Traveling with food allergies? Help has arrived! 



Vacationing in Florida!

Hello my friends! I’ve just come back from a super trip to Florida with my daughters, and I thought I’d post about something that is a difficulty to overcome when I am traveling with my daughter, Danielle. 


Danielle right before her diagnosis!

She has an allergy to gluten, which is the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. She was diagnosed 4 years ago when she began to suffer some extreme stomach symptoms. Since she will kill me if I go into detail, suffice to say that she was a miserable camper for months and months on end. We took her to the doctor and had her tested for food allergies and other issues, and she had a very high reaction to wheat and gluten. There is no treatment for this condition, the only way to diminish the symptoms is to refrain from eating anything that contains wheat or gluten.

Sounds easy, just avoid the bread and pasta, right?!! Wrong! First of all, wheat and gluten are in EVERYTHING! It’s so difficult to avoid it. Even food items that you wouldn’t think had wheat in them, like gravy, bouillon cubes, and soy sauce can contain gluten. 

Gluten hiding in bouillon cubes!

Obviously if she’s eating at home it’s not a problem because I am extremely careful, emphasize protein, fruits and vegetables, and make most everything from scratch. However, it’s when she’s eating away from home that it’s a real problem. A trip to a restaurant, supposedly a pleasant experience, can become days of misery if she isn’t vigilant. It’s even worse when we are on vacation. 

However, it is possible to eat safely, and feel good with food allergies while on vacation. My tips will help not only those with allergies to gluten, but to shellfish, nuts and any other food items as well. 

1. Be a vigilant label reader- Danielle carefully reads every label before buying any food product. And she knows the foods items that contain gluten but don’t have the words wheat, barley, gluten or rye listed like brewer’s yeast, bulgur, durum, farro, malt in any form, matzo, and the list goes on and on. Google food items that contain gluten for a complete list.


Flags on food reassure those with food allergies!

2. Ask for a gluten free (or any other allergy) menu- the first thing Danielle does when entering a restaurant is ask for a gluten free menu. She can peruse the menu and make her choices from there. Some menus have the gluten free items listed on the regular menu. The most problematic restaurants have neither of those options. In that case she has to ask if there are any gluten free options available. Some servers are very knowledgable about their gluten free options, but if they aren’t don’t hesitate to ask to speak with a manager or chef. 


Gluten free cream puff, no sugar added!

3. Don’t be afraid to ask how their gluten free items are prepared-for instance, if a restaurant has gluten free French fries but uses the same fryer that they use to make breaded chicken or onion rings there could be gluten cross contamination. In addition, if they have gluten free bread for toast but make it in the same toaster as the wheat toast that is another danger for people with a gluten allergy. Again, if the server seems unsure ask to talk to the chef or restaurant manager for reassurance. 


Gluten free hash with hollandaise sauce!

4. Your cell phone can be your best friend- Some very useful apps are out there to help people with food allergies. Two in particular that Danielle uses are “find me gf” and  “scan avert”. Find me gf is an app that lists the gluten free restaurant options around the country. You can search by restaurant or by area to find the best options for dining. Scan avert is an app that allows the user to scan barcodes on labels and shows a list of gluten ingredients that food item contains. Pretty cool!


Mickey waffles of course- gluten free!

In my humble opinion, Walt Disney World does an extraordinary job and is a very safe place to eat for those with food allergies. All of the food items shown in the pictures above were made at WDW restaurants. Whether at their walk-up or table service restaurants, as soon as Danielle would ask for a gluten free menu they would go through a very thorough set of procedures to ensure her food safety. At the walk-up places, they would stamp our receipt with the word “allergy”, and give us a special beeper that would go off when her food was ready. They would bring it from a completely separate kitchen from where other food is prepared, and it would have either an allergy flag or be placed on different colored dinnerware, something to differentiate it from regular food. In the table service restaurants, they would give her a gluten free menu, then either the chef or manager would come to speak with her, and answer any questions she would have. All Disney’s restaurants have separate kitchens to prepare food for those with allergies- very impressive! She was so relieved to be able to safely eat her way around the “World”! 

So that’s how those with food allergies can protect themselves while on vacation- and enjoy themselves in the process! And for those over 21, remember that some alcoholic beverages contain gluten, for example beer, whiskey, vodka and some brands of rum and tequila. There are some gluten free versions of these alcoholic beverages available, check with your bartender or liquor store first. With the dangers of mixing and cross contamination though I’d opt to stick with wine- it’s always gluten free! ūüôā Avoiding food and beverages that can make you sick and miserable will allow you to enjoy your vacation and live a life of vitality-with Valerie!




