A Hands Off Sound Off: Avoiding Contact to Avoid RA Pain

Got a question that I am going to answer today. 

“How do you successfully act like you don’t have arthritis around people you don’t want knowing (i.e. going to church and not wanting to shake anyone’s hand because your hand feels horrible)?!!”

I don’t know if I am the best resource for this particular question because I have been told I kind of come off stuck up anyway, so I figure I am a natural at being unapproachable (LOL).  On the other hand, perhaps that makes me ideal at answering this question.  I guess we will find out…

I am not the most touchy feely person around.  I like my personal space and generally feel uncomfortable when people I don’t know well want a hug….  But worse is when people want to get physical while I am in pain….  I think David Spade said it best:  “No touchy!”

Avoiding the Dreaded Death Grip

When it comes to situations where physical contact is imminent, such as in church, I usually just won’t go.  It’s not worth the pain and it’s not like I don’t have a Bible at home.  BUT, I am not everyone, so if I HAVE to go, I will do a little pre-planning, since a painful handshake is not something I want to relive.   I will arrive late, or just as things are about to get started, and if I look like I am in a hurry or flustered (yes, even when I can’t move well), this has usually got me past the hand shake and greeting.  Also, I may look for a back or unmanned door through which to enter.  Scouting safe, contact routes is a good job for a healthy accomplice. 

I can’t imagine going anywhere to socialize if I am in too much pain to endure a handshake, but if I WERE to show up for church for pre-service socializing I may……

Link right arms with my husband and keep my left hand rested on his arm. Not only does this make my shaking hand unavailable, it makes my husband’s presence more dominant (just the rules of body language my friends), so if a hand shake or some kind of contact is coming, he will be my first line of defense.  Be sure and let your husband know of your intentions.  He may screw up at first, but give him some time to practice and he will be your best defense.  He could even come up with maneuvers that you never thought of to keep the paparazzi from bum-rushing you with hugs and handshakes.  You will begin to move and work in sync, sort of like Edward and Bella, or Whitney and her bodyguard, Kevin Costner (lol).

If a husband/partner who will run D for you is not an option, consider…..

Carrying a Big Stick….or cane, or something else to occupy your hands.  Hold a kid (yes, sometimes holding  a kid is better than a really firm handshake), a sweater,  your purse, etc.  Whatever you are able to manage that day to keep your arms busy and unavailable.   If you can’t close your hands, or tolerate any weight on your arms or hands, and are in that much pain, I would really reconsider going out at all. 

Avoid Eye Contact.  I really didn’t appreciate how disconcerting it is when someone doesn’t look at you in the face until the other day when I was speaking to a gentleman from a culture where eye contact was not always appropriate.  It is very off-putting in our culture.  If you avoid eye-contact, avoiding physical contact should be a piece of cake.  Heck, you could always move to that guy’s neck of the woods to avoid physical contact…. just a thought, lol. 

Stay Just Out of Reach.  Just like with eye contact, our culture has unspoken rules regarding physical distance.  Americans tend to need more physical space than other cultures.  As a general rule of thumb, stay about 4 feet or more away from those you don’t want to touch.   The greater the distance, the better.

Keep Your Head Down.  If everything else has failed and some clueless person is still pushing a hug on you, angle your body away from them and put your head down for a sideways hug.  I do this all the time, lol.  This protects your arms and hands, and does not allow the person to squeeze.  The only part of your body that may experience pain are your shoulders, but only if they squeeze hard.  You never have to hug back for any type of hug, especially if it causes pain.  That is the least you can do for yourself if you aren’t going to tell them straight up that you don’t want to be hugged.

Make Yourself Sick.  If you don’t want to go through the awkwardness of saying that you have RA, are in pain, and do not wish any contact, just simply say you are sick.  That word “sick” usually is enough to make people take a step back.  When presented with a handshake or some other form of contact, I will smile, nod my head once in friendly acknowledgement, and say, “oh, I am sick.”  If I can make a casual “stay away” kind of gesture with my hands, I will.  The point is to come off like you are protecting them, rather than yourself.  Most people won’t press further, but sometimes someone will ask what I am sick with and I just answer with a short statement, and then I will change the subject.  I will say something dismissively like, “I have rheumatoid arthritis.  Today I am in pain, but I will be OK”  I don’t want attention drawn to me, and people don’t tend to understand anyway, so I have found it just best to try to avoid the topic as much as possible. 

The bottom line is this:  do what you are most comfortable doing.  Don’t do anything you are not comfortable with.  You can’t worry about what others think.  You’re body is your own and no one has the right to touch you, not even your hands.  If people miss or don’t accept your subtle and polite messages about avoiding contact, then a more direct approach is appropriate.  Do not be afraid to communicate with others about not wanting to be touched.  It can be done in a polite, or even lightly humorous manner.  You can always tell them that you will give them a rain check for when you are feeling better. If they cannot understand that your choice is not a personal one, then perhaps you might consider rethinking the time you invest in that person. 

Keep in mind that hurt feelings heal much faster than joints affected with RA.   

