Monday, July 9, 2012

I don't have a place here

I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about my place in the world. What is my purpose? Why I feel comfortable some times and places and horribly out of place others. I have been in a sort of limbo these past few years due to health issues, work issues and psychological angst. I think I am starting to emerge from that place between heaven and hell and the pondering is part of my reflection of that time and my planning for my future.

It all sounds so esoteric doesn't it? What does this have to do with my blog?

Well, I don't think I should be writing this blog. I don't seem to fit into the gluten free world very well. I am not celiac, simply gluten intolerant. I can handle gluten in small amounts and occasionally larger quantities. I don't ask if a soup base has flour in it. I don't worry if my french fries are cooked in the same oil as onion rings or chicken fingers. I eat soy sauce even if it isn't wheat free. At home, I avoid all gluten, but when eating out and traveling I don't make a big deal about it.

And that's why I don't fit in. Most people in the gluten free community are zealots. They have to be or they get sick, sometimes very sick. I feel guilty when I can go out to eat and not have to grill the server, chef and manager. I simply order my salad without croutons and enjoy my grilled fish and veggies. This makes me feel guilty that I have it so much easier. And it makes me feel like I have nothing to offer the gluten free community because I am not really gluten free. I am a gluten avoider.

I will still follow the many gluten free bloggers I enjoy. Shauna from Gluten Free Girl and the Chef as well as Elana from Elana's Pantry are two of my favorites. I have read their blogs for years and have tried many, many of their recipes many, many times. I am grateful for them. Extremely grateful. But in reality, I don't think anyone has been grateful for me and my blog. I am not looking for pity. It is just reality and it is okay that I admit it. I have other things to offer this world, in other ways.

If I run across something fantastic that I need to share, or want to put something "out there" for myself to remember or others to find, I may on occasion make a post. But I will stop trying to force myself to fit into this community. I will stop trying to write relevant posts simply because I created a blog when I was first starting out on this journey. I will stop feeling guilty because my circumstances are easier than others.  Did anyone else notice that I used the word guilt quite a lot in my posts?

Thank you to anyone who has followed me or read one of my posts. Maybe there is someone out there that gained a little something from me at some point. I hope so. But in the end, it doesn't matter. This blog helped me when I needed it and now it is helping me move on and feel better about myself by dropping it. I don't need to carry this unnecessary burden any longer. And that's a good thing. It simply is.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Snyder's of Hanover Gluten Free Pretzels

I will admit it here - I have never been a huge fan of pretzels. My friend Kent buys the large barrel of pretzels from Costco and eats them constantly. I never understood it. Don't get me wrong, I L-O-V-E my salty snacks but my favorite are traditional potato chips.

So, after going gluten free a few years ago I didn't give pretzels too much thought. I didn't care before so why should I care now? I did eventually try Glutino's gluten free pretzels but thought they had a funny after-taste and didn't even finish the bag.

Recently while shopping at my local grocery store I spied Snyder's of Hanover's gluten free pretzels. Curiosity got the best of me and I purchased a bag. I was having a friend over to watch a basketball play-off game and thought these would make for a good game time snack.

Little did I know that these pretzels would be such a hit! We ate and ate and ate. I later learned that my friend liked them so much that she went out and bought some to eat at work that week -- and she is NOT gluten free! She just liked them that much.

I have since bought another bag and a different friend bought some to use in a recipe for a pie crust that called for pretzels so I could eat the pie. Next time I travel I think I will be bringing a bag of these with me as an airplane snack. And they certainly will appear at my next sports viewing function too!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Guilt and the Gratitude

There has been a lot of buzz recently about Domino's new gluten free pizza. A few months ago the same thing happened when California Pizza Kitchen announced a gluten free pizza. The problem? While the pizza crust itself is gluten free, the restaurants don't have safe practices for the pizza toppings and sauce. So the same ladle is used to put sauce on all pizzas potentially cross-contaminating the gluten free pizza. Additionally, traditional pizza kitchens have a lot of flour flying around and some is bound to land on a gluten free pizza.

