Monday, August 31, 2009

Graham crackers achieve reprieve

All right, so JFG not as big of a fan of the graham crackers as I was. However, in an effort to redeem the vast sums I dropped on the box, I made them into a graham cracker crust. It is lovely, especially since I accidentally added too much sugar to the mix. It's crunchy, caramelly, and crumbles just like graham crackers should. No more saggy cheesecake!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Medieval in the kitchen (or, where are my s'mores?)

I like cooking medieval food. I mean, taking recipes from medieval and Renaissance "cookbooks," such as they were, and trying to make them in my kitchen. Much like hearing Beethoven played on a 300-year-old harpsichord or touching the walls of the Sainte-Chapelle, it's one of the only ways to actually experience the past. With food, or music, or buildings, you can somehow defy the laws of matter and cohabit with ancestors.

However, cooking from these recipes can be quite a process -- not only translating the recipes, which frequently give directions like, "Take enough flour to make a coffin and mold it into a pot" -- but because many of the ingredients called for in the recipes are not easily available today: rosewater, for example, or sandalwood or marrow. So you have to make the rosewater before you can make the food that the rosewater goes into. Too many steps.

I've discovered similar problems with gluten-free recipes. The best example is pies that require graham-cracker crusts. The whole point of graham-cracker crusts is that they take very little work: you pulverize graham crackers, add butter and sugar, and mush into the bottom and sides of a pie plate. Simple, right? No cutting in the butter, no chilling for hours. But if you have to first make the graham crackers, and then crush them, etc., all of the simplicity has fled the scene. I can't get over the injustice inherent in making a food just for the purpose of destroying it.

The result of this moral conundrum is that JFG has not had any pies with graham cracker crusts. Yes, I could make him crust-less cheese cake, but what's the point? That would be a very sad, saggy little cheese cake, naked -- almost like a head when you take off the toupee.

Eureka! The absence of graham cracker crusts shall cease! Kinnkinnick Foods, which also makes some awesome gluten-free pizza crusts, just introduced S'moreables Gluten Free Graham Style Crackers ™. They look slightly different from glutenized graham crackers, smaller and a little thicker, but they taste darned close to the real thing. I haven't run them by the JFG board of professional food-tasters, but I'm hopeful that they can both be used in crusts (as the picture on the back of the box suggests) and be squished up in a bowl of milk.

Naturally, they're more expensive than Faberge eggs. Even so, S'moreables Gluten Free Graham Style Crackers ™ get three rice flours for returning yet another food to our diet.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Celiac myths

Myth #1: Eliminating wheat from your diet will cause you to lose weight.

Fact: Only for the weak-willed does wheat elimination result in weight loss. The way I see it, with the celiac diagnosis you have three options.

Option A: denial. Continue to eat wheat. Yes, you will lose weight, because every bite you eat will run through your system like a river. Downside? Severe gastro-intestinal distress, exhaustion, dehydration, possible additional conditions like diabetes and cancer.

Option B: defeat. Cut wheat out of your diet, and give up donuts, cake, cookies, bread, pizza, and pasta. Feel sorry for yourself and moan about how restricted your diet is. Become impossible as a dinner guest. Downside? Isn't it evident? You have celiac disease but choose to live like you have leprosy.

Option C: prevail! Practically before JFG's diagnosis was official, I went through my cupboards and refrigerator and threw out anything glutenized -- contaminated or even suspect. Salad dressing, cereal, pasta, oatmeal, syrup, everything. We had a few days of moping.

But I've discovered that a little kitchen ingenuity, and some networking with the gluten-free community, results in being able to make or buy gluten-free versions of almost every kind of sweet and carb-loaded treat JFG loved. But it requires trial and error, and then you must eat the trials, of course. As moral support for your celiac-laden loved one, bien sûr.

And gluten-free food manufacturers often add extra sugar and fat to their foods to compensate for the wheat-ee taste. So gluten-free versions of cookies, for example, have 20% or 30% more calories than the glutenized versions.

Option C, the only real option for people with backbones, is the option we chose. And rather than losing weight, we've had to take care not to gain it. Case in point. Last night, my mother called to tell me that she found a gluten-free bakery in Phoenix, Gluten-Free Creations Bakery. Apparently, colleagues without celiac go there for donuts, cupcakes, muffins and bread. And she was so excited that she read me the menu! How can you lose weight with that kind of provocation?


Monday, August 24, 2009

Would you rather . . .

When I was in college, we used to drink beer and play a game one might call, "Would you rather?" Since I've discovered local versions of this game almost everywhere I've lived, I don't think we invented it. The object of the game is to make fellow players choose to sleep with one of two physically or morally repulsive people that everyone knows -- usually fat, hairy professors or other students who don't appear to shower or brush their teeth. Each player has to choose and then everyone laughs uproariously at each answer (or makes gagging noises). Then, if you're playing with experts, once someone decides upon one of their two options you up the stakes by forcing them to choose between lots of sex with the preferable partner or 15 minute sex with the less preferable one. Experienced players with a large pool of disgusting options to mix and match can play for a very long time.

