September 22, 2015

Kitchen Basics – How Do You Choose?

When you don’t have much space, how do you choose the kitchen basics? I’ve been looking at the possibility of purchasing the cutest cabin with the greatest view! The overall size is about 500 square feet which means the kitchen is TINY!
It may be tiny, but this kitchen packs in usability with a skinny 4 burner stove, a small refrigerator/freezer, and bottom cabinetry. A fairly long counter contains a sink and bottom cabinets with doors while its top offers adequate, if not ample, workspace. There are no top cabinets, no dishwasher, no pantry, no island, no broom closet, no wall space, and no dance floor. There’s plenty of light streaming in through a window that looks out at the view and the warm-toned wood ceiling and floor keep it feeling cozy.
In order to keep the space from feeling crowded, I’m pondering which kitchen basics are critical. Here’s the process I’m using to pare down to fit the space:

–If it can be done by hand, with an existing appliance or with a simple utensil, I don’t need an appliance for it. Bye, bye toaster, electric can opener, mixer, rice cooker, food processor, blender, breakfast sandwich maker, juicer, and crock pot. Hello French press.

–If it’s for baking, but won’t fit in the oven – it’s out. I’m thinking one covered casserole dish, one cake pan, and two cookie sheets will cover my regular cooking habits. I can use silicone cupcake cups in the baking pan when I want to make cupcakes or muffins. As rarely as I make pie, disposable pie pans purchased when needed should suffice.

–If it’s for the top of the stove, I’m carefully examining how many I need and what size. I want a large pot for soup or chili, but I’ll rarely serve more than 4 people at a time. A 4 quart sauce pot should be adequate. In addition, I’ll want at least one more saucepan and at least one skillet. I’m thinking that I may start with one of each and then determine how often I feel limited before buying more. With just one skillet on hand, I’ll probably go with cast iron.

–Two mixing bowls that double as serving dishes, a whisk, a spatula, a slotted spoon, one large and one small sharp knife, an adjustable measuring spoon, a measuring cup with multiple markings, a pastry blender, two dishtowels, and a cutting board fill out my general cooking needs.
As I envision my cabinets already swiftly filling, I recognize that it is wise to limit my dishes, flatware, placemats, napkins (I use cloth), coffee mugs, and glassware to service for 4.

–I should have just enough room to store salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, curry powder, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, Italian seasoning, shortening, honey, olive oil spray, balsamic vinegar, wax paper, aluminum foil, and zip top bags.

Your specific baking utensil and pantry choices will be different than mine. If you host ice cream socials every week, an ice cream maker may be more important to you than a large chili pot. The specifics of stocking the kitchen are much less important than the process of determining what’s important to make you feel as though you have enough.

In our consumer driven culture, we’re much more likely to stuff our shelves, drawers, and pantry with things we rarely, or never, use than we are to take the time to know ourselves well enough to be selective. Examining our relationship to the things we purchase, how we spend our time, what we value, what we hold onto that’s no longer useful, and what makes us feel safe can be a great step on the path to contentment and peace.

Before my first European trip, a fellow traveler advised me to pack my bag, remove half of what I had packed, and then divide that in half to get to the travel essentials I could carry without assistance. It was great advice for travel, great advice for home, great advice for choosing activities, and great advice for choosing relationships.

There’s no doubt it’s also good advice for choosing the kitchen basics when you value the view more than the size of the room.


September 15, 2015

Dermatitis Herpetiformis Leaves Me A Little Rough Around The Edges

This pineapple may be a little rough around the edges, but it’s also totally cute! In fact, it was the best find of my grocery shopping trip this week. Since then, every time I get dressed and feel the roughness on the back of my elbows I like to think of this pineapple. Why? Well, I have dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) – a skin manifestation of celiac disease, which sometimes leaves me rough around the edges. Thinking of this adorable pineapple reminds me that this annoying and ugly rash doesn’t prevent me from being the highlight of a meeting, the life of the party, a creative soul, a compassionate person, a smart cookie, or even a cutie pie.


DH on my elbow today.

I’m not saying I love having DH, but I am grateful that my long-term gluten-free lifestyle means that when it appears now it barely itches. In fact, now I often don’t notice the rash on my elbows until I run my hand across it when applying lotion. This wasn’t even close to true in the days when I consumed gluten. At that point, my rash was so unbearably itchy it required intense concentration at all times to keep from clawing at it. Sometimes I still couldn’t resist. It was driving me crazy!

I mean, it was seriously distracting. I had inflammation, pain, weakness, severe gastrointestinal symptoms, and my hair was falling out, yet the thing that drove me to the doctor was that itch. If you’ve had it, you understand why. If you haven’t there’s no way to express how pervasive it is. In spite of the fact that my case was a classic presentation, my doctor never considered celiac disease as a possible diagnosis. He prescribed an antihistamine and sent me on my way.

