Friday, July 27, 2012

Gluten 101

The question I get the most is: what the hell is gluten?  Before we get into that, I want to be clear that I am not a doctor, but I am gluten-free, which frankly, means I probably know more about certain aspects of gluten than most doctors, but I am not here to diagnose or give medical advice.  I can just tell you what I know, knowledge gained from personal experience and research I've done over the years to better my ailments with gluten.  With that said, here's the basics:

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.  Anything that has those ingredients therefore has gluten.  Examples: flour, malt vinegar, most breads and pasta.

Being gluten-free can mean a few things.  For some, it is a diet and lifestyle change.  Others, it is medically necessary.  A confusing things about gluten-intolerance and Celiac's is that it is not actually an allergy.  These two words Allergy and Intolerance are often used interchangeable, but its very important to understand they are not synonyms.  Not to say they aren't as serious.  Allergies imply that if a person eats, or even touches the thing they are allergic to, they will have a reaction like swelling, throat closing, passing out, etc.  Allergies manifest themselves externally (as well as internal).  Intolerance's refer more to the digestive system. 

Located in the small intestine are villi which are small and finger like.  Each time a gluten-intolerant person eats gluten, the villi are damaged and damaged villi cannot digest nutrients properly, leading to malnutrition among other things.  After years of abuse, a person who doesn't realize they should be eating a gluten-free diet will have very damaged villi.  This affects a person throughout their entire body.  Signs of this include, but are not limited to:
-bloating (almost all the time)
-emotional problems such as mood swings and anxiety (due to the body attempting to digest
something it physically cannot digest)
-dry skin
-weight loss or inability to gain weight
-thin and brittle hair
-hives or skin redness

The good news is, once you go on a strict gluten-free diet, the villi does repair itself over time.  Bad news is, if you accidental eat it, the villi is damaged again. 

Going gluten-free can seems very intimidating, and down right depressing.  I have shed many tears over the fact that I will never again EVER eat a real bagel or my father's pasta dishes.  I was devastated over this.  And of course, there's the social aspect.  No ones wants to be the person who makes everything difficult.  It took a long time to comes to terms with this, and realize: being gluten-free doesn't make you difficult.  Different, yes, but not a burden.  It's not your fault you can't eat something, and you should never feel like you're being a burden.  Sorry, but you will have to help choose restaurants, check menus before going places, make your own food etc.  But I promise, it gets better. 

Hidden sources of gluten:
-Fried foods: yes, french fries seem like they'd be gluten-free since they're potatoes, but once they enter that fryer with other breaded items, or where bread has been, they aren't gluten-free anymore.  A lot of the time they have a coating on them, too, which isn't.  Stay away, unless certified gluten-free of the restaurant has a separate fryer for gluten-free items.
-Envelopes: strange, huh?  Don't go licking those envelopes. 
-Oatmeal and oats: this is a tricky one.  Oats themselves do not contain gluten, but often the fields where wheat and oats are grown are neighbors, and the wind causes cross-contamination.  I just recently started adding oats back into my diet and I will only eat the certified gluten-free ones.  I tried some normal kinds, but it was just too risky. 
-Cross-Contamination: this is a word you'll hear a lot.  It refers to your gluten-free item crossing paths with a gluten-filled item.  This happens mostly with toasters, knives, and counter tops.  If someone (like me) is very sensitive to it, just having gluten touch my food can make me sick.  The simplest solution for this is to keep everything simple.  In my house, we have separate butter dishes and use squeeze bottles when possible for condiments to avoid the accidental knife-on-bread-then-in-jar problem.  TRAIN YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS TO KEEP EVERYTHING SEPARATE!
-Malt: this is a very dirty word when you're gluten-free.  Don't go near anything malted.  This includes malted beverages such as Twisted Tea, malt vinegar, cereal with barley malt etc.  It's barley and a no-no.
-Soy Sauce: most of the time its made from wheat.  Check the label!
-Wheat Free is not the same as gluten-free: just because something says it doesn't contain wheat, doesn't mean it doesn't contain gluten.  It may have hidden sources, rye, barley etc.
-French onion soup sans the bread: don't let your waiter fool you.  Just because you remove the bread, doesn't mean its gluten-free!  On the night of my wedding rehersal dinner, I was told this by my waitress, only to find myself sick in restroom minutes later.  Come to find out, it had Guiness in it.  I don't think a barley filled beer in my soup really constitutes gluten-free.  Don't just take their word.  Most of the time they don't know what they are saying or what gluten is.  *same goes for a sandwich.  No, you can't just take the burger off the bread.  It's still covered in bread.  Send it back.  Do not eat something just because you don't want to be a pain and say something. 

