Thursday, November 28, 2013

Several years ago I visited my youngest daughter in Minneapolis. While she was at work, I spent time with her cat, Buddie, in a house much like my own: books, music, movies...all the things I enjoy. And since I was treating my time there as vacation, I dived in.
One book impressed me so much that I had to buy it for myself. Attitudes of Gratitude, by M. J. Ryan. I came home with a vow to spend some time every day expressing my gratitude--not necessarily to other people, just being grateful for the blessings and abundance of my life.
Now, before I get caught up in the hurley-burley of Christmas preparations, I want to take time to name some of the blessings of my life in the year 2013.
One that came to me in January was the fiber arts group at my church. We didn't have such a group when I joined the church in 2012, but apparently I started one by knitting a prayer shawl for one of the women who, I discovered, is waiting for a lung transplant. One of the church's leaders saw the shawl and said, "Oh, we used to make things like that! We could do that again." And so--we did. Our group meets once a week on Friday for about two hours to knit, crochet, or sew--depends on what the needs are at any given time.
This is one of our first projects, a prayer shawl for the church secretary who had surgery and was off work three weeks. Each of the members knitted several rows. It was a very colorful item!
Next we began on knitted hats and scarves, added crocheted baby afghans, and then we were blessed with an outreach program that included making items for the severe and profoundly handicapped pupils at an elementary school near us. One request was for lap quilts made from textured fabrics--these are used to develop tactile recognition by the pupils.
The quilt in the photo includes corduroy, velveteen, knit, and other textured fabrics. The quilts were backed with flannel to help them stay on the pupils' laps.
Over the months, our giant plastic storage tote gained weight. By mid-November we had over three dozen items to donate. Some went to the church's food bank for the clients who have children; some went to other charities supported by the congregation; and the baby afghans went to Project Linus.
Now we have an empty project tote--and several smaller totes full of yarn. We've bought almost none of the materials we use; all colors, types, and weights have been donated. We are deeply grateful for this abundance.
This Thanksgiving Day I am grateful for so many people: my family, friends, neighbors; church members who willingly give their time and talents to help others, especially folks in need. I give thanks for the gift of music, for books and movies. And there are so many people who contribute to quality of life: doctors and nurses; other medical personnel; teachers in all places; instructors who aid their students, especially seniors, by providing classes in yoga, tai chi, and other types of therapies; writers who share their stories and poems; quilters and sewists who keep us warm and covered. The list is endless, isn't it?
Before you sit down to a big dinner, why not make a list of your own gratitudes? It doesn't have to take long. Challenge yourself to list ten things you're thankful for. You may be surprised--ten might expand into twenty.
Last of all I'm thankful for the seasons that give us countless moments for peace and beauty in our lives.

Celebrate a day of thanksgiving with your loved ones!

This is my neighbor's Japanese maple, which we all enjoy year round.


Thursday, November 21, 2013


                     GLUTEN-FREE TIPS
                                & IDEAS

Some of your best friends are herbs. My kitchen window houses rosemary, oregano, thyme, and on the counter is last year's basil, now replaced by a newer bushier plant.

Many people think Gluten-Free (GF) equals Blah. Not so. A touch of spice or a pinch of herbs can do wonders for the flavor of gluten-free foods--anything from salads, sauces, poultry/fish/meat, to vegetables and breads.

Here's a tip: Don't discard your regular cookbooks, you know the ones, they have all those wonderful recipes that feature wheat and other forbidden foods. Once you get the knack of substituting GF flour and xanthan gum for regular flour mixes, you'll be able to use those old recipes as guides and create more variety in your menu.

Here's a short list of commercially packaged flour and baking mixes:

Arrowhead Mills     Bob's Red Mill     Domata     Glutino    
       Hodgson Mill     Pamela's

Most have recipes on the package. Try some!

You can also get bread mixes--most can be baked in a bread machine, some only in a conventional oven. Try different brands to find the one you and your family like best.

Don't forget quick breads--fruit-flavored and cornbread especially.

All the above are available in chain grocery stores and discount stores here in the Midwest. Check your area to see what your stores carry. If you don't find much variety, seek out health food stores and co-operatives. They love folks with special diets.


Since the holidays are waiting in the wings, I’ll start with a few dishes you might want to use for dinners or entertaining.
* * *

If you’re stuffing a bird—or baking stuffing separately in a pan—here’s a tasty version.
BREAD STUFFING (for 12-lb. turkey)
¾ c. chopped onion
1 ½ c. chopped celery
1-3 T. butter
9 c. bread cubes (soft)
2 t. salt
1 ½ t. dried sage
1 t. dried thyme
½ t. pepper
2 c. chicken broth

Cook onion and celery in butter until tender. Stir in 1/3 of the bread cubes.  Turn into deep bowl. Add remaining 2/3 bread cubes.
Add herbs to chicken broth. Pour over bread cubes and mix.
Stuff turkey and cook using time and temperature for the bird.