That's where my guilt AND gratitude come in. My guilt? I am not celiac but rather gluten intolerant. From what I have read about other people's conditions, mine is fairly mild. I can eat wheat and drink beer and be fine. My problem creeps up on me when I eat too much or too many meals in a row containing gluten. Then the stomach issues begin, the rash shows up and/or I get canker sores. I have learned that I can eat something gluten about once a week or every other week and be just fine. I have that luxury. I can eat out with friends or family and "be normal" if I want to. I know many, many, many others in the gluten free community could not even toy with this idea. I have a freedom they don't.

And that's why I am grateful. I am grateful I can indulge once in a while. I am also grateful that Domino's and California Pizza Kitchen have gluten free pizza. I am happy that Whole Foods will make me a sandwich on gluten free bread even if the work area is full of bread crumbs from other customer's sandwiches. It means I can enjoy certain foods whenever I want because a little cross-contamination isn't going to hurt me. My body won't even notice. For some people, even using a wooden spoon that was used for something with flour in it can make them sick. I personally cannot fathom such sensitivity - and I am grateful for that. And it makes me feel guilty that I have it so easy. I do not have to drill waitstaff on menu ingredients and safe kitchen practices. I can handle it if a soup is thickened with flour or the french fries are cooked in the same oil as the onion rings. I am sooooo grateful for that.

Okay, I am off to write my grocery list for the ingredients I need to make gluten free green chili and corn lasagna - my Memorial Day dinner party contribution. I am modifying this recipe to suit my needs (namely gluten free pasta, half and half instead of cream and green chili's instead of poblanos.) Happy Memorial Day weekend!

P.S. The lasagna turned out great but next time I will make a little extra of the corn mixture as it was a tad dry and will use whole milk instead of half and half. I think the gluten free pasta soaked up all the sauce.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mastering Gluten Free Baking

Okay, I am no expert especially when it comes to baking. But I have always enjoyed baking and friends and family have always enjoyed eating what I have baked. Going gluten free threw me for a bit of a curve, for a while.

But now I kind of have this gluten free baking thing down. Is everything I bake perfect, no. It wasn't before I started baking gluten free either. So today, I thought I would share a few lessons I have learned along the way as well as some products that have worked for me.

1. A mixture of different kinds of gluten free flours and starches work well. Shauna from Gluten Free Girl and the Chef has a great recipe ratio to use. I tweak my blend a little depending upon what I have in the house.

2. If you don't want to mix your own flours, Pamela's Baking and Pancake Mix works for just about everything. I have used it as a substitute for flour in Nestle Tollhouse bars and NO ONE could tell they were gluten free.

3. I like cake-like brownies. I do not like fudge-like brownies. All gluten free brownies I have tried are fudge-like, until last week. I had a package of Bob's Red Mill Brownie Mix that was about the expire. I remembered that my favorite brownie mix had a variation for cake-like brownies - just add an extra egg. So, I added an extra egg to the Bob's mix and viola! I had cake-like brownies.

4. If you are allergic, I am sorry, but eggs really do help gluten free products hold together. I thing I am going to start experimenting with adding an extra egg to recipes and see what happens.

5. Adding chia seeds to recipes adds more "goo" and helps things hold together a little better. Plus they are good for you. I sometimes use gums (xantham and guar) but usually don't. I forget and I guess if I forget it can't be that important, right?

 6. Don't be afraid of the freezer. I often make a batch of cookie dough, bake some right away and then form the rest into balls and freeze them. That way it is easy to bake up just one or two when I want a cookie, or bake up more when I have guests. I have also frozen Shauna's Lemon Poppyseed Bread successfully. Muffins freeze easily. Make sure you label your plastic bag with the contents, the date you froze it and the baking instructions. Believe me, you won't remember later.

 7. I have found that cupcake or mini-loaves cook better than full loaves of quick bread. My quick bread loaves often come out almost burned on the outside and almost raw in the middle. If you want sure success, make muffins instead. Just reduce the cook time and use a toothpick to check for doneness. Same goes for cookies. Make them a little smaller. They will cook better and will be less likely to fall apart when you try to eat them.

