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Some days . . .

There are days it seems as if the need to be gluten free has changed everything.  Days when the world seems harder and more complex than I have the stamina to tackle.  There are other days too.  Days filled with fresh foods, delightful pastas at serene little restaurants, or the joy of feeding friends foods they have never before consumed.  Those are the good days.   Those are the days I cling to when I struggle my way through the new aspects of my world.
This week that new world got more complicated.  I reacted, badly, to something but I was quite certain that there was no gluten in anything I had eaten.  I struggled to find the source.  I suspected Soy and began an internal panic at eliminating something so heavily infiltrated into our American diet.  It was a random conversation with my mother, an idle comment she made about how badly my brother reacts to MSG that led me down the path I’ve been on the last few days.  There were hours spent with Google.  Ah yes, that new pasta that tasted so heavenly – it has pea protein isolate, code for MSG.  That simple rice noodle bowl from Trader Joe’s I was so elated came gf, autolyzed yeast extract.  Yet another code for MSG.  My beloved coffee mate, who’s presence in my life has been significantly decreased because I knew it was doing “something”, it has MSG too.  Three days.  Three doses.  It took me under.  Three more days before I would know what it was that stole the life from my body.  One bowl of soy beans to make sure my assumption was not wrong.
Now the journey begins anew.  GF and MSG free.
Some days it seems as if I need a degree in chemistry, anatomy, and nutrition to make dinner at night.  I spent countless hours learning of lectins and proteins.  Pondering the importance of glutamate and learning which foods are naturally higher in this pesky substance.  I understand so little of it, yet I know I must understand more.  My body needs me to.
I struggle, knowing there are more pieces to this puzzle.  I fight the dizzy/nearly drunk feeling with the eyes that won’t quite focus right  for two hours after I eat and I still do not know why.  No gluten.  No MSG.  Still, something is getting me.  I made an appointment with an allergist only to learn the insurance won’t cover it and thousands of dollars of tests is not in the budget.  I am at a loss, doing the only thing I know to do.  Reading.  Tracking food intake, tracking weight, tracking sleep.  Watching the strange rash on my face come and go at seemingly random times, knowing there must be a dietary reason why.   Knowing that somewhere there are answers.  I just have to find them.
Some days, I’m just a little lost as to how to make my way through this journey.
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Much to be done

The dragonflies come out to play at twilight so the pup and I walk the sidewalks together seeking the sparkling wings of those tiny creatures.  His leash in my right hand the camera in my left we explore the world just outside our front door.  The first night I grabbed the camera with barely a thought, just an intention to capture the bright purple beauty sitting on the porch.  Each evening since I have grabbed the camera on my way out the door.  I find a certain solace in these walks, a quiet call to live right now with all the pleasure possible.  I notice the little moments when I seek them through my lens.  The flowers blooming.  The bumble bee playing.  The glorious colors of sunsets.  The weight of the air in monsoon season.  Our walks are longer as the days grow shorter.  This shortening of days assures me that fall really is on the horizon.  I ache for fall to arrive.  With the arrival of fall will come the return of my soldier.  The calendar says it will be soon, for really, what is two months in the span of four hundred days. There is much to be done in the days that remain.

The list of projects yet to be marked done fill the pages of the notebook in which they were scrawled.  Soon there will be a frenzy in the kitchen.  I must master the pie crust, dinner rolls, cornbread sage dressing, and all other manner of Thanksgiving feast for both the gluten and dairy intolerant.  I must make for the man who’s presence has been gone so very long food to fill the cavern that the paltry rotation of army fare has left in its wake this last year.  There is much to be done..

There are bags to sew, a quilt to make, an afghan to finish, another to begin.  I have pages that detail the fabric to be purchased, the yarn to be found, the patters to be followed.  My hands will be busy in the days to come.  There is much to be done.

For now, my evening meals are filled with lovely fresh vegetables sliced on the mandolin a dear friend gifted me and dipped in refreshing hummus.  There are ham and cheese sandwiches, simple fare in a busy day.  There are scrambled eggs, protein enhanced smoothies, and even the occasional Amy’s Kitchen frozen meal.

For now, I will sit in the quiet and pull yarn over hook until the eldest boys afghan is done.  For now, there is not much cooking to be done, but soon there will be a frenzy.  When the frenzy begins, I will write again.