Hope that helps 😉

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What We Think, We Become

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.”  –Buddha

“What we think, we become.”  —Buddha

 All of the major religions speak to the power of thought.  Just take the concept of faith if you do not believe me.   I chose Buddha’s words today simply because of their simple and direct message.  There is nothing to misinterpret; nothing extra to distract.  I like that…..

So, who have you become? 

Are your thoughts working for or against you?

My own experience has confirmed for me that attitude is everything.  Allow me to illustrate….

Facts Old Thought Responses New/Current Thought Responses
I have Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Why me?
  • This isn’t fair
  • I can’t
  • I’ll never be able to….
  • This sucks
  • This will never pass
  • If only I had….
  • No one understands
  • Why bother?

 

  • Even if I don’t know it yet, there is a reason for everything. 
  • Adversity is an opportunity for increased wisdom and strength.
  • I can and I will, at my own pace
  • Change is the only sure thing in life
  • I can only control my own thoughts and actions. 
  • I am forgiven

 We are all given injustices, adversities, and hardships to deal with in life.  No one is immune.  It is how we choose to think about our situation that will either help or hinder us. 

When I focused on the injustice of my disease, I could not see any further than my own self pity.  My mind was shut to the possibility of there being reason and purpose behind my condition. And, make no mistake, there IS a reason AND a purpose behind it.  That’s true for all of us.  There is at least one major life lesson to be drawn from this.  Are you able to see your reason and purpose? 

As long as I felt like a victim, I was.  I allowed the disease to consume me, to define me.  As a result, I was sick all the time no matter what I ate or did to try and improve the situation. By believing myself cursed and victimized, I became a cursed victim.   The pain and disability validated my thinking, and the vicious circle ensued.   Let me not forget all the well-meaning people and institutions that fed into it as well.  We are naturally drawn to those people and institutions that validate our thoughts most.  They are like mirrors.  Do you like what you see?

When Enough is Enough

I like to think that there is a point we all reach when it all gets to be too much.  The pain is too much.  The side effects are too much.  The number of days lost to RA are too much.  We hit our limit and are desperate for change.  Yeah, I like to THINK everyone hits that pointthat, but I am learning , that this doesn’t happen for everyone.  My thoughts shape only my own reality, not the reality of others.  So, I can accept that we all have our own lives to live; our own paths to travel.  But for those of us who do or have reached that point of no return, how have our thoughts influenced the changes that we have or are about to make?  If you don’t think change or improvement is possible, why do you believe this?  What is keeping you from healing? 

There is always hope, always more than one way to skin a cat, if we choose to see the options before us.  Like Neo “saw” the Matrix, you must see the options you have. 

When you think you can’t, you are right.  You can’t.

When you think you will be sick forever.  You are right.  Your body will make sure to comply with every thought.

On the other hand, when you believe you can.  You will.  It may not be a fast process, and there may be set-backs, but that is ok.  The important thing is that you believe you can do it.  We cannot allow our culture to rush us along at a pace not of our own….

A Superhero’s Lament

When I accepted the power of my own thoughts, I became empowered over my own life and my health.  Sure there are some limitations to what and how I do things, but nothing I can’t find a way around.  In fact, a lot of things I thought I “couldn’t” do were actually things I didn’t really want to do anyway.  I don’t particularly like gardening, or mopping, or driving, but I have always felt that I must constantly be “doing” to be a good wife, a good mother; a good person.  It took me a very long time to accept that it is ok not to be Superwoman.  Our worth should not be measured by our domestic or multi-tasking capabilities.  It is ok, even good, to let someone else worry about the chores of life sometimes.  When I was able to finally “see” that not always “doing” was an option, I realized that RA actually gave me the reason and motivation I needed to stop running myself ragged with tasks I hated anyway.  Is it any surprise that my pain improved when I started being who I wanted to be rather that doing what I thought I needed to?  I do have the choice to be happy, and no, the world will not collapse if my house, children , and life aren’t perfect…:)

My doctor says that the Peggy Bundy-s  of the world aren’t the ones who get rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia (or a whole host of other autoimmune diseases).  If you recall, Peggy spent her days on the couch, eating bonbons, completely indifferent to the drama that surrounded her.  No, we RA’ers/AI’ers are cut from an entirely different cloth.  We care very deeply about things; and are quick to internalize.  We tend to be considered “type-A” personalities.  We don’t tend to move slow or be laid back, in fact, we tend to be just the opposite.  Our personalities, and associated thoughts,  are both a blessing and a curse.  Our thoughts motivate us to do and be more, and they hamstring us when things don’t go our way.  They help us to be highly productive, yet we cannot separate the productivity from the naturally occurring stress that ultimately takes its toll on our bodies and  manifests itself as disease.  It’s a double-edged sword to be sure.  Because it is within our nature to be superheroes, it is even more important that we mind our thoughts….

So I ask again, are your thoughts working for you or against you? 

The Easiest Gluten-Free Bread Recipe Ever, and it Even Tastes Good

I found this recipe a couple of years ago on the Gluten-Free, Soy Free Vegan blog (http://glutenfreesoyfreevegan.wordpress.com/) which includes a collection of consistently good recipes.  Since trying it, I have done away with other gluten-free bread options altogether.  This recipe is by far the easiest for gluten-free bread I have ever tried, and it really is pretty good.  Your hands and wrists will be happy to know that there is no kneeding required, unlike your standard wheat-based breads!  You do not even need a bread maker for this -it would just make the job harder!  The other great thing about this recipe is that it is allergen-free and vegan, so in addition to being easy, it is likely the least inflammatory bread you’ll ever eat.  Below is the recipe from the GF, SF, Vegan site, along with some of my own notes thrown in,  Enjoy!

