Monday, February 22, 2010

And the gold medal for gluten-free dining goes to . . .

. . . Andina Restaurant on Glisan in Portland. Two friends recommended it as a gluten-free friendly establishment, and I must say that the experience went WELL beyond the server's ability to understand what it means to provide GF food. In order of astonishingness:

1. The server was able to find the GF menu right away (seriously, sometimes they have to go print it off from the corporate website).

2. A second server noticed JFG's shirt ("Save the wheat -- Eat gluten-free!") and brought over a second gluten-free menu, just in case the first server had not. The second server also assured us that his mom had celiac disease and that the restaurant was very knowledgeable about how to keep food safe. He actually stopped by again a couple of times to make sure everything was okay.

3. After we ordered from the fantastic, tapas-heavy menu, the server brought bread with several dipping sauces, and then brought GF fried yucca and sauce in a separate dish for JFG. I ended up mostly eating friend yucca, which is a lot like really robust french fries. Yum. Whose going to eat bread with purple stuff on it when you have huge french fries?

4. The food we ordered was delicious -- roasted asparagus, bay scallops in parmesan, cheeses with quince paste, potato with fresh corn salsa and a chocolate meringue mousse -- and the servers were so thorough and so knowledgeable that we didn't even wonder about cross contamination. JFG also had squash soup with pork belly, but I agreed to stay married to him nonetheless. You have to make exceptions for the sick and fragile.

5. The price was actually pretty reasonable for tapas, especially with fantastic service.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Wow -- I can hear their arteries slamming shut!" In our defense, to not order everything on the menu would have been like going to Paris and shopping at H&M. I love H&M like I love eating healthy, but I'm not insane. Plus we didn't eat dinner.

So, thanks very much David and the rest of the fantastic staff at Andina. It's such a great experience to be able to order from an adequate menu, feel safe that the food is being prepared correctly and not have to reluctantly cross another restaurant off our list when we discover, four hours later, that the food was indeed glutenized.

Shhhh . . . this is a special moment for me. It's the first time I've given five rice flours to anything.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How to upgrade gluten-free bread

Almond-flax gluten free bread is better heated up with peanut butter and Nutella. Just an observation.

Monday, February 15, 2010

There's a first time for everything, including pot roast

I tried my first baklava at 22, and my first pie at 23. I started making meringues at 28.

With flour, sugar and butter I have no fear. But this weekend was my very first time making a large chunk of meat. In fact, it was really my first time buying a huge chunk of meat -- or really anything with the word "shoulder" or "loin" in the title. For some reason, meat is intimidating.

But this weekend I was thumbing through Living Gluten-Free for Dummies searching for the correct amount of xanthum gum per cup of gluten-free flour for cookies and found a recipe for pulled pork. We just happen to have some gluten-free rolls from Gluten-Free Creations, and on a whim I thought I'd give it a try.

Yum -- and simple. The only problem was that my crock pot is too cheap to have a timer and my kitchen timer refuses to recognize lengths of time greater than 60 minutes, which required a great amount of concentration for five hours to remember how long the meat had been in.

Pulled pork:

2 lbs pork roast
1 cup chicken broth
1 large onion (the recipe calls for two, but one is enough even for serious onion lovers)
4 jalapeno peppers, sliced
6 cloves garlic
2 tsp each coriander, cumin, oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Place the meat in the slow cooker. Add everything else (you know how much I love that!). Cook for four to five hours and then pull apart with two forks. I added a little of Annie's Naturals Organic Raspberry Mustard, and JFG added some GF BBQ sauce.

We also made apple turnovers from the Culinary Institute of America's gluten-free cookbook. The Culinary Institute of America would have denied ownership of the recipe if they saw how the turnovers turned out (see before and after pictures below) but they tasted great. JFG ate them all. In one night.

The CIA cookbook provides a recipe for pie crust, for which I cannot vouch. I am a committed fan of Pamela's Gluten-Free pie crust mix, and happen to have some frozen. It worked great although, as always, it had to be rolled out between sheets of parchment paper and handled very carefully. For five turnovers about the size of your palm, I used the equivalent of a pie-crust-and-a-half worth of dough. I also cut the recipe in half, since we didn't really need five pounds of apple turnovers.