I saw them standing there in the gf aisle of Sprout’s.  The sweet couple talking in hushed whispers looking terrified and trapped.  Quietly, I asked them if I could help them.   They stared for a moment at me, and then the wife flicked her eyes to the basket I was pushing laden with fresh foods and packages bearing the most prominent  gluten free names and logos.  I watched the struggle play across her face, and then she stuttered “Do you know what . . . ” and there she stopped.  The questions were too vast.  She didn’t know where to begin.  Her eyes filled with liquid frustration as she told me how horribly wrong her bread had gone.  Her husband, newly diagnosed, had eaten only one thing every meal for weeks.  He was tired of rice.  She didn’t know what else to make him.  She wanted to ask me “Do you know what he can eat”.

We walked through much of the store together, these strangers and I that late summer night.  My quick errand turned into an hour long adventure.

They have since found their way through this strange gluten free land.   I see them there, now and again, their cart is now full and their eyes no longer hold the terrorized glaze they did that first night.  We nod in acknowledgment, occasionally exchanging opinions on one product or another.  It makes my heart happy to see them there, and to know that my promise to her was true.   I assured her that  she would, in time, find her way in this new place.  Time.  It’s always the challenge.

When I first began this journey, the time factor frustrated me.  I knew that eventually I would figure it out.  I also knew that R&R was coming with alarming speed and since I only had 14 precious days with that man I loved in the span of 400 days, I was NOT going to get glutoned in that 14 day span.  I did the only thing I knew to do.

I researched.

I made a notebook and I put tabs in it.  I thought this new world might be easier if I could break it down, if I could walk in prepared.  I had one tab behind which I put a list of all the words I needed to watch for.  The obvious like wheat and the less obvious like malodextrin or “natural flavorings”.  There was a tab for manufacturer’s, a tab for Trader Joe’s who is kind enough to put out a monthly list of every gf item they carry, a tab for fast food with menus of allergens listed (and darn them usually the calorie count too!), a tab for restaurants near me, and a tab behind which I put a letter I found online regarding celiac that I could hand to wait staff or chefs.  I printed all those many pages I found online and put each page in it’s section.  When that was done, I felt like I was armored.  I was no longer at the mercy of this disease, I had drawn a boundary.  A boundary that stated “I will not live in fear, I will control this to the very best of my ability”.

I took that notebook with me to the store when I was purchasing groceries in those early days.  I don’t take it as often these days, but I do consult it when I make my grocery list and I note which brands are safe for me to consume right there on my list of needed groceries.  Always, I check labels.  Manufacturers change things so fast.  It has become rather automated now, flip the box/can/package over and seek those words.  My eyes find them faster now than they used to.  That first trip I read every list three or four times and then again when I got home still not sure I had caught everything.  Now, I trust myself more.  I know that I have trained me on what to look for.

Those fast food allergen lists saved me a few times when the employee had no idea what I was asking for.   In time, I stopped eating at those places.  They do not understand enough not to poison me, and words seem to have little bearing.

It gets easier, in time, but for now?  A few simple lists might help you find your way.

Just Dinner

Sometimes, I just want dinner.  When the week wears long and the hours seem short I resent that I can not stop by Rubio’s and find sustenance.  It is for days such as these I fall back to the simple recipes.  Recipes that are made ahead of time and are more a list of ingredients to be combined than they are actual recipes. This is one of my favorites, especially when I use grapeseed oil instead of the olive oil.  It’s lighter and doesn’t coat the tongue in the same way olive oil does.  Quartered cherry tomatoes make a lovely bright addition as well.

From March 2010 Real Simple magazine.

Tuna Salad With Celery and Radishes

Ingredients

  • 2 5-ounce cans tuna in water, drained
  • 8 small radishes, cut into thin wedges
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • crackers, for serving

Directions

  1. In a bowl, combine  tuna, radishes, celery, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, and kosher salt and black pepper.
  2. Refrigerate in a container for up to 1 day.
  3. Serve with crackers.

Happy Eleven.

