This is my typical dinner. My generic name for it is Beans and Greens. I started eating Beans and Greens a lot before I was diagnosed with celiac. I had decided to lose 30 pounds and eating like this is a fabulous, delicious way to get lots of nutrients and get filled up at the same time. It has no added fat, it's low in salt, and it's very satisfying.
This particular rendition was my dinner last night and the greens were either bok choy or tatsoi (the CSA share we were gifted this week had both and I have to confess I'm not sure which is which -- feel free to enlighten me!), the beans were garbanzos, and I used both red and green bell peppers, onion and garlic and four raw almonds. It's steam-sauteed in a little veggie broth, and I typically season with cayenne pepper and a little salt. Easy peasy. Oh, and because I was feeling the need for a B vitamin boost, I sprinkled a tablespoon of gf nutritional yeast on top after the picture was taken.
Beans and greens can be created with just about any type of green and any type of bean. Make it with GF tamari sauce and throw in a little tofu. Make it with tomatoes, salsa and black beans for a southwestern flavor. Use garbanzo beans or lentils and Indian spices. Make it up, and if it turns out really good, write it down and use the same recipe some evening when you are short on time or ideas.
Old Town Diner
in Albuquerque is my new favorite restaurant.
I arrived in Albuquerque for a conference. For traveling, I used all my typical strategies for happy eating for the trip across the country. I got in very late at night, and so didn't have much chance to verify the locations of the restaurants that came up on my "UrbanSpoon Gluten Free Vegetarian 87104" search. And, in fact, not too many choices presented themselves. For breakfast the first day, I had some travel provisions and fruit provided by the conference, so my first dining challenge was lunch that day. I was on a bit of conference overload already, and didn't particularly want to eat with any of my new friends, so I decided to wander into Old Town and look for good Mexican food at a place that wasn't all of the conference goers' first stop (aka Little Anitas.) I found the perfect place: Old Town Diner
. Great (for me) was that it was almost completely empty of customers, which meant I could eat without talking about work stuff.
I had in my head that I might do a taco salad sort of thing, but this is a diner, and they serve breakfast all day, and the huevos rancheros called out. The nice server came over, and after we sorted out what kind of chili sauce I wanted (I picked a mix of red and green) he asked about my tortilla choices. I told him I needed to have a gluten-free dining experience and asked if he could check to see if there was any reason to be suspicious of the corn tortillas. He said he'd check. He came back to report that the corn tortillas were fine, but that the chili sauces had some flour in them, and would I like chopped chunks of green chilis instead. Why Yes! That sounds delicious!
The food was amazing. It was likely the BEST HUEVOS RANCHCHEROS I'VE EVER EATEN. The eggs came on a crispy corn tortilla that stayed delightfully crispy throughout the meal -- never got soggy. And a soft corn tortilla came on the side. Wonderfully malleable and flavorful, and nothing like the cardboard-y tortillas in grocery strores. The over-medium eggs were just right, the refried beans and potatoes were very tasty. The chunks of chili gave it a delicious and distinctive New Mexico flavor. I liked the experience and the food so much that I had the exact same lunch the following day. I chatted with one of the owners, and she told me that she has friends who are gluten free, so she'd figured out how to feed them without poisoning them. She was really personable and friendly and clearly wants all their patrons to have a great dining experience.
Since I'll be here in Albuquerque for another couple of days, I expect I'll visit at least once more when my brother and sister-in-law come to town to see me. I might have to buy bigger pants. It will be worth it.
Our friend Geri does good work for relief organizations in Haiti. She'd worked with our local Peace a Pizza and their "donate 20% of your check total with this flyer on this date" deal in order to raise some dough (har-de-har). We wanted to support it, and the kids generally like Peace a Pizza because of the TV in the VW microbus that makes up a good chunk of the decor and the free Pacman/Space Invaders game. I'd heard a rumor that they have a gf pizza, but couldn't find anything conclusive on-line. So, in good gluten-free advocacy form, I called them up to inquire.
Here's how I was greeted:
Thanks for calling Peace a Pizza. We now serve gluten free pizza. This is Bryan. How may I help you?