Really, list goes on and on about where you can find gluten.  The best advice I can give is: when in doubt, look it up.

Items that DO NOT contain gluten (have as much as you want!):
-Rice (unless of course, it is mixed with other types of starches.  Check the label.)
-Xantham gum: this is what us gluten-free bakers use as a binder.  Gluten is a binder, so removing gluten makes baking tough.  Xantham gum is something you'll see in pretty much every baked good for the rest of your life.
-Wine and liquor: see?  There's hope!  Liquor is a confusing thing.  Whisky is made from wheat, but the way they distill it removes the gluten protein.  This doesn't mean you can boil out gluten, but when its distill enough, its removed.  And wine is grapes, so as long as it isn't a malted beverage, go crazy! 
-Most cheeses: with the exception of bleu cheese, which you can find gluten-free, but the way the cheese is made "bleu" often involves bread, so read the ingredients.

There is no cure for this.  The only way to save yourself and your villi is to live a strict gluten-free lifestyle.  In order to do this, you need the support of your family.  Educate those around you about the impact of gluten on your life and what they can do for you.  My husband is the most supportive person alive when it comes to my Celiac's.  He will not hesitate to ask questions and search high and low for a gluten-free item I'm really wanting (like gluten-free french onion soup.  YUM!).   

Check out these resources for more information.  What I've provided you with is a very bare-bones basic introduction to what it means to be gluten-free, but there's always more information to see:

Feel free to comment with questions, and I'll do my best to answer.  A couple more quick things:

1. Most people go years before they realize gluten is the problem.  Talk to your doctor before you completely change your diet, but take a couple days to try being gluten-free if you suspect its a problem.  I felt better within a few mere days.  If you suspect your intolerant to it, track your symptoms and speak to your doctor asap.
2. Some people don't have all the symptoms.  For some reason men don't get the stomach pains and issues as much as women.  (Of course, we have to give birth AND feel worse with gluten.)  This is a blessing and a curse though, because if you don't feel the effects, your likely to keep eating it, which is worse in the long run.  Poor villi.
3. There is a blood test for Celiac's, but it's not always accurate.  A test could tell you that you don't have it, when in fact you have gluten-intolerance.  Go with your gut (har har) and choose the gluten-free lifestyle if you feel better on it.  Doctors don't know everything.
4. THIS IS NOT A WEIGHT LOSS PLAN.  It is often thought that being gluten-free will lead to weight loss.  Yes and no.  Yes, gluten-free means almost no fried food (unless you make it yourself), less carbs, more homemade dishes etc.  This could lead to weight gain, but really you can do these things without actually going gluten-free.  When I went gluten-free in 2007, I finally gained weight because for the first time ever, my body was getting what it needed from my food. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

5 Money Saving Tips of the Week-Spa Edition

This summer has been way to humid, and frankly, I haven't done much as far as "pampering" (or really, normal maintenance) because I'm just too hot.  It's also really tough on the wallet to have a spa day (what with all your money going to the AC fund).  With that said, this week's Money Saving Tips are all about pampering YOU, without spending a ton of money.  There's nothing worse than spending over your budget on beauty products only to find they are not worth it, wrong color, or (if you're like me) the guilt you feel over making said purchase of an unnecessary item.  Well, I've come up with (and tested for you) the top 5 beauty products, on a budget.

