Category: gluten free


A year and half ago I was worried that this gluten free world would take away all my traditions.  I am a person very well grounded in traditions.  I love them.  I create them.  (I have found this works better if the others involved are aware of the “traditions” status, however!)  My nephews and I used to go on dates.  The elder always chose Olive Garden and wanted mussels. The younger always wanted On the Border.  It was “our thing” and we knew if we were going out exactly what to expect.  Neither of those places is gluten free friendly.  Thus began “pancake nights”.

 

Now, our dates are a little simpler.  We go to my house.  We walk into the familiar kitchen and we pull out bowls and measuring spoons.  My heart danced a bit the night the younger boy told me he wanted to take cooking classes.  I told him that I would happily oblige.  Instead of the usual “dump this spoon into that bowl” method we have been employing up until now, I took a moment and realized that he is old enough.  So I stood aside and simply instructed.  They measured, scooped, poured.  And my little dark eyed man was allowed to pour that batter straight onto the cast iron griddle I had previously deemed too dangerous for him.  We talked about safety and the importance of keeping our attention only on the task at hand.  I talked, and he intently worked at his task. I stood at his side and together we entered this next phase.

 

Then, we ate pancakes.  Just as we always do.

 

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What do we eat?

Someone asked me recently what exactly I eat now that my diet must be gluten free, msg free, and fake sugar free.  I laughed at first, the list of foods we eat is nearly endless.  The question has echoed over the last few days and I realized that a year and a half ago I was asking the very same question.  Now?  I can flip through a cook book and make nearly anything in it.  Sure, substitutions must be made.  We eat burgers sans buns most times, but I also know how to whip up a fantastic bun in a hurry when we desire one.   

I have, over the years, had to become more adaptable than I once was.  A few years ago, I ate the same basic rotation of a dozen or so foods at all times.  I ordered the same thing off of the menu if we went out.  It was rare that I chose to deviate.  Then I discovered celiac and it’s long assault on my body.  I realized just how malnourished I had been, despite the fact that I was never remotely underweight.  When the diagnosis came back of Osteopenia I knew that changing my lifestyle was the only answer.  So I began to work exercise into my life.  I still have not met my own goals, but we do manage far more than I ever did in my twenties.  I also wanted to give my body the best nutrition I could.   I eat things now I doubt I would have even tried five years ago.  Hummus has become a staple this summer.  Wild rice salads are fast becoming a favorite.  Our grocery list eat week consists almost entirely of produce and dairy.  I laugh when I open my refrigerator and instead of boxes/tubs/and bottles there is a predominate number of mason jars.  Mason jars filled with homemade dressings, homemade mayo, yogurt, whey from the yogurt (used in smoothies and baking), honey caramel creamer for our weekend coffee, and infused sugars to stir into the seltzer water when I just MUST have a soda – though compared to my old habits this is pretty rare.  Our freezers hold just as many mason jars.  Those are filled with smoothies (for the days I need a to-go meal), soups, stews, granola, and ingredients for baking.  There are also food savered bags of casseroles.  Whenever I make a casserole I try to make two or three.  One for that nights supper and one or two to freeze for later.  Doing that gives me the ability to take a weekend off from cooking now and then.  I try to keep that mentality whenever we are cooking.  If we are making burgers, why not get an extra pound and make some spares to freeze for later?  I find I feel much less controlled by my lack of ability to eat out of I have some easy pre-prepped meals on hand.  I also tend to make our meal plan/grocery list based off of what is on sale at Fry’s or Sprout’s.  So buying an extra pound of meat is good for the budget too.  

I know that I am blessed.  That man I fell head over heels for two years ago has learned to dance in the kitchen with me.  It wasn’t always easy.  I have been cooking for years.  His repertoire consisted of scrambled eggs, quesadilla, and grilling pre-formed frozen burgers.  He chose to invest in me, and us, by tolerating the taste tests I subjected him too.  Now, he can readily tell me if he wants more thyme or rosemary in a dish.  Two years ago he said “that’s the green stuff right?”.  I love that he was willing not only to have our house be entirely gluten free, but also willing to invest in what it requires to keep it that way.  Cooking everything from scratch.  He can even make the yogurt all on his own 🙂  I am blessed indeed!!