Apple turnovers:

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup gluten-free flour mixture (I used a mixture of sorghum flour, white rice flour and tapioca starch)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2-1/2 cups tart apples (I used Braeburn), diced into teenty-tiny pieces
1/2 cup pastry cream (recipe below)
1 egg for egg wash

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Roll out pie dough. Using a bowl with a diameter of about four inches, cut out five circles of dough and place on baking sheet covered with parchment paper (actually use parchment paper -- brown sugar and apple juice turns into cement)

3. Combine apples, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Add pastry cream.

4. Divide the filling among the dough circles. Each will take about 1/3 cup. If you have filling left over, spoon it into a ramekin and bake it with the turnovers -- it's great to eat with a fork.

5. Brush egg wash on the outer edge of each dough circle. Fold the circles in half and seal the edges. Brush egg wash on the top side of the turnovers.

6. Vent each turnover with a knife or fork.

7. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes. Cool and eat!

Pastry cream:

1-1/2 eggs (use the other half an egg for the egg wash above)
1 cup milk, divided
1/4 cup sugar, divided
2-1/5 tbs cornstarch
1-1/2 tbs butter
1/4 tsp vanilla

1. Whisk together egg, 1/4 cup milk, 1/8 cup sugar, and cornstarch in a bowl. Set aside.

2. Combine remaining milk and remaining sugar in a saucepan and bring to boil over moderate heat.

3. Add about 1/4 of the milk mixture to the egg mixture and whisk to combine.

4. Add the egg-milk mixture to the remaining simmering milk mixture in the saucepan on the stove all at once; continue whisking until it comes to a boil and begins to thicken; remove from heat.

5. Stir in the butter and vanilla.

6. Spoon pastry cream into a wide shallow dish and allow to cool completely.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Good cookies, and good news

First, the good news. According to Living Gluten-Free for Dummies, there's actually a tax deduction for people with celiac disease! Apparently, you can deduct the difference between the cost of gluten-free versions of food and the cost of the regular, glutenized version of the food. The example in the book is a loaf of bread -- a gluten-free loaf is around $5.00, the glutenized loaf is around $2.00, the difference is $3.00.

I've commented before that celiac disease is a wealthy person's disease, but this tax deduction underlines it. As it turns out, you can only take advantage of this tax deduction if your gluten-free products absorb 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. Wow. And, in addition that you need a note from your doctor. Consult your tax advisor, and look into buying bulk.

Now, good cookies! This is a recipe I've made for JFG for years, but have recently started adapting it for gluten-free flour. Be very careful if you make these; we've plowed through twenty cookies in two days.

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup gluten-free flour (I use a blend of tapioca starch, sorghum flour and white rice flour)
1/4 cup xanthum gum (if you're making these with gluten flour, skip the gum)
3/4 cup gluten-free oats (I use Bob's Red Mill)
1/4 cup coconut
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups butterscotch chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, oats, baking soda, xanthum gum and salt (always add the gum to dry ingredients; it gets gooey when added to wet ingredients). Combine wet and dry mixtures, add butterscotch chips and coconut.

3. Drop by tablespoons on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 9-11 minutes.

One warning. In my oven, for some reason, the cookies don't flatten out properly. I have to spray a spatula with cooking spray and flatten them after about three minutes in the oven. Yes, it is cheating. No, I don't care. If Julia Childs can mush an omelet back together, I can surreptitiously flatten some cookies and credit gravity.

I don't know that these deserve any rice flours, since I had to adapt them myself. But they're pretty darn good cookies, and double as nutritional supplements for JFG in an emergency.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Celiac haiku

One very small grain
Turns guts into waterslides
Pancakes, I miss you

Sunday, February 7, 2010

It breaks your heart

JFG is on a diet. I don't just mean the diet he's been on for the past year -- the one that keeps his insides from turning to mush -- but a lose-weight-before-the-racing-season-starts diet. Remember when Kate Moss got into trouble by repeating the old anorexic saw, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels?" JFG's declared instead that nothing tastes as good as fast -- on the bike -- feels.

