Saturday, March 30, 2013

The First Foray into Gluten Free Baking

My Kitchen Aid mixer has been gathering dust since my venture to the healthy side.  It has not creamed butter and sugar for about two months.  I don't want any kitchen appliance to feel neglected, so Thursday evening I set to baking.

I had to make a treat for Little Sweetpea's school Easter party Friday, and I had to make dessert for dinner with some friends Friday night.  I originally had this grand plan of bunny shaped petit fours with pastel colored glaze, but guess what didn't happen.  I was tired, I got started after 7pm, and frankly 2 year olds don't fully appreciate labor intensive baked goods.

So, for Little Sweetpea: traditional oatmeal cookies with dried cherries (no nuts for daycare!).  For friends: gluten, egg, and (mostly) dairy free oatmeal cookies with walnuts and dark chocolate chips.

In the interest of full disclosure, my cookies cannot technically be considered GF because I did not purchase GF oats.  Apparently oats cannot be assumed to be GF unless specifically noted due to potential cross contamination.

First thing I noticed, mixing the dough for the GF cookies was faster and ostracized the mixer.  As I poured 3/4 cup of maple syrup into the bowl, I was thinking 2 things.  1) this is expensive and 2) does it really matter what kind of sugar I use?  Doesn't the body treat all sugar like sugar?  To address the questions in thing 2, I started off with Google, or "Dr. Google" as we like to refer to him at work.  There is various information out there on refined sugar vs. natural sugars, but I am always very apprehensive at anything floating in the interwebs.  Who knows if it's written by some uninformed quack just like me?  So I turned to my favorite source of information: PubMed.  First I entered "maple syrup" as my search term, which returned over 1100 references to articles on maple syrup urine disease.  A search using "refined sugar" yielded more relevant results with riveting titles such as "Intake of Whole-Grain and Fiber-Rich Rye Bread Versus Refined Wheat Bread Does Not Differentiate Intestinal Microbiota Composition in Finnish Adults with Metabolic Syndrome".

I found articles stating the antioxidant properties of different sweeteners varied, articles discussing the impact of refined carbohydrates on non-verbal intelligence, publications on using nutritional therapy in mental health, and implications of sugar intake on hippocampal function.  There is a lot of info out there.  It seems that regardless of sugar source, moderation is the best policy.  Added sweetness increases calories and excessive calorie intake (whether as carbohydrates or fats) contributes to the American epidemic of obesity. The data on whether our bodies process the sugars differently is conflicting, but many sources agree sugar sources have the same nutritional value. (A very complete review of fructose was particularly interesting, as well as a comparison of sucrose and HFCS)

Anyway, back to the cookies.  After completing both batches, GF and non-GF, I had my sister do a blind taste test.  She preferred the GF, stating it had more flavor.  I think that might have been the tablespoon of cinnamon.  The texture of the two was very different, as I would have expected.  The GF were more like granola bars than cookies.  I would consider them a success.  A lot of the other GF recipes for baked goods I have looked at are much more complex so texturally they may be more similar to traditional baked goods.
Traditional oatmeal cookies

GF version

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Some news items of interest

First, I saw this on wine me, dine me and I thought it was very interesting.  A new book, Pandora's Lunchbox, examines how processed food has infiltrated the American diet and the products' resiliency.  It will hopefully answer my burning question: will guacamole survive the zombie apocalypse?  Plus I will read this book simply because the name is awesome.  It will be a great addition to my bookshelf, right next to Twinkie, Deconstructed.

Southwest Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association is hosting State of the Plate on April 13th at Gorman Heritage Farm.  There will be a variety of workshops on eating local, gardening, and CSAs. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Incline Public House

Last night we went to Incline Public House  to celebrate the Husband's birthday.  Named for the Price Hill Incline, one of Cincinnati's former five inclines.  Once at the top of the incline was the Price Hill House, an entertainment resort and restaurant.  The Incline Public House now stands in that location and offers the same incomparable view of the cityscape.
Can't wait to enjoy this deck in the summer

It was packed.  We were quoted an hour and 45 min wait, but we were seated in less than 45.  Our server was busy but we never felt neglected.  She explained that the kitchen and bar were from scratch.  They make all their dressings from scratch, squeeze their own juices for mixed drinks, smoke meats on site for their sandwiches.  The menu is straightforward and composed of sandwiches, pizzas, and salads, all of which sounded delicious.

