Free to Be You and Me and Gluten-Free

Lily pads at our local art museum.
The blog “The Wanderlust Gene” posted a lily photo today… but hers is actually growing wild in Sri Lanka. I have feelings of inadequacy.

Miles run today: 9

Temperature forecast for this afternoon: 105

Hours spent walking through the woods at a local park yesterday: 2

I have spent the week cooking gluten-free: fish and rice and vegetable, meat and rice and vegetable, even turkey meatballs (no breading) and rice and vegetable.

I have been so hungry, y’all.

I do realize that if I were to eat in this manner at all times, I would lose roughly 10 pounds in 10 days hours. This is because my current diet includes things like Cracklin’ Oat Bran, sweet tea, Goodberry’s ice cream and our neighbor’s divine peach cobbler (positively riddled with gluten).

My mother-in-law is living the gluten-free lifestyle that so many espouse these days. And while she is here, we want her to stay healthy and happy.

This week, I maintained a veneer of calm strength: I cooked pure things. No shredded cheese in sight. No spaghetti. No stir fry. Nothing bad for us in any way.

A sad fact: while in the ocean, I contemplated grabbing a tiny shark and gnawing at it, but it swam away very quickly. It could sense my desperation.

In a purely perverse way that I am not proud of, I tend to crave things that are denied to me.

Historically, my mother bore the brunt of my annoying denial/acting out. When she was baking things, I would stand beside her as she measured flour or sugar. She would ask me to be quiet and still. She would count, “1, 2…” and I would hurriedly rattle off, “3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10!” She found it annoying. (I still do it today: I am sure one day she will discover she secretly loves it.)

When we would go out to swanky restaurants, my sister and I were (mostly) very well-behaved. However, I had a penchant for fits of laughter at inappropriate times. The restaurant (for instance, Galatoire’s in New Orleans) would be calm, dignified… and it would make me giggle. And then my mom, who was mostly likely imagining herself childless and among demure adults, would whisper, “Anne, please stop.”

That was exactly the wrong thing to say.

Ridiculous, over-the-top giggling would commence.

There are other ways I know I should act appropriately but don’t.

My husband and I went in for my son’s third grade conference a couple of years ago. The teacher kept bringing up these evaluation tools called “Dibls” (sp?) (pronounced “dibbles”). I couldn’t help it; professional jargon starts me laughing. Do they really expect me to take something pronounced “dibbles” seriously?

My husband started sympathizing with my mom that day. He kept nudging me to get me to stop and giving me “that look,” but that, of course, made things worse.

How the teacher kept a straight face during all those conferences is beyond me. I would have to provide a written disclaimer before every parent conference if I were a teacher: “I am unable to discuss Dibls with you. Please read about them online at this link:____”

My complete lack of self-control may be one reason why I run: for me, it’s easier to add an activity than to take one away. I’ve tried cutting way back on sugar, only drinking wine on every seventh Saturday (or whatever) and cutting out most processed foods.

These things don’t seem to stick.

I am most impressed with people who have denied themselves some key and beloved item and branched out into some alternative lifestyle. If you are one of these people, I will be admiring you from afar and chanting from the “Moderation is key” handbook.

Because somewhere, there is a baby shark being born who is not a very fast swimmer. And he may not appreciate becoming sushi at the water’s edge.


Chocolate… and What I’ve Learned About Myself

So bad. And yet so good. (Yummy chocolate cake recipe at the end of this post.)

Chocolate cakes made this weekend: 1

Pieces of chocolate cake eaten this weekend: 1

Reasons not to give up chocolate for Lent: 1,523

I have issues with authority.

This is why I wasn’t the greatest kid and am a fabulous adult. Really. You and I would have a fantastic time.

I still cringe when my kids come home with stories about Silent Lunch, where the entire cafeteria is on lips lockdown–no talking. Yikes.

Or when they were in kindergarten, and they thought the teachers were god-like, I would get into disagreements with them, like:

“Just tell your teacher that you couldn’t see the moon tonight; it’s behind a cloud.”

“I can’t, Mommy. She’ll get mad! I’ll get in trouble!”

“So what is she going to do to you–put you on Silent Lunch because you don’t have the ability to move clouds?”


I may not be setting the perfect example for my children.

Additional problems crop up when I try to set rules for myself, particularly in the realm of Denial. I really don’t do Denial very well.

For the past two years, I have given up chocolate for Lent.

One of the first-graders in the Sunday School class I helped with last year said it best: “Oh yeah. My mom gave up chocolate for Lent last year. It wasn’t pretty.”

Here’s the problem: I don’t eat chocolate every day. Or probably even every other day. (I think.) But the millisecond that Fat Tuesday came and went and chocolate shifted to the Forbidden List, I got unhappy. Like, right away.

Typing my columns: Wow, Cadbury’s mini-eggs would be very yummy right about now.

Heading to the grocery store: Why, exactly, are there one hundred and seventy-five Twix candy bars at the checkout?

At book club: Warm brownies? With ice cream and chocolate fudge topping? Really?

Making matters worse was marathon training last year. The marathon was in late March, smack dab in the middle of Denial Season. I would be lying if I said I was wasting away–in fact, my running partner might challenge me on that. Lack of chocolate may have improved my figure the teensiest bit. But… and this was probably due to lack of chocolate… I actually woke up in the middle of the night wanting to eat cheese and crackers. Or trail mix. Or, dangit, chocolate cake.

So when Lent rolled around this year, I was hip to my authority issue. No one else better tell me what to do, and I’m not even going to try to tell myself what to do. I’m flossing every night and bringing rogue grocery carts back into the store and trying not to coach my kids to tell their bossy friends to go jump in a lake.

You may be surprised that I’m not headed for Sainthood, but at least a slice of chocolate cake here and there will keep a smile on my face when you wave from your car.