8. Gluten free baked goods often dry out by the second day. They are usually best right out of the oven, after an appropriate cooling off. That's why the freezer can be your friend - you can pop something in the oven to bake at the last minute or re-heat items in the microwave.

 9. Which leads me to this tip - if something had dried out a little, put it in the microwave for a few seconds. The microwave re-activates the moisture. Just don't over to it. Literally a few seconds may be all it takes.

 10. Divide recipes in half. Not only will this save ingredients if the recipe fails, you will make less and therefore have less left over to get dry (see points 8 and 9 above). Just do the math before you start and write down the recipe using the ingredients divided in half.

11. Don't tell people that something is gluten free (unless of course they need to also eat gluten free). Most of the time friends and family can't even tell when I have made something gluten free. I made a gluten free mac-n-cheese for Easter and took it to a friend's house for their Easter feast. Everyone loved it and no one suspected it was gluten free. If you tell them it is gluten free they automatically think it is going to be bad and won't like it -- even if it is wonderful.

P.S. It is the day after I wrote the post above and I feel like a fool. I just read this post by Gluten Free on a Shoe String regarding gluten free flours. She is a professional, someone that devotes her time to recipes and writing cookbooks. She dares to cook things that I would NEVER bother with trying to cook. And she has something to say about gluten free all-purpose flours. Check it out!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Saturday Musings and Cheating

Sometimes it is quite easy not eating wheat. Sometimes it is really hard. Sometimes I fail and eat it anyway. Luckily for me I am only gluten intolerant and have found that if I avoid it most of the time, I can indulge other times with no problems. I realize that for others, there is no choice. They just can't eat wheat/gluten.

As more and more products come to the market that are gluten free, I feel like life gets a little easier. Gluten free pretzels and gluten free Chex cereal make a great Chex Mix. The gluten free pastas available are delicious (Sam Mills, Ancient Harvest Quinoa and RP's Gluten Free Pasta are our favorites) - even my hubby will eat them without complaining. Gluten free flour mixes (Pamela's is my favorite) can be used to make just about anything - cookies, cakes, muffins, pancakes, etc. Home is easy. Home is where I can make what I want and have the ingredients on hand. I never cheat at home.

Where I struggle most is being away from home. Restaurants. Asian and Mexican places are easy for me. Sweet Tomatoes/Soup Plantation is torture. You'd think it would be easy because it is a salad place but I crave the muffins and brownies. The pasta I can usually pass on, but ooh, do I want some corn bread.

Why am I writing this? Just to get the guilt off my chest. I have cheated three times this past week. Once last Saturday when I went to Sweet Tomatoes and ate a lemon muffin AND lemon pasta. Oh, was it so good! Once on Easter when I ate a piece of lemon meringue pie. Oh, was it so good! And once on Thursday when we played trivia with friends at a bar and I split a portobello mushroom sandwich with a friend. Oh, was it so good! I hadn't had any wheat in six weeks and ate it three times in the span of six days! What's wrong with me?

And now . . . I am going back to Sweet Tomatoes tonight. I should stay away from the scene of last week's crime but I can't! It is lemon month and I love lemon. The lemon salad dressing is so very, very good. I think it is laced with something that makes me happy. I am hoping I can avoid the lemon muffins tonight. I don't care about the pasta, I want the muffins. Save me from the muffins!

Friday, March 23, 2012

French Press Lakewood: Gluten Free Friendly

I love it when I find new restaurants that have really good gluten free options. It means that I don't have to just take what is on the menu and order it without bread or rely on a salad with no croutons. My recent find, thanks to a dear friend, is The French Press located just off Union in Lakewood.

Not only do they serve gluten free "petals" (a type of gluten free wrap bread) they also have gluten free Thursdays. Every Thursday they have one rack of baked goods devoted to gluten free treats. I have tried several of them during my three visits. The raspberry muffin was yummy. I am a sucker for coconut macaroons and theirs were so good. The cookie was tasty too. I wasn't a fan of the raspberry coffee cake as it had cinnamon in it. I know I am a freak, but I don't enjoy cinnamon very much and don't like it with any fruit except sometimes apple. I also didn't enjoy the brownie but that's because I am a cake-type brownie fan and this one was thin and a bit grainy in my mind.

