Going Uphill: The Possible Obstacles

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“I’m sorry but I can’t make it up the hill.”

One cold, crisp December morning a professional hairdresser and make-up artist turned my everyday cute self into a beautiful cover bride.  Snow had swept in the evening before, leaving the countryside picture perfect white.  Unfortunately, the snowplows, dirt and salt had left the parking lots and roads grimy and filthy.

Residual light snow fell onto the umbrella my maid of honor carried over my head while faithful bridesmaids valiantly tried to hold up my dress above the filth and grime as we slowly and carefully stepped to the limousine.   The driver assured me that the roads were clear, and we were on our way to the moment I had been planning for the past six months.

My husband-to-be was waiting at the church with the family and friends who represented the first twenty-two years and twenty-three years of both our lives. In less than an hour our new lives together would begin.  Or so I thought.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry but the main road up to the church is closed because of ice.  I’ll have to go around.”  The road “around” unfortunately was closed as well.  As was the third route option.  We could see the church sitting at the top of the hill, its steeple standing tall in the middle of the swirling snow, but we could not get to it.

Would my wedding be thwarted by the mercilessness of nature?  Would I break my leg if I got out and walked up the icy road?  Maybe getting married in December wasn’t such a great idea after all.

In the end, we made it to the church half an hour later as the sun broke through the clouds and melted away some of the offending ice, but for a moment, it had seemed as if the obstacle might be too great to overcome.

We can have the same overwhelming feeling when it comes to changing our eating habits to fit a food allergy or a healthier diet as obstacles we hadn’t anticipated loom before us.

The Obstacles

For most folks the biggest obstacle is price.  Allergen free foods are more expensive than regularly processed items.  Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other fresh produce cost more than white flour goods and boxed and canned foods.  As well, some people find it difficult to find resources which might help them with their new lifestyle while others discover that it’s not easy to create or revamp their own recipes for healthier or allergen free cooking.  Add on that suddenly folks have to “educate” their friends and family about their allergies or dietary restrictions with not always the best responses, and it can seem like one might not be able to make the changes after all.

The Helps

Cost:  When everything you make has to be gluten, dairy, nut, sugar and occasionally egg free at the same time, cooking can become a bit expensive. There are ways to cut back on costs, though.

1.  Many “regular” foods ARE gluten, dairy, nut, egg, etc… free.  Sometimes we get caught in the mindset that everything we buy has to be “special”, but that’s not the case.  You just need to read the labels, but you’ll be surprised by the number of items you find you can still eat.

2.  Whole is better than parts.  If you’re eating healthier and purchasing more fruits and vegetables, don’t buy the separately packaged, pre-washed, cut up varieties.  They always cost more.  Purchase the whole lettuce head.  Buy the loose vegetables and not the ones already on the foam trays.  Get a whole melon and not the halves.

3.  Buy when there are sales.  Most of the grocery stores in my area will have a sale on different allergen free items at least weekly, so I stock up when the prices are good.  You can also find sales online.  Comparison shop between the brand companies and Amazon.

4.  Frozen is good.  Fruits and vegetables which are frozen are cheaper than fresh.  While you definitely want to get fresh when it’s in season, you don’t want to when it’s not.  It’s too expensive.  Go with the frozen and read my post on the “frozen chosen” to learn all you can do with them.

5.  Buy in bulk.  Places like BJ’s and Costco’s now have many allergen free items in stock for purchase at better prices.  At the supermarket, an 11.5 oz of Agave costs me between $4 and $5.  At BJ’s I can buy a 48 oz container for $6.99.  Also, online, if you purchase more, often the price is less per unit and you ultimately save on shipping and handling, too.  For veggies and fruit:  If there’s a good price on something you regularly eat, you can purchase it and freeze them for later use.

6.  Shop at discount places.  In my area Ocean State Job Lot is a wonderful place for picking up gluten free items with good expiration dates for a cheaper price than I’d find it at the store or online.  I don’t make a special trip to the Job Lot but if I’m passing by, I stop in and stock up.  Look around for stores in your area that provide the same option.

7.  Shop with friends.  If you have friends who have similar allergy or health issues, purchase even larger quantities of needed items, together and split the costs.  I’ve found this helpful, because sometimes a friend wants a little of something while I want a lot or vice versa, and we can take the proportional amounts that we each want while saving some money.

Resources:  The biggest question I always get is “Where do I start?”  The nice thing about today’s age is that resources abound online so you don’t even have to spend money purchasing books.  You can get help for free.  Google any food allergy and numerous sites will pop up.  Type in “healthy” before whatever recipe you want, and you’ll get a “bazillion” hits.  Because it is “numerous”, though, ask around.  Friends can tell you what sites have been helpful to them.  Once you are at a site, see what other sites are linked to that one.  People are very open about sharing site they “like”.  If you do want a book, Google your particular allergy and see what pops up.  Read the reviews, and you’ll find that people are very vocal about whether a book works or not.