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Hello, my friends! Well, it happened. I turned 50 on Monday. It was strange.¬†As I prepared to turn 50¬†I started feeling, as my daughter Danielle would say, “Some type of way.” You know, when you feel not quite sad, not quite stressed, but maybe a bit of both? I wasn’t feeling weird about it at all in the days leading up to the big day.

At 11:50 pm on January 31st, 10 minutes before my birthday, I started literally freaking out! I kid you not, my heart started pounding! We had a fabulous day and I wasn’t thinking about it at all, until 11:50 pm. Since my S.O. was already asleep, Jacqueline and Danielle came to my rescue and we texted together as midnight came nearer, and then passed.

And you know what I realized? It was an HONOR to still be alive and raring to go at 50. Sure, I have days where I have some health issues, I still sometimes struggle with my continuing chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms, but most days are good and that’s more than many people have. So, I’m counting my blessings today, and I want to share some of my reflections with you.


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Church we attended in Mexico!


Stay close to your spirit– This is number one for me. I do not feel centered unless I am spending time every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes, connecting to my higher power. I also need to go to church once a week. I just absolutely have to, and if I don’t I feel terrible about myself. When I do these things, I am peaceful and joyous. Nothing else makes me feel this way.



Family and FriendsРSince I have limited energy because of my ongoing illness, I have to focus my time where it counts the most. For me, that time is joyfully spent with my daughters, my partner, and my dogs. I see the rest of my family when I can, but since I live hours away, that time is unfortunately limited. I see my college roommate when I can for dinner, and other friends too, but my priority is the people who live in my house- especially the ones who no longer live there full time.



Eat healthily and Exercise– This is key for me to live a life of joy. I so enjoy cooking,¬†using fresh, local, organic foods whenever possible, and going out to eat those kinds of foods as well. I am a definite “foodie” to the core. I try to eat the right kinds of food, as those of you who read my blog well know, and I love to exercise. For me exercise consists of a 30 minute walk with my dogs at least 5 times a week, and a half hour of weights at least 3¬†times per week. It helps me to feel good inside and out, what’s better than that?!

Do what you love-These days I really enjoy writing my blog, cooking, renovating my forever home, reading, and watching my daughters cheer for my beloved university. This is what I do for fun, and it is so important to have FUN in life. I think fun is what puts a sparkle in my eyes and makes me love my life. What do you love to do? Whatever it is, make sure you’re spending time on a regular basis doing that, no matter what!


Get away, whenever you can, wherever you can– My S.O. took me on a Mexican¬†vacation for my 50th birthday and it was so fabulous to¬†escape and enjoy the warmth of the sun. I am a sun and sand girl, and I always have such a sense of peace when I can lay on a beach somewhere. Maybe that’s not your thing, if you like to ski, go and do it. If you like to go to big cities, do that. If money is tight go somewhere local. Even just an overnight at a local hotel can seem like a great getaway and can recharge the batteries.

And there it is, my friends, my way of prioritizing what’s important to me and what brings me joy. We all have our struggles, no matter who we are or how old, but the important thing is to make sure to do the things that bring joy, because it is the QUALITY of life that counts not the quantity. I wanted to share with you what my list is so you can think about your list, and do what brings you joy every day. Joy comes from within us, but is shown on the outside. I like to think my joy shines through. So¬†do what brings you¬†joy no matter what your age because that will help you live a life of vitality- with 50 year old Valerie! ūüôā

Want To Feel Like a Spring Chicken?!

Last sunset on our vacation!

Last sunset on our vacation!

Hello friends! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I took a brief hiatus in order to go on vacation with my family, and I feel rested, renewed, rejuvenated, and ready to share more healthy living tips with you, my wonderful readers!

I love a beautiful, juicy baked chicken. One of my favorite foods on this earth!

I love a beautiful, juicy baked chicken. One of my favorite foods on this earth!

Today’s tip, besides to go on vacation to feel more rested renewed and rejuvenated, is to eat more chicken this spring. Chicken is one of the best non-vegetarian sources of protein out there, one chicken thigh contains 17 grams of the good stuff, which really helps build muscles. Chicken is also rich in phosphorus and calcium which helps our bones to stay strong, and selenium too which is thought to reduce the risk of arthritis. It contains magnesium which help soothe PMS symptoms (yay for us ladies!), is rich in zinc which regulates testosterone levels (yay for you men too), and is full of vitamin B6 which plays an important role in preventing heart attacks.

