Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The journey

When I was 11, I cooked all the way through my 64-page Mary Alden's Cookbook for Children ...

… and I have the diploma, signed by my mom, to prove it!

As is true for many, learning to cook has been a lifelong journey for me. As a child, I hovered around my mom and my grandmothers as they cooked, asking questions, sampling, observing, visiting, and, well, generally standing underfoot. I had my own little Mary Alden’s Cookbook for Children that I used frequently to make after-school snacks. I can still taste those Eskimo Cookies—mostly butter, sugar, and oats—that I whipped up and ate nearly every day.

Mom and my nephew in 1977. Mom isn't really as bad
a cook as Geoff seems to indicate!
Now, my mom was (is) a good cook, but as a busy college English professor, I think cooking was mostly a chore for her.  Her goal was to prepare basic healthy and satisfying meals, yet get in and out of the kitchen and back to her grading and lesson-planning as quickly as she could. (This could explain my lifelong love affair with the Crock Pot. She used it frequently, and so do I.) When I was a teenager, she was very happy to hand the kitchen duties over to me as often as possible—and she was very patient with my messes and mistakes.

Along with my mom, my grandmothers guided and encouraged my kitchen education. My Grandma Gipson was an expert cook—and, knowing every shortcut in the book, she was very fast in the kitchen. She could flip out a fresh and delicious raspberry pie quicker than I can tie my shoes. She taught me to roll out and bake pretty darn good biscuits in no time at all. And Grandma Padgett, who lived with us during my teenage years, was overseer of my fledgling attempts to put edible meals on the table. Unable to stand for long periods of time, she taught me to make her famous apple dumplings and many other dishes while perched in a nearby easy chair.

Those collective experiences may be where, at 21 and newly married, I acquired the confidence (over-confidence, actually) to answer an ad in the Dallas Times Herald to cook for an elderly Dallas oil millionaire couple. The job was attractive because it offered Doug and me a way to experience big city life far-removed from the Missouri Ozarks, and it came with living quarters, a lovely little cottage (complete with swimming pool) on their huge estate. There I embarked on a year-long, 24/7 self-taught cooking school, before Doug and I decided to move back home to family and friends.

Eskimo Cookies was my favorite recipe.
It's a wonder I'm still alive.
Actually, I lie; my lessons weren’t self-taught. Fannie Farmer, who died in 1915, was my mentor during this period, her cookbook my bible, which I memorized, book, chapter and verse, from cover to cover. (Sadly, I finally laid the actual cookbook to rest a couple of years ago during my family’s downsizing efforts.) From Fannie I learned to whip up mayonnaise, tie up a roast, trim radishes to make them look like tulips, etc. I also received much “coaching” from the Mrs. of the house. I still have a stenographer’s notebook full of her “helpful tips” and “gentle suggestions.”

At this point in life, I would call myself a mediocre cook at best, with many lessons in the culinary arts left to learn. But I am obsessed with cooking, especially now that a living gluten-free is an absolute necessity. Now close friends who are experts in gluten-free and grain-free cooking and the Internet with its thousands of blogs and related resources are providing my guidance. Celiac disease is not the ship I expected or that I would have willingly chosen, but now that I’m on board, I’m finding this new journey pretty interesting.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Holy granola!

Apple Pie Paleo Granola. Yum!
One thing that makes giving up so many different foods to follow a gluten-free, paleo, GAPs, or specific carbohydrate diet more bearable for me is discovering and trying out new recipes. It’s a bit like following the quest for the Holy Grail or engaging in a scavenger hunt.

Today, for example, I gathered the ingredients and made a batch of Apple Pie Paleo Granola. A close friend had messaged me the link to the recipe on Facebook—and it sounded so good that I immediately started collecting the ingredients and figuring out how to adapt it to SCD.

Here’s the original recipe, which came from a great blog called “multiply delicious.” (The website is www.multiplydelicious.com. Check it out.) The only things I changed were that I substituted honey for the maple syrup, and I left out the nutmeg. Oh, I also doubled the recipe—and I’m glad I did.