Recipes:  If you find that you’re simply are not cut out for revamping or creating your own recipes, don’t worry.  There are plenty of people out there who have recipes you can simply follow.  Those sites and books you found will always have recipes you can use, and you’ll find allergen free recipes for just about anything under the sun you want to create.  And if following recipes isn’t your thing, either, you still don’t need to stress, because there are many, many products on the market, both online and in stores.  I personally don’t make my own pie crusts from complete scratch.  Bob’s Red Mill has a wonderful gluten free baking and biscuit mix which makes a great pie crust, so I use it.  I add my own little touches, a little cinnamon and spice added, a bit of vegan butter brushed on the top, etc…, but I’m using a store bought product.  No one says you have to do it all yourself, especially when there are plenty of options out there for you to use.

Education:  This is usually the most difficult obstacle, more than even the cost. Too often the obstacle are well-meaning friends and family who simply don’t understand.

1.  “But I only used a little.”  Sometimes folks don’t seem to understand that “a little bit” can be deadly for someone with a food allergy.  In these cases, it’s important to be patient and to take the time to gently explain that a little bit can trigger a reaction which could lead to death.  Don’t be dramatic, but matter of fact.  In time, people usually begin to get it.  If you’re eating healthier for a health issue, simply explain that you really can’t eat certain foods because of your health.

2.  “But I can cook for you.”  Sometimes folks turn down your offer to bring something you know you can eat.  They’ve invited you and don’t want you to have to go through any effort.  Occasionally, they’re actually hurt that you want to bring something, as if there won’t be anything they’ve made you can eat.  In these cases, you need to be honest and simply explain that it’s no reflection upon them, but you’ve learned to be careful because you’ve had bad experiences in the past.  Usually people understand when you explain it that way.

3. “But I’ve read that you can be misdiagnosed with an allergy.”  Sometimes people don’t believe you have an allergy.  With all the information out there about “sensitivities” verses “intolerances” verse “allergies”, it’s easy to be confused.  People aren’t trying to call you a liar.  They’re genuinely concerned that your whole life may be changing when it doesn’t need to be.  Simply tell folks that you’re aware of the differences and can assure them that you do indeed have a confirmed allergy.  If you’re firm, in time people accept the truth.

4.  “But don’t you want to eat it.”  Sometimes people just can’t understand how you can resist eating foods which are so tempting.  They’re not intentionally trying to make you feel badly.  They just think they’d have less self-control if they were in your place.  This is another time when you can simply be honest.  Yes, you’re tempted, but you know it could have terrible consequences – anaphylactic shock, another heart attack, whatever….  People usually do get it eventually.

5.  “But what’s left for you to eat.”  This one may only apply to folks like myself who are allergic to multiple foods, but sometimes people just can’t take it in.  They think you’re somehow going to be deprived.  If this is the case, you simply need to tell them all the wonderful foods you’re still able to eat, or better yet show them.  Below is a recipe for a chicken piccata that I serve to guests which is not only delicious but easy to make.

Chicken Piccata

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Gluten Free Flour*

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/4 tsp ground onion powder

1/4 tsp ground garlic powder

10 chicken cutlets**

2 tsp olive oil

1/2 cup vegan friendly white wine***

1 cup low sodium, fat free gluten free chicken broth

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 tsp minced garlic

2 tbsp vegan soy free “butter”

Cooking Instructions:

1.  Mix the flour with the oregano, pepper, thyme, basil, onion powder and garlic powder.

2.  Coat both sides of the chicken cutlets with the flour, making sure to shake off any excess and stack them on a plate.

3.  Heat 2 tsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the chicken cutlets.

4.  Brown the cutlets one minute on each side and place back onto your plate.

5.  Deglaze your pan with the white wine and cook until the wine is almost gone.

6.  Mix the chicken broth with the lemon juice and garlic.  Add to the wine in the pan.

7.  Add the cutlets back into the pan and cook for one to two minutes on each side until the chicken is cooked through.

8.  Remove the cutlets to a warming dish, and add the “butter” to the sauce left in the pan.

9.  Cook the sauce until it’s reduced a bit and thicker.  Pour over the chicken.

* I like to use a garbanzo bean flour, but you can use whatever type you prefer.  If you have no wheat or gluten issues, use 100% whole wheat flour.

** I rarely actually buy cutlets because they’re more expensive.  I keep frozen chicken breast in the freezer which I defrost only partially, then cut into half both lengthwise and widthwise so I have cutlet sized chicken.  (Because the chicken breasts they sell these days are so large, you can do this.  If you buy normal sized chicken breasts, you should only cut them widthwise so you don’t have tiny portions.)

*** If you go to vegnews.com or barnivore.com, you can find lists of wines not contaminated with casein.

Making the Changes

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Look how far I’ve come with my split, Mommy!”

My middle daughter is a dancer. Not only does she look exactly like a dancer with her natural rail thin length and long, muscular legs and arms, she walks and moves with the grace of a dancer, too. In addition, she acts like a dancer, always thinking in terms of music and dance moves. Since she also likes children as well, it’s no wonder that she wants to be a dance teacher when she grows up.

As such, at almost 13, she’s already begun taking the steps she deems necessary to accomplishing her career goal. She’s taking a variety of dance classes so she can be accomplished in different types of dance. She’s working on her splits and stretches so she can be as flexible as she needs to be to dance, and she’s making plans to be a student aide in the preschool dance classes when she begins her first year of high school.

