Ode to Almonds

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love almonds. I make almond crackers. I add chopped almonds to green beans. An almond piecrust? Done and…and re-done. I put them in cupcakes, bars, cakes, muffins and coat ‘em with praline. They’re a must for the topping of my favorite apple crisp.

Of course, there’s the long list of the almond-based cookie recipes that I adore.

One of my most frequent afternoon snacks are Marcona almonds…and often a little almond squeeze packet if I’m on the go and don’t have a meal handy.

And yes, there were indeed Jordan Almonds at my wedding.

Does this feel like the shrimp speech from Forrest Gump, but just with almonds?

Nuts.com contacted me and said they were profiling the health benefits of almonds. Obviously there are many metabolic benefits, like weight, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc.  but what I’ve learned with clients over the years is that people don’t choose to eat foods for health benefits, they eat them ’cause they’re tasty! So that motivated me to pull together this list of my top 5 favorites of the moment:cookies and milk

 

 

Divine Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

 

 

cheryl's pralines

 

Almond Pralines

 

 

 

mint3

 

 

Choco Mint Mini Cupcakes

 

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Hazelnut Cookies

 

 

 

 

chocbanpie

 

Chocolate Banana Mousse Pie

 

 

 

What are your favorite recipes with almonds?

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The Gift of Zen Master Houdini

houbear snugglesHoudini cat has throat cancer, and it certainly threw us for a loop. There were several scary weeks where he was struggling to breathe, and the vet kept saying nothing serious was wrong. It didn’t add up. Then came the biopsy and a surgery, the diagnosis, and here we are. Unfortunately, there are few treatments for throat cancer, and they’re really ineffective and seem to offer very poor quality of life, so we’re in kitty hospice stage.

I debated whether to write this post, because I have no doubt things will get harder soon. Right now, though, we’re in a peaceful, beautiful place, even if I know it won’t last long. During the biopsy they removed a big chunk of the mass, so little Hou can breathe easier and he’s closer to his normal, joyful and loving self.

It’s a blessing every day to see him, to hold him, to enjoy him. We generally live on happy houautopilot with the sense that life will last forever. Knowing that he’s likely got a few weeks has made the daily experience of being with him so much more tender and beautiful.

Death is a part of life, but in the past it’s always felt like a scary and traumatic thing. There’s that, of course, but this time there’s a silver lining, too, of treasuring the mini- honeymoon phase  we’re in right now. It was clear this afternoon that he’s just starting to decline again. Still, worrying about tomorrow is only going to take away from our joy today.

So right now, we’re celebrating Houdini, and slowing down to spend extra time together. His last gift for us is to let us enjoy his life more thoroughly while he’s here.

Hug the ones you love extra close.

Posted in cat pictures | 5 Comments

Comfort foods

When the going gets tough, the tough eat chocolate. But there’s a point where most of us *gasp* could use a break from chocolate or, at least, go for different chocolate variations. Here are some of my favorites that taste & feel like a big hug:

bananacake

 

 

Nana Skillet Bread (GF, CF, EF, SF, sugar free and vegan)

 

chocbanpie

 

 

Chocolate Banana Mousse Pie (GF, CF, EF, SF, sugar optional and vegan)

 

 

ooey

 

 

Ooey Gooey Chocolate Chip Pie (GF, CF, EF, SF, sugar free, vegan)

 

 

sniffle stew

 

 

Sniffle Stew(GF, CF, EF, SF, sugar free option and vegan)

 

 

 

curried kale

 

 

Kale and Beef in Chestnut Sauce GF, CF, EF, SF, sugar free

 

 

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Nightshade Skillet Meal (GF, CF, EF, SF, sugar free) Note: I now make this with a ton of fennel and leave out the nightshades, and it’s still one of my faves

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Creamy Garbanzo Soup (GF, CF, EF, SF, sugar free and vegan)

 

Wishing you and yours a beautiful Springtime.

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Review: Living Candida Free

curried carrotA long-time blogging buddy, Ricki Heller, just published a new book, Living Candida-Free, which was co-authored by Andrea Nakayama. It’s gluten-free, and like all of Ricki’s books, it’s vegan. I’m a big fan of Ricki’s and I’ve reviewed many of Ricki’s books, including Naturally Sweet and Gluten-free and I was even a recipe taster for Sweet Freedom (which is mostly gluten-free). I even “adopted” Ricki’s old blog, Diet Dessert & Dogs and did a review 7 (!!!) years ago–her blog is now RickiHeller.com, but the doggies are still there so it’s all good. Ricki has even stopped by here to offer her wisdom in our last Self-Care Retreat with some great suggestions.