Traveling Gluten Free

Most days, I do not even really think about being gluten free.  Our home is safe, and I’ve learned a few lessons about keeping myself safe at work too.  Traveling still makes me take a deep breath and the list making begins.  I keep a mental list handy of things that travel well.  

I know that if we are going on a military trip I’ll likely find a refrigerator at the hotel, but almost never a microwave.  I didn’t know that the first time we traveled and believed the email I had telling me a microwave would be no problem.  After a few tears, a lot of begging, and a few hours of wondering what I was going to do with the frozen food we had brought with us on the airplane – the hotel did steal a microwave from their housekeeping department but I learned on that trip – cold food that does not require heating is the only way to go.  Our schedule is usually pretty full when we travel with the military and we are not authorized a rental car so I must take everything we need. This was rather daunting that first trip, but now I have a decent handle on it.  I can take our chex mix cereal and get the milk from the continental breakfast bar.  Bananas are usually found there too, and since the skin protects the part I eat I do not have to worry about gluten fingerprints on them.  Lunch and dinner typically consist of a chicken salad, tuna salad, quinoa salad, sandwich meat with cheese and crackers, or hummus and veggies.  I take a small lunch box sized cooler and extra cold packs.  That way if we can’t get back to the room for lunch we won’t starve.  I keep a stash of Nature Valley Almond Bars and Welch’s fruit snacks on hand for the afternoon munchies.  I learned to take a water bottle that has a filter in it so I can just fill it from the tap.  Often the water is just stored in big pitchers at the hotels and I have no idea if they might be cross-contaminated. A baggie of craisins keeps me happy in the airport.  I also take a zip-lock of bleach wipes so I can wipe down any surface we might be eating on.  I always feel a bit paranoid going to this extreme, but the thought of trying to fly home if gluten hits me is enough to make me take the extra precaution anyway.

If we are traveling by car the options are more vast.  The toaster oven is my salvation and offers me so many more options.  We can take waffles or muffins for breakfast.  I made these grain bombs for dinner a few weeks back and we both quickly decided they would be a go-to meal for trips.  Sandwiches also become a possibility (technically you can eat sandiches not toasted but I do not know of anyone gluten free that chooses to do so)

We can take small mason jars of yogurt and zip-lock of granola to add to it.  Smoothies made and stored in mason jars are not only tasty, they also help keep the cooler chilly.  They also help me get more veggies and fruit in our diet when we are traveling, which seems a bit harder to do than we are at home.  We still rely on quinoa salads, chicken salads, and tuna salads*.  Our black bean and corn salad makes it into the rotation too.  Hummus and veggies is great if we are driving through a meal time.  Sandwich meat layered with cheese and mustard and rolled into lettuce works well if we need a quick meal or something to take hiking with us.  If we have some hummus leftover we typically spread that over the lettuce before we roll them up!  Shredded chicken doused in bbq sauce or dressed with a honey mint dressing is a favorite of ours! 

I’m sure over time our lists will expand but for now this our go to plan for traveling.  


*I realize that I list salads a few times, but I do try to vary them.  We’ll take a Mexican inspired quinoa taco salad for one meal and a Greek quinoa salad for another, for example.  I also vary the hummus we take, doing an artichoke herb one time and a chipolte based the next.

Holidays

I do not know how it happened, the quick passage of time that seems to have sped me from Halloween to New Year’s with scarcely time to blink.  I had so many plans to come here, to journal the success and failure of my first holiday season gluten free.  I wanted to write of the challenges of baking both gluten and dairy free.  I wanted to be able to say “just do this and you’ll be fine”.  I can still say that but the “do this” may be just a tad on the vague side since I never actually came here to write.  The laptop’s glow has filled my kitchen as I pulled up recipe after recipe being careful not to get floured hands near the keyboard.  It has not seen the quick paced tap of my fingers as they dance across keys making words come to life.  I meant to. I regret the lack of words and memories that will fade away but I can not regret the way I spent my time this holiday season.  There were long days and nights in the kitchen, yes.  There were also evenings in sis’s backyard with the fire pit and the smores – gluten free girl’s Oreos work fabulously for smores, though I still want to tackle her graham crackers one of these days.  There were movies cuddled up with my Sweetie and more family get togethers than I can count.  Time was spent well, even if it was not cataloged here.