This is a locally owned little gem and they seem eager to please their customers. I think they would try to accommodate any special requests to the best of their ability. Perhaps the best thing is the prices. They are reasonable, very reasonable, especially when you consider the quality of the food.

But don't go expecting some fancy dining experience. You order at the counter and take a seat at one of the hodge podge of tables in the small space. It is cozy and well decorated but can be a bit crowded and noisy during peak times. Just try to avoid high noon and you should be just fine. Oh yeah, and make sure you go on a Thursday to take advantage of the ever changing menu of gluten free baked goods!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Don't You Hate Failure?

I hate it when I try a new recipe and it fails - whether it's user error, baking conditions (I am at altitude), or just a bad recipe. Not only is it a disappointment because I won't enjoy eating it, but it wastes my time and perhaps most importantly in my mind, it is a waste of ingredients.

As most of you probably realize, gluten free ingredients are more expensive than traditional flour. I can get cheap rice flour from my local Vietnamese market or in bulk at the health food store but the rest are more pricey. Almond flour, while delicious and nutritious, is REALLY expensive. Other gluten free flours and flour blends also come with a steep price tag.

When a recipe fails I have wasted the various flours plus the eggs, sugars, oils and other ingredients put into the recipe. I wouldn't throw away $10 or more in cash yet that's often what I end up doing when a recipe fails and I throw the resulting item away.

Yesterday's failure was Irish Soda bread. I have made this in the past using a recipe from Elana's Pantry. The first time I made her recipe the center didn't cook well but the edges were yummy. The second time I made it I made two smaller loaves and it turned out great. Note: In general, I have determined that most gluten free baked items do better when sized smaller (e.g. cupcakes instead of cake, mini loaves instead of one large loaf, etc.)

This year on St. Patrick's Day I decided to try a different Irish Soda bread recipe for something new. I landed on a recipe created by Shauna Ahern from Gluten Free Girl. I love Shauna's writing and have relied on her for several recipes so it was natural to turn to her recipe for the bread.

As is often my habit, I decided to halve the recipe. This helps me avoid wasting so many ingredients if I don't like a recipe. This recipe was a bit unusual in that it called for between 2 and 4 cups of buttermilk. I thought that was a huge range but decide when I split my recipe in half, I would add one cup and then adjust up from there.

I am 90 percent certain that I measured out all of the dry ingredients correctly as I was using a kitchen scale. But when I added that cup of liquid my batter was soupy, like pancake batter. There was no way I could form that dough into a ball shape and score it like the recipe directed. So, I decided to add the other half of the recipe and better watch the liquid. The resulting batter seemed more appropriate after I added just a few more tablespoons of liquid - for a total of just one cup and a few tablespoons -- a far cry from the 2 to 4 cups the recipe called for originally.

I baked the bread and it cooked just fine. Looked lovely in fact. But I hated it. It was dense and flavorless and grainy. I looked back at Elana's recipe and realized that hers called for apple cider vinegar, giving the bread some acid. In addition, it had a little sweetener in it. I think the recipe I made needed both of those things.

Lovely Shauna responded to my post on her site and said that the recipe called for so much liquid because gluten free baking requires a lot of liquid to keep it from being dense. I can't necessarily disagree because I am not an expert in this area. So, perhaps my bread would have been lighter if I had added more liquid. Maybe it wouldn't have been as grainy. But I fear it still would have been tasteless to me without the acid and sweetener.

Others on Shauna's blog raved about her recipe and I am glad there are people that like it and enjoy it. The world is an interesting place because we are all so different. I have a friend that loves, loves, loves spicy food. I can only tolerate a little spice. I love her because she's different than me and our differences make for interesting conversations, and a few jokes.

So now I move on, knowing that next year I will be making Elana's Irish Soda bread for St. Patrick's Day. Now if I can just forget the partially eaten loaf of this year's bread that is now in the trash!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thanks Jennie for the BEST Banana Bread Recipe

I follow In Jennie's Kitchen written by food blogger and recipe developer Jennie Perillo.