It doesn't get much more concusive! Since it was 3:30 in the afternoon and I figured they weren't too busy, I chatted Bryan up on how the prepare the ingredients and handle the preparation to make sure that everything stays gluten-free. I won't go into all of the details, but he talked enough about the measures that they take to avoid cross-contamination that I knew they were the real deal.
So we went and I got my very own 12-inch GF cheese pizza. The crust was infused with herbs, which was cool. The pizza is sweet, which isn't my favorite pizza experience, but I asked Jenn to taste it to compare to the regular pizza, and she said it was about the same. We concluded that the sweetness is a function of their tomato sauce. The crust had a nice bendiness to it that is becoming the gold standard of my perfect GF pizza quest. I ate 3/4s of it in a sitting. Too much, but it was hot, fresh pizza for heaven's sake. I saved the rest and ate it on a plane trip the next day. I have to say that it wasn't nearly as good leftover and cold. Next time, I'll try warming it up to see if it rebounds.
They are keeping it a secret, other than answering the phone with a GF message. I could find nothing on the in-store signage, nor on the printed menu, nor on their website. Maybe they only want to make GF pizza for little ol' me (and the people who think to calll and ask.)
So, in the plus column: they seem to know their way around safely making a GF pizza, and the kids like the restaurant. In the minus column: the pizza in general is too sweet and the pizza doesn't make great cold leftovers. The Pluses win! If my kids are happy and I can eat the food, then I'm happy.
That said, my quest for the perfect GF pizza continues.
I went to Food for All's
one year anniversary celebration last weekend. I shopped, I sampled, and I ate my way through the store/restaurant. As you may recall from previous posts, I'm on a quest for a suitable easy GF pizza crust, and I may have found it:
Amaranth flatbread. Or is that flat bread? Or both? Regardless, the pizza had a nice bendyness that I've missed. I liked the pizza a lot, so I bought some -- there are five in the package and there's no way I can eat five flatbread pizzas before it would go bad, so when I got home I stuck them in the freezer for later consumption. The guys at Food for All were baking the pizzas on ceramic circles inside grills. I'll be baking them on a pizza pan in the oven. Frankly, theirs were a little overcooked on the bottom, so I figure I can do just as well. I will not use as much cheese as they did. Though theirs was very tasty.
I also got a sandwich. It was the poster child for goopy sandwich syndrome, as previously mentioned on this blog. I got The Nate: Robusto garlic hummus, sliced avocado, local organic sprouts, sliced tomato & sunflower seeds on lightly toasted Schar bread for $6.95. I liked it pretty well, though my first choice was a sandwich made on Joan's GF Itailian roll, but they were out of them (which strikes me as weird since they were having a big anniversary promotion). The Nate was good, though a little citrusy. I think the sandwich was a great value. I also had a really good, lemony cupcake. Delish! I would definitely eat there (or more likely, order takeout from there) again. (The drink was vile. ugh. I should have known that something from the brand name "Caveman Foods" might not be to my liking.)
I also shopped for GF products that I haven't been able to find or which I just haven't seen at the Giant. I found their prices on things like flour blends and cake mixes to be quite high. I did buy a Bob's Red Mill pizza crust mix along with the amaranth flat bread, some buckwheat breakfast cereal, and some chips. As I eat these, I'll evaluate and tell you all about them.
Udi's and Rudi's sandwich bread tastes pretty good. I haven't made bread from scratch in my entire life (well, there were those times as a little kid when I'd assist my dad, who'd start at 9 pm and we'd be up until 2 am kneading, etc, and then the crust was so, well, crusty, that I'd dig a couple of soft bites out of the middle then go to bed a little disappointed, but that's another story), so my knowledge about how to make a decent GF bread is limited to what I've read on the subject since getting my diagnosis. From the limited baking I have done, I know that gluten provides a lot of the spongey texture and density of the baked good. As for Udi's and Rudi's breads, both are quite porous. I suppose this has something to do with the science of getting the bread to rise and be about the right size and consistency of regular bread while at the same time making it enjoyable to the pallette. And while I like the taste okay, I've decided I don't particularly like sandwiches made from them.