This holiday season, it was one of learning curves.  It was a time of trial and error and learning to trust my gut instinct in my kitchen. (I’m still working on that one, but Sweet One’s learned my buttons well.  ‘I dare ya’ usually spurs me into action) It was a month of marathon baking sessions and learning to let the house get a bit cluttered in the process.  It was packing my freezer full, re-packing it in a failed attempt to jam more in, and a short drive to sisters house and her blessedly empty freezer.  It was standing in tears of frustration at my tiny kitchen, non-existent pantry and well stocked refrigerator only to laugh at the joy of working through it all with the man who managed to somehow keep up with the number of dishes I am capable of dirtying when I am in marathon mode.  It was multiple holiday meals at multiple family tables and sighs of contentment as we ate. It was putting bites of food into relatives mouths and watching their eyes explode with joy.  That’s the moment I lived for this busy season.  That’s the one that kept me going when the hour grew late and there was still a pile of recipes on the list for “tonight”. I had to learn all over again to make foods I have been making since my seventeenth year.  Then there were the foods I had never tried to make before and discovering the blessing of making things from scratch that I had always purchased in jars.  Those were beautiful lessons.

It’s nearly New Year’s now and I’m not sure just how that happened but I know that a few pounds of flour and more than a few pounds of butter disappeared along the way.  I know that the caramel apple cider I used to get at Starbucks tastes even better sipped at home to the steady beat of rain drops on the window with Sweet One at my side.  (The splash of rum? That was a dandy idea!).  Caramel is just not that hard to make, and the rewards are lovely.