He’s eleven now.  That boy with hair the color and texture of mine.  He stole my heart when he was five.  He still manages to steal it now.  I don’t know how much longer he’ll want to play with me in the kitchen, but for now he’s excited to say “yes” when I ask if he wants to bake.  I promised him a chocolate caramel cheesecake when I found this recipe. I knew that these cookies would be the only conversion necessary to make the recipe safe for all of us to enjoy together.

He stood at the kitchen counter as I gathered the ingredients, we have baked together often enough he understands the routine.  Hands clasped in concentration he read from the directions I had printed.  Slowly we worked through each section together.  Frequently I called to him to look into the mixing bowl, to take a taste of the batter at each stage, to see what “creamed” looked like, to taste the bittersweet chocolate before it was blended into the caramel goodness.  Each phase his eyes lit up with anticipation.  He reminds me how to be entirely in the moment, to savor the process and not just the result.  He stared intently at the pot where the sugar turned to a consistency similar to rock candy, then to liquid, then to a lovely caramel.  He watched in fascination as it turned to a deep amber and laughed with glee as the cream made the amber goo foam.  That last taste of batter he told me “I can taste it, I can taste the caramel and the chocolate apart and together, the layers, I can taste them”.  His green eyes lit up with the discovery.  I smiled and told him “remember that Bear, always remember to taste as you go so that you understand how the taste was built”.  His only reply was a hug.

I showed him the food processor and gave him the ingredients for the crust.  He mixed it himself from start to finish, with pride.  He stirred and felt and thought.  He asked for more “wet stuff” and with a slight chuckle I handed him another tablespoon of butter. He mixed slowly and then told me “I think its right now, can you check with your head too?”.  With a quiet laugh I nodded my approval to him.  The woman in me smiled at the boy but the girl I once was sighed in deep satisfaction.  As a child I dreamed of the days I would teach my children to cook and bake not by words on a page but from my hand to theirs.  In my dream world my grown children would be asked how they knew how to prepare food and with a shrug they would say “I just know” because it would have been an always part of them.

God chose to give me a different version of my dreams.  The child with the wide eyes and awed laughter baked his own birthday cheesecake standing with me on my tile floor. A dream I didn’t have the wisdom to dream come true.

Happy Birthday my red headed boy. I love watching you experience life and find joy in the everyday experiences.  I love you.  Enjoy your cake, Precious One.

I baked a loaf of it in those first weeks, mostly to convince myself that there was something other than that awful rice based cardboard my mother purchased to hold the basic ham and cheese.  I baked two loaves of it just before he came home for R&R so we could pair the homemade soups I made with the garlic bread he so adores.  I baked another loaf of it in those Colorado mountains where we spent a carefree week during that much needed respite from deployment.  I baked it when we got home again so he could have a grilled cheese with the homemade tomato soup.  I made it in the weeks after he left so I could have dinner without too much fuss.

I do love the days when I have the time to pull the jars from the pantry and really bake.   I find it deeply satisfying to pull powders from jars and end up with a house filled with the lovely aroma of fresh baked bread.  I wish life afforded me the time to do that on a more regular basis, but sometimes I’m just plain busy.  This bread?  It’s great for those busy weeks.  Where I live I can grab this mix at Fry’s or even Walmart since they added the gluten free section a few months ago.

It requires very few steps.  Milk, heated to 100 degrees and then “proofing” the yeast is the only part that ever baffled me.  The recipe indicated the yeast would “foam”.  The first few loaves, my yeast never did foam.  Later, baking a different loaf, I realized why.  The yeast needs sugar to feed on.  Just heating the milk never activated it.  The bread still rose, a bit.  It almost reached the top of the loaf pan each time.  This always seemed sufficient to me, after all gf breads never do rise the way “regular” bread does.  This time, I added a bit of sugar to that milk and the yeast did this . . .

It foamed.  The remainder of the instructions are quite easy to follow.  You simply combine everything in the mixer for the requisite three minutes, pour it into a loaf pan and this is the odd part.  Take a rubber spatula, run it under some warm tap water.  Don’t dry it off.  Use that spatula to smooth the bread, but only as much as is necessary.  Do not overwork your dough, it’s fragile this gf baking world.  Let it rise, and then bake it.  The house will fill with the aroma of fresh bread.