If you haven’t given up chocolate for Lent, here’s one of the best chocolate cake recipes I’ve ever had. I printed it out from Food Network back in 2007, and it’s still there. It is worth every minute you spend making it.

Tips: make the cake layers the day before. Make the pudding the morning of your event, and put it in the refrigerator to chill. Then assemble the sliced-in-half layers and pudding that afternoon while making the gooey icing. I think you will agree with me that the homemade chocolate pudding inside is what makes this cake sing.

Blackout Cake (from Food Network)


Chocolate Pudding:

  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa (preferably Dutch processed)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4 ounces semi sweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature


  • 1 1/2 cups plus 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa (preferable Dutch processed)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup brewed coffee, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • 8 ounces semi sweet chocolate
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup hot brewed coffee
  • 2 teaspoons corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 dozen chocolate wafer cookies


To make the Chocolate Pudding: Combine 1 cup milk with 2 tablespoons sugar in a small saucepan and bring to just under a boil.

In a mixing bowl, combine remaining sugar with salt, cocoa, and cornstarch. Whisk in remaining 1/2 cup unheated milk. Gradually whisk in hot milk and place entire mixture back into the saucepan. Heat, over medium heat, stirring, until mixture thickens and just starts to bubble.

Whisk in egg and egg yolk and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and whisk in chopped chocolate and butter. When both are melted, strain pudding through a fine-mesh strainer, and cool. Cover with plastic and reserve in refrigerator.

To make the Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter 2 (8-inch) cake pans and line with parchment. Butter the parchment and flour pans, shaking out the excess.

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Reserve.

In a mixer with a whip attachment, beat eggs and sugar until thick and lemon-colored. Beat in vegetable oil. Alternately add dry ingredients with buttermilk, scraping the bowl once or twice. Add the coffee and vanilla to form a thin batter. Divide between prepared cake pans.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean, about 40 to 45 minutes. Cool in pan for 15 minutes. Invert onto cooling racks, peel off paper and cool completely.

When cool, split each cake in half with a serrated slicing knife. Reserve 1 layer for another use. Spread bottom layer with half of the reserved Chocolate Pudding. Place second layer on top and spread with remaining pudding. Top with last cake layer.

To make the Icing: Over a double boiler, melt chocolate with butter. Remove from heat, whisk in brewed coffee, corn syrup, and vanilla. Place icing over an ice bath and chill, whisking often until the mixture is of soft but a spreadable consistency. Working quickly, ice the sides and top of cake.

In a food processor, pulse the cookies into crumbs. Press the crumbs onto sides and top of cake.

Serve cake at room temperature. If holding for more than 2 hours, store in refrigerator for up to 48 hours, but bring to room temperature before serving.

Serving Suggestion: Blackout cake is meant to be served simply, on its own. If you want to dress individual plates, perhaps add a drizzle of fudge sauce and a sprinkle of cocoa powder

Tricking Yourself… It’s Called Denial

It's actually Mile 21... on the way back.


Miles we planned to run today: 11

Miles we ran today: 12.5

Number of ways my running partner could have beat me up but didn’t have the energy: 35

I’ve hit upon a trick to get yourself to do stuff you don’t want to do: trick yourself into thinking you only have to do a little bit, then go farther. I know, I know. It’s been done before. Hasn’t everything? It was the old, “Swim to me” story for my running partner today. It is a credit to her exhaustion that I am still alive to write this post.

If only I had told myself for my marathon last year that I was only going to do 13.1 miles, maybe I wouldn’t have bonked so hard at mile 21. See that picture up there? It tricked you into thinking I was completing mile 17, didn’t it? My swollen hands and annoyed face can clue you into the fact that it was actually mile 21.

We set our sights lower this spring: the half-marathon. This is to give us a few months off to forget the pain and torture that is the marathon so that someday we may want to try it again (I’m shaking my head).

So we have this problem around the town where I live: the sidewalks don’t connect up. You may think this is a tiny suburban problem, and if we only ran out in places where there were mountain lions and fresh air instead of rattling trucks and exhaust fumes, we wouldn’t have this problem. You would be right. But we have not yet found a place where there are mountain lions to concern ourselves with.

See, when we start plotting out a course on MapMyRun, we have insider’s knowledge. The street may keep going, but the sidewalk doesn’t. All of a sudden, you are running towards a goofy dog and his owner, and then you have stepped off the pavement onto the nothingness that is a pile of mud. This makes figuring out a course slightly problematic. The cars don’t much care if you’re needing a place to run. You are an icky, sweaty exerciser who is in the way when these drivers have somewhere important to go.

This morning, I sat down to figure out a new, different, exciting 11-mile run for us. The fact that one does not exist did enter my mind. Nevertheless, I went to MapMyRun and started mousing out a road route for us. Really, and I’m not kidding: it lied.

I am now pretty much an expert at guessing how much more mileage it will take us to get home (despite my math phobia). But when we were out running, my calculations failed me. We kept going as we passed our goal (oh, there went 11) and considered stopping in at the Target Starbucks for an orange scone and venti latte. My husband doesn’t work too far away, and we could always call him to come pick us up, we decided.

But we kept going. Then, the benevolent clouds that looked so gorgeous and springlike started to look kind of threatening. But we kept on running. Then, cold raindrops started hitting my sunglasses (!), although my running partner denied it. I looked over, and every inch of her face was covered–visor, sunglasses, hat… there was no rain getting to her, no sir. But we kept on running.

We almost did a half-marathon today. It wasn’t intentional, but we were victorious.

Next time I have to sit down and work on paying taxes, I’m going to tell myself I only have to do the first three months. Oh, and please tell my running partner that we have to pay a steep penalty for running an entire marathon if we only signed up for half.