This was not the way I meant to write it all, the wonders of this first gluten-free season.  It was not meant to be put here in one lump at the year’s end. Still, this is the option left to me and in my renewed spirit of “no regrets” I pulled out my crumpled up, liquid splashed recipes with the sharpie pen scrawled across them.  Here, are the things we enjoyed this holiday season and where applicable my slightly neater notes as to my own alterations to someone else’s creations.  I do not write my own recipes, I just mangle what others before me have done 🙂  So far, it’s working out splendidly for us and those we feed.
I’m going to skim right over Thanksgiving.  I was still unsure of what would work and what would not, so I did what I do best.  OVERKILL.  No, it was not necessary to make eighteen different things in two days time.  Almost all of it being both gf and df for the precious little girl who came to town.  There were cookies, granola bars, muffins, and pies.  There were rolls, and dressing, and cranberry sauce.   There was uncertainty and duplication and a very frantic me sending a very calm and wonderful him to the store when I ran out of ingredients.  And again when I ran out of ziplocs and foil.  Baking dairy free for a highly allergic five year old meant a lot of covering already  scoured clean baking sheets with foil.   (Note to self – buy more tapioca and corn starch than you can possibly imagine using.  You will use it.  Remember this next year.  Also, the store only stocks 2 boxes of sweet rice flour at a time.  Start hording it early.  Kiss that amazing man who buys you this flour regularly because he was told approximately six thousand time that this flour is the saving grace of all gf baked goods.  Remember to crank the music up and laugh lots, the most amazing memories are waiting to be made).  I found this chart and used it to convert all my non weight based recipes.  This was completely worth the time it took, the baked goods were reliably wonderful and I feel much more confident that I can duplicate those results.  Also, doubling recipes is far easier this way.   Eleven year old boys find kitchen scales fascinating 🙂  It is quite easy to convince them to “help” however it will take three times as much time as it takes to do it yourself.  The laughter and joy are worth the extra time, and the moment when he asked of his own accord “Aunt Ally is this flour a heavy one or a light one” and I realized he actually understood what we were doing . .  . completely priceless.  (and apparently  my version of skimming is rather long winded)
With that, we arrive at Christmas.
Christmas 1 –
  • Sweet Potato Appetizer – I made a double batch of these.  In between bites people begged for the recipe and requested I make them at every possible opportunity.  We liked them with feta but loved them with peppercorn chevre.
  • Cranberry Roast I doubled the sauce, using a homemade pureed cranberry sauce, and after cooking took the juices and whisked in  a cornstarch/water mixture until it thickened).  I leave out the raisins but that’s just because I hate them and since I’m the cook in the house I get to cater to me 🙂
  • Sweet Potato Mash – I just boil them and then mash them with greek yogurt and butter.  Gluten Free girl taught me to mash them by hand, and not until after they had cooled enough to not produce steam.
  • Artisan Bread (I used Gluten Free Girls “Crusty Bread” recipe out of her new cookbook, it NEVER fails to come out beautifully)
  • Salad
  • Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake – I used the Oreo cookies as the base of the crust and it was lovely.  However, it was much more lovely when I used good grade cocoa powder rather than the Hershey’s.  The Hershey’s batch was “okay”.  A quadruple batch of the “good cocoa” batch disappeared in less than a week.
  • Eggnog – Sweet One just about refuses to share this.  It really is “the best” egg nog ever.  Also, it doesn’t make me ill like the store-bought stuff.  The texture is far creamier without that sickening thickness that store-bought egg nog has.  We’ve made two batches and fought over them both times.  We don’t use nearly the amount of rum she calls for however 🙂
Christmas 2 –
  • Ham (purchased at Costco) with this glaze
  • Ham Gravy – This was made with the verbal instruction of two very . . . adamant women.  In the end it was the juice of the ham, a cornstarch/water thickener, and milk.  Proportions were based on their hollering demands advice.
  • Cornbread Sage Dressing – a family recipe I never seem to make the same way twice.  However, MUCH more chicken stock is required gf than “standard”.  Also, the addition of garlic and shallots was lovely.  Adding the herbs to the butter worked well to infuse a bit more flavor than mom’s.
  • Rolls – I use a slightly different combination of flours than written in the recipe.  Also, in my oven they required 9 minutes, I learned to pull them out just BEFORE they seemed done to me in order to retain the soft loveliness.  Over-baked is even worse in gf world than in regular baking.
  • Cranberry Sauce – I add the zest of 1/2 a lemon and then the juice from the same 1/2 lemon.  I add a bit of cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg too.  Even cranberry sauce haters devoured it 🙂
  • Green Beans (thawed frozen green beans, sautéed in butter with garlic, thyme, marjoram – Sis had a recipe but only 1/2 the necessary ingredients.  Love ya sis.)
  • Cranberry Cheesecake with Oreo cookie crust – this makes a RIDICULOUS amount of cheesecake batter and was almost a disaster but it tasted sooooooo good.  I didn’t follow their cranberry sauce recipe, I was too lazy to make three different batches of cranberry sauce for two meals so I just used my standard with an extra dash of cinnamon and a splash of vanilla stirred in.  No one complained.
  • Mashed Potatoes (sis made them)
  • Sweet Potato Bake (sis baked it)
  • Deviled Eggs (which are the BEST reason to have a holiday – the calories in these babies don’t even count when they taste that good!  However, this too was sis’s recipe and since they are her specialty I won’t share that one here)
  • Apple Pie (sis’s and sadly not gf but I know she loves me anyway)

Never had we gathered around the dining room table.  In various combinations we had been joined in those same chairs, but never all at the same time.  When Sweet One came home, it was a promise we made to one another.  We would gather together with those that we love, with those that he served with an ocean away, with friends we have each made along life’s journey.  Dining out, it’s a challenge these days.  Gluten free was somewhat possible to manage, but gluten free and msg free is an altogether different ball game.  Every time MSG finds its way in the affects on my body reaching deeper and taking longer to fade.  I know, in time, if I keep exposing my body to the poison I will be where I am with gluten.  I am bound and determined to avoid that catastrophe.  Bearing this in mind the texts flew between sister and I flew.  Dinner, was arranged.  This time, I would cook in my own kitchen and they would come.