Living Candida-FreeSo…I wanted to get a sample of the recipe options, so I made the Curried Carrot Lentil Soup and the Raw Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles.

I love the soup. It was simple, easy, and gorgeous. (Picture above) The colors were wonderful, especially since all I had were purple carrots. I’ve re-discovered that I love curried lentils–I should make them so often, they’re so quick! The only change was that I added some fresh cilantro on top in addition to the cilantro cooked in. The leftovers were equally yummy, and there wasn’t enough leftover to freeze. Next time! I will definitely be making this again.

cookie dough trufflesThe Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough truffles are delicious and quick–and they have a secret ingredient. Okay, you twisted my arm, it’s beans. But you’d never guess. I found them really satisfying, and I ended up serving them au naturel rather than dipping them in chocolate because of time. But really, how can you possibly go wrong when chocolate is involved? Next time I’ll have to dip them.

I do have a confession to make. Half of the book is on candida and living well with it; the other half is recipes suitable for people on a diet to restore health after candida. I, of course, hopped right over to the recipes. It’s like any time I get a cookbook—I go RIGHT to dessert, and gradually make my way backward. So, um, it didn’t occur to me that I didn’t read the book-book part until, um, well, just a little while ago. So…yeah. More to come on that front shortly!

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Paleo: Fact & Fiction

I usually don’t weigh in on the pros and cons of the Paleo diet, because what I’ve found over time is that holding a nuanced opinion usually succeeds only in making most people angry. But since it’s snowing and I’m getting my slides ready for an upcoming webinar on eating Gluten-free and Healthy on March 18, 2015 I decided to post my annual research romp on grain-free diets. For the record, I don’t think I have a “side”. My job is in figuring out what’s best for each individual.

Proponents of the Paleo often really loudly proclaim that there’s a ton of science out there, and I’ve seen more than a few imply that it’s naïve to think otherwise. On the other hand, many quickly dismiss a grain-free diet as inevitably always harmful. As a research geek, I got curious. After a few Medline searches, and (excluding one study on pigs and another on satiety of a Paleo diet) I could only find 7 studies in total that examined a Paleo or Paleo-ish diet.paleo

DM=Diabetes, BP=blood pressure, HgbA1c=an average measure of blood sugar, Med=Mediterranean diet, CVD=cardiovascular disease, TG=triglycerides, MS=multiple sclerosis

If you’re used to looking at research, a few things jump out:

  • These studies are small—from 6 to 18 people, and most lasted a few weeks or months. Only one lasted a year. Ideally, studies have hundreds or thousands of subjects, and last years.
  • 4 didn’t have any kind of control group. Only one (Lindeberg, 2007) looked at Paleo vs the Mediterranean diet, and found that a Paleo diet provided greater benefits.
  • The O’Dea 1984 study is comically impractical in most places. The subjects lived as hunter-gatherers on wild game. Raise your hand if you can quit your job and hunt and gather your own food from now on. If your hand is raised, you may interested in knowing that the older versions of Joy of Cooking have instructions on how to skin a squirrel.
  • BUT even with all of these shortcomings, these results are still really, really intriguing. It’s hard to see a statistically significant change in a small group during a short time. This really SHOULD be studied more rigorously.
  • Specifically, it would be great to see which aspects of a Paleo diet seem to have the biggest health impact and which conditions have most benefits, if indeed larger studies show benefits.

Only having a few studies doesn’t mean something can’t or won’t work. It just means we don’t know much yet. It also doesn’t mean that you, as a human being, need to wait for science to validate your own observations. But the lack of robust research does keep nutrition recommendations from changing.

I’m all for people eating less sugar, soda, processed foods and empty carbs. I’d be hard pressed to find reasons to push a Twinkie on anyone. There’s lot of benefit in eating more veggies and fruit, and cutting way back on the fast food, and zero risk.

As for including beans or grains, from everything I’ve observed with clients, the impact on health is largely individual. There’s a goofy number of studies showing health benefits of beans and grains broadly, but again, they don’t examine a low sugar, unprocessed diet with and without beans and whole grains, and that’s the big question here.

Love to hear your thoughts! And please, only polite comments.