 After stuffing is mixed, scoop out ½-cup portions and form into balls. Place in greased baking dish.
 Bake covered 25 minutes at 325 degrees.
 Uncover and bake 15 minutes longer.

 Makes about 10 stuffing balls.
We have Thanksgiving dinner at my daughter’s home. I bake gluten-free bread and she uses it to make stuffing. The stuffing balls are yummy with gravy poured over them. Gluten-free gravy, of course! She uses arrowroot powder to thicken--use just like cornstarch.

* * *
Bridget is my daughter’s stepdaughter-in-law—this gets complicated, so we just say she’s my granddaughter-in-law. Every year she brings Corn Casserole for Thanksgiving dinner. There’s neverany left.

BRIDGET’S CORN CASSEROLE (Gluten-free version)
½ c. margarine or butter
1 15-oz. can whole kernel corn, drained
1 15-oz. can creamed corn (if not gluten-free, buy another can of whole kernel corn and cream it yourself – instructions below)
8 oz. sour cream or plain yogurt
2 eggs or 3 egg whites
1 recipe dry cornbread mix (follows this recipe)

Mix together. Bake 1 hour 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

For DIY creamed corn, drain the liquid from whole kernel corn, add 1-2 tsp. cornstarch and heat till cornstarch thickens. If too thick, add a little water. Use just enough liquid in the recipe to simulate a can of creamed corn. (Use arrowroot powder if desired.)

     Use this dry mix in the recipe for BRIDGET'S CORN CASSEROLE.

1 ½ c. cornmeal
½ c. gluten-free flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¾ c. sugar
1 t. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. xanthan gum

To make a pan of cornbread, add the following liquids:
¼ c. melted shortening or oil
1 ½ c. milk with 2 tsp. vinegar added
2 eggs or 3 egg whites

Mix all ingredients and beat vigorously 30 seconds only. Pour into greased 8x8x2 pan.
Bake in preheated 375 degree oven 35-40 minutes. Serves 9-12.

Or make 12 muffins—bake at 375 degrees for 15-18 minutes.

Here’s a holiday cookie, adapted by my daughter for the GF crowd.


1 c. butter, softened
½ c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 ¼ c. GF flour
2 tsp. xanthan gum
¼ t. salt
2/3 c. chopped nuts
Extra powdered sugar (for coating teacakes)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix butter, ½ c. powdered sugar, and vanilla.
Stir in flour,, xanthan gum, salt, and nuts. Mix until dough holds together.
Roll into 1-inch balls. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake until set but not brown, about 10-12 minutes. (Check first pan to see what works with your oven.)
Roll in powdered sugar while warm. Then cool completely. Roll in sugar again.
Makes about 4 dozen teacakes.

The following recipe--in a different incarnation--was featured in Parade magazine some years ago. We’ve adapted it for people who can’t eat nuts. My daughter learned about it from her friend Amy, whose mother makes these. I call them


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together:
        1 c. sunflower seed butter
        1 c. sugar
        1 egg
Don’t overmix.
Roll into 1-inch balls. Place on ungreased baking sheet.
Bake 9 minutes at 350 degrees. (Check after 5 minutes.)

Use peanut butter, almond butter, or other nut butter.
Insert chocolate chunks, M&Ms, Hershey’s Kisses, or dried fruit in center of ball before baking.


 Hope these give you some delicious ideas for your holiday celebrations!

Thursday, November 14, 2013


After the first rounds of allergy testing, my diet was bereft of wheat, eggs, milk, beef, pork, and a whole slew of fruits and veggies.
For a while, my 3-times-daily eating consisted of:
·         broiled chicken

·         steamed broccoli

·         fresh or frozen blueberries

·         steamed white rice

Sounds good, right? Healthful? Great for weight loss?
Yes, to all the above, but the weight loss was drastic.

Slowly I added back a few of the foods previously verboten by my allergist. Gained weight. Looked less like a third world refugee.
That went on for a few years, but eventually I wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t keep my weight down to a manageable number.

In the meantime—one of my daughters began reading about the effects of gluten, especially as it occurs in many of the grains and flours we use on a regular basis: wheat, barley, and rye being the major ones. She found recipes for gluten-free cooking and read a small library full of books.
I’m so grateful she shared them with me.

Gluten-free living isn’t the purgatory I thought it was going to be. And as more and more people are diagnosed with problems with gluten in their diets, doctors, nutritionists, nurses, and just plain old folks like us have a lot of information to share.
Somebody tipped off the food companies, and you can now buy brand-name cake mixes, cereals (hot and cold), ready-to-bake cookies, bread machine mixes, plus already prepared foods like cookies, breads, rolls, pizzas, and…well, just take a peek in your freezer and refrigerator sections.

Fortunately, a lot of foods are naturally gluten-free. Fresh fruits and vegetables, meats that are not marinated or cooked/canned/processed, fresh or frozen fish and seafood, and many canned items, such as pasta sauce, vegetables and fruits. Reading labels is a must.
For those of us who rely on Internet information, there are a ton of sites about gluten-free living, complete with recipes, also free.