GF bread doesn’t last the way regular bread does so I use a slice or two the night I make it and freeze the rest.  Frozen slices can be thrown into the toaster oven while I walk the dog and when I get back toast is ready to be scarfed down . You can thaw a few slices in the microwave for sandwiches.  The very first loaf I ever made was pulled from the oven at nearly midnight.  The next morning was a family breakfast, and for three years now that breakfast has meant french toast.  Celiac wasn’t going to steal a family tradition from me, so that first loaf was sitting on sis’s counter the next morning.  Brother slid those slices into his famous batter and browned them in a pan on the opposite side of the kitchen from the griddle that held the glutenous bread slices.  Sis and my eldest nephew each took a slice of regular bread and a slice of gf bread.  Both looked up in a bit of shock and informed me they would chose this bread over “normal” bread.  We all fell in the love with the denser texture of this bread and the way it held up to the french toast batter.  I know Udi’s is a much loved bread for most of the celiac community, but it always falls apart on me.  It’s a bit bland.  It reminds me of a tasteless angel food cake.  I don’t like angel food cake.  Sure, Udi’s serves the function, and is so much better than some of the other options out there, but this bread?  It fills the need better in my opinion.

I am glad things like this and those wonderful french toast mornings can still happen, gluten free.

A lovely overview

A short (4 min) documentary on gf living.

http://www.generationglutenfree.com/index.php?page=home

Cross-contamination

I am lucky.   Living alone  made making my house safe is relatively simple.  It was one huge undertaking that first weekend that pretty much involved emptying the kitchen and putting every thing back piece by piece.  It was a lot of cleaning.  It was reading the labels on EVERYTHING that was in my fridge, freezer, and pantry.  It was googling the things I was not certain of.  It was bag after bag of food that had to leave.  It was daunting, but I did it once and I was done.  When Sweet One’s deployment is over, the kitchen won’t change.  He’s seen me sick too much to risk that so he’ll eat gluten free too.  I am lucky.

My sis lives just up the street.  She cleaned out a whole cabinet just for me.  It’s labeled the way all things sister are labeled.  A bright post-it written in sharpie.  Her fridge has containers with masking tape over the labels and my name scrawled over them.  The children know to stay out of those things, and they are becoming diligent label readers in their own right.  The youngest still looks for the word “gluten” but the older manages to think through at least the odds of gluten being in something with startling regularity.  I’m lucky.  When I mentioned getting in her pantry made me nervous with all the flour containers sitting there, she moved them.  Just for me.  Just so I could feel safe.  Their freezer has a whole shelf just for me where I store leftovers that can be heated for those visits we don’t plan in advance.  They accommodate me well.  They wash everything, twice, when I come over.  They scrub down the counters so I don’t accidentally get bread crumbs on my hands.  They love me well.

We had family dinner together one night gathering around the table with heaping plates of spaghetti.  Sis went to great lengths to make sure her homemade sauce was safe.  She made a double batch so I could have the leftovers.  We made quinoa pasta for me, strained it in a separate strainer, on a different side of the sink from where their pasta was drained.   I avoided the Parmesan, just in case.  We ate.  We chatted.  It was just like the old times, pre-celiac.  We laughed long and talked loud, just as we always do.  Until the pain started to creep up my neck, the hot spread over my skin, and the world got fuzzy.  I’m still not sure what gave me away.  The way I blink more trying to make words make sense in my head?  The rash that spreads around my mouth, across my forehead, and down my chest?  I tried to keep it hidden, but as Brother stood at the stove dishing himself seconds he said “You made your plate first?  Right?”  I felt the air change in the room.  I felt the weight of it settle on me.  I didn’t.  He mad the boys plates first.  The room froze and I met sis’s eyes.  She knew.

He had plated the kids spaghetti noodles and the grabbed a ladle full of sauce.  He used the ladle to carve out a crater in the noodles as he poured the sauce over the noodles.  He put the ladle back in the sauce pot.

That’s all it took.