The signature drink menu was enticing, especially knowing all the effort behind it.  The gin rickey went down easy, like lemonade.  I foresee myself enjoying more of these on a sumer night.
Gin Rickey
So I never really thought about how limiting trying to be gluten-free would be.  I wonder how someone with a true allergy to gluten ever eats out.  Two-thirds of the menu was eliminated immediately.

I opted for the portobello mushroom salad with lemon vinaigrette, hold the cheese.  The dressing was great, light and not oily.

Portobello Mushroom Salad
I also snagged little bites of some of the other dishes.  Everything was well-prepared and tasty.  The Grippo's BBQ chips on the top of the mac and cheese were a creative touch and a lovely nod to Cincinnati history.
Spicy Pickle Fries
Mac and Cheese topped with Grippo's Chips
The Husband raved over the pizza.  Pesto, prosciutto, arugula, and egg.  A unique combination that I was a bit apprehensive about, but the Husband assured me it was yummy.
Green Eggs and Ham Pizza
Looking forward to a return trip.
Incline Public House on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans

So the 21 day cleanse is drawing to a close.  At this point I intend to continue to minimize my exposure to dairy and gluten.  The Husband pretty much abandoned the cleanse last Saturday, although he has said he is going to make an effort to eat in a more healthy way.  Maybe a piece of fruit once in awhile.  Translation - he doesn't want to cook his own food and will cheerfully consume whatever I set in front of him.

This week I didn't really make many of the recipes from the cleanse.  Instead I prepared recipes from various sources, including Clean Food by Terry Walters.  One of the recipes I am crazy about - crispy roasted chickpeas.  I am a big hummus fan, so I figured roasted chickpeas would be delicious.  However, I entirely underestimated their addictive properties.  I ate almost an entire can of chickpeas in one sitting.

The recipe is super simple:
3 cups cooked chickpeas (I used 1 can since this was a trial run)
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Seasonings of your choice (I used cumin and chili powder)

Preheat oven to 400.

Rinse chickpeas and drain well.  Pat dry with a towel and spread evenly over parchment lined baking sheets.  Drizzle with olive oil and make sure they are all coated.  Sprinkle with a generous amount of sea salt and seasoning.  Roast for about 30 minutes or until golden crisp.  Devour.

There you have it, the reason chickpeas became my new favorite snack food.  Looking forward to finding more ways to enjoy the chickpea.

Interestingly, some recent studies have shown that domesticated chickpeas contain twice the tryptophan as the wild form.  Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, so maybe they are elevating my mood after all.

As for nomenclature, chickpeas having two names can be a source of confusion.  Once I sent the Husband to the store for chickpeas, and he can back with a can of spring peas because he couldn't locate anything called chickpeas.

The name chickpeas is actually derived from the Latin cicer, whereas "garbanzo" comes from Basque through Spanish.  It does make me wonder, though, what the previous name for these legumes was, as it was originally cultivated in the Middle East (history here).  The domesticated chickpea has been found in archeological sites such as Akarcay Tepe in Turkey and Jericho in the West Bank.  The earliest discovery to date, though, was in Tell el-Kerkh in the late 10th millennium BC.  Wow.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I'm confused about tofu

This week on the cleanse eggs and soy have been added back.  I've found I'm a bit confused about tofu.  Diets that focus on whole or clean foods incorporate tofu.  As far as I can tell, tofu is just taking an inedible food and processing it to make it edible.