I started reading her blog last year after another food blogger (Gluten Free Girl) posted about fundraising efforts for Jennie whose husband died suddenly. I made a small donation and subscribed to Jennie's RSS feed and have been following her ever since.

Her posts are poignant and emotionally stirring. And they have been pertinent to me only because several people at arm's length to me have died recently causing me to think about death and grief and the frailty of life. Jennie's experiences have given that a voice beyond my own thoughts.

But I digress . . . the reason for this post today is to rave about Jennie's banana bread recipe. I love banana bread and make it often because I do not enjoy over-ripe bananas so I end up with lots of "bad" ones. I usually pop them whole into the freezer until they start falling out when I open the door. I then make banana bread.

Sometimes it is banana bread with oatmeal. Sometimes it is the recipe that calls for sour cream or yogurt. Yesterday it was Jennie's newly posted recipe.

Since I eat gluten free, I substituted Pamela's Gluten Free Baking and Pancake Mix for the flour. I also added 2T chia seeds and 3T flax seeds to the mixture. It made the best banana bread I have perhaps ever eaten.

If you want the recipe, follow this link to Jennie's site: Everyday Banana Bread

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Gluten Free Handy Brand Crab Cakes - YUM

I made a remarkably yummy discovery recently. Namely gluten free crab cakes from Handy International.

I found these delicious crab cakes at Whole Foods two weeks ago. I didn't even pay attention to how much they cost because I was so excited to find them. I LOVE crab and the idea of eating a crab cake really appealed to me. I am so glad I rolled the dice and bought these.

After deciding to eat them for lunch today, I choose to pan saute them in a little olive oil. Probably not the healthiest choice to add oil, but I really craved that crispy finish that you get by pan sauteing. It was the right choice. They came out crisp and brown on the outside while still being moist on the inside.

Aside from being the gluten free, the best thing about these crab cakes is that they are full of big pieces of crab! Not a bunch of filler and low grade mealed up crab. By adding a small quinoa and romaine salad, I had a very satisfying lunch.

Whole Foods here I come, I WILL be buying these beauties again!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I'm Bad. I'm Afraid.

I haven't written here since late December. Why? Because I haven't had any really great gluten free experiences AND because I have been cheating AND I have noticed that my stomach hurts more and more when I cheat.

What makes me mad at myself is that my cheats haven't even been big ones that are really worth it. I ate Thai food for lunch last week and my meal came with a fried egg roll - and I ate it! Why did I do that? I ate a nibble of a sopapilla at a Mexican restaurant. I had a third of a cheddar biscuit at Red Lobster and then at a gluten filled apple dessert (totally worth it!).

And now I am feeling scared because I am noticing that gluten is bothering me more and more. So is soy. I made banana bread last week and put rye and kamut flakes in it because I had them leftover from a muesli I made last fall. They bothered my gut. They hadn't before. It had only been traditional wheat that bothered me. I even noticed that a beer bothered me a few weeks ago. Was it just that it was beer and carbonated? Maybe.

The real scare came this week when I had a salad with a soy ginger dressing. There was no other gluten in the meal and I hadn't eaten gluten in days. But my stomach bothered me after that, from soy sauce. I LOVE soy sauce. I love the saltiness of it. I know you can get gluten free soy sauce, and I do at home. But restaurants use regular soy sauce when making soy-based dressings. The other possibility is that it was the soy in the soy sauce that bothered me. Sigh. Really?

It is my hubby's birthday this weekend and he has plans. Like eating at Red Robin plans. I love Red Robin but being a pescetarian it is almost impossible for me to eat there without eating gluten. The veggie burger is soy and gluten based (soy protein bothers me too.) I don't eat meat or chicken so ordering one of those is out of the question. I usually go for the veggie burger with a gluten free bun or sometimes the shrimp or fish. All of those have gluten. After dinner we are going to a friend's for cake. A Costco cake! Those things are yummy, and huge! Yikes!

Sorry, I know this posting is more like a journal entry than a blog post. I just needed to get it out - my fears, frustrations and guilt. And so what will I do this weekend? Eat the gluten and pay the price the next day and then start over by being good, I hope.