References:

  • O’Dea K: Marked improvement in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in diabetic Australian aborigines after temporary reversion to traditional lifestyle. Diabetes 1984, 33(6):596-603.
  • Lindeberg S, Jonsson T, Granfeldt Y, Borgstrand E, Soffman J, Sjostrom K, Ahren B: A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease. Diabetologia 2007, 50(9):1795-1807.
  • Osterdahl M, Kocturk T, Koochek A, Wandell PE: Effects of a short-term intervention with a paleolithic diet in healthy volunteers. Eur J Clin Nutr 2008, 62(5):682-685.
  • Frassetto LA, Schloetter M, Mietus-Synder M, Morris RC, Jr., Sebastian A: Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet. Eur J Clin Nutr 2009.
  • Jönsson T, Granfeldt Y, Ahrén B, Branell UC, Pålsson G, Hansson A, Söderström M, Lindeberg S. Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study. Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2009;8:35
  • Boers I, Muskiet FA, Berkelaar E, Schut E. et al. Favourable effects of consuming a Palaeolithic-type diet on characteristics of the metabolic syndrome: a randomized controlled pilot-study. Lipids Health Dis. 2014 Oct 11;13:160. doi: 10.1186/1476-511X-13-160.
  • Bisht B. A multimodal intervention for patients with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis: feasibility and effect on fatigue. J Altern Complement Med. 2014 May;20(5):347-55
Posted in cheryl's musings | 4 Comments

The Ultimate Gluten-Dairy-Soy Free Chocolate List-Part 2

choc 2

Let’s play a word association game. When I say chocolate, if your first thought is ME! ME! ME! ME! this post is for you. I did a roundup of gluten, dairy and soy free chocolates last year and had so much fun, that I’ve updated and expanded the this with 12 more kinds of chocolate. Part 1 is here.amella

Amella: Vegan Gray Salt Caramels in 66% Dark Chocolate

Cheryl:9.5

Ingredients: Coconut milk, tapioca syrup, agave nectar, dark chocolate (unsweetened chocolate cane sugar, cocoa butter, palm fruit oil, cocoa butter, gray sea salt, lemon juice, sunflower lecithin. (all organic)

Certified Vegan, Non GMO Project Verified, Gluten Free Certified, Kosher Certified

This may truly be love. I got a two pack, thinking I’d share with my sweetie, and after tasting the first one, I realized, nope, too good to share. The outside was rich and just thick enough, the inside was sweet, creamy, moist and just about perfect for a caramel. I do wish they’d used a finer sea salt for the topping, but hey, that’s a small problem

The bigger problem: they do sell dairy-based caramel in boxes that look very similar to the vegan ones, so do be extremely careful. ALSO—although it is GIG certified GF, it does have a shared equipment warning for peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat and soy.sacred chocolate

Sacred Chocolate, Twilight dark 69%

Cheryl: 9 Erik 8

Ingredients: Cacao nibs, maple sugar, cacao butter, vanilla bean (all organic).

Certified organic and vegan, made in a facility that processes nuts. Per website/packaging, all products are gluten/dairy/soy free and GIG certified GF.

It’s not quite sacred, but I’d say it’s very, very good. It’s rich and creamy with a great mouth feel and it’s got a distinctive deep chocolate-ness. Even when I had a small piece, I was satiated and enjoyed it thoroughly. I’ve gone back for several other nibbles and been equally pleased. Actually, the more time goes on, the more I like it. The only reason it’s not higher is that it has a “flatter” taste than I typically prefer—I have no idea how else to put this into words, but I know it when I taste it, and it’s a personal taste thing, I think.

Equal exchange Dark Chocolate with almonds 55%choc almonds

Cheryl 8, Erik 8
Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, chopped almonds, cane sugar, vanilla beans

Vegan, soy- and gluten-free. all organic, by weight 90% Fair trade content. Kosher.
May contain traces of milk, peanuts, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios and pecans

Sweet, creamy, nice mouth-feel. Pleasant, enjoyable and all that good stuff. The taste and texture was much like Alter Eco’s since both had small pieces of almonds, but minus the bright aftertaste, so this was our preference.

Good Cacao Coconut Chocolate Cheryl 7 Mr. Dude 8good cacao

The packaging was a real turn off, so I was surprised when I really like this. When I see a chocolate advertised as a superfood with DHA, probiotics, marine phytoplankton and 170 Million-Year-Old Jurassic Sea Salt, it’s a wee bit over the top. But it’s tasty—quite tasty. The first whiff was not enticing, but the taste is rich, robust and balanced, and there are a variety of flavors including the coconut that give it an interesting feel to it. We both finished our pieces and I’m sure the bar will be enjoyed.