Chinese writings mention the soya plant as far back as 2838 BC, and considered the soybean one of their essential Five Sacred Grains, along with rice, wheat, barley, and millet.  I guess if I think of it like processing grain into flour it makes more sense.  The traditional process involves sea water precipitate,  known as nigari.  Some manufacturers use calcium sulfate or magnesium chloride instead as a coagulant.

There is a lot of opinions out there on soy.  Some hate it and some love it.  It may depend on how it's processed.  Cultures that have a larger percentage of soy in their diets have less heart disease and (I remember discussing in pharmacy school) less postmenopausal issues, but then phytoestrogens get a bad rap.  I found an article that discusses the research behind the various purported health benefits and harms of soy.  It is totally speaking my language and was a great review of some of the published studies.  And, I have to admit, as much as Dr. Oz frequently irritates me (pop medicine can be very frustrating for someone working in healthcare), there is a good overview of soy on his site.

I think my overall opinion is, as with anything, moderation is key and eat the least processed version available.

I also had to google how to press tofu.  Important to learn something new everyday.  It really reduces that mushy pillow texture I've experienced before.  I had some of the baked tofu I prepared last night for lunch today and it was pretty good.  Although I think it may have caused some stomach discomfort. The soy issue may become a non-issue for me if a rechallenge later this week indicates a sensitivity.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Before Friday, I had never eaten a sardine.

Now I love them.

I was a bit apprehensive.  For some reason I was thinking I would open the tin and see cold, dead, fish eyes staring at me.  But actually there were no heads or tails with which to contend.  Thank God.  I made Lemon-Herb Sardine Salad and it was absolutely phenomenal.  The recipe made two servings and I finished both of them.  From now on I think I'm going to make this salad instead of tuna salad.

I also did not know all the nutrition sardines bring to the table.  As with most fish, they are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.  They also have a decent amount of calcium (I read mostly from the bones), iron, vitamin D, and selenium.  Apparently because they are low on the food chain they are also low in mercury.

There seems to be some controversy about the sustainability of the Gulf of California fishery.  The sardines I bought by Wild Planet said they were considered to be sustainable (I don't know what area they came from), but this interesting article says the sardine fishery in Mexico has collapsed several times, stating that is was declared sustainable in 2010 despite a lack of a management plan.  Natural Numbers discusses the issue of sardines in a youtube video.

FishWatch indicates the American sardine fishery is directed by the Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plan.  While there is not an international management agreement, there is an annual Trinational Sardine Forum to share ideas and information about this "transboundary resource".

Sardines are serious business.  In 2010, about 146,000 metric tons of Pacific sardines were harvested between the US, Mexican, and Canadian fisheries.  That's a lot of tiny fish.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cleanse Day 11: Yeah, we cheated

Sort of.  Totally had Chipotle for dinner.  It had been a long day for me, very busy at the hospital.  When I called to let the Husband know I was leaving work, he said "I'll bet you don't feel much like cooking tonight."  Dammit.  He so knows how to manipulate me.  I think it was more he didn't feel like doing any more dishes.

There have been tidal waves of dishes around the sink.  I don't think I have used my food processor or blender in the last 5 years as much as I have used them in the last 2 weeks.  It's a lot of work to clean all those appliances.

Anyway, Chipotle.  We both had the vegetarian black bean burrito bowl with brown rice.  I had the peppers and onions and two tomato based salsas, guc, lettuce.  The Husband opted for heaps of corn (which really isn't a vegetable in my book) but whatever.  So it kind of stuck to the plan.

I know I have been trying to be anti-takeout but that was a better version than Frisch's.

Is it sad that today I took one of my calcium gummy vitamins just because I wanted the sugar?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cleanse Day 10

We are at the halfway point.  Today was pretty hard for me.  This winter weather makes me crave gooey food - cheesy, fatty, starchy.  The Husband mentioned that he really wanted pizza, and I was feeling the same way.  Even toast with a nice blanket of butter sounded incredibly inviting.  So I ate some extra roasted pumpkin seeds to try to ward off that fat and salt craving.  Dinner was roasted vegetables with brown rice.  The dressing was a bit bitter so I added a little honey.  The rich, warm sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts really hit the spot.  I'm glad I didn't give in to the cheese temptation.

