Do You Still Remember Me?

Note: This post is not directed at any particular person.  As an introvert, I’ve lost a number of friends because their life or my life changed and then one day I realized that my friend wasn’t responding to me anymore when I tried to get in touch.  If you see yourself in this post, consider reaching out to that introverted friend you haven’t spoken with in a while.

Do you remember me?  We used to be really close.  We shared meals and tough times and things that changed our lives.  Friends grow apart sometimes, but aren’t best friends supposed to pick up where they left off even if weeks or months have gone by?  I’m an introvert and I’m perfectly content to spend most of my weekends with my sewing or crafts or books.  I used to be able to reach out to you when I was ready for some friend time and we’d get together.  Now you don’t answer my calls, you have to ask who this is when I text, and you changed your email and forgot to let me know.

Its too easy to blame myself for the distance between us, but it’s not entirely my fault.  I kept reaching out to you long after you stopped responding.  I still miss you, even if it’s been years since we last really talked.  You know I don’t make friends easily.  You know that sometimes you have to drag me along to be social at times, and no matter how reluctant I am, I’m always thankful that you helped me get out of my comfort zone and have some fun.

It’s bewildering to me that we aren’t even friends anymore.  Did I do something wrong?  Is it really that easy to forget about me?  Did you think that I wouldn’t want to be friends anymore when your life went in a different direction?  It’s so hard for me to reach out, then when you don’t reach back it hurts so much.

I’m still here.  And I’d still like to be friends, no matter how long it’s been.  It still hurts a little bit every time I think about you.  I miss you.  My friends are part of my family, and losing you in my life leaves an ache that never goes away.  I know I probably don’t do this “friend” thing “right”.  But I’m still here.  I still care.  I hope you do too.

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Grain Free Cookies

I just finished my first batch of grain free cookies and they were an unqualified success.  I can’t even tell you how happy I am right now.  I started with a standard sugar cookie recipe that I love, and made some alterations.  The end result is this:

Please do no lick the screen.

Please do no lick the screen.

And yes I used leftover mini-m&m’s I got on clearance from Christmas time, don’t judge me.  :p  These aren’t strictly Paleo, but I don’t really care about the refined sugar part of it.

Sugar Drop Cookies

1 1/4 c. sugar

1 c. butter at room temp

3 egg yolks

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 c. coconut flour

1 c. almond flour

1/2 c. tapioca starch

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

1/4 tsp. salt

1/3 c. coarse sugar crystals or 1 c. mini m&m’s

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cream together butter and sugar.  Add in egg yolks one at a time, followed by vanilla.  Mix until well combined.

Sift together flours, starch, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt.  Add to butter/egg mixture and mix until well combined.

Use a cookie scoop to portion out cookies (about 1.5 inch balls) and roll just the tops in the m&m’s (or the whole thing in the sugar), you may have to press the candies into the dough.  Bake about 12 per standard cookie sheet.  Press down slightly onto the pan so it’s more like a thick disk rather than a ball of dough.

Bake about 12 minutes.  Allow to cool on cookie sheets 5 minutes before transferring to cooling racks or stomach.  Try not to eat the entire batch yourself.  Go on, try it.  🙂

 

I’m quite excited to have these lovelies grace my lunch box this week.  They’re just as light, and chewy as can be.  There is a mild coconut flavor to them, which I don’t find unpleasant at all.  In fact, I think it adds to the charm of these fantastic cookies.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a plate of cookies getting cold on the counter and I need to warm them up in my tummy.  😉

 

Why Gluten Free?

I practice Health at Every Size.  Which means that I’m concerned with actual measures of my health like fitness level, blood work, lifestyle choices (no tobacco use, limited alcohol consumption, no illegal drugs, prescription drugs only as directed, etc), and eating a balanced but varied diet.  I’ve committed to not using restrictive eating habits or excessive exercise routines as a means of controlling my weight.  There’s quite a bit of research to back up the idea that this is the best approach and zero evidence that dieting for weight loss actually works in the long term.  (I don’t really care to go through all of it for you, so if you’re curious about the science, feel free to read Health at Every Size or check out some of the many fabulous posts from Dances with Fat who goes through the research as well as addressing some of the common questions that come up with Health at Every Size or HAES.)