Alter Eco Almond 60%alter eco almond

100% organic certified ingredients, 88.5% Fair Trade certified ingredients, Non-GMO verified, gluten free certified, no artificial flavors.

Contains almonds. Made on equipment shared with milk, hazelnuts and soy.

Cheryl 8 Erik 7

I liked this—it was tasty, balanced, sweet, but not too sweet. The chocolate had a lovely flavor, and the almonds gave good crunch. There were small almond pieces vs the big chunks. E liked it, too, but he complained of a slight “bright” flavor. While I think I know what he meant, I didn’t see that flavor profile as a negative.

Pascha Organic Chocolate 70%pascha 70

Cheryl 4 Erik 7.5

Ingredients: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla (all organic)

Gluten/dairy/soy/nut/peanut free, vegan, no GMOs, dedicated allergen free facility.

I reviewed Pascha last time and hated it, while E liked it a lot. I’ve read a good handful of blog posts on it and so I wanted to give it a second try. To me, it’s chocolaty and creamy with a great mouthfeel, BUT the initial note of flavor is reminiscent of the smell of burnt tires. Erik thought it was really quite tasty. So maybe it’s just something I taste that other people don’t. I will use it in baking where the flavor is masked.

Theobroma Chocolate 80%

Cheryl 7, E 4

Ingredients: cocoa mass, sugar cane, cocoa powder, cocoa buttertheobroma

Allergens: may contain nuts, soybean and dairy.

Organic, fair trade certified.

Nice flavor and chocolaty-ness (chocolate-ocity?), and has enough sweetness for me despite the high cacao content. It feels a bit dry, though, which kept me from rating it higher. I often find dry chocolates pair perfectly with a cup of chai, so I look forward to giving that a go! E did not like this much. His first comment was that it tasted like baking chocolate. To be fair, he’s not a dark chocolate lover.

Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs from Nuts.comcacao nibs

Cheryl 6.5, E 3

Ingredients: Organic cacao nibs, cacao liquor, raw cane sugar, natural sunflower lecithin.

Certified GF, USDA organic, Kosher

The dudes were intent on being in the pic…after fighting it, I opted to roll with it.

Okay, 1st I’ll say that I adore nuts.com…but these aren’t one of my favorites. The chocolate flavor is awesome, and they’ve got a nice sweetness as well. But the mouthfeel is funky, and there’s an aftertaste that’s unpleasant as well. I’ll definitely eat them, but I won’t be buying them again.jinji choc

Raw vanilla fig from JinJi chocolate :

Cheryl: 4 Erik:4

Ingredients: Cacao butter, cacao powder, coconut sugar, lucuma powder, almonds, mission figs, mesquite powder, unsweetened coconut, vanilla powder.

Raw, organic, vegan, gluten-free, no refined sugars.

This looked great, and I was excited to try it, but it didn’t live up to expectations. The cacao butter gave it a luscious, smooth mouth feel, but there was no chocolate *oomph* and I get chocolate for its chocolaty-ness! No need to finish this one for me, and E declined a second piece. I bet it would have promise with some cacao nibs thrown in but as is, not so much.kall

Kallari Chocolate 85%

Cheryl 3, E 3

We both had a piece, and we were chewing and waiting…waiting…and E said, “I’m still waiting for the flavor to kick in”. That summed it my experience, too. It was bland and I found it dry, too. Unlike many high percentage cacao chocolates, it was not bitter, but it also wasn’t rich or flavorful. I appreciate that it’s made by small farmers and fair traded, but I eat chocolate for the taste. I’ll use the bar I have in baking, and I’ll see if I can pick up the ~70% range to see if I like it better.

Rainforest Alliance Certified cacao mass, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, organic whole vanilla bean

Allergen Info: May contain traces of soy, nuts and milk productschoc raw

Go Raw Real Life Chocolate Original

Ingredients: Raw organic cacao, raw organic agave nectar

Vegan, certified GF, soy free, real life food, certified organic, Kosher

Cheryl 3 E 4

They’re sweet, for sure, and there’s a nice cocoa flavor, but the lack of fat makes for a consistency that just isn’t pleasurable. As E put it, there’s a fudgy-consistency that’s somehow dry and desiccating. The agave has an aftertaste as well. Not a bad flavor, mind you, but just very typical of agave vs the more typical taste of sugar-sweetened chocolate. I’ll probably eat these sooner or later, but I would not buy them again.