1. Wet n' Wild Megalast Salon Nail Color ($1.99)
Megalast Salon Nail Color, I Need a Refresh-MintI've tried my fair share of nail polishes, and never have I found one that I like as much as this one.  The brush is rounded, something I think is genius in terms of nail polish application, and it really does give your self-painted nails a salon look.  I've never been good at painting my nails, so for years I just didn't and every now and again I'd splurge and get a manicure.  Those days are over, because for a mere $1.99 I can get this polish in every color!  Goes on great, looks professional, doesn't chip right away and it's cheap.  I've only found it at Hannaford, and I've been spoiling myself by picking up a new color when I'm grocery shopping.  Walgreens claims to have it, also.  The only down side: there are only a few colors available.  Let's hope that changes soon.

2. Aussie 3 Minute Miracle ($2.99)
aussie - 3 minute miracle Deeep condtioning for damaged dosA few months back I was searching for a deep conditioning treatment to use every few days and found them all to be far out of my budget.  Years ago I used the nice one Biolage puts out, but it's not gluten-free and I don't want to risk accidental swallowing some of it.  I picked up the Aussie 3 Minute Miracle deep conditioner because I've used and liked their products in the past and it wasn't a big loss if I didn't like it.  I tried it, and loved it!  Not only does it have a wonderful scent to it, but it works really well, leaving my hair feeling soft and performed as well as the Biolage one I used years ago.  It costs about $2.99 and all major stores carry it.  Recently Target had a 2/$5 deal, so I stocked up. 

3. Softsoap Coconut Scrub Bodywash ($2.99)
If you're looking for a great summer exfoliating body scrub, I suggest the Softsoap Coconut Scrub Bodywash.  It smells delicious and leaves your skin feeling so soft!  The price varies a little depending on where you get it, but it's usually around $2.99.  I usually just use what's on sale, but when I want an extra something in the body wash, this is the one I go to.

4. St. Ives Coconut Milk & Orchid Extract Body Lotion ($3.99)
I know, I know, enough of the coconut, but come on!  It's summer after all.  The summer months tend to dry out my skin big time, between the sun and AC, so I knew I needed a good, strong body lotion.  Problem is, most of them are really expensive and I didn't want to spend $8 on it.  When I'm not sure what brand to try, I usually opt for St. Ives, the budget friendly brand.  I was very surprised at how much I liked this lotion.  It's nice and thick, but not greasy and soaks right into your skin, leaving it so soft.  Use this after the coconut body scrub and you'll feel like you just had a a spa treatment.  I can't remember the exact cost but I believe it was about $3.99.  It worked so well, I even got the neutral scented one for my husband, and he liked it too. 

5. Clinique Redness Solutions Foundation with SPF 15 ($25.00)
I know what you're thinking: how is a $25 foundation on the Money Saving Tips list?  Hear me out.  I first tried this foundation in November when I was getting married and wanted a long lasting, great coverage foundation on the big day.  Because it was for the wedding, I splurged.  I've used it every single day since then, and will never use another kind.  Yes, expensive, but I just ran out, this week, in July.  I got nearly 8 months of use out of it because it doesn't take much to work it's magic.  I would bet that every woman has at one point or another purchased foundation in the price range of $10-16 only to discover she hated it.  I've done this a million times.  What a money waster!  So the way I see it, you can buy the one, slightly more expensive brand, you know is going to work, instead of a bunch of cheaper ones that are sub-par.  I spent years looking for the perfect foundation, and at last, I've found it.  The best part is, before purchasing, I went to the cosmetic counter and asked what color I should use and they gave me a sample.  I was able to try it out for a couple days before making my decision.  Best purchase, ever. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Unexpected Free Time (Is this possible!?)

This morning, as the sun came up, so did I.  This was good and bad.  I'm exhausted beyond belief and I just wanted to sleep in, but no, forget about it, not happening.  The sun is like a newborn baby waking me up all the time.  When its up, I'm up.  This is good though because I'm suddenly aware that I'm in a quiet house, and no one is awake (not even the dog).  I dare say, I can do what I want! It should be noted that when I went to bed my kitchen was a horrendous mess of post dinner dishes, and this morning its spotless.  Thank God for amazing husbands.  So here's a list of 5 things I could do with my morning:

1. NOTHING.  Just sit.  Drink coffee.  Enjoy the birds, chirping away (like an alarm clock).
2. Knit, of course.  What better than a little early morning knitting to get your day started?
3. Shower without having to rush (wouldn't that be something?).
4. Laundry.  Read my book. 
5. Watch something other than Curious George, Toy Story or Elmo.  Do other things exist?

