Sunday, December 12, 2010


Due to a recent move to St Andrews, Scotland, I am putting this blog on a short hiatus to concentrate for a while on a new blog, From Salem to St Andrews. While it won't be as well-written as the other American transplant blog, From Fergie to Fife, folks at home have requested a record of our highland misadventures.

I will return to Celiac by Marriage eventually. In the meantime, I appreciate your patience and attention.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Guilt, capitulation and a weekend with wheat

I visited my parents in Arizona again this weekend, this time without JFG. It was an interesting opportunity to experience non-celiacs eating wheat without guilt, and if I learned anything it was that my fright or flight response to wheat products has become instinctual and reflexive.

My mother always keeps baked goods next to the refrigerator, and when she expects a full house (like this weekend) to say that she overstocks is like saying that Stalin held a grudge. Literally, piles of bread, cookies, cake and pie teeter crazily in big gluteny heaps on the counter. She's even purchased a special shelf so that she can build a two-floor townhouse of sugar, flour and chocolate to feed her family.

Don't get me wrong. While she tends to overcook the sugar cookies I love her pumpkin bread, scones and Texas sheet cake -- all of which were in attendance this weekend.

But I spent the entire weekend like a sleeper who is afraid she'll miss an early-morning interview, drowsing but waking up suddenly every fifteen seconds. I was truly slightly terrified to see all of that wheat, undifferentiated and exposed to air. I almost stopped people from using one knife on all breads. I almost scrubbed down counters when someone cut bread on the granite itself (without a specific gluten cutting board). I almost read the nutrition label on everything we bought. I almost refused to share plates of crackers and cheese.

It was lovely to eat wheat without constant analysis and suspicion. But it taught me two things:

1. It's not a bad thing to think deeply about your food. Without that kind of reflection, you swallow meals without appreciation for the time and effort that went into creating them, and without considering whether or not you actually need the nutrition. Result: 2.5 lbs.

2. The guilt is overwhelming. When JFG picked me up at the airport, I felt like I needed to confess. He laughed but had to be disappointed, especially since he'd DVRed Glee and saved it so we could watch together. Can you sweat gluten in your sleep?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fear not the albino asparagus

Ten years ago, a supervisor took me to the Havana Cafe in Phoenix, AZ where I ordered a salad containing white asparagus. I'd never really thought about colorless vegetables before, but the asparagus reminded me of the children's book series Bunnicula, where a vampire bunny drains carrots and cucumbers of color and terrifies the household. Anyway, I assume that Havana Cafe is not a lair for blood-sucking pets and yet the asparagus terrified me nonetheless.

So this weekend, when my parents took JFG and me on a return trip to the Havana Cafe, I carefully avoided anything with white asparagus in the dish title. However, we were very pleasantly surprised to learn that Havana Cafe has an extensive gluten-free menu (this is the second Cuban restaurant we've encountered with a gluten-free menu . . . if anyone understands the connection please let me know!) which ranges from salads to paella.

JFG ordered a terrific ceviche, sauteed chorizo and an arroz con pollo with plantains, chicken and chorizo that we had to polish off the next day.

He rounded the whole meal off with "Mango, Mango, Mango" -- mango ice cream, mango sauce and mango itself. It looked like an orange traffic light but he and my dad adored it.

I must warn you -- despite its attempt to define itself as "Phoenix's premier destination for Latin cuisine" (an ambitious claim in a city dominated by thousands of Mexican and South American restaurants) it's a hole-in-the-wall in a Phoenix strip mall with fake trees painted on the walls and a tiny, moody bar in a corner.

But in addition to a great gluten-free menu and excellent empanadas, the Spanish torte and ensaladas are divine and the server was sincere and compassionate.

They serve a Latin gluten-free Thanksgiving -- and you can get it to go if you feel freaked out by the weird plastic sheet over the door. Go. I don't think there's any albino asparagus involved.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's the end

The end of the bread, that is.

Crusty bread is the holy grail, North Pole, the comfortable 4-inch heel, the low-calorie cheesecake (that doesn't taste like cottage cheese), the Design Within Reach that really is within reach of the gluten-free food world. I don't know if Shackleton or Hillary welcomed other explorers into their quests, but I certainly can't be . . . well . . . that picky. First, I don't have the patience. Second, I don't have million-dollar backers.

So I was glad to hear that a local company was taking a stab at the quandary of crusty gluten-free bread. The company's still nameless, but Lacy Gillham and Jan Taborsky gave JFG a loaf to try.

I'll be honest. That loaf, while a little less crumbly and stiff than most gluten-free bread and with slightly more taste, didn't really represent much of a break-through for the celiac world.

Then one Sunday afternoon, while we were napping, a second loaf came flying through Murray's doggy door and landed on the kitchen floor. An unconventional method of delivery, yes. But you know what? It was fairly crusty. It had a taste of its own, and it held together for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was a little spongy, as bread should be and, while it still wasn't "tearable," I was able to feed JFG bread and Nutella for the first time in several years.