Apple Pie Paleo Granola

½ C almonds
½ C. pecans
½ C. walnuts
¼ C. pumpkin seeds
7 medjool dates, chopped
1/3 C. unsweetened shredded coconut
1 T. ground cinnamon (Celiyak: I might back off on this a bit next time.)
1 t. ground nutmeg (Celiyak: I’m not a big nutmeg fan, so I left it out.
1 t. ground allspice
¼ t. ground cloves
¼ t. sea salt
½ C. unsweetened applesauce (Celiyak: I used homemade applesauce, which I always keep on hand)
1/3 C. coconut oil, melted
2 T. maple syrup
1 t. vanilla extract

  • Preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Add nuts, dates, and unsweetened shredded coconut to a bowl of a food processor and pulse to slightly chop nuts. Add spices and salt and pulse again to combine.
  • Evenly distribute granola (using fingers) on prepared baking sheet.
  • Place in oven for 30 to 35 minutes until golden. Stop to stir ingredients halfway through the baking so the edges do not get over brown. It will allow things to cook evenly. The granola will harden up once cooled completely.
  • Store granola in airtight container and keep in freezer.

Buying in bulk can save money!
Don’t be discouraged by the long list of ingredients. If you’ve been on a gluten-free diet for very long, you probably already have many of these items, and if you’re just starting out, you will be in need of them sooner or later. If you don’t have all the spices, just use the ones you have. If you can find a store that sells bulk foods that you dispense yourself, you can save a lot of money on nuts and many other gluten-free/paleo/SCD/GAPS ingredients. I’m fortunate to live right above a grocery store (Bistro Market) that offers bulk dispensers and fresh nut butters. (In Springfield, MO, the Mama Jeans stores and HyVee also sell self-serve nuts.)

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Sometimes my explorations lead me to cook up a dud, but the dishes are always at least edible. And sometimes I find wonderful recipes that become a part of my permanent repertoire. Furthermore, all the cooking and sampling fills you up so that you’re too full to feel in any way deprived.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

50 ways to brew your yogurt ...

Warming and cooling the milk are important steps in making yogurt.

As I mentioned in my last blog, homemade yogurt (fermented for 24-36 hours) is a central feature of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). Since I talked about it, several of my friends have asked me how to make it. If you search the Internet, you will find a multitude of ways—fifty, at least--to go about it.

Being a HUGE fan of my slow cooker, the first time I tried it I used a recipe from the Skinny GF Chef for her “Homemade Crock Pot Greek Yogurt.”  The result was truly amazing and fairly simple. Here is her recipe along with my observations:

Homemade Crock Pot Greek Yogurt


You will need a Crock Pot and a meat or candy thermometer.  (Celiyak: My meat thermometer didn’t go low enough to measure the fermentation temperature, so I had to purchase a new one.)

  • 100 ounces of milk of your choice (or depending on the size of your Crock Pot, pour in enough to fill your Crock Pot 3/4 full) (Celiyak: 100 oz. is about 12 ½ cups.)
  • 1/2 cup of yogurt with live active cultures, room temp.  Or you can buy a dry starter and follow the directions  (I started with commercial plain yogurt and now use 1/2 cup of my last batch) (Celiyak: I used The Greek Gods Greek Yogurt, Traditional Plain. Many SCD followers reject using yogurt from your last batch to start a new batch.)
  • Honey or Vanilla Liquid Stevia to taste-opt. (Celiyak: I didn’t do this. I love it just as it is—and SCD doesn’t allow Stevia.)