It was a long road from that point to one where I began healing. Looking back, I’d say the symptoms had been gradually increasing for at least 10 years. I know that the length of time it takes in the US to get a celiac diagnosis has dropped from 11 years to 4 years, but 4 years is a very long time to spend with a sixfold greater likelihood of death. Four years is a long time to deal with unnecessary daily pain, weakness, malaise, diarrhea, or the itchiest rash in the universe!

It’s become quite popular to debunk the benefits of a gluten-free diet for anyone other than the diagnosed celiac. While that might seem prudent if more than 17% of the 3,000,000 estimated celiacs in the US had been diagnosed, it is a bit presumptive at this point in history and it discourages people from trusting what their body is telling them. While I know that some of the self proclaimed gluten-free community is ill informed (as Jimmy Fallon discovered:, perpetually whiny, or over promotes itself, it’s worth pausing a moment before discouraging or challenging someone’s dietary choices. It could be that they feel on the inside like I felt on the outside when this rash, triggered by the iodine in radioactive dye used for a CT scan, covered 2/3 of my body.

As you can see, I was more than a little rough around the edges. If someone is feeling like that on the inside, I just want them to feel better, don’t you?



September 9, 2015

Did Curiosity Kill the Cat or Give it 9 Lives? More Importantly, Can it Help You?

Did curiosity kill the cat or give it 9 lives? More importantly, can it help you? Recent research has shown that curious people tend to report “higher levels of subjective well-being which, in turn, is associated with lower levels of depression.”(1) As for whether curiosity is as good for cats as it is humans, I’m not really allowed to investigate. My grand dog Stewart forbids it and, as you know, he is in charge because he’s just so darn cute!

Nonetheless, it’s good to know that there’s now official research to support my longtime contention that nurturing curiosity and the natural joy of learning in ourselves and our children on a regular basis can give us an invaluable tool to use when we find ourselves unable to shake a blue period. Had I not been inspired by the larger world I discovered by being curious, I do not believe I would be here.

I grew up in a household filled with chaos, anger, cruelty, and neglect that left an imprint which still sometimes colors my view of the world. I feel so grateful to Dr. Seuss, Alice Hegan Rice, Madeleine L’Engle, Emily Dickinson, Adela Rogers St. Johns, Corrie Ten Boom, Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Steinbeck, William Golding, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, J.D. Salinger, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and John Updike for giving me pages to turn that held my curiosity and expanded my world. While books were a lifeline for me, you may feel more pulled to music or art or the outdoors.

While I can’t remember a moment I ever felt completely carefree, I also can’t remember a moment in which I wasn’t excited to learn something new. Even at a point when I felt so disconnected and numb that I knew it was time to visit the doctor, my curiosity moved me forward and pulled me toward resources that helped me find a path to change my circumstances and improve my life. That was long ago. I’ve sorted, processed, changed, and healed many more difficult things since then, and curiosity has served me well each time I’ve wandered down the path of healing, growth, and self-improvement.

Sometimes positive change comes from something as simple as allowing myself to get curious about my own behavior. Rather than label a response as good or bad or hurtful or defensive or anything at all in a particular circumstance, I take a moment and look at the moment from an observer’s point of view, shrug my shoulders and say, “Huh, I wonder what that was about?” This has the effect of moving me past a feeling of crisis and into a problem solving mode. It’s an invaluable tool at my disposal whenever I need it.

When I move into the observer position, I automatically talk to myself in third person. Turns out my instinct to do this is another good tool to help reduce anxiety and help me self-regulate. A recent study led by Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor states that “small shifts in the language people use to refer to the self during introspection consequentially influence their ability to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under social stress, even for vulnerable individuals.” The authors note that this is a technique used by LeBron James.(2) Hey if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. And I love having another useful tool in my arsenal.

At this point you may be curious (we can only hope) why I’m talking about this anyway. It’s really pretty simple. If you’re choosing healthy food and making time to exercise that’s great, but it’s equally important to actively care for your emotional well-being. This is especially true if you are physically ill or are a caregiver for someone else. While this may seem like a no-brainer, most of the daily messages I see about health or healthy lifestyle focus only on diet and exercise. I want to make sure we help fill the gap by providing you with recipes for emotional resilience as well as for good food.

So, today I’m curious what Elon Musk will say tonight on The Late Show. I really want one of those Tesla 3 cars. Well, if I like it once I drive one. I’m curious what we’ll discuss at my Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter meetup this week. I’m curious whether the code I wrote last night will show up correctly on an updated browser, although I could lose interest in this answer pretty quickly since it’s useless code. I’m curious about Bzees shoes since I saw my neighbor’s pair. And…I finally figured out why I haven’t felt compelled to call my former walking partner since the day I turned around and walked off from him without explanation (See, sounds like terrible behavior doesn’t it, but instead of telling myself I must be a bad person, I’ve just been curious about my behavior for the past 4 months). As it turns out, my life is more peaceful when I don’t spend time with him and, along with curiosity, I highly value peace.

Of course I’m wondering, do you find curiosity a useful tool? If so, how has it helped you?