I would love to tell you what the bread is called and where to get it. I can't -- although from their promotional materials it looks like we can expect to see them at Salem Saturday Market sometime soon. I can post a couple of photos, left (as you can see, we've reached the end of the bread), and give you an email address: I'm not suggesting that evolution of gluten-free bread should stop -- this version is still pretty dense and, um, durable. But I can certainly respect and recommend a very worthy fellow traveler.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Utter failure

I admit it. After a fairly good run of focaccia and some decent raspberry brownies, I got a little ahead of myself and decided to try pita.

When JFG and I were first married, I learned how to make pita. I can't remember precisely why, but it seems like we made pita every week for months and months at a time. In fact, it's one of only two recipes I have completely memorized.

Last night, I tried to make Moosewood Cookbook (circa 1992) pita using Gluten-Free Creations Basic Flour Mix.

First of all, the dough didn't rise. Always a bad sign, especially when I'm using brand new yeast.

Second, it was as tough as old chewing gum -- the kind of dough that wears your arms out to roll. I actually abandoned rolling after a couple of goes and simply beat the dough to death with the palm of my hand.

Finally, it didn't puff up. Now, I can be flexible. I have often made un-puffy pitas by accident and simply announced that were having flatbread instead. Flatbread or pitas -- they're both really just sauce and meat vehicles anyway, hmmm?

But these were really flat. They had the consistency of dried-out, cracked old leather on the outside and were underbaked on the inside. JFG ate them anyway, bless him, but I think that's just because it was the only way to get the lamb and cucumber-dill sauce to his mouth.

Fear not! I have identified a new recipe and shall try again soon.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Not because it is easy, but because it is hard

Bread fascinates me. Not only did the ability to produce bread play a role in separating successful from unsucessful cultures (see Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed), bread -- or lack thereof -- has incited populous riots and measured the competency of governments. No wonder I believe that my ability to produce the humble substance somewhat also indicates my qualifications as food provisioner.

Believe me, after a few tries at bread made with grains other than wheat, I can see why producing wheat made or broke societies. Non-wheat bread requires at least air-tight packaging, access to several types of flours at once, and cold storage to stabilize the prepared bread. Difficult now, impossible 5,000 years ago.

Unable to consign myself to failure, however, I've continued my search for decent gluten-free bread. This week, I tried Gluten-Free Pantry's French Bread & Pizza. I basically followed the "oven method" instructions on the back of the box, using milk and vegetable oil. But I added about about a tablespoon and a half of crushed rosemary and about two tablespoons of garlic.

I spread the dough in a pie plate to make focaccia (instead of proper french bread or pizza crust), left it to rise for 40 minutes in a warm oven, and based it for 45 minutes. In the end, I had steamy, fairly crusty bread that sounded hollow when tapped.

In fairness, it maintained many of the qualities of other types of gluten-free bread. It was more crumbly than chewy, impossible to tear and it dried out fairly quickly, although it tasted great and, if consumed in the first 24 hours, would have made good sandwich bread. Next time, I'll add more rosemary, garlic and possibly some parmesan cheese -- like most gluten-free foods, the taste has to come from the added ingredients and not from the bread itself. But I'll give it points for ease and a slightly softer texture than other products.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cracking the German (chocolate) code

Several years ago, my aunt who doesn't really cook bought me a cookbook for Christmas. I love cookbooks. I have dozens, most of which I use for only one or two fantastic recipes -- but I love the sheer clutter and weight they bring to my kitchen. And the more dilapidated the better, as it suggests that I am such a good and prolific cook that I cannot be bothered with cleanliness.

Back to the book, Betty Crocker's Ultimate Cake Mix Cook Book. The premise is that it's possible to make a cake mix (good heavens) into a dessert that appears to require actual skill. Having it on my shelves is almost as humiliating as setting out a coffee table book of pornography.

But you cannot beat the German Chocolate Bars. Not only are they terrific, they're easy, successful every time, store well and almost never stick to the pan. They're my go-to dessert in a pinch, and only require chocolate cake mix, German chocolate frosting, chocolate chips, butter and milk.

Naturally, JFG loves them. But until Betty Crocker starting producing gluten-free mixes, it was impossible to get the algorithm right. It still takes some fiddling, as the gluten-free chocolate cake mix only makes an 8x8 inch (thick) or 9x9 inch (thin) cake. So, use the recipe at the link but make the following substitutions:

-- Use half a cup of butter instead of 2/3
-- Use 1/8 of a cup of milk
-- Use 3/4 of the container of coconut pecan frosting (and only use Betty Crocker frosting -- it's gluten-free)

And to spread the cake batter, do it with very wet hands. Keep a close eye on the pan in the oven and remove it as soon as the top is dry to the touch. Also note that, like most other gluten-free desserts, this needs to stay in the fridge.

But make sure you keep this our secret. I'd rather people think that the bars are some mysterious form of alchemy that only I know.