Uli Mana Raw truffle balls: Cheryl: 1, E: 2
Ingredients: raw cacao powder, cacao butter, agave, cacao nibs, vanilla bean, celtic sea salt (raw/organic)

Organic, gluten-free, dairy free.

May contain traces of peanuts, tree nuts and other allergens.

These look cute, but neither of us were fans. They taste like cacao power mixed with agave, with an alcohol aftertaste. I took one bite and offered the rest to Mr. Dude, who declined. I threw it out, and didn’t finish the last. Possibly if I were stranded on a dessert island, probably still no. I didn’t like them at all.

So my overall list of winners from both lists:

Agree? disagree? Are there more chocolates that I simply *must* try for next time around? Leave me a comment.

Gluten and allergy claims are from the manufacturer, and subject to change!

I’m submitting this to Gluten-Free Wednesdays.  GFW is co-hosted by Linda of Gluten-free Homemaker, Lynn of Lynn’s Kitchen Adventures and Cassidy’s Craveable Creations.

Posted in cheryl's musings, review | 2 Comments

Real Jules, Real Good Giveaway!

jules flour

When my buddy Jules offered to let me review and do a giveaway of her gfJules products, I eagerly accepted. I have utmost respect for Jules—she’s done amazing things for the g-free community at large. Remember 1 in 133 and the big ‘ole cake? That was Jules. I’m quite certain her cookbook, Nearly Normal Baking was the first GF cookbook I ever owned, I’m a fan of her The First Year book for people who are newly diagnosed and I also reviewed her 2010 book, Free for All Cooking, and love a bunch of those recipes. And, of course, I was delighted that Jules even joined in with the Self-Care Retreat last month.

So I received Jules’ all-purpose baking mix and her cornbread mix. Initially I had plans to make her crescent rolls because they look utterly amazing, but I’m having a nerve thing with my arm so I haven’t been able to do much for the last pumpkin breadmonth or so. So I went looking through the (huge) archives on Jules’ site and found the Pumpkin Bread Recipe. It took only minutes to put together, and Mr. Dude brought it to work the next day to rave reviews. People loved the flavor and it did not have (as Mr. Dude put it) that funky quality that happens with some g-free products and flours. I brought in some to my office, too, and one of my co-workers tracked me down to tell me how moist, flavorful and delicious it was. I can’t speak to how it keeps because there were no leftovers! I’ll be making it again soon. I’ve also been eyeing her Hot Fudge Pie recipe…because, hot fudge pie. Enough said, yes?

The cornbread I meant to review…well, life sometimes has other plans. I received the mix a few days before Thanksgiving, because Mr. Dude LOVES cornbread. And then I realized that one of my gluten-free co-workers wouldn’t have any baked yumminess for Thanksgiving, and friends don’t let friends stare at gluten-eaters in jealousy. Cathy loves cornbread, she hates baking and hasn’t baked for years. But once she saw how simple it was to put the mix together, she was all for it. She loved it and said it had great flavor. So I would definitely recommend the mixes even for devout non-bakers. And I still owe Mr. Dude a cornbread one of these days.  2014-real-jules-giveaway-logo-300x300

So…one of the key things about buying Jules’ products is getting the right one. Without describing the whole legal fight and all that ugliness, let’s just break it down simply. See the pretty lady? That’s Jules. Jules created the flour, and has spent countless hours supporting people with Celiac disease, educating the medical profession, lobbing for standards and working as a tireless advocate on behalf the gluten-free community. If Jules is on the box, that’s the flour you want to buy. If you don’t see the pretty lady, it’s not from THE gfJules. Period.

Wanna know more about Jules? Find her at her gfJules FB page, @THEgfJules onTwitter, Pinterest Boards, Google +, Instagram and/or sign up for her free weekly recipe email.

UPDATE: this giveaway is now closed. The winner is Mike. His comment:

I would love to try the gfJules all purpose flour. I am subscribed to your email and newsletter and your Facebook page. I shared the giveaway on Fb! I also dropped off the Retailer Request at Fry’s Food Store last week where we do most of my shopping.

