Chocolate Ginger Feel-Good Granola, Gluten Free and Vegan

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Fairy tales often deal with the issue of temptation, wanting what is bad for us or what we shouldn’t have. Snow White almost dies for a bite of apple, and Rapunzel’s mother loses her own child for a taste of bitter greens. For those of us with IBS, given into a craving often means physical punishment. This is true for both heavy fatty food and bright fresh ones. Feel good food sometimes feels like an oxymoron. The foods we associate with emotional comfort often stress our digestive systems.

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I created this granola for those times when you’re feeling tempted but don’t want to upset your digestive system. Ginger calms irritable bellies, while chocolate does away with irritable moods. It’s lower in sugar than most granola recipes, FODMAP friendly, gluten free, and vegan. This is a treat you can feel good about: tempting, nourishing and easy to digest.

I’ve found that many granola recipes contain as much fat and sugar as cookie dough, but you can achieve sweet and crunchy granola perfection with way less. I chose molasses as my sweetener for this recipe. It has a lovely dark color and rich flavor that complement the ginger and chocolate.

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Chocolate Ginger Feel-Good Granola

 3 cups gluten free rolled oats
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds
1/2 cup raw cashews
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup crystalized ginger, minced
1/2 cup dark chocolate mini chips (I used Enjoy Life brand)

Heat oven to 325°.

In a large bowl combine oats, seeds, nuts, and spice. Toss to combine.

Place oil and molasses in a small bowl and microwave 30-45 seconds, until coconut oil is fully melted. Stir to combine and pour over dry ingredients, tossing thoroughly until granola is evenly coated.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide granola between them, spreading in a thin even layer.

Bake 20 minutes, with baking sheets in the top and bottom third of the oven, switching and rotating trays after 10 minutes. Do not stir; you’ll end up with bigger clumps of granola.

Remove granola to wire racks and sprinkle with chocolate chips and crystalized ginger. Cool completely before eating or storing.

 

Magical Objects: My Great Grandmother’s Spoons

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Most modern meals require a fork, but they lack the simply beauty of spoons. Spoons are for stirring, scooping, serving, tasting. Spoons are symbolic: silver ones for prosperity, “spoon fed” for having it easy, “greasy spoon” for a diner. I collect spoons; for me they are a totem. It started with my Great Grandmother. She had two racks of decorative spoons hanging in her dining room. Some of them were from places she had traveled, others may have been gifts. When she passed my sister and I each inherited eighteen spoons.

My Great Grandmother lived 96 years. Until the end, she had rich auburn hair, wore pearls, and lived alone. She was the smartest woman in my family and the most liberal, an avid reader, news junky, who could beat anyone at cribbage. She was elegant, a dainty eater who loved beautiful serving dishes and always put a bendy straw in my Coke.

I wish I had started my own collection earlier, mapping out my travels with coffee spoons like J. Alfred Prufrock. Instead, there are haphazard additions: a spoon my sister brought from Rome, one decorated with a confederate soldier’s cap found by a friend at a thrift shop here in Georgia, a blue one salvaged from the beach at Dead Horse Bay.

When I inherited the spoons I examined each one, imagine the places they came from, noticing the fine details. One is adorned with a tiny pair of clogs, another has the raised veins of a leaf. Their beauty enchants me. I imagine them laid out on the tables of kings, traveling over the ocean, carefully wrapped in towels. I love the way they’ve aged, the dark rainbows of tarnish. I imagine their stories, as if each was a tiny world like a snow globe encapsulating a piece of my grandmother’s history.

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All Better

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When we say someone has healed, there’s an implied permanence, a sense that the sickness or injury is gone forever. Like “happily ever after,” healed is an impossible promise. And yet, we believe in healing. Healed is a word doctors won’t use with diseases like cancer that may return. For tentative restorations, there’s a different vernacular. We talk about remission, reduction. We fear false hope, being caught unawares.

But does impermanence negate recovery? My IBS symptoms wax and wane, and every once is a great while, they disappear. Yet even in symptom-free times, in my mind, my condition lingers. I don’t think of myself as well.