With all of that in mind, you might be wondering why I’m following a gluten/wheat free diet.  Why, if I genuinely believe in not using restrictive eating habits to modify my weight, I would severely restrict my eating habits in such a way.  To answer that, I have to start by reminding you that my weight isn’t a consideration when I make decisions about my health.  I chose to remove wheat and gluten from my diet at the suggestion of my doctor after considering many factors, primarily my allergies.  We actually discussed removing all grains from my diet, but compromised on starting with wheat due to the difficulties involved in making such a drastic change in my diet and my lifestyle.

Several years ago my severe hay-fever morphed into something more serious.  I actually started going into anaphylaxis and had to be taken to the emergency room.  What happened?  I was sitting in a lawn chair at the park in closed shoes, long pants, and a fairly conservative blouse, late at night, watching the fireworks on the fourth of July.  My nose was flowing, my eyes were watering and swelling to the point that I could barely get a blury idea of where I was going and I was starting to wheeze and have swelling in my mouth and lips.  I hadn’t eaten anything for hours.  Pollen levels should have been at their lowest for the day.  I hadn’t used any new skin care products or put on any new clothing.  Yet the ambient levels of pollen combined with the proximity of grass was enough to trigger a medical emergency.  Luckily I was with friends who immediately loaded me in the car and found the nearest open store (a mini-mart almost 10 miles away), and got a bottle of liquid Benadryl for me to sip while we made the 20 mile drive to the nearest hospital.  When I went through the whole allergy panel several weeks later, they used the more diluted version of the grass allergen for the test and it made half my arm swell up, plus reactions to half a dozen other environmental allergens.

But that’s not the end of the story.  Most people with a grass allergy react only to the pollen.  I react badly to the plant as well, dormant or not.  And the variety of grass doesn’t matter.  Living in an area where grass, wheat, oats and similar crops are grown, I have tested my reaction to various relatives of the common fescue.  I react just as badly to wheat grass as I do to a common lawn.  And when you stop to think about it, all of the grains are cousins really.  They all started from selectively breeding grasses for particular traits.  Why then is it so strange for people to talk about food allergies in the context of a grass allergy… many varieties of grasses are used as food sources!  Why would the skin on the inside of my body (my digestive tract) be any less sensitive to these allergens than the skin on the outside of my body is?

My body is so sensitive to some of these allergens that I also have a problem called “oral allergy syndrome” which is where your body confuses certain compounds in food for very similar compounds in allergens and reacts as if it were an allergen.  Several foods are associated with grass allergies in particular; celery, melons, oranges, peaches and tomatoes are all potential problems if eaten raw.  Cooking seems to offset the effects for most people.  But I happen to react strongly to melons which are almost never cooked.  People with Birch pollen allergies may react to apple, almond, carrot, celery, cherry, hazelnut, kiwi, peach, pear, plum.  And those with ragweed allergies may react to banana, cucumber, melons, sunflower seeds, zucchini.  Unfortunately, because it only occurs in about 1/3 of the very worst allergy cases, many allergists never discuss the possibility with their patients.  I had a random stranger suggest I look it up after overhearing me mention that watermelon makes my lips itch.  She asked if I was allergic to grass as well, then suggested looking up Oral Allergy Syndrome.  My doctor had never heard of it.

When I started questioning my doctor about possible food allergy connections, as well as my thinking on the grass allergy-grain foods connection, he dismissed my concerns and my research out of hand.  His attitude was ‘people with a wheat food allergy aren’t fat, it’s not possible.’  Of course, because I was poor he also dismissed any research I did out of hand, I clearly couldn’t tell a valid source from a crackpot since I didn’t make very much money.  Ugh.  I had no other healthcare options at the time so I just shut my mouth, kept thinking critically, and muddled along as best I could.

Things have gotten better.  I found a doctor who treats me as a thinking human and listens when I say I feel like something isn’t right.  She doesn’t assume that she’s a better witness to my own experience than I am.  And she validated much of what I had been discovering by trial and error.  And then she suggests things that I never would have thought of because that’s what she’s there for.  I feel much, much better when I at least avoid wheat.  I’m certainly not perfect.  Life is messy, I get exhausted, and I order a pizza for delivery because I can’t even consider standing in the kitchen to fix something.  But that’s ok.  I know what happens when I make that choice.

At the end of the day, I shouldn’t need to justify what I choose to eat.  I eat food that makes me feel good, gives me energy, and supports my health.  Whether that’s a bacon wrapped corn dog or a big salad with all of the trimmings, none of those choices are any more good or bad than another.