Tonight I am attempting some baba ghanoush.  Awhile ago I had an eggplant that I ended up freezing.  It was kind of an experiment.  It defrosted overnight in the fridge.  The result was the Dorian Gray of eggplants.

Left: Fresh
Right: Eggplant raisin

Gross.  So only the fresh eggplant made the cut.  Per the recipe (courtesy Serving Up the Harvest), normally grilling would be in order, however the snow warranted an alternate plan.  I roasted the eggplant for about 30min at 425.  I made sure to poke it with a fork several times (did you know they can explode?!).
After the eggplant had collapsed, I removed it from the oven and sliced it open.  Into the colander to drain and cool.
In the food processor I combined the flesh from the eggplant, 2 cloves of garlic, about 1/4 cup italian parsley leaves, 3 tbsp lemon juice, 2 tbsp tahini, and 2 tbsp evoo.  Blended until smooth and added salt and pepper to taste.  It is my first attempt and it seemed tasty, but I stuck it in the fridge to give the flavors time to blend.

Interestingly I learned that the first eggplants grown in North America were white and looked like eggs, hence the name.  Explains a lot, I've wondered why we didn't use the European term aubergine.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Cleanse Day 9

This week so far breakfast has been cardamom quinoa porridge.  I hadn't really had much exposure to cardamom until I recently tried the Turkish coffee at Abigail Street.  AMAZING.  It was the perfect complement to an evening of delicious food, wine, and enjoyable company.  Efforts to duplicate the coffee by a coworker of mine were futile.  It tasted burnt and bitter.  Unsalvageable.  So I was a little apprehensive.  The porridge is actually not bad.  The cardamom, almonds, and pears meld well.

Tonight dinner was the black bean pancakes, which I topped with avocado, tomatoes, and a bit of fresh cilantro.  I served it with a modified version of a winter salad from Vegetarian Times.  It involved getting familiar with a previously unknown quantity - celery root.

Quite possibly the ickiest looking vegetable ever
Which reminded me uncomfortably of...

Creepy guy from Pan's Labyrinth

and this...
Creepy root baby thing from Pan's Labyrinth
 The celery root didn't taste too bad after being washed, peeled, roasted and salted.  But mine wasn't pretty and white like the picture in the magazine.  It looked kind of gray and dirty.  I wonder if that's normal.

Also have to say as far as the effects of the dietary changes, my mood is still great and I believe I have increased focus at work.  I definitely feel more in control of my day.  My habits have been changing in a good way.  When I come from work is my most dangerous time of day, because I am always hungry and dinner is always at least an hour or two away.  I used to grab some bread and cheese, maybe pretzels or crackers.  By having healthier snacks readily prepared, now I am reaching for carrots or fennel and some beet hummus.  A few pistachios or roasted pumpkin seeds.  This Friday (home by myself, the Husband is working late) preparing beet chips and sweet potato hummus is on the agenda to keep up the supply of healthful snacks.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

What a week

The wife is right in her post.  I told her I was going to be crabby during this thing and I have been a bit of a shithead.  I'm not a fruit and vegetable person.  I wanted to give it a shot and used this cleanse to start to eat better.  I was difficult because I knew my mind wouldn't be right.  My head tells me that I'm not going to like a food so I don't eat it.  However, I wanted to do this anyway to support the wife and use the cleanse as a starting point toward a healthier lifestyle.  K did do everything to try to get me to eat something and I respect everything that she has done and all the time she has put in with the planning and cooking.

I did ask for fish today (a day early) and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  The cleanse has made me respect food even more and to not take advantage of it.  After not having anything other than what we had last week, the salmon felt like it was the best I ever ate.

K and I differ on many things, but manage to make it work.  I can be very picky about food and other things like clothes, shoes and organization.  This week has been challenging for me.  It was a tough week at work and I made it worse by not eating or being very cooperative.