Makes 1 loaf

Note: Since there’s no gluten to get tough from over-mixing, you can mix until you’re confident.

In a large mixing bowl combine:

3/4 cup millet flour
1/4 cup teff flour or brown rice flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup cornstarch (or double the potato starch if you can’t eat corn)
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup tapioca flour
2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 Tbsp salt
1/4 cup sugar (or sucanut or palm sugar to make it low(er) glycemic)
1 Tbsp active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

Add:

2 tsp olive oil
1 and 1/2 cups + 2 Tbs warm water (not hot)

Mix with electric mixer–using paddle attachment, NOT regular beaters or bread hook–for two minutes. The bread dough will be more like cake batter than traditional bread dough.

Two options for the rising:

For the best rising: While mixing the bread, create a proofing box from your microwave. Microwave a small mug or ramekin with water until the water boils. Leave the water in the microwave. Pour the bread dough into two non-stick or well-greased pans. Tuck the loaves into the microwave with the water—the container of water should not be touching the pans. (I have to remove the turntable in my microwave to do this.) Allow to rise until batter extends a bit over the top of the pans–generally 30-50 minutes.

Standard method: Pour into two non-stick or well-greased loaf pans, place on a warm surface (such as on top of the pre-heated oven), and cover with a towel. Allow to rise until batter extends a bit over the top of the pan–generally 50-70 minutes. (Batter should take up about half the loaf pan before rising.)

Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove loaf pans from oven and cover with aluminum foil. Return to oven and bake for an additional 35-45 minutes, depending on your oven. (Insert a toothpick or knife into the center to see if it comes out clean or doughy, if you aren’t sure when you pull out the bread.)

As with most breads, it is easiest to slice if you allow it to fully cool. But who can wait that long? I usually let it cool for a little bit, and then remove the loaves from the pans and place them on a rack to cool more while I slice it up. The bread tastes delicious warm, dipped in olive oil and herbs or spread with honey and ghee. It also works well for sandwiches after it has cooled. If you won’t be eating it within 2 days, after it’s cooled, slice it, wrap it in a couple of layers of plastic wrap, and freeze it. Never refrigerate this or other bread—it will get dry and hard if you do. If you leave the bread on the counter (wrapped), it will be good for all purposes for a couple of days. After that, it will be best used for bread pudding, French toast, croutons, etc.

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Carrying All That Baggage is Just Going to Make Your Hands Hurt Worse, Part 2: A List of Feelings

According to Karol Truman, author of Feelings Buried Alive, Never Die, feelings are associated with disease.  Below is her list of feelings that are related to arthritis and autoimmune disease:

Arthritis (in general)

  • Severely criticizing self of others
  • Holding onto feelings of hostility
  • Holding onto own opinions and beliefs
  • Long term tension or anger in life
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Depression endured over long periods of time
  • Belief that it’s wrong to get angry which creates:
  • Repressed anger that “eats you up”
  • Need to be right
  • Rigid in thinking and feelings
  • Uncompromising attitude
  • Inflexibility

Rheumatoid Arthritis (specifically):

  • Body is receiving conflicting messages, like:
  • Laughing on the outside, but crying on the inside
  • Feels totally helpless in ability to change life’s burdens

Autoimmune (in general):

  • Laughing on the outside, but crying on the inside
  • Feels totally helpless
  • Have given up
  • Deep seeded/seated grief

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The Difference Between Pleasure and Pain: More on Food

Writing about thoughts and emotion is draining, so I am going to be continuing my series “Carrying All That Baggage is Just Going to Make Your Hands Hurt Worse:  The Role of Thought in RA” a little later. 

In the meantime, I have received a comment from a reader that I wanted to address more fully because I don’t think she is alone in her curiosity….

I was diagnosed with RA 9 years ago and it’s been a struggle for sure. I’m just now at a point in my life (turned 30 in June) where I’m reading things such as your post and realizing maybe it’s me….maybe I’m causing this pain to myself? I’ve never thought about becoming a vegan or going gluten-free, but after reading your success with it….it makes me curious. My problem is….I love food….I love flavor and it’s hard to pass on sweets! Not that I couldn’t do it….it would just be 30 years of one habit…changing. Can you give me an example of what a meal would be…being both vegan and gluten-free?

 I love food too.  I am no tofu-eating, wheat grass drinking health nut.  I appreciate good ol’ artery clogging, gut busting American food.  In fact, if you ask anyone who knew me before all this, they would tell you that they would have bet the farm that I would never in a million years change the way I ate.  I just loved food too much.  I was well-known for my sweet potato, apple,  and authentic Nation of Islam bean pies ….made with butter and lard ;). 