  1. Warm your oven to 110 degrees and turn on the light  (leave the light on for 24 hours) (Celiyak: I used an oven thermometer to measure my oven temperature. It was a perfect 110 degrees with the light on! No warming.) 
  2. I fill my large Crock Pot about 3/4 full or approx. 3/4 of a gallon of milk.  I have a little hole in my lid and insert a meat thermometer. (Celiyak: The hole in my lid was too small, so I just inserted the thermometer at the edge of the crock, trying not to lift the lid too much.)
  3. Turn the Crock Pot on High and cover, let the milk heat to 185-190 degrees.  Sometimes mine goes a little higher.  It's fine as long as you don't scorch the milk.  You want it to just begin to simmer on the outside edges. (Celiyak: This took a couple of hours in my Crock Pot.)
  4. Now let the milk cool in the covered Crock Pot until it registers 110-115 degrees.  You should be able to stick your finger in and hold it for 10 seconds without burning. It must be cool enough before you add the starter or the heat will kill the beneficial bacteria. (Celiyak: The cooling process took another three hours.)
  5. Put the 1/2 cup of yogurt starter in a small bowl and add a cup of the warm milk, a little at a time to temper, or if using a dry starter follow the package directions.
  6. Stir the small bowl of yogurt milk mixture into the large pot of your Crock Pot.
  7. Put the cover on the Crock Pot and place in your (110 degree) warm oven with the light on.  Snugly cover the pot with a blanket or several large beach towels.  Some people replace the light bulb with a 60-watt but mine does fine as is. 
  8. Leave the covered Crock Pot in the oven for 24 hours in order to get the full benefit of the lactose-eating bacteria.  Keep the door closed and the light on. Having an oven thermometer is helpful too. 
  9. After 24 hours remove the pot and either strain for Greek yogurt or ladle directly into clean containers.  Refrigerate.

The slow cooker version is fairly easy, although I spent a lot of time during those first five hours measuring the temperature. The other drawback of this method is that my oven is engaged for 24 hours.

Take care in adding the starter culture to
your batch.
The second method I tried was using a yogurt maker. The Yogourmet seems to be the most popular brand among SCD dieters, so that’s what I ordered from Amazon. At the same time, I ordered three boxes of Yogourmet starter culture and a lamp dimmer switch. (You can also find Yogourmet starter culture and other starters at health food stores—just avoid those that have bifidus, if you’re following SCD--and you can purchase a lamp dimmer switch at home stores like Lowe’s or Target.)

Here’s my version of the Yogourmet Yogurt Recipe:

  • 2 quarts milk of your choice (I use reduced fat, but you can even use skim or soy milk. With skim, you’ll need to add a packet of unflavored gelatin to skim to get it to thicken up.)
  • Yogourmet Starter mix

Yogourmet freeze-dried
yogurt starter
  1. Pour two quarts of milk into a pot and heat on the stove until the milk reaches a temperature of 180 degrees F (82 degrees C on the thermometer that comes with the maker). Then let it cool down to 108-112 degrees F (42-44 degrees C). You can set your pot in a sinkful of cold water to speed the process.
  2. When the milk has cooled, pour 10 g. of starter into a cup and gradually add approximately 5-6 T of cooled milk to the starter, stirring until it is dissolved. Then add the dissolved starter to the remainder of the milk and stir well.
  3. Place the mixture into the Yogourmet batch container and follow the manufacturers directions. If you are not following the SCD diet, your yogurt will be ready in about four hours. If you are following the SCD diet, you must let your yogurt ferment for 24-34 hours. This is where the dimmer cord comes in. The Yogourmet runs a bit warmer than the recommended 105-110 degrees F, so you can use the switch to bring the temperature down to the proper level. I made a mark on mine to show where to set the dimmer switch.

No matter how you choose to make your yogurt, I promise that it will become easier with practice. The pleasant taste, health benefits, and lower cost (vs. store bought brands) are definitely worth the effort!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Make a new plan, Stan ...

Homemade yogurt: Looks gross, tastes amazing!
Sometimes a gluten-free diet alone doesn’t cut it. For the past two and a half years, I have carefully monitored every bite of food I have put in my mouth, I have banned all gluten-containing products from my home, and I have relentlessly asked questions at restaurants, but now I have started having digestive issues again.

