note that any links I’ve provided are for bulk amounts on Amazon. You likely aren’t looking to purchase twelve bags of Sucanat; I just want you to see what product I’m using. (Be aware that you will find many of these products to be much more cost effective if you purchase through Amazon or other online retailers. If you have the luxury of buying in bulk or splitting a bulk purchase with friends, I highly recommend it. And if you have Amazon Prime, the deal gets even sweeter.) Most of these are available at Whole Foods or any grocery store with a decent health food section.

**Suggestions for nut/seed/fruit mixture: dried cranberries, apricots, dates, pecans, chia seeds, flax meal, sunflower seeds, coconut, walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds, pepitas, dried apples, or even chocolate chips. I didn’t measure carefully for this batch, and I don’t think it really matters. I just started pouring items into a liquid measuring cup until it hit 3 cups. My mix for this batch (amounts approximate): 1/2 c sunflower seeds, 3/4 c dried cranberries, 1/2 c pumpkin seeds, 3/4 c whole raw almonds, 2 T chia seeds, sprinkle of finely shredded unsweetened coconut on one half (I was afraid I wouldn’t like the coconut…but I did! Weird).

Gluten-Free Groupie

I’m kind of the “groupie” of these gluten-free gluttons. (Fellow editors—that ridiculous alliteration is for you.) I don’t personally have an illness or other issue that spurred me to make this lifestyle change, but my parents have had a host of major issues, so healthy eating and wellness have always been somewhat of a priority for me.

When Jen began this journey, I was very inspired and intrigued by what she was doing and how it was affecting her life. In addition, I share an office with Molly, who has to be gluten-free because of Celiac. Then Lisa changed her diet as well. And it seemed to be impacting everyone in really positive ways. The three big things we try to avoid are: Gluten. Sugar. Dairy.

My mom, who has struggled with autoimmune disease (lupus/mixed-connective tissue disease), thyroid disease, and food allergies (corn, food dyes, preservatives) was on a similar diet about fourteen years ago. It helped her quite a bit at the time, but then she began to plateau and eventually threw in the towel. This particular diet was extremely restrictive, and living in the middle-of-nowhere Midwest, there weren’t a lot of options for her to buy healthy, alternative foods. I grew up in the land of corn, wheat, and beans.

In addition, my dad is now battling lymphoma for the second time. He’s also had sarcoidosis and he deals with an extreme case of adhesions (scar tissue) in his intestinal tract.

Both of my parents have limiting diets as it is, but since we’ve began this journey, I have been overwhelmed with information on how important it is to avoid gluten if you have autoimmune disease or thyroid disease, and even lymphomas. (I don’t fully understand this article, but here was a big takeaway:
“There is evidence that strict adherence to a gluten-free diet long term will reduce the incidence of lymphoma.” http://www.nutramed.com/celiac/celiacrefcancer.htm)

We’re still in the very stressful and frightening waiting-for-results phase and the first round of chemo for my daddy, so I have begun to shower my parents in prayer. And gluten-free foods.

As they don’t have access to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Costco, or sadly even a Kroger or a Publix, I have brought healthy, natural, organic, and gluten-free foods and treats to them. A few things I’m already in love with:

Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix
Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice Pasta
1 2 3 Gluten Free Pan Bars
Blue Diamond Nut Thins

I tell you, even though I don’t have any of these diseases, I just feel better without gluten. I don’t often get that full, bloated feeling, and sometimes—before this recent lymphoma diagnosis—I would find myself in the best mood for no apparent reason. There were days you couldn’t smack the smile off my face. And I’ve lost twelve pounds.

I have had to keep reminding myself that I began this lifestyle change for the well-being of my body . . . however, I also did it to lose fourteen pounds. In less than two months, I’ve already lost twelve of them.