Of course, initiating this game during a party of 34-year-old parents and friends will cause that record-scratching sound tv shows use to indicate that someone has made a huge vocal or sartorial faux pas. However, we now play a different game, also called, "Would you rather." This one hints at other types of bodily functions, because to play you must choose between lactose intolerance (no milk, cheese, ice cream) or celiac disease. I've never played the advanced version ("Okay, what if you were just a little lactose intolerant but WAY celiacked out?") but on the amateur level I've noticed a trend. Men tend to prefer celiac disease; women prefer lactose intolerance.

Here's my theory, on the male answer anyway. It's organized around the wild roving band of hoochies fantasy. Men, having organized their entire bachelor diet on cereal, don't want to give up that last, tenuous connection to sexual freedom or compromise their memories of wild and swinging days with soy milk. Women can't stand the thought of giving up bread or pasta, and since they drink a lot less milk, are willing to compromise -- but I haven't figured out why that is. Chemical? Maybe estrogen is made partially from wheat flour.

By the way, I hate plastic baking spoons. They melt.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Let them eat pie

One challenge of celiac disease is that it complicates most "go-to" food, security food, comfort food. Think about it -- bread, pancakes, cookies, cake, pie -- these are the foods we turn to when life gets difficult or complex. And these foods are still possible for celiacs but they require planning and usually access to a health food store.

For JFG, it's pie. But you have to understand the symbology of pie. There are some foods that make a career in the kitchen. For Julia, souffle. For Emeril, gumbo (or something with crawfish). For men, dead meat cooked to char on the grill. But for most women, cooking reputations are made and broken on pie. And not just the pie -- because, let's face it. The innards of most pies are a form of pudding or fruit with sugar. Republicans can manage that.

No, girls separate from women based on the crust. I remember conversations where other women try (probably out of charitable intention or bonding instinct) to share their crust recipes. Why not just tell me I have hooker shoes on, or hairdresser fingernails, or age-inappropriate hair? Is it really necessary to suggest that I can't make crust?

To be fair, these shared recipes usually have heritage, and come from one of three sources -- The Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker, or Good Housekeeping. As did mine, a 1968 recipe from my mother's Betty Crocker. It was good, but I broke tradition after a few years of cooking and transitioned to a recipe from Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latte: a Food Lover's Courtship, with Recipes. In general, it's a book that leans too heavily on creme fraische and haricorts verts. However, awesome pie crust recipe. Part of the secret? Skip the butter. Use butter-flavored crisco.

But no matter how peerless your recipe, wheatless flour is strange enough that simply dumping it into a gluten-requiring recipe creates non-functional playdough. And since JFG's comfort food is pie, it's the first gluten-free backing recipe I tried. First, I tried a mix by the gluten-free messiah, Bob's Red Mill. Like most of their mixes, it tasted like garbonzo beans. I'm not making falafel. I had to eat half a bag of rice chips to forget the flavor. No rice flour -- not edible.

Next, a recipe from gluten-free girl, whom I adore. Her book helped Jesse think through the emotional fallout of the diagnosis, and I appreciate that. Her crust recipe was completely competent, although the taste is a bit over-powering and I had to re-roll it three times because it kept falling apart in my hands. Two rice flours.

Finally, my desperate-to-be-helpful-mum gave me a mix from Gluten-Free Pantry. It's hard to be a woman who makes pie crust from a box, and it was probably harder for my mom to suggest that I was a woman who needs a box. We tried not to look at each other as she handed it to me. However, this mix is great. It holds together better than most gluten-free crusts (which tend to be soft and sticky) as long as you use parchment paper to roll it out. And it tastes good, especially if you add more than the two tablespoons sugar suggested. It bakes evenly and although it's not flaky, JFG will actually eat it (as opposed to eating around it). Four rice flours. Good work, Gluten-Free Pantry.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If I wanted rice, I would have made stir-fry

There are days when you get home from work, peel your six-inch heels off your swollen feet, and try to think of ways to use the fourteen open bags of frozen vegetables in your freezer. But it's hot, so pasta salad sounds good -- and includes the word salad. Check "healthy eating" off today's to-dos.

Ha! Slightly more difficult with celiac. Fortunately, there are a number of brands of rice and corn pasta, and some of them even taste sort of like pasta (instead of like, well, rice and corn). Some of them even cook like pasta.

Not tonight's. Tonight, we made de Boles spiral pasta. Why? Well, to go with my open, half-used bags of frozen vegetables, I have a series of open, half-used boxes of pasta. I grabbed one that we purchased during early days of celiac, when anything that looked familiar felt good.

Rice pasta's tricky. The instructions say to simmer for five to seven minutes, and I already know from experience that an additional second in the pot causes most rice pastas to disintegrate into pieces of starch that look a little like rice and a little like maggots. But I am a woman worth her salt in the kitchen, so I actually set the timer. Grabbed it at exactly seven minutes.