As a disclaimer, I need to note that I've never been that into bread. Lucky, I suppose, given my celiac diagnosis. I have eaten plenty of bread in my life, but even pre-diagnosis, most sandwiches I have consumed in my life were all about maximizing convenience and portability. Most sandwiches I have constructed I made in advance for later enjoyment, since I don't reach for a sandwich first when I can eat what I want when I want. For my weight management and good health strategy, I try to stick with vegetables, beans, nuts and fruits as my go-to source. Sandwiches are handy when I have to bring a meal and packing my usual salad and fruit is impractical. My experience with both of these breads is that moist spreads such as jelly, nut butters, hummus, mustard, etc ooze to the outside of the sandwich, robbing it of its convenience as an easy, unmessy portable food option. With a goopy sandwich, I don't set it down because my hands get so messy, and I find that I eat it really fast to minimize the amount of lunch that will end up falling on my pants. Bolting my food is unsatisfying and it makes me feel kind of yucky physically.
Still, having a sandwich option is important. On recent travels, I tried several gf tortillas. Both corn and rice tortillas were kind of brittle and spreads escaped from their confines almost as much as the gf breads.
And then I found the solution. Udi's Bagels! These days, I keep a bag of them in the freezer and thaw them one at a time for my sandwich needs. Once thawed, I toast it one half at a time using my toaster sleeve that Jenn got me from some on-line promotion (Thanks Jenn!)*. Then I add whatever sandwich fixins that I want or have on hand. The bagels are chewy like regular bagels, so toasting makes it more sandwich-friendly so that the contents don't squeeze out upon biting down. Voila! A real sandwich experience that doesn't feel like a compromise and which doesn't require a fistful of napkins or wet wipes.
A couple of notes of caution: 1) an Udi's plain bagel has a whopping 280 calories all by itself, so for me it's a real splurge. 2) A bag of 4 bagels costs more than $5, which is also a splurge.
* We have only one toaster. Since I'm not that into bread and our kitchen is small, when we made our kitchen modifications to accommodate my celiac status, we decided that I could make due with toasting in the oven or eating my bread untoasted. The toaster sleeve is a perfect solution for me at home, and I've packed it on vacations too, where being able to make a sandwich is even more important.
I absolutely love having a main-stream chain restaurant experience that clearly spells out what's in the food and which clearly wants ME to eat at their restaurant. I would not trust the cashier at a place like this to be able to answer questions about gluten and what's in the soup base, but I trust this label. And here's a thing that would likely turn off an unrestricted diner: I know that their soups come in big plastic bags from the Mother Ship. I've seen it with my own eyes. They are not creating them from scratch in the kitchen. And because they aren't, I have a high level of confidence that they can successfully pour a GF soup from a bag into a crock pot thing without cross-contaminating it.
And, I like their soups. This curried lentil and rice number was very enjoyable, if not terribly memorable. It was perfect for a fast weekday work lunch with a colleague. My meal of soup and a small soda was around $7.50 -- I think the soup itself was $5. Since I usually take my lunch, it was a splurge for me, but quite affordable. (Also, since it's counter service, no tipping.)
Like Whole Foods, it looks like someone in the back room of Trader Joe's is hand-making gluten-free shelf tags. Whole Foods actually has way more GF products that TJ's, and for way more money. TJ's has products that look like they should be free of gluten but which have a suspicious-sounding CYA disclaimer about the possibility of allergen sneaking its way into the product. Even the GF markings on some products are accompanied by the statement "No gluten-containing ingredients," which is different than making a gluten-free claim and which leaves the door ajar for worrying about possible contamination.
All that said, the pre-fab Indian food pouches at TJ's are inexpensive and tasty, so I buy them despite all that. And I'm glad they now carry Udi's, though the price is just as high as everywhere else.
Over the past 10 weeks I had four transfusions of iron to bring my hemoglobin level up from paltry 9.4 to low-normal 12.3. Actually, the 4th transfusion happened on the day that my numbers came back in the 12's, so hopefully I'm holding at even better numbers. So my big question was: If I've been as strict on the GF diet as I think I have, why is my anemia still here? My hemotologist said I needed to talk to the GI people to explore it. So, between my first and second visit to the hemotologist, I talked to my care providers at Jefferson's Celiac Center and came up with a plan to do additional blood tests to see how my folate and B12 levels were doing, since I was deficient in both when I was first diagnosed and since they are absorbed in the same part of the small intestine as iron. We also decided to re-test for the antibodies that are present in active celiac disease.