After several weeks of running to the restroom after every meal, being mostly tethered to the conveniences of my home, and looking over my shoulder for the nearest facility when I must be out in public, I started searching for new solutions to my new-old problem.

The SCD bible.
That’s when I discovered the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), which, of course, is gluten-free, but which also eliminates all grains, sugar, and starchy carbohydrates and encourages the consumption of homemade yogurt to promote intestinal health. The concept is based on research by early celiac physicians and was developed into a diet plan by Elaine Gottschall, who wrote Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet. It claims not only to be of tremendous advantage for celiac disease, but also for Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, cystic fibrosis, autism, and many more diet-related illnesses.

Now, my scientific-minded husband constantly discourages me from jumping onto diet (or other) bandwagons, especially if they make huge claims and seem somewhat unconventional. I must do my homework and be able to defend the diet as he hammers me with questions. (If you have seen this dark side of this lovely, gentle man, you will understand what I must go through!)

And Gotschall does make huge claims.  “The Specific Carbohydrate Diet has been shown to completely cure most cases of celiac disease if followed for at least one year,” she writes in Breaking the Vicious Cycle, the bible of SCD followers. What??? To back up her claim she cites a mountain of anecdotal evidence—and you can find an entire mountain range of testimonies online.

She also explains the science behind the diet, which I used to defend myself against Doug, who is not allowing me to swallow the entire scheme, hook, line and sinker, but who is more than willing to help me out with this new adventure if it even has a snowball’s chance of working. “Much of the diet does make good sense,” he reasons.

I feel compelled to tell you that the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, one of the premier scientific communities searching for a cure for Celiac Disease, states flatly on its website that it does not concur with Gotschall’s findings: “A specific carbohydrate diet is not a recommended diet. There is no peer-reviewed, scientific publication that shows this diet will aid those with celiac disease.” That’s what it says; nothing else.

WebMD (and others like it) advises caution about the diet, but the website does admit that “[d]espite the fact that there is little scientific evidence for the SCD, it is hard to ignore the anecdotal praises for the plan. It quotes Dr. Joel Mason, associate professor of medicine, nutrition, and gastroenterology at Tufts University in Boston, who says, “We still don’t have perfect treatments for these GI diseases, and we should be open to unconventional therapies that are worthy of consideration [and] proceed cautiously and with careful medical supervision.”

Having recently seen the Academy Award nominated film Dallas Buyers Club, I asked myself, “What if the good folks portrayed in this film who suffered from their disease (HIV, in this case) had left all responsibility for their cure to the medical community?” They took it upon themselves to find solutions, because they were they ones with the sense of urgency, the ones who had to live (or die) with it every day. While their solutions might have been flawed, their anecdotal evidence caught the eye of the medical professionals and made a contribution to the control of the disease. This story inspired me to join the fight in seeking my own cure.

So, a few weeks ago, I decided to try the SCD. (Stop rolling your eyes and consider: what do I have to lose as opposed to what I might gain?) It’s not easy to follow, I admit—but after having given up gluten for so long, giving up grains and sugar doesn’t seem like an insurmountable task. Here is a list of ten random observations about this diet I have made thus far:

[No] Sugar! Ah, honey, honey ...
  1. I feel MUCH better. The trotskies have almost completely subsided.
  2. I feel MUCH better. I have been sleeping through the night. If you know me, you know that I have never been a good sleeper. One of my friends accuses our household as being a “vampire family.”
  3. I feel MUCH better. At first I was pretty weak, having given up most carbs. I worried about whether I could keep up playing tennis or even walking (my passions). This week, as I add more legal foods, my energy is returning (although my tennis game hasn't improved much).
  4. I am learning new tricks. I have successfully made my own great-tasting yogurt, the part of the diet that worried me the most--and it was more than delicious. Way cheaper than store-bought yogurt, too.
  5. I am learning new tricks. I am cooking at home more—because I have to. While there aren’t so many SCD recipes out there, there are a gazillion paleo recipes. The SCD is close enough to the paleo diet that you can make a few simple modifications to be SCD legal.
  6. I’m making new discoveries.  Eating out is more of a challenge with SCD than with gluten-free only, but it can be done! (I’ll address this aspect of SCD as I go along.)
  7. I’m making new discoveries. I have learned a lot about celiac disease and other autoimmune illnesses from Gotschall’s book. (I ordered this book used on Amazon for about $10. If you’re at all curious about how the diet might help you, I highly recommend it!)
  8. I’m making new discoveries. Honey tastes great in coffee, homemade applesauce, plain yogurt, almost anything. Who knew?
  9. I can do this. I actually wrote out and signed a 90-day commitment to this diet, just to see if it will work. If I am still having positive results at the end of this period, I will gut it out (no pun intended) for the entire year. Will I be cured? Not likely, but I will never know until I try. What if it works?
  10. I can do this. Having to give up rice, potatoes, oats, and corn makes me very sad, but so did giving up wheat. I know I can do it if I take it one day at time. I know I will even grow to like it. I am already growing to like it. 

Gonna make a new plan, Stan (the SCD)—and get myself free (from the bathroom)!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Pinterest picks the place ...

Otto's Tacos are GR8!
Social media has made following special diets infinitely easier. Using Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Yelp, and many other sites, you can find everything from specific diet advice and product information to recipes and restaurant reviews.

When I go to NYC to visit my children, I love to try out new places to eat, and I often use Google, Yelp, or an app called Find Me Gluten Free to help me in my search for them. Many of the city restaurants have begun catering to GF diners, and such sources make it very easy to find the ones that do. On a recent visit, I discovered a new favorite--Otto’s Tacos at 141 2nd Ave--through Pinterest.

Here’s how it happened:

As I was sitting in my hotel room reading my email, I received a message that someone named nobreadNYC had liked one of my Pinterest pins. I don’t usually pay attention to those messages unless they come from one of my personal friends, but since I have a keen interest in NYC gluten-free restaurants, I followed the pin back to her boards.

There I found a goldmine of boards pertaining to GF dining in NYC: Healthy Hotspots NYC, Best BRUNCH in NYC, Gluten Free Bakeries, My Favorite Foods, and many more. Looking at her profile, I found a link to her blog at www.nobreadnyc.com, which also deals with GF dining.

When I visited her blog, I discovered that she had categorized, classified, and even reviewed an amazing number of GF restaurants located all over the city. I scrolled down through her lists to see what she thought of some of my favorites and found that she hadn’t listed my top two: Risotteria on 270 Bleecker St. and Risottera Melotti on 309 E. 5th St.

Giant tortilla press at Otto's Tacos.
I acquired her email address in her contact information and wrote her a note thanking her for her excellent resource and recommending that she give the risotto restaurants a try.

She emailed me back to thank me for the suggestions and told me to try Otto’s Tacos, probably because I had told her that my children are students at NYU, and the restaurant is located in the area of the university. (In fact, Otto’s Tacos is on the very street where my son lives. How’s that for a “small world” experience?)

This flurry of computer activity took place around 9:30 a.m., and by noon I was sitting with my husband and son at Otto’s Tacos downing two of the best freshly pressed, carnitas-filled corn tortillas I’ve ever tasted. (Doug had chicken and Bryson had the shrimp, and they testified that those were also pretty delicious.) We also shared a side order of guacamole and chips and had refillable sodas (a bit of a rarity in NYC).

Social media made it that easy.

Pinterest is filled with useful info!

Without social media, people with celiac disease and other maladies would be condemned to a world of isolation and frustration. While the Internet can also exacerbate those problems—you should hear me screaming at my computer in frustration some days—they open up a world of help and hope.

If you haven’t joined Pinterest, I encourage you to check it out. With a few keystrokes, you can find literally thousands of great recipes, celiac-safe restaurants, and other helpful information pertaining to living a gluten-free life.