There was a point when the symptoms of my rheumatoid arthritis just got to be too much.  They were robbing me of my motherhood, my body, and my life.  I would look in the mirror and all I’d see were the black circles under my eyes and my swollen, prematurely aged face.  I always looked exhausted and haggard.  I know I should post some before-pics, but I am just not quite ready to share with the world.  (I am kinda sensitive about pics of myself.)

Few things were as humiliating or infuriating to me as to not be able to simply hold a glass and take a sip from it.  I’d be damned if I was going to sit and allow myself to be assisted with tasks I learned as a baby!  And with that, the food that I loved, even lived for just days before, suddenly just didn’t matter so much anymore.  My self-respect and independence was paramount. 

I have said it before, and I will say it again:  old habits die-hard, especially eating habits.  Too many of us food lovers have a tendency to use food as a comforter in stressful times, so it is important to understand and accept that lasting change will take some time.  I was 28 when I first started to change my diet and my entire food transformation took about 3 years to complete.  It need not take that long, but even if it does, the important thing is that the changes are being made.  Just cutting out gluten can result in significant improvement in flare symptoms.  Removing red meat and dairy along with gluten can yield even better results.  I opted to go gluten-free and vegan because I experienced such phenomenal results. 

It is amazing.  You really don’t know how awful you feel until you get an opportunity to actually experience what it’s like to feel good.  I thought I knew what “good” and “awful” felt like until I went gluten-free and vegan.  I really didn’t have a clue.  It turned out that it good felt SO good, that I didn’t want to ever return to feeling awful.  And awful was a nightmare I never wanted to re-live.  RA’ers take a lot of drugs, but there is nothing like the high of feeling good.  Nothing compares to it.  The only way I know to achieve “good” is through proper nutrition, which for me, does not include gluten or animal protein.

I hesitate to say that we are causing our own pain and disability through the foods we eat and lifestyles we choose to live, but only because it assumes that we all know exactly what we are doing and we don’t care.  I don’t believe that.  If people knew and believed that how they lived and ate were  directly responsible for their unbearable pain, there wouldn’t be so many of us taking prescription cocktails and I wouldn’t have a blog about RA.  The truth is that the media, drug, and food industries are powerful lobbyists with deep pockets.  They need us to stay fat, sick, and dependent on them so that they can stay stinking rich.  They are allowed to convince  us of virtually anything that is deemed lucrative to them, and they do at the expense of our lives.  Our health is our own responsibility, but good advice is hard to come by.  That is why I have started this blog; to try to disseminate the good from the bad advice using myself as the lab rat.  I am here to attest, that yes, foods have an enormous influence over our pain.  In fact, everything we eat is either an investment in our health or an investment in our disease.  Nothing more.  What you choose to do with that information is up to you. =)

Vegan and gluten-free foods have flavor, but flavor does not mean the same thing as it once did to me.  Before, flavor is what I sought to get a fix.  It is what I did to comfort myself when under stress.  Now, flavor is actually the flavor of the food itself, and it tastes good.  I eat to nourish, not to comfort.  Once you separate the emotion from the food, it is a whole lot easier to make the transition and your tastes will begin to change.  Once you experience truly feeling good, that will be the new flavor you’ll crave.

I eat a lot of seasoned brown rice and vegetables,  fresh salads with homemade dressing, smoothies, and juices.  It may sound boring, but only because those foods don’t satisfy any emotional need or food addiction. There are ways of making  cookies, cakes, brownies, and all kinds of sweets that will nourish the body and reduce your pain, while also tasting delicious.   My favorite cookbook currently is Living Raw Food by Sarma Melngailis.  Doesn’t she look great?  She is awesome and while I don’t recommend starting  with her cookbooks (too hard to start with), I do highly recommend getting your hands on them simply just to look at the pictures of her food.  They are gorgeous and taste as good as they look.

Start by removing just one thing from your diet (gluten). Go at your pace.  After a week or two or nine, take another food out (dairy) and see how you feel.  You may want to get the support of a dietician to help you with this process. They can guide you with an elimination diet to identify and remove foods you are sensitive to.  Keep a food journal of all things you eat, so that you can easily track offending foods.  There are no absolutes; no cold turkey unless you know you will be most successful with that approach.  I still indulge in potato chips, chicken, and sugar on occasion, but the majority of food I eat is an investment in my health, not my disease. 

So much to write.  So little time.  More on food and recipes tomorrow Folks!

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Carrying All That Baggage is Just Going to Make Your Hands Hurt Worse: The Role of Thought in RA, part 1

So I want to talk about how our thoughts can actually make us sicker, but it is such a complicated subject that I have decided to break it up into several posts.  This is, of course, the first in the series.  Please feel free, in fact, I encourage you to ask questions!  Ask them here, on the Facebook page, or email me.  Thanks again everybody! 

Patrice on Antidepresents

I didn’t do so well on antidepressants.  Yeah, I could get out of bed and get dressed.  I couldn’t help but smile, but all I wanted to do was cry.  The pills just masked my pain.  It was a miserable and very unnatural existence. After several months, my doctor wanted to add an anti-anxiety, but by then I couldn’t wait to be done with pills altogether.  I felt like Ren when Stimpy tricked him into putting on the happy helmet.  Much like Ren, if I could have taken a hammer to my head to stop what those pills were doing, I would have.  (If you don’t know who Ren and Stimpy are, search them on YouTube.  They are hilarious, if not a bit strange, relics of the 1990’s, not to mention, icons of my youth).