So now, what'll it be?  I think this will be one of those scenarios where you don't know what to watch, so you flip through Netflix (or cable, if you are a lucky duck) and debate the pros and cons of a show/movie until look at that, an hour has gone by and you decided instead to play a board game.  I will likely go over my options until someone distracts me, and decide instead to the following:

1. Get my son up and freshly diapered.  Likely, this will involve a plea from me to him of "Let's use the potty!!"  And him responding in a fit of "NOOOOOOOO" for a few minutes.  This will go on to me ignoring him and putting him on said potty anyway, only to end up a messy, and terrible mistake on my part.  He doesn't want to use the potty. 
2. Prepare breakfast for my baby-dude.  I'd bet my non-rushed shower that he wants waffles and dip (syrup) as he always does.  Lucky for me, I keep a batch in the freezer for just these mornings.  Oh wait, I ran out of them yesterday.  Perhaps I should revise my above list and add "make waffles". 
3. Debate which morning cartoon he'd like to watch.  Will it be Elmo?  George?  I dare say, something new?
4. Rush through my shower and air dry my hair.  Maybe I'll even brush it today, if time permits. 
5. Throw that load of laundry in, get the dog up and fed, and begin our day.

Ahhh the glamorous life of a mother.  At least I get to look at this every day:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

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5 Money Saving Tips of the Week

As a stay at home parent, I'm always looking for ways to save money.  As an attempt to help others save, check back each Wednesday for my 5 Money Saving Tips of the Week! 

                                          1. Make your own iced coffee
Summer is here, and with that usually comes with the overwhelming need for an amazing iced coffee.  For my husband and I, this need follows us around all year round.  This summer particularly, with the oppressing heat, we've been drinking a ton of it.  In an attempt to both save money, and keep up with our addiction, we have been making our own, and I have to say, its great, if not better than coffee shops.  Have I convinced you yet?  Good.  So now go grab a pitcher (you can buy one for about the cost of an iced coffee at Starbucks...) and each morning, instead of tossing the unused coffee down the drain put it in the pitcher and then in the fridge.  I do this every morning, and occasionally brew an extra pot for adding to my pitcher.  By doing this, you save twice, by not buying one and by not wasting the bottom of the pot morning coffee. 

                                                    2. Use the library
Every time I hear someone say they purchased a movie they haven't even seen, I cringe thinking of other ways that money could have been spent.  We almost never buy movies, and instead use the library for borrowing them.  As long as you don't rack up a ton of late fees (which lets face it, if you do, they go to a better cause than Wal Mart) it's free to borrow!  We only buy (on Amazon, used) if it's a movie we know we will use over an over.  Something I only recently discovered, is that if your library doesn't own the item you're looking for, just ask them to purchase it.  Most of the time they'll be thankful for the tip, and you'll be put at the front of the line when it is added to the shelf.  Of course it should go without saying that you can also use the library's other free resources, too, especially in the summer.  Many libraries do a Summer Reading Program which can not only get your family reading, but can earn you prizes like free kid's meals at restaurants like Applebees, gift cards, and sometimes even bigger prizes like Nooks or Kindles. 

                                           3. Hit up garage sales and Craigslist
When it comes to kids and baby items, furniture and things like this, there is no reason not to check out yard sales and consignment shops before buying new.  People get rid of awesome stuff all the time!  Recently, we wanted to find a desk for my son, so I jumped on Craigslist and within minutes found a great one. 
We got this one for $10 because the owners were moving and didn't want to take it with them.  I know you are probably thinking that you don't have the time or energy to go searching for deals, but I found this one literally in minutes and we picked it up that night.  It was quick, easy and cheap!  *and no, that is not coffee on his desk.  My husband and his family are obsessed with re-using these containters, and he came up with the great idea of storing the crayons in it.  Keeps them safe from the dog, and as my hubs pointed out, it creates a really interesting smell every time you open the lid. 