Sweet One called me on Skype that night from the other side of the world.  He knew.  He told me as we spoke that he felt like he was watching me fade right out of me.  I laughed and retorted “that’s exactly how it feels”.  The headache starts at the top of my neck and arches over my skull.   It feels as if my eyes no longer fit in their sockets.  My skin feels wrong somehow.  The feeling you get in your jaw when you eat something super sour?  My whole body feels that way.  I lose the ability to find words and resort to the sentence structure of a three year old.  The dizzy hits and the nausea floods.  Bonine helps a bit.  The first dose of benadryl helps a bit if I take it fast enough.  Migraine meds are required before the four days of hell ends.  The worst part is that first hour though.  When I feel it start to spread, powerless to stop it and keenly aware of what is to come that is the worst part of it for me.

I am lucky.  It does not happen often.  Those that love me work hard to make sure that I am safe.  They help me cope when the gluten does hit.  That spaghetti night taught me something though.  The books all talk about cross-contamination.  I understood this in the abstract.  It became much more real when a ladle in a pot made me so ill. I learned to make my plate first.  I learned that even though the whole batch of sauce was safe – mine should still be in a totally separate pot.  My big brother will probably never forgive himself his oversight that night but me?  I’m grateful.  It taught me just how careful I have to be.  It taught me what the dangers of cross-contamination really are.

Yeah, I’m lucky alright.

Pizza

They came running through my front door with my pup right on their heels.  Two nephews and one small dog have a strange ability to make a vast amount of ruckus when they race into my world making my heart smile even as my mouth tells them to settle down.  They did as boys are apt to do and dumped their bags on the first flat surface they found and started asking questions.  What are we going to do?  Do we get to watch movies?  What’s for dinner?  They knew, of course, what was on the menu.  They chose the menu from my carefully planned list of options.  **Note to self – attempting to bake three gluten free things in one night and actually having time interact with the children is not a wise plan.  The idea they will bake with you will last approximately thirty seconds in their world.  Remember this**

They settled in, spreading their various army men and lego contraptions around my living room.  I mixed the dough.  They picked through the vast movie options, I gathered the mozzarella, marinara, basil, and parmesan.  They came, as I knew they would, and stood at the corner of the kitchen counter.  I handed the eldest the grater and the cheese.  I spread the dough, deciding that a more rustic rectangle with messy edges was not likely to keep an eight and ten year old from consuming dinner.  We sang along to the radio as the red headed boy grated and I threw a pesto together.
I talked to them about the difference between the red and the white pizzas.  They both gave me this look that clearly stated they felt I had lost my mind and stated quite firmly that they just wanted “normal” pizza.

I scraped down the sides of the food processor and held a utensil out to the boy, so he could taste the vivid green pesto he was staring at with a mixture of curiosity and disgust.  He scrunched up his nose and backed away from me as if I had asked him to taste an insect.  I convinced him to try it and laughed long as his face went from puckered up fear to pleasure as he allowed the pesto to coat his tongue.  It’s GOOD he exclaimed with a touch of awe.  “You must always try what you are making as you go, so you know how to change it or if it is even good” I instruct him.  He thought about this as he grated cheese, glancing at me every so often to see what my hands were doing.   I spread the dough with a water dipped spatula as we talked about the food we were making.  Slowly I saw the words sinking in.  He continued to pepper me with questions as he grated the parmesean.  I offered him as many answers as I held.

Those boys and I?  We share an unhealthy affection for cheese.  Those thin crusts were smeared with sauce – a red for them and a pesto for me.  The youngest placed the cheese on the red pizza, the eldest on the white.  I had them taste the real mozzarella I had sliced and the parmesan he grated.  I tore off a basil leaf and handed it to them to taste.  I want them to know that food should be interacted with, it should be explored, it should be experienced.  For a few moments, they indulged me.  They tasted as they spread, the eldest carefully noting my placement of cheese, the small dark eyed boy scampered off after one slice of mozzarella had been lain down.  Bit by bit the crusts were covered, and then covered just a little bit more. After all, it was a cheese pizza so there must be loads of cheese.  Just ask that ten year old, he’s very clear on this matter.  As the pizzas bubbled in the oven the the eldest boy turned to me and said “You sure know my heart, you know I love my cheese”.  Sweet words to an Aunt’s heart.