Unlike the relief I feel waking up after a lingering cold and finding that my head is clear and my breathing easy, with my stomach, feeling well is not enough.  I cannot shake the worry that I may get sick again. I do not simply enjoy being well. I get fixated on permanence.

It isn’t just in matters of physical health that fixedness matters. When it comes to loss, grief, or heartbreak we also speak of healing as if it is a single process, something that leads to a definitive moment when we are cured. But I’ve found that much like my IBS symptoms, my emotional discomforts increase and lessen, but are never wholly negated. I learn to deal with certain triggers, but the underlying tendencies find new outlets. Things improve for a while and then get difficult again.

Obsessed with patterns, I track these recurrences, their cyclical nature. Sometimes I feel that I have improved, matured, but this may be more a matter of stabilizing my environment than developing internally.

It’s the holiday season, a time of traditions and memories, when past and present blur. As adults, we return to our childhood homes. We return to our pasts, old symptoms, old habits, old feelings, return. My parent’s house evokes complex feelings. Sometimes I enjoy the familiar rooms, other times I find myself angry or forlorn. Uncertain of what to do, of how much freedom I am allowed, I lose confidence. I lose maturity, insight, autonomy. I feel old pain. Wounds that I thought had healed reopen.

Does this mean that I never healed, that my mettle is a matter of distance, that my poise is only a lie? If my answer is no, then I must rethink what healing is, to allow the possibility that to be wellness is always momentary, that a relapse of sickness does not negate the moments of health and comfort. Instead, it makes illness and wellness transitory states, both of which, will pass.

Food as Magic

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Photo: glowingcrystal.org

Sometimes it feels like everyone I know is sick. There are a staggering number of people walking around with illnesses. Most of these illnesses are chronic, and few of them have reliable medical cures.

What treatments are available tend to come with side effects almost as bad as the condition itself. And so, increasingly, people are looking for alternative solutions: herbs, supplements, and diets.

At first, taking your health into your own hands feels empowering. When I first began the Low FODMAP diet to treat my IBS-C I knew it would be tough, but I also had faith that it would allow me to live symptom free. For three months I followed the strange restriction, cutting out all the banned foods—wheat, milk, garlic, artichokes, and apples, just to name a few—the result was mixed. I generally felt slightly better than I had before the diet, but I was far from symptom free. In the reintroduction phase the results were even more confusing. At the end I had a short list of foods to avoid (wheat, onions) but otherwise saw little correlation between meals and symptoms.

Certainly diet and exercise are key factors in health, but eating well and staying active isn’t a magical cure. Believing that every illness can be fixed by “clean eating” makes sickness feel like a punishment. Correlating diet and illness too closely makes being sick the sufferer’s fault, a symptom of undisciplined living, penance for lack of self-control. Illness becomes an expression of moral failing.

When I have an IBS flare-up, I go to the internet, searching for some solution I haven’t tried yet. My symptoms, I learn could indicate SIBO, Candida, or leaky gut, so I order oregano oil, probiotics, peppermint oil, caprylic acid. Most of these supplements make me feel worse.

Eating, which was once a pleasure, now produces guilt and anxiety. I worry about how much fiber I’m getting, if I’m combining foods correctly, if I’m eating too much protein, if I’m making things better or worse.

Planning meals feels a bit like making a magic potion, as if combining the correct nutrients can release supernatural powers from the plants and animals I consume. The internet is full of stories of this sort of magic, people whose health problems disappeared as a result of the Whole 30, GAPS, or high-fiber diets. My personal experience is far less positive and yet, despite the glib advice, “listen to your body,” I feel like a failure when I do just that, paying attention to my worsening symptoms.

Sometimes in restaurants I watch other people eat with fascination, trying to remember what it was like to be able to eat anything, to freely choose between a salad and a pizza. I watch people eating, easily, thoughtlessly, choosing foods that would leave me doubled over in pain. If food is magic, why don’t they feel the curse?