Thanks,
Mike

To enter the giveaway for BOTH box of all-purpose gfJules flour and a cornbread mix, leave a comment with:

  • Which of Jules’ products or recipes are you most eager to try?
  • Follow one of Jules’ social media accounts (above) and leave me a comment saying you did or already do (5 possible entries here)
  • Share this giveaway on Twitter or FB, and leave a comment saying you did. (2 entries)

1 entry per item above. This giveaway will close Sunday, Jan 18th at 9pm EST, so get on it!

Disclaimer: Jules offered the mixes free of charge for me to try, and is sponsoring the giveaway. I was not paid or reimbursed in any other way for this review, and my opinions are my own.

Posted in cheryl's musings, contest | 42 Comments

Courage for Change

sunsetI’ve been going through transitions at work, and making the difficult decision to drop a (very) low paying HMO plan, and it’s caused quite a bit of angst for me. I’ve always valued taking insurance because I value the providers I see that take insurance, so it just seems a fair trade.

What I’ve learned is that it’s relatively easy to justify change when there are no real alternatives. It’s easy(er) to say, I can’t do this. I can’t afford to take this, I can’t stay in business. Way back when I was working for DC Government, I gave myself permission to leave because I physically could not handle staying. I left another position along the way because I reached a point where my body couldn’t handle the strain of the commute. I tried for years and it was too draining, and I realized I had to go.

But it’s simply not true here. I can keep doing this; I choose not to. I don’t want to keep taking this plan because I know what it means to accept the lower rates and make a reasonable salary. It means working and additional 5-10 hours a week. Lower rates mean working evenings, weekends and coming home from a day of work and working some more. It means sacrificing vacations, hobbies, and me-time.

It’s funny that it’s easier to defend the choices I’ve made because I “had to” vs a quality-of-life choice, because that somehow sounds selfish or indulgent. Trust me, it’s not. There is a virtue in giving freely, and I truly enjoy giving of my time and energy, simply for the joy of it. But staying in a system that doesn’t value my time doesn’t feel wholesome.

I don’t want to do that any longer.

A few months ago, I started to feel like a hypocrite. Talking to clients about work/life balance is goofy when I wasn’t practicing what I preach. I realized I’ve been spending so much time and energy to get healthier, and then spending my health on the hamster-wheel to make a certain salary. That’s not a good deal.

I understand that my choice means that clients have fewer options, and quite frankly, there’s some sadness and guilt associated with that. It’s also an uncomfortable and unfamiliar place, and I know there are people who are unhappy with and judge my choices. That will have to be just what it is.

I love my job, and feel tremendously blessed to have the privilege of doing what I enjoy. And I’m choosing to put some boundaries up that feel a heck of a lot healthier in the interests of better quality of life.

So….wish me luck. ;)

Posted in cheryl's musings | 3 Comments

Sticky Fingers Maple Walnuts

sticky walnutsNeed a last minute dessert or hostess gift? Here you go!

I absolutely adore this recipe because it’s delicious, versatile and I can have a dessert or gift made and on its way in 10 minutes. Sweet, huh?

I love these, and can’t count how many times I’ve made this recipe over the last few years. Everyone has the taste or texture that they adore. I think I’m in love with sweet and sticky (although my nutritionist brain says, hey, the sugar content isn’t crazy for a dessert!)lightly glazed

Although I prefer making these with walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds or mixed nuts work too. And on the off chance that you don’t really like sticky, reduce the maple syrup to 1/4 cup and you’re good to go–the coating is thin and crisp, and there’s still enough sweetness to make it work.

I generally use pumpkin pie spice to give these a little kick, but you can add a pinch of cayenne if you like a little extra heat.

Oh, and of course this is naturally gluten-dairy-egg-corn-soy-grain-refined sweeteners-free, Paleo friendly and vegan. And as long as you stick to a 1/4 cup serving, it should be low FODMAP friendly as well.

Put the walnuts in a skillet over medium high heat. Meanwhile, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and grab the other ingredients. You’ll start to hear the walnuts sizzle, and add in the maple and spices (not the salt). Allow them to cook and bubble, stirring occasionally until the syrup is almost dry, around 3 minutes. Sprinkle with coarse salt, and scoop the walnuts onto the parchment. Quickly spoon the excess maple goodness onto clumps of walnut.

Allow to cool, enjoy or bag as a gift. Keep in a covered container if they last that long.

Looking for more holiday recipes? I have a mega roundup here of naturally gluten-free ones.