Chicken THIGHS are the way to go, my friends. Believe me!

Chicken THIGHS are the way to go, my friends. Believe me!

I always use chicken thighs in my cooking because I feel they are more flavorful than chicken breasts, and despite getting a bad rap for being less healthy than chicken breasts, are now thought to be healthier for us than breasts. Chicken breasts are lower in fat than thighs, which is why they were previously thought to be healthier. However as you can read in one of my past blog posts, “Fat doesn’t make you fat”, fat is not what causes us to gain weight, carbs cause that. Therefore, fattier thighs will¬†help you feel more full and SATISFIED. Satiety is one of the keys to weight loss or weight maintenance. Personally, when I eat a chicken breast, I am so turned off by the lack of flavor and fat that I can hardly eat it.¬†¬†However if that is what you like I’m not going to tell you not to eat it, so eat whatever floats your boat, so to speak. If you do cook with chicken breasts instead of thighs, please cook them with skin and bones on to maintain what little flavor they have. The WORST thing possible¬† in my humble opinion¬†is a boneless, skinless chicken breast- absolutely no flavor or fat at all.

With that being said, I want to share a recipe for a really yummy chicken dish I made right before I left on vacation. It is easy and quick too, and I hope you’ll enjoy it!


All the ingredients combined and baking in the oven!

All the ingredients combined and baking in the oven!

Baked Chicken Thighs with Thin Potato Slices


  • 2 LB chicken thighs
  • 1 TSP salt
  • 1 TSP extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and THINLY sliced (1/8 inch or less)
  • 1 cup sliced onions
  • 1 TSP minced garlic


  • 2 TBS red wine vinegar
  • 1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 TSP Dijon mustard
  • 1 TSP dried herbs de province (thyme, tarragon, rosemary)
  • 1/2 TSP salt
  • 1/2 TSP ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375, sprinkle chicken thighs with a thick salt like kosher or sea salt. Then, make the vinaigrette by whisking all the ingredients together.

Spread a teaspoon of EVOO in the bottom of a large (9×13) casserole pan. Then cover that with the thinly sliced potatoes. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Put the onions over the potatoes, then place the chicken thighs, skin side up if you’re using the ones with skin, on top of the onions. Sprinkle the minced garlic over the chicken, pour the whisked vinaigrette over the top of the chicken, and spread it around a little to make sure all pieces are well coated.

After it comes out of the oven all bubbly and delicious! The smell in the kitchen is to die for!

After it comes out of the oven all bubbly and delicious! The smell in the kitchen is to die for!

Bake uncovered in a 375 degree oven for 50 minutes for bone in skin on thighs, about 30 minutes for boneless skinless thighs. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving to allow the vinaigrette to thicken.

Sorry, I was already digging in before I remembered to take the picture, it was just that good! :)

Sorry, I was already digging in before I remembered to take the picture, it was just that good! ūüôā

And that’s it people! My family said it’s one of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever made and I don’t disagree with them. Plus it was easy to make and clean up too. Try it and let me know if you like it! It will help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie!




Baby it’s Cold Outside! Comfort in the CCCCCCCCOLD!!

Brutally cold but I'm still smiling!

Brutally cold but I’m still smiling!

Yikes it’s cold here in the Midwest! By cold, I mean 8 degrees below zero cold- and that’s not wind chill, that’s actual temperature, my friends. That was the temperature when I awakened this morning, and had to take my dogs out on leash because my little dog runs through the invisible fence. His¬†wee paws froze after about 2 minutes and I had to bring him in to thaw before trying to take him out again so he could do his duty. That kind of cold is beyond description, you just have to experience it to¬†know what I mean.

My backyard right now! Yikes!

My backyard right now! Yikes!

It’s worse because my daughters, sister and niece are currently in Florida experiencing their¬†version of cold-¬†60 degrees, as I’m shivering here in Indiana. My house is pretty warm and cozy on a regular basis, but in this kind of cold even my house seems drafty and chilly. When it’s so disgustingly¬†frigid out, I need¬†peace more than ever, and I turn to my tried and true, sure fire ways to feel cozy and happy no matter what the temperature. In past posts, I mentioned ways I feel comforted when experiencing stress of any kind, reading my Kindle, listening to music, taking a bath, spending time spiritually, and a good meal/glass of wine. I thought today I’d share ways in which I help myself feel especially contented when it’s warm.