It seems reasonable to think that if food can heal it can also damage, that if certain foods are miraculous than others are hexes. But if this is true, it certainly isn’t true for everyone. Many people eat the foods that pain me with no ill consequences. Knowing this, I try to allow myself the grace of its opposite, that if food cannot destroy all, it may not offer universal healing. I may not be able to cure my mysterious symptoms. Living with them is hard enough without believing that they indicate a personal failing.

Impossible Challenge Recipe: Gluten Free Bagels, Part 1

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Frequently reading fairy tales distorts my sense of what is possible. If Beauty can turn a beast into a prince, I think, surely I can make a killer gluten free bagel on the first try. This post is part of a new series “Impossible Challenge Recipes,” an apt designation I decided on before attempting my first installment.

I confess, I haven’t been baking very often and when I do, instead of baking gluten free I’ve been using spelt flour, a wheat relative that my body (thankfully) tolerates. Spelt is not a perfect substitute for wheat. It has less gluten, more protein, and absorbs more liquid than standard flour. But it’s close, close enough that it can be used on its own instead of as a part of a complicated blend, close enough that it doesn’t require the support of xanthan gum, guar gum, or psyllium husk powder, close enough that milk powder and extra eggs are not required. In short, spelt flour is a lot easier to work with than gluten free flours. It’s a great option when I’m baking just for me.

But the thing about food, and especially baked goods, is that are often meant for sharing. I get frustrated at parties when everyone else is eating fluffy cupcakes, chewy brownies, and delicious sandwiches and I’m supposed to be grateful because someone brought a quinoa salad. Of course, before I discovered my own wheat intolerance I never even considered baking anything gluten free, but now I understand how hard it can be constantly deprived of options.

So, I’ve decided to re-embrace gluten free baking, and take on the most challenging baking tasks I can think up, things that would have scared me even when I was still using wheat flour.

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This bagel was my first challenge. It combines tapioca starch, glutinous rice flour, potato starch, millet flour, and teff flour. It has both xanthan gum and psyllium husk powder. It has one egg and some ground flax seed. All of this combined to make a bagel that is very chewy and not at all fluffy.

The picture up top looks pretty good, but you can see in the one just above that I didn’t get much of a rise. Also, they cooked unevenly, with oily looking tops and crunchy, over-browned bottoms. I could feel discouraged, but if there’s one thing that fairy tales have taught me it’s that it usually takes 3 tries to get something right. Time to try again!

I’m open to suggestions and magical assistance.

Against the Odds

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On a recent lazy afternoon, I was looking through posts on my favorite food blogs and saw that one of them—Pastry Affair—was having a giveaway. I entered, partly because I wanted the prize—a fancy blender—but I was also taken with the content of the particular post, a recipe for almond milk accompanied by a discussion of the writer’s (Kristin Rosenau) severe dairy intolerance. Pastry Affair is a fairly mainstream baking blog, one which rarely includes posts tailored toward specialized diets. Its recipes are full of cream and butter, so I was shocked to learn that Kristin can’t eat most of the food she makes for the blog, that even small amounts of dairy make her extremely sick.

My own approach to food writing is more selfish. I write about food I can eat and bake things that fall within the limits of my restricted diet. I was diagnosed with IBS only two years ago and went gluten free a year after that. I’m still new to all of this restriction and I struggle.

Despite having learned to make gluten-free versions of most of my favorite foods I often slip into self-pity when I find myself in a social situation where these options aren’t available. I hate not being able to have a slice of wedding cake, a casual piece of pizza, a coffee shop sandwich.

Sometimes I can see my new food guidelines as a challenging adventure, but more often I view them with frustration. Reading Kristin’s post, I was struck by her poise, positivity, and risk-taking. I left a comment, entered the drawing, and waited.

That week, while waiting for the results of the giveaway, I felt excited. I thought about the recipes I’d make if I won the blender. It had been a long a time since I’d won anything; it had been a long time since I’d entered something, at least something that wasn’t decided at least in part by merit.