I had a couple of theories about my anemia. The first was that I am extremely sensitve to gluten, and that the chance contact I get in my own home from crumbs on countertops or rinsing my veggies or beans in a clean colander that was set in a sink that had previously had pasta water in it was keeping my intestinal enteropathy going. The second was a possible issue with lectins, which are proteins found in a lot of the foods I eat, and which from what I've read can set off all the same markers as Celiac disease. The third was that all of the doctors for the last 25 years were right, and that I am anemic because I bleed every month and my celiac is a weird coincidence and that the anemia is really a blessing because it brought about my diagnosis. The fourth is that there is something else going on.
My blood tests came back perfect, except for the iron. B12 and folate were normal, as were the celiac antibodies. So either something else is going on, or I'm anemic for some other reason. Sounds like a job for the hematologist. Or WebMD. Either way, I'm going to continue getting my iron levels monitored and get topped off with a transfusion before I get really low again. I've felt so much better since my iron levels have been boosted and I don't want to slip back again.
This chili is really tasty. I made modifications of course: Instead of a can of kidney beans, I used seasoned chili beans, and instead of a cup of chunky salsa, I used a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes. For the corn, I used less than called for and subbed in Trader Joe's fire roasted frozen corn. I also added a teaspoon of cumin (how can you have chili without cumin? Seriously?). And the zucchini I had on hand was a Costata Romanesca squash, an heirloom summer squash that is a little different, but very good. I left the pot mild to accommodate the palettes of the younger set in the house, but I liberally doused my servings with cayenne and a little extra salt. I skipped the optional lime wedges and corn chips, since I didn't have any.
Even with all those changes, it WAS pretty true to the recipe and I liked it so much I went back for seconds AND thirds. I'm very full now. It was a healthy, fiberful, flavorful dinner and I'm very happy. Thanks, Genevieve!
Check out her book
. She's gluten intolerant and putting her master's degree in nutrition to work in helping people explore and enjoy gluten free living. Her cookbook puts some interesting grains to good use. It even makes me want to acquire millet, tef and buckwheat and give them a try. I also like it that she has plenty of grain-free recipes which are naturally gluten free. Hopefully it will reinforce with anyone who is newly diagnosed with Celiac disease that there is plenty of food in the world that is naturally gluten free and that you don't have to have a gluteny look-alike at every meal.
Blue-est Corn Cakes from Gluten Free Warrior
Yes, they are an alarming color. The muffins I made with this flour also were a little freaky to eat. My son thought they were chocolate they were so dark.
Color aside, I was in the mood for some sort of GF baked good this morning. I had been meaning to try a recipe or two from the Gluten-Free Warrior
cookbook, written by Genevieve Sherrow who lives in Philadelphia and whom I've had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know a bit. For the recipe, I substituted her recommended corn meal and flour for the brands I had on hand, which can be a little risky, since GF flours don't necessarily substitute at 1-1 ratios or act the same with the other ingredients. Since I was essentially making pancakes, I wasn't worried about whether the cakes would rise. In fact, for pancakes, I prefer them thin. In addition to the ingredient substitutions, I decided to cut the recipe in half, since I knew I'd be the only one eating them. It's kind of hard to measure half of 3/4 of a cup of almond milk, and I wasn't about to add only half an egg, so I knew I was introducing a lot of wildcards to the mix.
I was a little worried when I tasted the batter, which had a slightly bitter aftertaste. I carried on, and despite flipping a half-cooked one face down on the counter, I managed to plate a nice serving of corn cakes, which I buttered and ate with maple syrup (Genevieve suggests using jam, which didn't appeal to me). They were very good and I ate them all. Corn cakes, by design, are a little heavy and dense, but these were fairly light and fluffy. My alterations and substitutions were apparently okay (except I think I will blame my "flipping incident" on the extra half an egg.)The flavor was good, they were easy to make, and I had all of the ingredients on hand. I'd call that a homerun!