Jac and a light saber!

Jac and a light saber!

1. Watching a good movie– I love to watch movies when it’s cold out, or when I’m sad/stressed. My favorite movies to watch are the Star Wars series, and I admit I’m sort of a Star Wars freak. I have watched the series probably 50 times or more, and I never get tired of watching the movies. Something about the whole good versus evil thing, with good winning out just gets me every time.

Love me some Yoda!

Love me some Yoda!

The good thing is that I’ve infected my family with my Star Wars mania and they love Star Wars too. Jacqueline has a Han Solo frozen in carbonite phone case (watch the series for explanation), and the girls gifted me with a visit to the traveling Star Wars exhibition last year at the Indiana State Museum for Mother’s Day, and they enjoyed it almost as much as I did. My Honey gave me the light saber you see in the picture of Jac for Christmas this year, it is glass, and he chose the colors and sounds for it. What a guy! Anyway, watching any of the six Star Wars movies never fails to make me feel cozy and comforted, so whatever your favorite movies are- watch them with your family and you’ll feel all warm inside!

Cozying up with dogs should never be underrated!

Cozying up with dogs should never be underrated!

2. Dogs (or cats if that’s your preference)- My dogs have always comforted me in times of sadness. They’re also excellent at warming up my toes and lap by laying on me when I’m cold. Whenever my little guy, Chewie, sees a blanket come out on any member of our family, he comes running to share in the cuddle time. I can’t remember a time when they’ve failed to give me warmth and love. They give me so much more than I give them, and I love them so much!

A soft blanket made even better by my children's faces on it!

A soft blanket made even better by my children’s faces on it!

3. A cozy blanket– When my daughters went away to college, I had a blanket made for each of them with different pictures of family and friends on it, hoping that it would comfort them by laying under all of the loving people in their lives. I wanted them to feel like we were all holding them in a¬†warm embrace, even when they were far away from home. They both have told me that it is one of the best things they have at college, and it reminds them they are loved by lots of people. I had¬†them made on and they are relatively inexpensive, $60ish. It’s pretty easy to download the pictures and create the collage of photos. I paid a little extra for the larger blanket with the thicker fleece and felt it was well worth it. Imagine my surprise when my girls had a blanket made for me last year with pictures of the three of us on it, so that I would feel comforted when they both went away to college for the first time last fall! I love my blanket and use it almost every day. When they left to go on their trip to Florida, the first thing I did after coming home from dropping them off at the airport was lay on the couch under my blanket of our faces. It’s soooo¬†cozy and makes me happy to use it. I highly recommend having one made for your loved ones too! And have them make one for you!

Past Disney trip, modified with a few extra faces by my Honey!

Past Disney trip, modified with a few extra faces by my Honey!

4. Looking forward to a warm trip (or looking back fondly on a past one)- Another way I make myself feel better when it’s cold out or when I’m sad, is to either look forward to an upcoming warm trip or reminisce about a past one. I love to look at pictures from past trips we have taken, I can almost feel the sunshine jump out of the pictures and into my body!

Recent family trip to Key West- good times in a beautiful place!

Recent family trip to Key West- good times in a beautiful place!

I also love to plan future family trips to warm places. We are going to Florida over spring break, and it is such fun to spend time working out the details of our sunny trip to a warm location when it is so bleak and cold outside. It makes me feel like I’m there, at least for a short while.

Watching my girls cheer on my Boilers- happiness!

Watching my girls cheer on my Boilers- happiness!

5. Watching my favorite team (and my favorite cheerleaders)- Even before my daughters were cheerleaders I loved to watch my Boilers. We had season tickets to Purdue football for years when the girls were little, and went to many basketball games. We also liked watching the games on television when we couldn’t attend them. Now, it’s so much better when I can not only watch my Boilers, but I can watch my beloved daughters cheer for them too. It’s a definite win-win for me! I particularly love watching the NCAA basketball tournament in March. March Madness is so infectious, and jumping up and down to cheer on my team warms me up too! Go team go!

Well, that’s all I have time for today, Folks, but there are so many other things I love and that¬†bring me comfort.¬†They are¬†dark chocolate, cooking, exercise, popcorn, cookbooks, coffee, spicy food, and writing my blog! I couldn’t live without these, along with all the¬†others I mentioned above. They get me through bleak and cold times in my life, both outside and inside as well. I hope my list of favorites helps you and inspires you to surround yourself with love and serenity. You deserve it, my wonderful readers. It will help you lead a life of vitality- with Valerie!