So I dumped the pills, but the black depression remained.  In fact, it had just gotten worse since beginning the antidepressants.  You see, I was supposed to be “SOMEBODY.”  Not some loser’s “baby-mama.” I just wasn’t “THAT” girl.  I had earned my first college degree at 18 and had plans of attending the University of Texas and traveling the world to teach; it was all set into place.  All that was left for me to do was go.  Instead, I flushed it all away and got pregnant.  All I can say is that the regret I felt was crippling, but my perspective, the beliefs I had about myself, and the situation made it far worse… 

Sure, my story may be sad to some, but what is even sadder is that it was years before I was able to undo all the emotional damage I caused.  Not just to my self-esteem and confidence, but to my body and specifically my joints.  It didn’t have to be this way; I had a choice, I just didn’t know it.  I wish somebody had told me sooner that life a series of learning opportunities, not mistakes.  Things happen for a reason; how we deal with the unexpected is only a test of our character.  Besides, when in life does anything ever go exactly according to plan?  Never.  The future is unknown, so we can never anticipate what will happen.   We must be ready to embrace whatever life throws at us, whether it be by choice, as consequence, or purely by chance.

The point is that my story is no more or less “tragic” than anyone elses, and EVERYONE has a story.  How we choose to deal with life when it doesn’t go our way determines how many emotional bandages we decide to carry through life.

Thoughts are very complex constructs of the mind.  Our brains are always thinking.  Most of the time we aren’t even aware of it; thoughts just flicker in the mind for a split second.  However, whether conscious or subconscious, fleeting or deep, they all get sorted and attached to an emotion.  Most thoughts may be classified as “indifferent” but the point is, they are ALL classified AND they are ALL stored somewhere in the brain, either in the conscious or sub-conscious. With time, the thoughts may fade, but the emotions remain and begin to pile up, like pennies in a jar.  The mind can only hold the weight of emotion for so long before the rest of the body is called in to help out.  Hello disease!

The thought-emotion relationship is often overlooked or even dismissed as a source (or at the very least, a major contributor) of disease and pain.  It is much more acceptable to keep patients chemically oblivious to their internal pain.  In fact, it is so acceptable, that more than half of the United States have been prescribed antidepressants.  I am sure there are cases where pills help, but it cannot be denied that little is being done to address the issues that warranted the need for the pills in the first place…..

I don’t have rheumatoid arthritis because I inherited from grandma.  Well, maybe that may have a little to do with it, but not as much as the manner in which  I have dealt with my emotions throughout my life.  I am an intense person, I feel strongly about stuff and I haven’t always had the skills required to deal with all my emotion. The result is that my emotions, left unchecked,  manifest themselves as arthritis pain.   The real kick in the crotch is that once the pain hits, I am less able to manage my emotions, and I am more likely to become aware of other disappointments that I have yet to deal with.  It is like I have an internal cesspool that churns up all the emotional garbage that I have tried to forget.  This all adds up to more pain, and more pain leads to depression, and then to hopelessness.  The whole process is a vicious cycle.  Many of us RA’ers (and AI’ers) really never have a chance; we are doomed to be trapped by our emotional demons.

It was when a herbalist friend of mine gave me a book called, Feelings Buried Alive Never Die, by Karol Truman, that I started to begin to understand the relationship between emotion and  disease.  Now I don’t believe that emotions by themselves hold the key to autoimmune cause and cure, but I do know from my own experience that our minds play a pivotal role in our health and our ability to heal.  According to Truman, rheumatoid arthritis is associated with “the body receiving mixed messages [from the mind]; like laughing on the outside, but crying on the inside.”  Additionally,  the feeling of being, “totally helpless in [the] ability to change life’s burdens.”  She also contends that inflexibility and rigidity in life is manifested in diseases affecting the joints.  If you recall my story from earlier, you know that I could totally relate to what this author was saying….

I realize I haven’t gone as far as I need to, but this is already really long so…..stay tuned for more on thought.  Same Pat-time, same Pat-channel….

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Favorite Gluten-Free Flour Mix

Gluten-free baking is just a tad bit different from your standard wheat-flour-based baking.  It’s a whole different chemistry, but it isn’t hard once you get the hang of it.  In fact, it is a far more creative art than typical baking!  Gluten-free baking is best when a combination of flours are used.  Below, is the combination of flours I use most when baking, it’s the one I personally like best.  There are many combinations, and everyone has their preference.  At the very least, this combination can get you started replacing the gluten in your favorite recipes.  For more winning flour combinations, see Living Without Magazine.

When modifying a recipe to be gluten-free, you can substitute flours on a 1:1 ratio; for every cup of glutenous flour called for by the recipe, substitute one cup of gluten-free flour.

Food Philosopher Gluten-Free Brown Rice Flour Mix

Servings:  3 cups

2 c. Brown Rice Flour

2/3 c. Potato Starch (NOT potato flour)

1/3 c. Tapioca Flour

**Taken from Gluten Free Baking Classics, by Annalise Roberts**

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5 Essential Steps For Going Gluten-Free

1.  Communicate your intended change to your loved ones.  Some may already be gluten-free, but others may need time to understand what you are doing.  Letting them know and explaining your reasons is more likely to result in their support sooner rather than later. 