4. Cook in Bulk
When I'm cooking certain meals, I like to make double so I can freeze it for a later date.  This helps save money and time (two things I wish I had more of).  I usually use Ziplock Freezer bags for freezing my meals, if I'm doing a spaghetti sauce, marinated chicken, soup, etc.  On most things, I go generic brand, but learn from my mistakes and use Ziplock.  If you cheap out on this, you'll need to double up on the bags, and are you really saving if you do this?  Cooking like this can reduce the number of impromptu trips to the grocery store (which always cost way more than they should) and can save you from cooking and cleaning up the mess from said meal preparation.  We also freeze some leftovers, even if its not enough for full meal, but instead a serving or two, because it makes great lunches.  If I have a couple servings of soup leftover, I freeze it, and when the times comes, defrost and you have a yummy small meal, plus you reduce waste.  Don't forget to go through your freezer every few weeks and use some things up to make room for more.  You don't want anything going bad!

5.Rotate your kid's toys
Something I've noticed about kids is that they may "love" that toy, but they'll forget about it in about five minutes if they don't see it.  My son has a million toys and we, frankly, get sick of tripping over and putting them away.  Last summer, at the peak of the toy frenzy, we decided to rotate his toys, and every few months we put a box of them in the garage, and take out the ones he hasn't played with in awhile.  My guy is too young for this, but you can also use the backup toys as "prizes" for good behavior. When they aren't looking, put a box of their toys in the garage, and reward them every once and a while with one of them.  Most likely they'll be just as excited as getting a brand new toy!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Honey Mustard & Mint Crock-Pot Chicken Recipe

*Recipe can also be found under  Recipes

Usually, when I cook I don't use an actual recipe.  Much like my sewing, I look over a few recipes (patterns), get it in my head and alter it to my liking.  This was how this honey mustard chicken came to be.  I was looking through some gluten-free cookbooks and saw something just this, where you combine the flavors of two things I love: honey mustard and mint.  I knew I had to try this. As with everything else I make, you can change this to meet your dietary needs.  If you're not gluten-free (lucky duck) than you can use any brand you want.  The ones I use say Gluten-free on the bottle, so I know they are safe.  Don't be afraid to change the ingredients around too.  If you favor mint, add more.  If garlic is your thing, add some more.  It's your taste buds, so make them happy!

 Here's how I made it:

What you need:
4 chicken breasts (if you need it done quicker, you can opt for thin cutlets) 
3 tbsp honey mustard
3 tbsp balsamic vinaigrette (the honey kind is especially good)
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tbsp chopped mint leaves (fresh will give you a more potent flavor.  I use the regular crushed mint you find in the spices aisle and its still very good.)
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp oil (I like olive oil best)
optional: a dash of white pepper

What you do:
Rinse the chicken in cold water and place them in crock pot.  Top chicken with all other ingredients and mix to coat.  Put the cover on and cook about 5 hours on high, or until the chicken is done.  I prefer this when the chicken is slightly over done and subsequently shreds a little when you cut it.  I find the dryness soaks up the sauce. 

Serve with some couscous or rice and a green veggie, such as green beans and you'll have a delicious and easy meal! 

optional:  I melted a little muenster cheese on this chicken and it was fabulous.  My little man loved it too.

I use Ken's since it's gluten-free and oh-so-yummy.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

2 Stitches I've Learned This Week

Earlier in the week, a far more experienced knitter than myself called and asked for my help in figuring out a pattern.  I figured I'd take a stab at it so I went over, took a look and declared it too hard for me.  It had instructions for things I'd never heard of (psso, p2sso...) and I was sure I couldn't do it.  But then, I remembered!  The Internet exists! 

I went home and looked up how to do the things I didn't know, and with the help of YouTube, I learned 2 stitches and showed her, and now she's well on her way. 