He's been on diets before, but never has he been so systematic about it. The fine people at Livestrong have created an app that lets you do what used to require paper, a pencil and a book -- you can track your food intake each day, and the app automatically calculates your protein, sugar, carbs and so forth. This is not an app for people with an artistic or interpretive approach to weight control; this is for people with rigid food sensibilities who are not afraid to overthink their food. The funny thing is, of course, that Lance Armstrong, the philandering yet noble icon behind Livestrong, eats 10,000 calories on the mornings of the Tour de France. He probably pays someone to track it, though.

In other words, "There's an app -- and paid help -- for that."

Like many men, JFG has never really paid much attention to nutritional labels, and therefore to calories, before. So he's constantly making discoveries I made in the 7th grade (which, of course, is the age when most women started their first diet). We have several conversations each day that go like this:

"Oh my god!"

"What?? What's wrong? Are you okay?"

"Did you know that cheese has 110 calories per ounce?"

"Well, yes, honey. Cheese isn't a diet food."

"Why did you let me eat it?"

And to that I really don't have an answer, except that he's older than a toddler and I assume that he's grown-up enough to make his own culinary decisions. Plus, I can't even conceive how someone could get to 33 and not know that cheese is the diet equivalent of the Titanic --luxurious but tragically doomed.

Anyway, as a result of this culinary adventure he's been on, we've eliminated still further categories of food from his diet. Even though I can now produce them gluten-free, he's cut out pie, cookies, cake, chips and salsa (man cannot live on bread alone, but JFG has done his damnedest to give it a shot with only chips and salsa), brownies and cobbler.

And this time of year, that leaves candy hearts, which have very few calories per handful. He loves candy hearts and always has. We scanned the nutritional information last year and declared them gluten-free (heck, they're basically sugar and corn starch and about fifteen kinds of dye). This year, though, so that he could enter them in his app, we read the nutritional information again very carefully. And in the same small text that kamikazied so, so many other foods, there were the fateful words: Made in a facility that also processes wheat.

It really breaks your heart.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Croutons part II -- they're still around!

Yep, still eating the croutons, although now by handfuls to avoid contaminating the counters or utensils. Nutritional value? Fear not! There are small dried green specs on the croutons, which I choose to believe are some kind of vegetable.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

And so it came to pass . . .

I always liked that phrase in old fairy tales, "And so it came to pass . . ." It suggests timelessness, inevitability, destiny. A sense of history repeating itself as it always does; somehow, as a child this made an unknown world less scary. Precisely what a fairy tale is meant to do.

And, in the same inevitable way, it came to pass that JFG was glutenized in Texas. It wasn't an ugly stepsister or a bridge-bound troll. It was probably a gluten-free chicken breast prepared on a grill that also cooked chicken-fried steak. It wouldn't be so frustrating if serving staff didn't always insist that all precautions were taken to keep his food safe.

In an effort to heal traumatized organs, we ate Saturday at Cafe Yumm in Eugene. Cafe Yumm advertises as an allergy-friendly restaurant, although they do not have a specialized gluten-free menu.

Unlike other restaurants, they don't need to seem one. Their food is based on the concept of rice bowls, covered with meat, tofu, vegetables and sauce -- very plain and incremental, and therefore very easy to control. JFG had a rice bowl with beans, avocado, salsa, sour cream and olives (thereby ensuring that he could eat without sharing). He also ordered a chicken skewer, since we're trying to ensure he gets sufficient protein; unfortunately, the chicken was covered with teriyaki sauce, probably containing soy sauce and therefore gluten. The server very pleasantly took the chicken back to the kitchen, replaced it with a gluten-free tofu skewer and refunded the difference in cost in cash. Without being asked.

Excellent experience, good food (although a little pricey for simple ingredients and the opportunity to stand in line for food). Three rice flours for peace of mind.