It disintegrated anyway. Now I remember why we buy other brands. Pieces were so small that I actually thought about calling it rice salad by the time I stirred it gently into vegetables and dressing (balsamic vinegar -- don't trust commercially-produced salad dressings unless they're Newman's, say, "gluten-free" and cost three times as much as gluten-full dressing).

So, de Boles: one bag of rice flour for effort.

The value of complaints

Last night, my husband and I went to the volunteer "training" for Hood to Coast. The line was very, very long (see photo). When we were done with the actual training, which took about three minutes, we went to find some food.

As others with celiac disease know, deciding to eat at a restaurant can be quite a process. Without celiac, there are basically two decision points:

1. What do you feel like eating?

2. What is reasonably near-by?

Sometimes there's a third, 3. Where are we likely to get in without a wait?, but that's pretty much it. With celiac, there are different points.
1. What do you feel like eating that you can still eat?

2. What restaurants are near-by that we know have gluten-free items on the menu?

3. Which of them have you had negative experiences at -- either because the server/manager was unfamiliar with celiac or gluten, or because they pretended to be knowledgeable but glutenized you anyway?

Last night in Beaverton, we worked through this decision matrix and ended up with two options -- Baha Fresh, which JFG was pretty sure had gluten-free food -- and Chevy's. We love Chevy's, but have had very, very mixed experiences at the two in Portland. First, while they have a gluten-free menu, there is a company policy that servers cannot leave the menu at the table. Instead, you must tell the server what you feel like eating, and she or he tells you if that food is okay. Second, the last time we were there, the server had no idea what celiac or gluten were, and the manager could not find the relevant menu at all. It's a little scary when you can't see the nutritional information in print but must instead rely on what a (relatively disorganized-looking) weekend manager says.
Baha Fresh in Beaverton near the Jo-Ann Fabrics and Borders did not have a gluten-free menu, and the staff behind the counter was of no help whatsoever. We left.
Our other option was Chevy's. Despite a rather problematic experience last visit, we love Chevy's, partly for the salsa and partly for the nostalgia -- we ate there all the time while dating.

Here's what's amazing. We got the same server (the manager). She remembered us, and remembered that we needed gluten-free food. She double-checked the order to be sure she got the gluten-free part correct. Thanks, Megan, for very good service.

For Megan's efforts, Chevy's receives four rice flours out of five. Baha Fresh, of course, gets none.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is it dusty in here? No, that's just gluten

I read in Elizabeth Hasselhoff's book that celiacs should not even be in the kitchen when you're cooking food with flour -- the flour gets into the air and can be breathed in. Because I haven't yet identified the line that separates reasonable gluten awareness and glutenphobia, I was skeptical about how much gluten could possibly get in the air while I was cooking. After all, it's not like I take cups of flour and dance around the kitchen -- I get the flour (sedately, I might add) out of the pantry, pour it carefully into the measuring cup, tip the cup into the mixing bowl, roll up the bag and put the flour back into the pantry.

I became a believer in aerated gluten last night. I was baking glutenized banana bread for my office around 6:30 or 7:00 p.m., and the setting sun was shining through my kitchen window and onto the mixing bowl. I poured the flour into the mixing bowl and turned on the mixer. To my surprise, particles of flour immediately took flight, floating around in the air with the gusts of the air conditioning. And not just a few particles -- lots and lots of flour, enough to make the counter dusty.

That's it. No more cooking with flour when my husband's around.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gluten-free living -- or, a world full of dangerous particles

Gluten-free living is not for the faint of heart. And while my husband has to take most of the burden -- painful stomach cramps, uncomfortable procedures, restricted eating -- I've become almost as protective of his stomach as he has. It's been a strange journey, and the way I look at food, and at food-related activities and paraphernalia, has shifted slightly. For example:
  • My cookbooks. I have a delightful array of cookbooks, ranging from the basics (Joy of Cooking) to the bizarre (Death Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the World). I love my cookbooks; in fact, when we travel, I'm more likely to buy a cookbook as a souvenir than almost anything else. They are history, they are culture, they are safe and cozy. Some, I think, I don't ever intend to cook from -- I just like having them around. Post-celiac, however, I look at them like I might look at old currency (the lire, for instance). Interesting anthropologically, but basically useless. And how long do you display interesting but obsolete currency? Not very. It almost always ends up in the sock drawer.
  • My wooden spoons. My mother cooks with wooden spoons. Her mother cooked with wooden spoons. In an age of silicone baking molds and titanium pots, wooden spoons connect me to my baking heritage. Post-celiac(PC), they are the enemy. Like old towels and sink sponges, they can soak up gluten and contaminate otherwise gluten-free food. I can't bear to part with them, but they force me to choose between my husband's health and nostalgia. He wins, and they have been permanently consigned to a drawer.