As I kid, I loved entering contests and I remember winning my fair share. The prizes were never anything big, usually just a coupon or a t-shirt, but winning was exciting. There was something about entering contests, about hoping for something, against the odds. Taking a chance, believing in possibility, was like dreaming, like magic.

Fairy tale magic is often about overcoming impossible odds. The heroines take on tasks that are beyond their means. A girl must spin straw into gold, or sort lentils from stones, or find a place east of the sun and west of the moon. These impossible tasks are somehow always completed, and hearing these stories as a young girl instilled in me a belief that I could achieve impossible things.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped reaching for things that seemed impossible. I started believing in the odds. I became practical. But this practicality, while safe—and even useful—is limiting. It keeps from a great many losses, but also from the potential of winning. I’d like to break free of it, to bet on myself.

In that spirit, I’ve started entering all the giveaways and raffles I can find, as long as the entry fee is less than a dollar. I mean, I can’t totally give up on practicality J

 

 

 

Mermaids and Poor Judgement

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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Little Mermaid, possibly the most powerless of all fairy tale heroines. She isn’t vulnerable because she is weak or passive but because the world around her acts in ways she doesn’t expect.

I’ve been struggling with my IBS, had a terrible flare up despite my best attempts at self-care. I’m feeling better today, and I’m grateful, but I worry about when the next attack will come. When I’m sick I struggle to write, to read, to talk about anything else. I become completely absorbed with my own body, my own discomfort. I become irritable and prone to tears. I wonder if I’ll always have these symptoms, and I search obsessively for some diet or supplement I haven’t already tried to ease my discomfort.

I think about the Mermaid, how despite her beauty and faithfulness, she ends up alone because she can’t explain who she is. Nothing she does can bring back her voice, which she gave up because it provided an opportunity, because she does what she knows is right for her. Even though everything goes wrong, I still feel she made the right choice, that she would have been miserable if she hadn’t tried.

I tell myself this because my own illness seems to be the result of a decision, the choice to quit smoking, a choice I made for my health. But I don’t feel healthy. My body doesn’t work as it should. Try as I may, I find over and over that I am powerless, that I cannot prevent my symptoms. I berate myself for all the years I spend smoking, and feel that the damage I’ve done is irreparable. Surely the mermaid, looking back, could blame herself for ignoring her father’s good advice, can see her behavior as reckless. But I understand why she didn’t. I forgive her rebelliousness, her daring, her curiosity, and try to see my own youthful poor judgement sympathetically.

 

A Reflection on Delicacy

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In some versions of Cinderella the lost shoe is made of squirrel fur; in others it is solid gold. But the glass slipper—sharp, easily broken, transparent, and requiring great craftsmanship—feels right. It is an object that requires careful handling, that cannot be bent or stretched, only broken. It’s delicacy is part of its magic.

Delicacy is a feminine ideal that has always felt out of reach to me. I long for small hands, long spindly legs and a tiny nose. To call something delicate implies fragility but also fineness, lightness, and equilibrium. Delicate features are both diminutive and well made, a combination that is alluring in its grace and vulnerability. We are attracted to things easily broken. Delicacy implies a need for care and restraint, it is a beauty which imposes, inhibits.

We use the phrase “delicate balance” to emphasize the difficulty of stability, a recurrent motif in fairy tales. The easily broken requires constant awareness and attention. The prick of a single spindle is enough to put a delicate princess to sleep for a century. Fairy tales are defined by delicacy, thin windows of opportunity, brief moments of connection.

There is a particular beauty to things which are easily destroyed: glass slippers, crystal coffins, a girl small as a thumb. In fairy tales, fragile objects are carefully tended to, eliciting tenderness in the people around them. In Wonderland, every move Alice makes seems to destabilize. Fairy tales are full of warnings to be careful.

In terms of food, a delicacy is something rare and expensive, often with an element of difficulty in preparation or discomfort in consumption. Some delicacies are young animals, consumed for their tender, inexperienced flesh, others are naturally poisonous foods specially prepared to remove their deadly toxins. In the Philippines, embryonic eggs are eaten by sucking translucent unborn ducks from shells delicate as fine china. Eating the developing birds is supposed to give strength to pregnant women.