In case you get stuck on these in the future, I want to share the videos that helped me:

PSSO (Pass Slip Stitch Over)

KYOK all in next stitch (knit, yarn over, knit in next stitch)

Since I've started knitting, I've been nervous about approaching patterns with new terminology.  I like to stick to what I know, since knitting is so time consuming and it can be very frustrating if you mess up.  On the same note, it can be very rewarding to try something new and make a beautiful item you never dreamed you could do.  I remember when I started out and I thought purling and ribbing would be too hard and now, those are every day stitches for me.  Don't be afraid to challenge yourself and ask for help (or look them up) if you are stuck.  Chances are, if you're asking it, someone else has before. 

In an attempt to take my own advice, I'm trying a pattern that seemed challenging to me, but turns out it isn't too bad, if I just pay attention to what its asking me to do.  I'll be sure and post pictures when I'm finished (in about a million years, since its a baby blanket!).

Best of luck on your knitting adventures!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Gluten-Free Bread Recipe

I've been gluten-free since 2007 and the first thing I noticed was how expensive it is.  It's amazing how much omitting wheat can add to your grocery bill.  In an effort to save money, a bread machine is absolutely necessary to a gluten-free lifestyle.  With the average, not very good loaf of gluten-free bread costing about $6.00, you can really save a lot, and get a much better quality product by taking the time to make your own. 

I searched high and low for a recipe that I liked best, and many where dry and just not good.  After many attempts, this is the one I liked best:

What you'll need:
1 tbsp yeast (a small packet of it)
1 tbsp sugar
1.5 cup warm water
2.5 cups Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Flour (Please note:  this is the brand I like best, since for $3.99 you can get a bag of it rather than buying all the different kinds and making your own all purpose mix)
2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
2 tbsp oil (any works, but I like corn oil best)
1 tsp apple cider vinegar

How to make it:
In a small bowl, combine the yeast and sugar and slowly stir in warm water.  Set aside.  In another bowl, combine eggs, oil and vinegar and whisk until frothy.   In a third bowl, combine the flour, xanthan gum and salt, and mix.

Now, each bread machine is likely to be different, and maybe you have a gluten-free setting, but I don't.  I use the settings:

2-French (if you don't have this, use basic, white, or sandwich setting)
Medium for color (mine gives the option of light, medium and dark loaf)
Smaller loaf (I don't like making a bigger one, because the slices come out way to big)

Add ingredients, with the wet in first, close the top and press start! 

Let the machine do the rest of the work.  It takes about 3.5 hours to cook, but its worth the wait, and you don't have to do anything.  The result is this yummy bread, that you wouldn't even know was gluten-free.  My husband sneaks it onto his sandwiches and he is not gluten-free.  It's very yummy, even it isn't very pretty!

*UPDATE:  Not moments after my first slice of this amazing bread, did my puppy get to it, taking a few bites and leaving me to find the carcass of my loaf right there on the kitchen floor.  Tears were nearly shed.  Items (bread) were thrown (in the garbage).  Dog was scolded.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

An Alternative to the Traditional Baby Bib

My son has never liked wearing bibs, and I've always struggled to keep them on him.  I noticed a trend of baby bandanna bibs and fell in love with the idea!  I had recently purchased a two-pack of regular traditional bandannas for our 7 month old lab to wear, and every time I put one on him, my son would want one too (he alerted me by yelling "bandan!!" so that is what we call them now).  I started putting one on the baby as a bib, but it was a little big, so I created some baby and toddler sized ones, that conveniently fit our 60 pound pup too.  The result was an adorable, functionable fun way to keep food off your little one and make your pup look very cool.

 (It's not easy attempting to photograph a moving toddler!)

To get a Bandan for your toddler, pup, or both, please check out my Etsy Shop, Crooked By Design, where you find a bunch of them.  Feel free to let me know if you want one customized and I can accommodate.  They would make great gifts and they are cheap!  The best part: they are machine washable and tie on, so they fit many sizes and you can machine wash and dry them.

Monday, July 2, 2012

I am obsessed with this song!  Every time I play it, my 22 month old says, "again" and dances.  Though, I have to admit, I could do without the talking part in the middle, it is very catchy and will get in your head.  For days. 
© Chronicles of a Knaptime Knitter. Made with love by The Dutch Lady Designs.
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