Read more about the research here:


Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

September 1, 2015

NO Labor Day! Ideas for Inexpensive Gluten-Free Holiday Fun

I’m thinking the upcoming holiday really should be revised to NO Labor Day! I’m pretty sure my boys would agree. digger danTo quote one of James’ favorite children’s books: “‘I won’t work. I won’t work. I won’t work today!’ hissed Digger Dan.”(1), and while the day is billed as a day to honor the contributions of American workers, most of us just want to join Digger Dan and take an extra day off! By the time we reach Labor Day in the South, we’re exhausted from relentless heat and humidity. The kids are back in school along with a bazillion activities and we won’t have another break until Thanksgiving. I’m with Digger Dan too – some time off seems right!

I always think it will be fun to spend some time with my friends during a long weekend, but I’m well aware that if I plan a big party or trip, my time off can quickly turn right back into work. Having faced this dilemma many times, the kids and I have come up with a few fun ways for the gluten-free crowd to enjoy the holiday with friends without a lot of work and without breaking the bank! Perhaps you’ll want to give them a try. Here are a few ideas:

A neighborhood parade.
Be sure to divide up all the duties so that no one has too large a task and communicate via group texts.

If you want to go big – One person can get permission from the city to block off the street for a couple of hours.
One person can be the grand marshall for the parade. The grand marshall will decide what time the parade starts and the order in which the participants will appear. One person can be in charge of “floats”. Keep this simple. Have the kids who have wagons bring them already decorated (or not). A few balloons taped to the side or some streamers or paper signs work just fine. If you have some soccer players on your street, they can wear their soccer uniforms and march along together. Taekwondo students can wear their uniforms and much like bands perform in parades, they can stop along the route to perform a basic routine. Another idea is to have everyone dress as what they want to be when they enter the workforce. If someone has an easy way to broadcast music, add music. If not, leave it out. At the end of the route, set up a folding table and lawn chairs and let everyone bring one food item chosen from this list that requires no research of gluten-free food:
Baby carrots
Celery sticks
Cucumber slices
Squash slices
Raw broccoli
Athenos Hummus
Bing or golden cherries
Watermelon slices
Honeydew cubes
Cantaloupe cubes
Sliced kiwi fruit
Potato chips
Tortilla chips
Wholly Guacamole
Cheese cubes

A sprinkler parade.
If you really want to keep things simple, this is a fun variation that’s especially good for a scorchingly hot day! Get all the neighbors to synchronize their automatic sprinklers or drag out the hose with a sprinkler attachment and parade from yard to yard through the spraying water. End with a Slip’n Slide in someone’s yard. In a dry yard, provide a couple of ice chests filled with cold bottles of water and an assortment of single serve gluten-free ice creams (they even have a spoon included), tapioca pudding and rice pudding like these:
Haagen-Dazs Single Serve Cups in Vanilla, Chocolate, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Coffee, Strawberry, or Dulce de Leche
single ice cream
KozyShack Original Recipe Rice Pudding
KozyShack Original Recipe Tapioca Pudding
KozyShack Original Recipe Chocolate Pudding

If you’re not a fan of parades, invite a few friends over for a Tent Movie Festival. Take the mattresses off your beds and drag them into the TV room (or use air mattresses). Create tents over the mattress area using sheets. For this event, you can even wear your pjs!

At one of these parties, we drank Blake’s fresh jalapeño juice. I’m not going to recommend it as an option for the average consumer, but it was interesting and not as overpowering as I expected. It’s probably a better idea to choose some snacks from the above lists for your menu and then watch movies for hours in your festive movie tents. That’s about as much non-work as I can imagine.
party tent
If you don’t want to bother with the tents, have a Documentary Film Festival with a food theme. Cue up Fed Up; Bite Size; Food, Inc.; Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead; Just Eat It; Super Size Me; and Food Matters. In an ironic twist, James worked as the colorist on several of these movies – so much for having Digger Dan as a hero.

For your film festival, buy an assortment of teas – green, white, rooibos, pu-erh, chai, and passion. Serve them hot, cold, and/or blended into smoothies or milkshakes. Don’t drink too much passion tea in one day. It will make you drowsy and grumpy, not passionate at all. Seriously, I’ve done it and I felt awful!

Of course, your Documentary Film Festival doesn’t have to have a food theme. Cue up Happy; I Am; Print the Legend; Citizenfour; Dancing Outlaw; I Always Do My Collars First; and Naked States. With all the online streaming services, you can stretch this idea into a whole lazy weekend and never run out of options.

Wear a mustache and act surprised!
Sometimes errands pile up and a holiday weekend is a great time to catch up. Of course, that doesn’t sound very fun. Make it fun by gathering friends or family, donning fake mustaches, and then running your regular errands looking surprised! Snap photos or video of yourselves and people’s reactions along the way. When you get home, look back at the photos. The laughter will do you good for a long time to come.
That’s it. Done. You have entertainment, social engagement, food, and fun without a ton of work and expense. Of course there are a million variations on these themes. Let us know what you come up with!

Have fun, and happy NO Labor Day!

(1)Digger Dan by Patricia Lynn (Author), Si Frankel (Illustrator), 1953

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”