Delicacy describes that which is easily injured or prone to sickness. A delicate constitution is one easily upset. A delicate stomach is one that struggles with digestion. But that difficulty is born out of sensitivity, an exceptional responsiveness.

A delicate instrument is one capable of distinguishing barely perceptible differences, fine-tuned, well-made. Delicacy requires great skill, it calls for deft handling, it begs both care and skill.

Women strive for delicacy. We long for thin bones, small waists, dainty features. It can be easy to dismiss such longings as frivolous, to equate them with subservience and weakness. But maybe our hunger for delicacy has more to do with a yearning for our sensitivity to be acknowledged, a longing to be seen as fine-tuned and deserving of attentiveness.

Happily Ever After

 

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When you’ve believed something about yourself for long enough, it feels factual. It becomes part of how you define yourself. As a lover or fairy tales, you’d think I’d believe in happy endings, yet what is more quintessentially fictional than a fairy story?

I gave up on having a family of my own long ago. Marriage and children, I said, were not for me. I can’t remember if this was this a choice I made at some point out of a desire for freedom or if I felt that I was defective in some way that would prevent me from having them. I honestly can’t remember, but once the belief that I would never marry or have children became part of my identity, both things seemed true: I didn’t want these things and that they were unavailable to me.

But somehow I’ve landed in stable relationship with a man who wants to get married and have children, who sees these things in our shared future. And now that I’m faced with the possibility, I’m not sure what I want. It is delightful to let go of the voice in my head that says I’m not the marrying kind, but it is terrifying to think that there is nothing special or strange about me.

In fairy tales the heroines are often defined by some oddity: Rapunzel’s hair, the Pea Princess’s sensitive skin, Little Red’s bright cloak. But they are also conventional: pretty, feminine, obedient. Their adventures, however fanciful, end with the same, bland happily-ever-after. The girls have their adventures and then they settle down and have families. There is part of me that feels drawn to the new possibility of being able to have a normal life and part that resists falling into the expected pattern.

Why the House Creaks and Groans

(After the Brazilian tale “Why the Sea Moans”)

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A girl was born into a large house that sat on a high hill. It had once been a beautiful mansion, but her family’s wealth had been lost long ago and now the house was decaying, and most of the wings were boarded up, and the girl and her mother and father lived in the heart of the house, at its center. They lit only a single fire and cooked and slept in the same room. The girl’s parents, ashamed of how far they had fallen, rarely left the house and the little girl wasn’t allowed to leave either. She was very lonely, but sometimes at night, or when the wind was strong and the house creaked and groaned she swore it was saying her name.

One day there was a terrible storm and the wind howled and moaned through the house and the girl’s parents busied themselves sealing broken windows and nailing old doors closed, and the girl, alone with the fire, heard the house say her name more clearly and distinctly than ever. She gazed into the fire intently and in the flames saw a kind and beautiful face. “

In the garden,” the flames whispered, “when the storm is over, you will find a tree that grows rubies instead of fruit and your family will be saved.”

The girl was overjoyed and thanked the face in the flames over and over. The face said it was the spirit of the house, and was happy to help.

“You must promise that when your family’s wealthy is restored you will repair me and return me to my former glory,” and the girl promised.

Soon her parents returned and she told them there was a tree in the garden that grew rubies instead of fruit and that it would save them. Her parents laughed, but after the storm they went into the garden and there was the tree, shining with red light.

They picked the rubies and took them into town and traded them for fine clothes and delicious food, and were merry. Then the girl said, “come mother and father, we must return home and repair the house, for I have promised.”

But they said, “why repair what has been so badly damaged when we can buy a new house?” So they found a new home closer to town, and the girl had lovely clothes and a room of her own, and soon she forgot about her former home.

The old house sat alone on its hill, falling every day into greater disrepair. It creaked and groaned, but no one was left to hear it.