I spent a few hours, the night before we were slated to gather, preparing the meal.   I had the pork roast in the crock, the apple pie cooling on the counter, the cookie dough resting in the refrigerator, the cutting board cleansed from the salad prep, the bread risen and safely stowed in the refrigerator to be baked the next afternoon.  The sweet potatoes waited to be peeled, but they would continue to wait until just before everyone gathered.  I glanced around the kitchen, content with the evenings work.  I am always happiest when the kitchen has been torn apart and been put back together again, the labors of love resting quietly on the counters, in the refrigerator, in the freezer, or anywhere else they will fit in my ridiculously tiny kitchen.  Someday I will have a kitchen that is more fitting to the passions of my life, but for now we make do with the tiny little counter as we fumble around one another.  I chose to be grateful that he is there, underfoot and willing to help.  My eyes grew misty more than once at the simple fact he was there doing the dishes that I was dirtying.  We waited a long year for nights like this to occur.

They came, the next night.  The clan that became mine five years ago, the man who chose to love me, and I gathered around the dining room table they gifted me.  That table saw sis through her collage days, saw the early days of her parenthood, was given to me in my days as a single woman, and now sees us through this season of change as families morph into something new and yet familiar.  It’s an old table, just the way a table ought to be.  The scuff marks and faded paint make me smile.  Aren’t we all just a little scuffed and faded by the time we enter our third decade of life?  I don’t mind that the table reflects that sentiment.  It seems proper to me somehow.  We devoured the food set upon that old table.  The sweet potatoes disappeared, though not quite as fast as the bread.  The pork roast was exclaimed over multiple times.  I love the words my people give me when it comes to food, but no praise speaks quite so loudly as the silence when they chew, the slight clatter of spoons against ceramic as they reach for second portions.  My heart danced a bit when the eldest boy asked me “Can I have more of THAT?” and reached for the roast he originally wrinkled his nose at.

The mere scraps of pork roast that remained on the platter, the scant crumbs scattered over the cutting board that held the bread a mere half hour ago, the half empty bowl of sweet potatoes, the still full bowl of salad, they told me all I needed to know about our evening meal.  The content smiles, the nearly empty glasses of wine, and the grown-ups gathered on the back patio as the children played the games of boys who are given flashlights were a peaceful ending to the clan dinner made my heart sing. Later as the men reached for second portions of apple pie and the eldest nephew gave me his most pathetic begging eyes as he requested “Just one more awesome cookie” I settled into the happiest place of my culinary heart.  I have missed cooking for those I love.  It was good, to gather again and feed them food I know is good for the bodies.  That is good for my soul.   Never before had we gathered like this, with all of us around one table in person rather than one joining via cell phone.  Never before, but many times to come.  This is the prayer I whispered as I sat enjoying the laughter and the clatter of so many under one roof.  A simple prayer “let there be more, of this”.

I came here to write more than once over the last few weeks.  I came to say “I haven’t given up on writing here” and “this dish was wonderful” and “that dish was a.w.f.u.l.”.  I came to peck out words on keys and let a bit of my heart and soul out into the world. I came to share my journey in this gluten free world with others who walk these often darkened paths.  I sat and stared at the blank screen and I wondered where to start.

I could have started with the biscuits that were mediocre at best.  They made me want to try a different recipe because I miss biscuits so it seems silly to write until I find “the” biscuits.  My bookmarks are filled with recipes waiting to be tried.  Surely one of them will be better than those flat little discs were.

There was the bread that made my mouth water, the one that my Sweet One ate half a loaf of in one sitting and declared “Good like lobster dipped in butter is good” but I’m still playing with the flour combinations.

