Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Time in the oval office ...

No matter how hard I try to prevent a single particle of gluten from entering my body, I occasionally become “glutenized.” The worst symptom (among many) for me is that I am forced to sprint for the Throne Room several times a day—or even several times an hour, if I’ve had a particularly bad exposure.

When glu&$#n happens, I can usually figure out where I made the slip-up (bad image)—and I am usually over my symptoms within a couple of days. After a recent trip to Costa Rica, however, I’m still having a lot of trouble finding relief from my symptoms. In fact, I’ve had the scoots for more than two weeks.

No problems eating in Costa Rica--if
you're a howler monkey!
Now, Doug and I have traveled to Costa Rica with friends every January for the past few years, and I have never experienced any trouble equal to this recent episode. While we’re there, we do most of our own cooking, and if we eat out, I quiz the wait staff about gluten, just as I would at home. I try not to order anything  “iffy” at all, mostly opting to eat grilled fish, beans, and rice.

I have racked my brain for the possible causes for this particularly difficult bout of glutenizing, and I’ve narrowed it down to two possibilities: It was either a salad that I ate at a small booth (where I actually watched them blend the ingredients and saw nothing amiss) or the so-called Nachos Big As Your A$$ (yes, that’s the name on the menu) at one of our favorite beach hangouts.

Since I’ve had the NBAYA many times before without incident, I don’t think they were the culprit. (Oh, oh, oh! I really do hope not!) With the salad, I’m wondering if I picked up some kind of demon-possessed amoeba that has taken up residence in my gut. (Doug ate the same salad and was somewhat skitterish for a day or two, so I’m wondering if, because of my celiac disease, it just hit me harder.)

Anyway, I’ve been reading and reading—and surfing and surfing—to find out how to turn off the leakage, and I found a diet called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), which has had some success at helping people with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, celiac disease, and chronic diarrhea, among other bowel-related illnesses. The diet, which was formulated by Elaine Gotschall, author of Breaking the Vicious Cycle, is, of course, gluten-free and very restrictive in other ways (no grain, no sugar, for example), but if it works as well as testimony indicates, it might offer solutions to people with these issues—myself included.
The SCD bible.

Following the diet’s principles, I have eaten only eggs, ground beef patties, pureed carrots, and diluted grape juice for a couple of days, and the big D has currently ceased. A few days ago I would have done anything to shut off the faucet. I haven’t yet fully committed to the diet—I’m still studying—but it may be just what I need to live a healthier, happier life—a life outside the comfort station.

More information on the SCD can be found at these interesting websites:

If you’ve had experience with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, I’d love to hear from you!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Cashew Chicken is our "defining food"

Doug enjoys GF Crockpot Cashew Chicken!
With the exception of a one-year sojourn in Dallas, TX, I have lived my entire life within 100 miles of Springfield, MO. I love this area of the country with its beautiful hills, its clear lakes, its friendly cities—and its cashew chicken!

One of Springfield’s claims to fame is, in fact, cashew chicken. David Leong, a chef who moved to the area in the late 50s, is generally credited for the dish, which is a combination of Ozarks fried chicken and Chinese stir-fry topped with oyster sauce and sprinkled with cashews.

In an article titled “Missouri Chinese: Two Cultures Claim This Chicken” in The New York Times  (March 11, 2009), John T. Edge outlines the history of the dish. In his story he quotes Springfield native Kelly Knauer who explains,  “Cashew chicken is a kind of inside joke in Springfield … but it’s also our daily bread, our defining food.”
After my first taste of the dish (at Leong’s Tea House) during my high school years, it definitely became one of my defining foods. I ate cashew chicken on a regular—almost weekly--basis. While my son was in architecture school at Drury a few years ago, I drove to Springfield from Bolivar once a week to meet him at Lucy’s Chinese Food, which is located on the edge of the Drury campus. Or we’d go to The Ricksha downtown or to Dragon Inn on the edge of the MSU campus. (The Times article points out that there are more than 70 Chinese restaurants in Springfield with cashew chicken on the menu—and I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many of those I’ve tried through the years!)
When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, however, my cashew chicken days were over. With its characteristic breaded fried chicken as its main feature, the dish is definitely off-limits. Alas! I have missed cashew chicken even more than I have missed cheese enchiladas from Mexican Villa. Even more than I have missed the biscuits and gravy at Gailey’s. Even more than I have missed “throwed rolls” at Lambert’s. Even more than I have missed good hamburger buns from nearly everywhere.
But yesterday I tried making my own gluten-free version using a recipe for Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken (from that appeared on my Facebook timeline a while back. And, people, I have to say that the end result was pretty amazing. Now, maybe I’ve just forgotten what good cashew chicken tastes like—but it also passed the “husband test.” Doug thought it was pretty close to the real McCoy. (I think he might even have spilled a little on his shirt—the true test of delicious!)
Here is the recipe with my modifications:
Gluten-Free Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken
            2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 4), cut into smaller pieces
            1/4 cup gluten-free flour (I used Hol-Grain Chicken Coating Mix.)
            1/2 tsp. black pepper
            1 Tbsp. canola oil
            1/4 cup gluten-free soy sauce
            2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
            2 Tbsp. ketchup
            1 Tbsp. brown sugar
            1 garlic clove, minced
            1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
            1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
            1/2 cup cashews

  • Combine flour and pepper in resealable food storage bag. Add chicken. Shake to coat with flour mixture.
  • Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Brown chicken for about 2 minutes on each side. Place chicken in slow cooker.
  • Combine soy sauce, vinegar, ketchup, sugar, garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes in small bowl; pour over chicken.
  • Cook on LOW for 3-4 hours. Add cashews and stir. (The mixture got a little dry before we were ready to eat it, so I added water to barely cover. Before serving I also added a heaping teaspoon of cornstarch dissolved in water to thicken it up a bit.)
  • Serve over rice. (I prefer brown rice because of its fiber and other health benefits.)

The final result was indeed wonderful, although it did seem a bit more vinegar-y than I remember. Next time—and there will be many next times--I may cut back on the vinegar and add some gluten-free oyster sauce. (I understand that Panda Brand Green Label is gluten-free. You might be able to get it at Oriental grocery stores, but I haven’t looked, yet. I did find it on Amazon.) I will also cut up some green onions and sprinkle those on at the end. Yum!

Cashew Chicken Days are here again!