My new favorite GF Bread recipe

So, I try to eat gluten free as much as possible, with the goal of going grain free once I’ve gotten the wheat free thing under control.  But as a life-long baker, it’s hard to give up some of the fantastic things I’ve always made, like home made bread.  And let’s face it, it can be difficult to figure out what to pack for lunch at work when suddenly a sandwich is no longer the easy option.  I ran across a bread recipe in a Facebook-shared article (that I sadly did not note the website when I jotted down the recipe) and decided to try it.  It turned out fantastic with a few alterations and substitutions I made on my own.  Here’s my version.

A quick breakfast of ham slices and GF toast...soon to have a dusting of cinnamon sugar.

A quick breakfast of ham slices and GF toast…soon to have a dusting of cinnamon sugar.

Gluten-free Oat Bread

Makes 1 9-inch loaf

1 c. brown rice flour

1/2 c. GF Oat flour (take 1/2 c. GF oats and process in a food processor for about 1 minute until it resembles flour, you can leave it a little coarse for texture if you like)

3/4 c. AP GF flour mix (original recipe calls for sorghum or millet flour here, but I was unable to find either at my grocery store and didn’t want to go to the specialty store the day I tried this)

1/2 c. tapioca starch/flour (it can be labeled either starch or flour, it’s the same thing)

1/4 c. corn starch (original calls for potato starch, again I couldn’t find this at my grocery store so I used what I had on hand)

1 pkg or 2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

1 1/2 tsp salt

(2 tsp xanthan gum is called for in the original recipe.  I don’t think it’s really all that necesary, and it’s quite expensive. I skipped it and my loaf turned out fine)

2 eggs + 1 egg yolk

2 Tbsp honey (maple syrup or amber agave nectar could also be used here)

1/4 c. shortening, melted

1 1/4 c. milk, warmed to 110 to 120 F (any type of milk works, nut milks, soy, dairy, etc)

for tops of loaves:

1 egg white, lightly beaten (a couple of drops of water can also be added)

1/4 c. (apx) GF oats

 

Prepare a 9 inch bread ban by greasing well and dusting with some additional brown rice flour.  Set aside.

Mix dry ingredients just to combine.

Whisk together wet ingredients.

Add wet to dry and mix until well combined.  Mix for 5 minutes on medium-high speed.  It will be a very thick batter, like cake batter.

Spoon batter into prepared pan.  Be careful that the batter doesn’t go past half filling the pan, if it does, the batter will spill over during rising.  If you have excess batter, you can prepare a few muffin tins as you did the loaf pan and make a few rolls.

Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the top of the dough with the egg white.  Sprinkle GF oats on top.

Let dough rise in a warm place 40 minutes or until nearly double in size.  Pre-heat oven to 350 F.  (This dough will actually double in size!  Loosely cover with plastic wrap before draping a kitchen towel over the pan unless you want a doughy kitchen towel!)

Bake apx. 40 minutes, internal temp should be 200 F.  I actually used a clean meat thermometer to double check my loaf.  It was golden brown looking, but that can sometimes be deceiving.  Rolls may take about 10 minutes less.

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto cooling racks.  Be gentle when taking out of the pan.

 

I baked mine in a clear glass loaf pan so that I could check browning on the bottom as well.  I was perhaps a bit overzealous with the greasing and flouring of my pan, but my loaf didn’t stick at all.  I found that the slices were a little prone to breaking into large chunks when I attempted to make a sandwich for work.  Slicing was a fairly delicate task.  But the bread it’s self tastes wonderful, and lacks the flat, grainy texture of so many wheat free concoctions.  The loaf didn’t dry out when left in a ziploc bag on my counter all week without refrigeration.  And it made pretty respectable toast this morning a week after baking.  My slice did break into two pieces coming out of the toaster, but I think that was a function of my particular loaf.

I’m definitely going to try this again and use some different flours and starches.  I’m curious how it will work with an exclusively non-grain line up of flours and starches.  I’ll be picking up some coconut flour, almond flour and more tapioca starch tomorrow to try this out with a “paleo” bent.  (Tapioca starch is made from a tuber grown in South America and fits into the general guidelines of the Paleo diet.  My concern is avoidance of grains, for which this starch fits the bill.)