There were the apple rosemary muffins out of Gluten Free Girls new cookbook that Sweet One declared “maybe the best food I ever ate”. Those are divine just as they are but you’ll need her cookbook to replicate those beauties. 

There was the less than spectacular stuffed acorn squash that morphed into the phenomenal “mexican shepards pie” by way of sweet potatoes and chipolte.  The proportion were perfect for two, but most cook for a family so I need to do some altering before I write of it on the pages here. 

There are stories waiting to be told, but there is also a man who spent the last year an ocean away.  There are cuddles to enjoy, movies to be watched, and long walks to enjoy.  Life, it’s a little bit on the chaotic side right now but the stove and oven are not neglected.  I’ll write of the adventures we’ve shared there soon.  One story at a time, and I think I’ll leave out the guilt.  It’s only a blog after all.

Weekend Adventures

Saturday morning I woke early.  I knew what I wanted to do.  I had been planning and plotting all week long.  I covered the dining room table in mason jars, each jar filled with flours and starches waiting to be dipped into.  Waiting to be discovered.  The anticipation grew as I thumbed through recipes one last time.  Each night during the week I tried to pare down my selections, but then a new post would show up in a blog I follow or I’d stumble onto a new page of a cookbook still largely unexplored and I’d be back to more recipes than one girl has time for.  In typical me fashion, in the end – I made them all.  I made the blueberry lemon muffins, the blackberry muffins, the apple rosemary muffins, the quinoa cranberry muffins, the biscuits, the quinoa breakfast bars, the almond butter brownies, the pumpkin granola and the chocolate chip pumpkin cookies.

 

Sunday was a different sort of day.  I pulled all the vegetable fragments out of the freezer and simmered a vegetable stock while two chickens baked in the oven.  I had two pots of quinoa simmering, one with the vegetable stock and one with the mexican flaired juices from the roasted chicken.  I made a pot of Mexcian Pumpkin Soup.  I pulled the meat from the chickens and roasted the bones.  The chicken stock simmered for hours and I’m left with gorgeous jars of amber hued liquid goodness.  I was nearly done, the flours waiting to be put back in the cabinet and the pots waiting to be scrubbed.  I couldn’t get the blog post I had seen out of my head.  The bread in the photograph had captured my attention.  The ingredients are not all readily available here, the recipe having been written in Europe, and I had not planned on that lovely loaf factoring into my day.  Once glance at  the clock and the flours on the table and I grabbed my lap top.  I pulled the recipe up and sorted out which flours I wanted to use.  With a whispered prayer I measured and mixed.  I waited for the yeast to foam and then I waited for the bread to rise.  I pulled the risen bread out of the slightly warm bowl and discovered something most astonishing.  It felt like bread dough.  I’ve become accustomed to the batter like texture of most doughs.  This was nothing like that.  This was firm and stretchy.  I gently slid that little round loaf into the oven and flipped the oven light on.  Rather than doing the dishes sitting in my sink, I watched that loaf rise, turn golden, and when I slid it back out of the oven I tapped the top of the bread.  Hollow echo returned to my ears and I knew, this was bread.  Warm pieces dipped in roasted red pepper infused olive oil had me dancing happy dances on my tile floor.  Suddenly it no longer mattered that a few hours earlier there was poultry blood wreaking havoc on my sanitary kitchen.  I nearly forgot the small figurine that I watched slide off the shelf and crash onto the tile floor I was now dancing upon.  The bread, it was real bread.  Honest to goodness artisan bread despite my alterations.  I want to play with that same recipe again, I want to see what else I can make it come.  I want to pull out those jars and play again but that first batch?  It worked just fine.

I may not have folded all the laundry, and yes I did forget to water the tomato plant and herbs yet again, but my freezer is stocked with muffins, rolls, and bread.  My refrigerator shelves are filled with homemade stocks and beautiful autumn infused soups.  That loaf of bread, the half that remains, waits in the freezer for my Love to taste when he arrives.  Oh, and that little figurine?  Sister glued her back together for me.  All in all, I declare it a delightful weekend.