A long week came to an end today.  Tomorrow is a new day and I got to eat fish tonight.  More importantly, I made it through the first week even if I didn't eat much.  I know because I lost 5 pounds.

Cleanse Day 7: Tempers Flare

Not such a good morning in our household.  For some reason I was feeling hungry and a little edgy.  The Little Sweetpea was in a rare state, throwing toys and chasing the dogs with a whiffle bat.  And the  Husband.  He started to irritate me yesterday when he wouldn't eat anything for lunch but a banana.  Then when Little Sweetpea got up this morning at 5:30am, the Husband just kept sleeping.  Wouldn't get up even with Sweetpea screaming "get up!  get up!".  I am a morning person, while the Husband is a night owl.  I do not recommend this combination in a marriage if it can be avoided.  Causes tension at inopportune times.

All this erupted into a very heated "discussion" about the cleanse.  I'm annoyed because I tried to make it as easy on him as I could, buying special things, adjusting the menu, etc.  I just wanted him to tell me what kind of fruits and vegetables he would like so I had something to work with, but all he did through the week was pout, make faces and generally act like a crabass.  He feels that I don't understand how hard this is for him.


The end result was we jumped ahead for dinner and had salmon.  It was pretty delicious.  Actually all the recipes for this week look delicious.  They were developed by Sara Forte of Sprouted Kitchen and I'm excited to try all of them.

Did a lot of prep work today.  It was like a circus in the kitchen, three rings of controlled chaos.  To save time I used vegetable broth in the recipes instead of making the cleansing broth, and love the peeled and cut butternut squash.

Fantastic product
The black bean and rice patties did not turn out as I expected.  They spread into very large, very thin black bean and rice pancakes.  Not sure where I went wrong.  When the Husband saw them, he said, "I never thought I'd be so happy to see beans."
Bean pancakes

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Cleanse Day 5/6: All it takes is a plan

We had a bit of a breakthrough last night.  The Husband was working late.  Unfortunately his retail management career makes this necessary when important events like the midnight release of Twilight Breaking Dawn: Part 2 transpire.  I called him around 8:30 and asked him how he was feeling.  His reply - "good"!  The exclamation point was my addition, not indicative of his actual level of emotion.  However, I think he has hit a turning point.

As for myself, yesterday I went to happy hour without imbibing.  I substituted with about 10 glasses of water, which I suppose I am glad were't margaritas this morning.  Luckily Cactus Pear is vegetarian friendly, so there were a few options that fit into the cleanse.  I had the Pear Salad topped with portobello mushrooms, hold the cheese and dressing.  It was loaded with mushrooms and very satisfying.

When I started this cleanse, I thought the most difficult part would be the lack of baked goods and chocolate.  But the amount of fruit I'm eating seems to have appeased my sweet tooth, even though the aroma is quite enticing when I open the desk drawer containing my chocolate stash.  Temptation actually came in the form of alcohol.  Normally I would say I'd much rather have a piece of cake than a glass of wine, but that wasn't the case yesterday.  Everyone was enjoying an adult beverage, being social, and there is an association for me with drinking in those scenarios.  Hence the reason I consumed 10 glasses of water.  Interesting.

I am starting to prepare for next week, when fish (not shellfish), legumes, and gluten-free grains are back on the menu.  The Husband will be pretty excited about the salmon dishes.  I think he is struggling because, besides the fact he doesn't like many fruits, vegetables, or nuts, he views the plan as restrictive.  On the other hand, I have been really pleased at how much it has changed my approach to fruits and vegetables.  Previously I felt like when I cooked I had to serve a grain, protein, vegetable at every meal.  It has been eye-opening that my stomach is content with meals made entirely of fruits and vegetables.  The food is so colorful and appealing.  No heavy feeling after eating, no food hangovers.

I hope that after the cleanse is over I can keep up with preparing healthy meals daily.  I would like to avoid the chinese and pizza delivery trap.  All it takes is a plan, right?