The pizza’s baked as the boys were called to the sink.  If you are going to indulge in the goodness, you must also participate in the less fun aspects like dishes, or so many philosophy goes. It helped when I mentioned we needed those particular items to be clean before we could make cookies 🙂  They were next on the agenda and the most anticipated part of our evening.  We had many talks that centered around the “how’s” of doing dishes and I wondered when I had learned these things and at who’s hand.  It seems to me as if I always knew but surely someone taught me just as their mother and I teach them. The elder boy offered encouraging words and even a helping hand on the more complicated items like big glass bowls.  He suspected that breaking dishes would seriously dampen his Aunt’s happy mood.  I watched them, wondering when they got big enough to really be in the kitchen with me for more than dumping of pre-measured items into bowls.  They chattered away as I stood there slightly frozen by the realization that they are growing up altogether too fast.  How many more years do we have of spending hours in the kitchen together?

I pulled the pizzas out of the oven and slid them onto the cutting board.  One boy fetched drinks while the other set the table.  Finally, it was time to consume our creations.  Despite their demands for “normal” pizza it was the pesto pizza that was consumed with great speed. One boy staring at his own plate and then his brothers and then glancing at the cutting board filled with pizza slices.  They seeemed to be in a race with one another, needing to make sure that there was more white pizza to stuff into their already full mouths.  The red pizza on the other hand is currently occupying a shelf in my refrigerator.

Cinnamon Quinoa

I am not a morning person.  I never have been.  I much prefer to hit that snooze button just one more time before I wrestle myself out of the nest of pillows and blankets I surround myself in for those sleeping hours.

This one more time makes breakfast a bit of a challenge.  My weekends are filled with beautiful frittatas, lovely pancakes, and even the occasional breakfast casserole.  I love to slowly sip my cup of mostly cream with a little bit o coffee and let the aroma of herbs and eggs bring my day to it’s starting place on Saturday or Sunday.  I adore sitting quiet with a book as the light filters in through the blinds and allowing the day to begin as all good days should.  Slowly.  The weekends are not hard, it’s those other pesky five days of the week that leave me struggling.  There are scrambled eggs, sure.  There’s my beloved cinnamon rice chex.  If I’ve baked lately there is likely some form of doughy goodness waiting for me in the freezer but the scale dictates I keep those sorts of breakfast to a minimum.  Not only that, I simply feel better if my morning is not begun with a sugar overload.  Those are words my teen self would rebel at, but my thirty-something year old self knows better.

This is where Quinoa comes into play. Most Sunday afternoons will find a pot of Quinoa boiling on my stove top.  I love to eat it cold, with fruit, and vanilla soy milk in the mornings.  I have found a routine that works pretty well even for this morning hating woman.  It’s a plan that can be altered on those days to tossing a container in a bag and eating said breakfast at my desk as I log into the various programs at work.  Yes, I do prefer to consume my breakfast at the kitchen table, just after taking the pup on a long walk.  However, if I’m honest not all mornings look that way.  My goal is that MORE mornings look like that than the other variety.  It’s good to have goals in life 🙂

My go to breakfast –

Put pot of water and quinoa on the stove to boil.  Add a tablespoon of cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg, a splash of vanilla, some cardamon if I’m feeling adventurous.  The only truly critical part is the cinnamon.  Lots and lots of cinnamon.  Enough to turn the water muddy brown.  Enough to stain your quinoa.  When it does that?  You have enough cinnamon.

I am a multi-tasker.  Therefore I usually set this to boiling while I’m putting a load of laundry in or in between steps on the latest craft project.  When I wander by the stove a few minutes later and the water is at a rapid boil, I simply turn it off.  I don’t move it, I just turn the little knob to “off”.  I walk away.  I work my way down my to-do list a little bit more.  I wander back over once all the water has been absorbed by the quinoa.  I stir it up this time leaving the lid off of the pot.  I stir it the next few times I pass by the stove.

When the quinoa has cooled I divide it among five of my tupperware containers.  I toss some fresh sliced strawberries or some blueberries on there.  If there happens to be nectarines, or peaches, or plums in the crisper drawer I might add slices of those.  I toss the containers in the fridge, ready for the crazy mornings of my week.

In the morning, after the alarm clatters at me raising me from my slumber and my pups immediate needs are provided for I reach for one of those containers.  I add in a generous splash of vanilla soy milk and I eat.  It keeps me full until lunch and it brightens my mornings with the burst of fruit and the warmth of cinnamon complimented by the creamy vanilla.  It’s breakfast for the morning hating girl.