And if you’re not online a lot, check your library—the late Bette Hagman wrote cookbooks in a series called The Gluten Free Gourmet. I have a book on baking by Rebecca Reilly, who was an experienced chef before she learned she would have to go gluten-free. You’ll be drooling while you scan the list of contents, or the index.
Next week I’ll post some of our family’s holiday recipes. If you’re part of the turkey-sweet potato casserole-pumpkin pie crowd, you can still eat the yummies and stay on your gluten-free diet. If you’re into other kinds of traditions, there’ll be something for you as well.

Don’t forget—you may be all right with gluten, but somebody in your family might appreciate having a chance to enjoy holiday treats without unpleasant consequences.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

When Joy Came In

What’s for dinner?

As the weather hurries on into winter mode, I think of the time Joy, the dog, finally decided life would be better inside. At least, probably not worse.
In piecing together her story, I believe Joy had several lives.

Before she was enticed into my daughter’s house with sliced bologna, she had clearly been living out in nature. Her coat was rough and her feet were sore. She was thin and patches of skin showed through. But it was autumn, and the weather was getting colder. A dog needs warmth, and food, and—even if she didn’t want to admit it—a human being to care for her.
We suspect she had a home and a family, at one time. As we got to know her better, it became clear Joy understood a lot of people words and didn’t like children or men. Had she run away from a home where she wasn’t happy? Had she been left by the side of the road by people who couldn’t keep her? Or, as we got to know her tendency to run off when she slipped her leash, had she merely gone adventuring and gotten lost?

We’ll probably never know.
We do know she had a home of some sort. That she had learned some commands and phrases. That she lived a rough life in the wild. And that she finally sought help at my daughter’s house in the country.

As an aside: Two of my daughters have lived in the country and somewhere on the premises of both places is an invisible sign, obviously erected by animals who’ve been fed there. The sign reads—GOOD FOOD AND LOVE HERE! Stray cats and dog, down on their luck, show up for a quick meal and a sleep before going on. Yet somehow, they never leave. The love gets them every time.
Back to the Odyssey of Joy.

Her third life began when she ate the bologna and came inside. That one lasted a good long nine years in the country. Dog house of her own, plenty of good food, veterinary care. Chickens squawking around the yard for entertainment. Cats who came and went.
In winter, Joy came inside—slept in the garage at night, spent days in the house with my son-in-law and the television. And cats.

If you’re not a cat person, you may not know some of a cat’s habits, such as:
  • Sleeping on the back of the sofa in the sun
  • Stealing food out of the other animals’ bowls
  • Lying on its back and sometimes sleeping in that position
  • Stretching—first the back legs, then the front legs
Joy observed all these and tried them out, liked them, except for stealing the other guys’ food, and became—yes, you guessed it. She became a cat. In all but appearance.

Dogs like window gazing, too.
 She still loves cats (though she disapproves of those who steal food). Some of her best friends are cats. They don’t know that, of course, and hiss and spit at her when she tries to play with them outside.

Joy’s fourth life began when she and her “mom” came to live with me in 2007, along with Abby the Cat. Then Joy had a big adjustment. Here were two adults, one cat. Where were the rest of the felines? Where were the chickens? Why were there so many roads? And houses? And…kids!

That fourth life, well-regulated by the aforesaid adults, has brought Joy to acceptance of city living. Lots of daily walks, backyard sunbathing in summer, kids to bark at as they run and bike down the alley, other dogs to bark at when they dare to walk by our picture window.
Recently I began to wonder if Joy was going to live to enjoy her old age. Three years ago she began having problems with vertigo—I thought she was having a seizure. Medication got her back on her paws. It happened again the next year, and we discovered she can’t tolerate steroids (for allergies). This fall she began ignoring her dry food, drank only water, peed whenever and wherever the spirit moved. Another traumatic trip to the vet for me;  Joy's blood tests showed she had kidney problems. Back on antibiotics, new food, and—ta-da! New Dog!

I count seven lives, so far. Did she assume the nine-lives-of-cathood when she learned to live with cats? And live like a cat? Was there some arcane ceremony, a bestowing of Honorary Cathood on this Friend of Felines? This reads like a science fiction synopsis, but really, what do we know about our animals?

If she is part cat—or honorary cat—Joy doesn’t shed like some cats do. She doesn’t meow. She doesn’t climb curtains or refuse to use her litter box. She doesn’t even have a litter box.

I don’t know…maybe the nine lives are a myth. Joy is 16 years and 8 months old. We celebrate her birthday on March 1 each year with little muffins and a lot of hugs. We talk to her as if she were an adult person, and by gum, we’re certain she understands.
Everyone who meets her likes her, and she mostly likes them. Even if they don’t offer treats. But if you really want to make her day, stick a few nibbles in your pocket when you visit. Talk to her about life and what a great dog she is. You won’t be forgotten.

Joy received her name because, as my daughter says, “Everybody needs a little joy in their life.”
Joy, at 25.3 pounds, is both a little joy and a great big joy in my life.