Step by step, little by little, with achievable goals, my daughter is doing what she needs to follow the course she’s set out for herself.

Adapting to Dietary Changes

Learning how to cook, bake and eat healthier and/or within the confines of dietary restrictions or allergies is just as achievable in the same way through many little changes in habit along the way which lead ultimately to a different eating and cooking lifestyle.

Sometimes a health issue leads to a radical change in diet – a heart attack, a diagnosis of diabetes, a severe allergic reaction to a type of food – which can be a source of frustration, especially if you’ve been eating a certain way for a large part of your life. The instinct is to simply change everything all at once, which can just set you up for disaster.

What’s key to remember is that changing your eating and cooking habits should be viewed as another lesson you’re learning in life. Being able to balance and ride your first bicycle as a child didn’t happen overnight. Neither did you jump into a lake and swim its length your first time out. So, if you’re learning to eat gluten free or with less meat and fat in your diet or without sugar and you’re finding yourself struggling with the recipes, the tips, and desire, cut yourself some slack.

Tips for Changing Your Diet

Some tips to help you on your journey:

1. Make one change at a time. Maybe it’s swapping out olive oil for butter this week and waiting until next week to make a turkey burger instead of hamburger with the goal that by the end of the month you’ll try a salmon burger. Or maybe you’ll try one new gluten free recipe every week or two, learning this week how to make pancakes you can actually eat but waiting until you’ve made those successfully a couple of times before you try to revamp your favorite birthday cake recipe.

2. Seek help. There are so many online blogs and websites, paper cookbooks, and cooking shows these days to turn to for aid for just about every type of cooking that exists. Use them to learn tips and to find tested recipes. Ask a friend who’s a few steps ahead of you what he or she has gleaned from his or her culinary experience. There’s nothing that says you need to go the road alone. Maybe you’ll even find a friend or family member who wants to practice revamping recipes with you or is willing to be your guinea pig for taste testing.

3. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it. Unfortunately, there’s a myth out there that you need to just deal sometimes when it comes to eating food that is healthier for you or which fits into your allergy or dietary restrictions. It’s simply not true. If the texture or taste of the first gluten free brownies you try to make doesn’t appeal to you, don’t settle. Find another recipe to try. If you don’t really like the taste of olive oil in a recipe that calls for butter, try another healthy oil. If really and truly hate ground turkey, don’t use it. If you don’t like the foods you’re eating, you’ll never stick to eating healthier or within your dietary restrictions. Or you’ll force yourself to bear it, but you’ll be sad, craving the foods you’re really rather be eating. Neither is best, so make sure you actually like what you eat.

4. Practice, practice, practice. We all have those memories of failing at something and being riled when someone told us, “If you don’t succeed at first, try, try again,” but honestly, everything in life takes practices. Not just school lessons, sports and musical instruments, but relationships, exercise and cooking, as well. When my son was first diagnosed with an egg allergy, it took months for me to perfect a chocolate cake that the entire family liked. The practice batches weren’t bad. They just weren’t to the standard we wanted in terms of texture and taste. Now, though, I have a recipe that I go back to time and time again and which we all enjoy.

5. Start slowly. Unless you have a food allergy, you can begin a healthy diet by halves and work your way up, so to speak. If your goal is to eat 100% whole grains instead of white flour, but you’re unsure of the taste and texture appeal, try swamping out just half of the white flour in a recipe. If you aren’t quite ready to completely get rid of butter, don’t. Just limit yourself to a certain amount a week on something where the taste really matters to you while you swap it out in everything else. If you don’t think you can go from whole milk to skim, drink 2% for a few weeks, before drinking 1% for another few weeks until you’re drinking the skim and wondering why you were ever concerned in the first place about making the switch.

And if you do have a food allergy, you can still start slowly.  If you’re suddenly allergic to milk, just try one type of a different “milk” this week and wait to try vegan cheeses.  Though we often want to find substitutes for all our usual eating patterns, there’s no need to “fill” every niche of your diet in a short span of time.   It may take months for you to discover which substitute products for milk or wheat or egg or whatever that you like the best.

6. Be willing to experiment. If you come across a recipe or an idea that you think sounds interesting, but you’re unsure, just go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t really like what you tried or made? Big deal. Now you know that there’s something you won’t do again. That’s a good learned lesson. More likely, you’ll discover something that you really do like and want to try to make or eat again. Or you may be inspired to figure out how to make the recipe better or to try the item again, just made by another company.

Fruit Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 cup frozen strawberries (or peaches or blueberries or mixed berries or mangos or bananas, whatever you like)

4 ounce silken tofu (this is 1/2 cup)

1/2 to 1 cup soy milk, depending on how thick you like your smoothie (you can also use another type of “milk” you’d prefer or a 100% juice of your choice)

2 tablespoons Agave

Preparation Instructions:

1. Blend all ingredients using whatever method you prefer or have:  blender, hand blender, food processor, etc….

2.  Scoop into individual cups and enjoy!

NOTE:  You can also add yogurt to this if you’d like, 4 0unces of a dairy or nondairy type.