2.  Obtain and familiarize yourself with the list of gluten-y ingredients.  Keep it with you so that you can refer to it while grocery shopping. http://www.celiac.com/articles/182/1/Unsafe-Gluten-Free-Food-List-Unsafe-Ingredients/Page1.html

3.  Learn with which foods are naturally gluten-free.  There are way more foods that are gluten-free than there are otherwise! http://www.celiac.com/articles/181/1/Safe-Gluten-Free-Food-List-Safe-Ingredients/Page1.html

4.  Create a simple gluten-free menu or meal plan to prevent accidental “poisoning.”  Once you have an idea of what foods you should and should not eat, planning a simple menu won’t be too difficult.  At first, you may just want to keep your diet based on fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, rice, lean white meats, and fish.  You may also begin to sample gluten-free products if they are readily available in your area.  If they aren’t, no worries, you can live quite well without ever buying gluten-free bread, cookies, or gravy mix.  Homemade is best whether or not you are gluten-free.

Know that eating in restaurants that aren’t certified gluten-free is always a huge risk.  Even eating establishments that claim to serve gluten-free food do not tend to understand the importance of keeping foods, work surfaces, and tools separate. If you must eat out, opt for Mexican if possible.   Mexican food requires the least amount of gluten when compared to other styles.  Always double-check to make sure that there is no flour used in the enchilada sauce, rice, or corn chips, and be sure and ask for corn tortillas rather than flour.  In my experience, the restaurants that taste best don’t generally use flour as thickeners or fillers anyway.  In case you were wondering, the word for “(wheat) flour” in Spanish is “trigo” (pronounced: tree-go) and the word for gluten is “gluten.”

 5. Decontaminate your kitchen as soon as possible.  If others in your home are still eating gluten, establish a system to keep foods separate.  You cannot see or feel it, but gluten is sticky and can mess your day up if it gets on your food.  Your kitchen wares will need to be thoroughly washed in hot soapy water and run through the dishwasher.  If you do not have a dishwasher, you should boil what you can to ensure that all traces of gluten have been removed.  Some people are more sensitive than others.  You may be just fine washing your dishes the same way you always have or you may require more.  Your gut will be sure and let you know ;).

Cutting boards used for slicing bread, toasters, bread boxes, bread machines, colanders, pots and pans, wooden items, and virtually anything that has been used to prepare gluten will need to be addressed.  You will need to decide whether you will try to scour the gluten off of your kitchen wares, or if you will just replace them.  The bottom line is that if you want to keep yourself safe, you must keep gluten and anything it comes in contact with separate from your gluten-free food.  If your kitchen will still house some gluten, be sure to stay on top of the crumb situation.  Wipe surfaces with hot soapy water and disinfectant immediately after preparing anything with gluten in it.

Initially, I overhauled the contents of my kitchen only because my reaction to gluten was so severe.  However, I have since received my grandmother’s flat, dinner, and glass wares and was safe simply washing them and running them though the dishwasher.  You just have to do your best with your own situation. 

Remember!!  Be patient and kind with yourself!  Know that you will conquer gluten and that this will all be second nature soon.

 

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First Recipe Up: Mom’s Crispy Oven-Baked Chicken and Fries

Writing down recipes is a lot harder than you’d think.  Anyway, here is the first installment in what I hope to be a diverse and reliable source for allergen-free recipes.  I will be posting pics of this dish soon.  I am sorry, my mother and I are largely vegan now, so we don’t cook chicken quite as much as we used to =).  However, I think that it is importatnt that the transition to gluten-free be as easy and comfortable as possible.  Chicken is both easy and comforting.  It is ideal when making such a big change.  Today we tackle gluten, tomorrow perhaps meat….we will wait and see.  I have asked her to make this recipe for illustrative purposes, so thank you in advance for your patience.  In the meantime, I will say, that it looks like crispy fried chicken and tastes even better.  Have fun with it and please let me know what your thoughts if you try it.   

Mom’s Crispy Oven-Baked Chicken

Serves: 3-5

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 lbs. Boneless chicken breasts or thighs (or 6 – 10 chicken legs if you prefer not to have to slice)

Use just enough of the following to coat chicken:

  • Potato Starch
  • Erewhon Gluten-Free Corn Flakes
  • Olive Oil

Seasonings:  1 – 2 Tbs. or to taste

  • Granulated garlic
  • Parsley Flakes
  • Salt
  • Pepper, 1 -2 tsp.

 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Prepare the cereal coating:  In food processor, lightly process corn flakes and seasonings into a course meal (3 pulses or so of the power button ought to do it).  Do not over-process into powder.  Set aside in a shallow bowl or pie plate.

3.  Set up coating station:  Using two shallow bowls or pie plates, pour just enough potato starch to cover the bottom of one of the bowls.  In the other bowl, pour just enough oil to cover the bottom.