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December Self-Care Wisdom Part 3!

treesPerfect timing for Part 3 of the December Self-Care Wisdom series! Don’t miss part 1 and part 2. Much appreciation to Ricki, Debi, Erin, Jonathan and Shirley for their wisdom. So on with the good stuff from Kathryn (aka ChaCha), Jules (aka the REAL Jules!) and Carrie (aka Ginger Lemon Girl)

I’ve gotten to know Kathryn through our Facebook group and appreciate her warmth and compassion. She has a wonderful post on her holiday rituals and gifts on her blog, chacha’s gluten-free kitchen, and remembering what’s important through it all.

I loved this part:

My goal these last few days before Christmas is to be mindful to avoid stress and find time to relax while caring for the people I love. Each day between now and Christmas is a little more booked than the last so I need to find time in each day for the things that count.

Beautiful, isn’t it? 2014-real-jules-giveaway-logo-300x300

Many of you know Jules Shepard as a baker extraordinaire and the driving force behind 1 in 133 and that big ‘ole cake that helped make gluten-labeling a reality. She’s had a big and exciting year, with a wedding, and changes in her gluten-free baking company and more. She shares what helps her stay grounded

I wish I could say I had found and regularly practice fool-proof self-care rituals through the holidays, and that I always manage to put my own needs first. But sadly, I succumb to the same distractions, stress and over-stimulation most others do.

What I can say is that I have made strides in what I know to be the right direction! Our family shares advent calendars each December, adds the joy of advent anticipation to our nightly prayers, and finds time to do lots more baking and creating together than at other times of the year. Focusing on the family and the true meaning of the season always fulfills me and brings me some measure of peace.
 
Perhaps surprisingly, I also take some time to listen … yes listen! To the words of certain carols and to appreciate and take them to heart. I had surgery last month, which has kept me from both the gym and the streets (where I usually run) where I ritually vent my frustrations and clear my head on a 3-4/week basis. In this vacuum, I’ve found even more comfort in music, meditation and prayer to ground me and keep me sane.
 
Words to others who haven’t yet found their daily or weekly stress-relief: open all your senses to something new that might surprise you and calm your pulse. You never know when a new scent, sound, sight, taste or touch might bring you unexpected peace, comfort or calm. Open yourself to new experiences and perspectives with this in mind – the holidays might just be your entrée to a happier and healthier you!
~jules

And the delicious Ms. Carrie , blogger, author and dedicated cat slave also shares her holiday wisdom, and starts off with a gem that I may need to have tattooed somewhere:

***********Enjoy the little things every single day… and let go of expectations.I think in general we have this idea that holidays have to be perfect, gifts have to be amazing, decorations have to be stellar, Christmas cookie baking has to be done, and you have to make it to at least one showing of the Nut Cracker or Handel’s Messiah. And some years that’s okay. There are seasons that I want the holidays to be filled with all of the stuff, all the events, all the parties, all the gifts, all the decor, etc… but this year, life has been crazy. This year, time has slipped away from me with the everyday things of life. With sick family members and constant traveling, I haven’t had the time to spend on those details for the holidays. And that’s okay. This year I haven’t decorated, I haven’t bought a single gift (yet!), I haven’t baked a single cookie, or attended any type of Christmas party or show. And with less than 10 days to Christmas Eve, I realize that trying to make all those traditional things a priority would be insane… so I’m letting them go. Instead, when we have a little free time we’re enjoying a drive around the neighborhood to see the lights, I’m enjoying Christmas music on my commute to work and while I’m washing dishes, and when it’s time to settle down for the evening before bed I’m enjoying cheesy Christmas movies on Netflix. And I’m happy. I’m not rushed, I don’t feel burdened, and I’m thankful for still having that warmth and joy that the holidays can bring. When you’re willing to let go of the big expectations, you can truly appreciate the small joys of the season in the most unexpected of places. 

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Cheryl’s note: Thank to Kathryn, Jules and Carrie for sharing! It is so needed, especially since I accidentally bought 2 pounds (!!!) of black walnuts and had a meltdown because they’re too bitter and I can’t get certified GF ones in time for gifts…because clearly the sky will fall without them, right? First world problems. So then needed a whopping good feline therapy. It’s so easy to get swept up and forget what’s important, and I appreciate all of the bloggers who participated to help remind me (and hopefully, us) to focus on what matters most.

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