4. Prepare chicken:  Rinse chicken and pat dry.  Slice into  about  1″ x  2″ rectangular pieces suitable for dipping. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

3.  Transfer the chicken to the dish with the potato starch.  With your fingers, roll the chicken pieces until lightly coated. 

4.  Transfer the chicken from the corn starch to the bowl with the oil.  Again, using your fingers, toss the chicken in the oil to lightly coat.

5.  Finally, transfer the chicken to the bowl with the cereal mixture and roll it until it is covered entirely.

6. Lightly coat a cookie sheet with oil and place the chicken on the pan leaving 1/2 inch spaces or so between each piece.

7.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink in the middle.

Enjoy with your favorite sauce or condiment.  My mother will usually mix gluten-free ketchup and mayonnaise together to make a tasty sauce.  She advises that you mix it to taste and not be afraid to get creative.  She sometimes will add a dollop of mustard, horseradish, or even relish to the mix.  Just do what tastes good….or just stick with boring old ketchup =).

 

Oven Baked Fries

Serves: 3-5

Ingredients:

  • 5 Russet, Yukon Gold, or Red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into fries
  • Canola oil
  • Granulated garlic
  • Salt

Optional:

  • Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Gluten-free seasoning of choice

 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Wash and scrub your potatoes.  Remove any black spots and slice the potatoes length-wise into long uniform strips.  You can make them thicker or thin depending on your fry preference. 

Note: This is a great opportunity for family members (especially kids) to come and help.  Have them wash and cut the fries.  Fries are easy and very forgiving if not cut perfectly.  If others aren’t an option, you can also use the slice function of a food processor, mandolin, or other handy gadget to slice your potatoes.  There is no rule that says they need look like traditional fries.  The important thing is that they are uniform in thickness and that you are comfortable while cooking.

3.  Place the potatoes into a large bowl and drizzle just enough oil to lightly coat each fry.  If you use too much oil, reserve it to be used to coat the pan.  Add your seasonings and stir to coat evenly.

4.  Transfer the potatoes to a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.

5.  Serve and enjoy!

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How Do I Start a Gluten-Free Diet?

The quick and simple answer is: just commit to eat gluten-free.  At least that is how I did it:  I just, did IT.  But that’s just me;  I tend to be a bit intense.  If you are the kind of person that gets an idea in their head and sticks to it like a pit-bull, then do it my way. 

However, if you are like most people, it will take some easing into, like adjusting to the water in a pool.  Either way, you need to pick an approach that will ensure your success.  There is no wrong way, except the way that doesn’t meet your needs.  My mother and my journey to becoming gluten-free are two very different stories.  I was more like the pit-bull and she the tortoise.  Allow me to explain….

The Pit-Bull

 

The pit-bull latches on to an idea or a way of doing something and clings tenaciously to it.  She is an all-or-nothing kind of gal; there are no baby steps with her, only big leaps.  Her commitment is only rivaled by her unbridled enthusiasm.  When a pit-bull goes gluten-free you’d better move out of her way and by golly don’t go near her with a doughnut!  She has made up her mind that she is going to do this and there isn’t anything that is going to stop her.  She tends to be obsessive and  research crazy; constantly reading everything she can get her hands on about her fixation of the day: gluten, gluten-free food, gluten-free recipes…. you get my drift.  And when she isn’t reading about gluten, she is yakking away about it to anyone who will listen.

If this is the type of personality you identify with, then by all means, go for it!  Throw out all of the gluten in your house, or give it away to your friends, neighbors, or local food bank. While you are at it, scour all of your pots and pans, counters, cupboards, and utensils to remove all residue of gluten.  Heck, toss the toaster and the bread box out altogether and start fresh.   The sooner you rid your life of all traces of gluten, the better!  Let your friends and family know that you are going gluten-free and that in order to be successful, you need their support.  Let them know that there will be no more gluten purchased and brought into the house.  Warn them now that this change is a whopper, so it will be your discussion topic of choice until you have gotten the hang of your new diet.  Invite them to embark on the journey with you, but do not get your feelings hurt if they decline.  Know now, that there are people who do not believe that gluten, or any food, can have such a profound influence over ones health.  Do not engage them  in a debate over food.  Instead, convince them with your actions.  When they see how much better you look and feel, they are much more likely to rethink their position.  If you can, find a buddy or a group that will support your effort, especially if you’re getting static at home.   Set extra time aside for grocery shopping because you will be busy reading each and every ingredient on every item you pick up; sometimes twice. 

There will likely be a day when a loved one will inadvertently “poison” you and it will make you very angry.  You will have explained gluten to them repeatedly, but for whatever reason (most likely an overlooked barley ingredient), they still won’t  quite get it.  Forgive them and move on because their intentions will be good.  Also, you will be suspicious and terrified of all foods that you do not make yourself or that are not “certified gluten-free.”  You will confirm and re-confirm with the server at the restaurant about your food needing to be gluten-free.  You trust  no one and expect  that you will invariably be “poisoned.” And let me not forget the times when you will accidentally “poison” yourself.  It will suck, but don’t beat yourself up.  Remember, what you are doing takes time to master, and each mistake and setback is not only an opportunity to learn, it is a step closer to mastery. 

The Tortoise

Much like in Aesop’s fable, you are slow and steady, but once you decide to go gluten-free, your success is certain.  My mother who also has autoimmune disease would qualify as a tortoise. I (being a pit bull at the time) drove her crazy for a year about my gluten-free diet.  To get me to shut up, she decided to try it.   Within a week, she felt better and was convinced, but her transition was much different from my own. 

First of all, she took baby steps. Rather than purging her house of gluten, she finished off the foods that had already been opened and began only purchasing gluten for my dad.  If she had a large amount of something like flour, she offered it to her neighbor or tossed it if it was nearing the end of its shelf-life.  Unopened foods were either used by my dad or donated to the food bank, depending on how often she used them.  For instance, bread was a staple so even the loaves she had stored in the freezer she used.  However, she gave things she used on occasion,  like cake mixes and unopened bags of flour, away.  The process of transitioning her kitchen to a gluten-free one is still in progress two and a half years later,  but since she’s done it at her own pace,  her changes have become a way of life.   

There was a period after my mother had gone gluten-free when I would not eat anything from her kitchen (sorry Mom) because I was afraid of cross-contamination.  For months after her switch, she would overlook my dad’s  gluten-y bread crumbs in her margarine tub!  Like most of us, my mother did not appreciate the importance of preventing cross-contamination until she and I both “poisoned” ourselves accidentally in her kitchen.  Since learning her lesson the hard way, my mother has become diligent in keeping her gluten-free foods separate from all gluten.  She uses separate cutting boards and has designated gluten and gluten-free slots on her toaster.  She even keeps separate margarine containers to prevent cross-contamination.  Gluten is always prepared separately from gluten-free items, and work surfaces and tools are thoroughly cleaned after every use.  Although it is not visible, gluten is actually very sticky.  It took a few months for my mother to master cross-contamination prevention, but it is now just a normal part of life at my mother’s house.  I don’t think she even thinks about it anymore, it has become habit.  I eat at her house now and no longer worry about being “poisoned.”

Unlike a pit-bull, a tortoise may not require the moral support (or absolute submission – lol) of those living with her.  My father is still transitioning to living gluten-free (not sure he is even aware); my mother has been gradually switching his foods for two years.  She has patiently worked around my father’s reluctance to follow her diet changes and has been very successful.  If she had forced herself or my father, they would have given up long ago.  But because she was willing to take her time and go at her own pace, she not only has been able to transition herself, but my father,  and most likely my brother as well (shhh, don’t tell him).  Despite dismissing my mother for several months, my dad has been gradually allowing his gluten-y bread and snacks, to be phased out.  He still indulges in imported sausages, specialty breads, and Chinese food now and then, but has come to accept and even respect my mother’s dietary changes.  He will even take my mother out to restaurants he knows are sure to offer gluten-free selections. 

I am very surprised and impressed by my father’s evolution over the last few years.  He was very set in his dietary ways.  I never thought in a million years he would support my mother’s decision to go gluten-free.  In fact, I believed that my mother would be unable to make the switch because of my dad’s perceived unyielding closed-mindedness.  I am not one to bring religion into the mix, but when I think of my mother and the way she has dealt with my father, I can’t help but be reminded of the  verse in the Bible that goes….

“4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”   –That’s I Corinthians 14:4 for all of my Christian readers.

My mother never demanded or even asked my father to join her in going gluten-free.  She knew he’d say no, so she made the choice to switch on her own.  Over time, my dad witnessed my mother’s health and appearance improve.  She wasn’t sick all the time anymore. I have to believe that caused him to take notice of what she was doing differently, and caused him to become more receptive to dietary changes.

Unlike Superman, Kryptonite Won’t Kill Us

Like me, my mother got a hold of gluten a few times before mastering the lifestyle Those slip-ups and accidents confirmed for us that we were really not meant to eat gluten.  The reactions we suffered were terrible.  Gluten is my kryptonite and will send me into a full-body-bind flare that will last at least two weeks.  My mother’s reaction is bad, but it doesn’t make her wish for death like me.  Once I realized just how sensitive I was to it, I would do just about anything to avoid it.  I became obsessive because I feared the pain and the cage that accompanied it.  Essentially, it wasn’t so much my personality that made me a pit-bull, it was self-preservation!

The good news is that a gluten-free lifestyle becomes as natural and automatic as the life you live now.  It becomes second nature.  You learn how and what to eat, and what to avoid.  Moreover, if you are indeed gluten sensitive, you will know after your first slip.  If you have a severe reaction, take comfort in knowing that once your body is given time to heal, your reactions will not be as brutal.  In fact, my own goals include becoming healthy enough to eat at one of Chef Ramsey’s restaurants and return to Philadelphia to have a bite of cheese steak without any adverse reaction.  Some would say that these are unrealistic goals for someone like me, but I don’t believe it.  The body is capable of recovery and healing on levels that medicine hasn’t even begun to understand.  I am not convinced that I have achieved my best yet.

As long as you approach going gluten-free in a way that works for you and your family, you are sure to be successful.  It can be an instantaneous overhaul of your life, a gradual transition that takes months or even years, or somewhere in the between of these two extremes.  Finding what works best for you will largely depend on your personality, your current lifestyle, and how sensitive you are to the gluten.  Best of luck =)

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