November 30, 2012

Old Ways

Ok, I'm not a vegan anymore.  In fact, I think it only lasted for 2 weeks.  My love of all things pig and William's late night Jimmy Johns cravings quickly overcame our desire to be a little bit healthier.  While we were a little ashamed to give up so quickly, we comforted ourselves with the thought that compared to most people in America we are pretty damn healthy!

To prove this to myself, I recently bought a giant box of clementines and am determined to eat my way through them before any go bad---cooking has been on the back burner.  But before my latest feat of conquering citrus, I was doing a little Thanksgiving cooking!  I have to say, my gluten free, dairy free dressing was pretty delicious.  William's family seemed thoroughly impressed with it--I didn't let them know that the amazing taste was due to the pound of spicy sausage used in the one tiny pan of dressing.  Can't get enough pig.

August 28, 2012

How Pompous Can You Get?

Friends, with this new school year William and I have made a big decision.  We've decided to become...vegans.  Gluten free vegans.  I know, we sound horrible.  If I met someone who was a self-proclaimed gluten free vegan, I would run away before being lectured endlessly to.  We are NOT doing this because of animal rights... Maybe that sounds a little insensitive, but I love my fur vest, and while I think animals should be treated better, I also love a rare steak as much as every good red-blooded Amurican!  More to come on our big decision, but if you want to check out an informative, albeit dull, documentary on the subject, watch Forks Over Knives.

April 23, 2012

Where Do I Go from Here?

         I know I haven't written in a long time.  Complications with this horrible thing bring on a lack of creative dinner ideas as well as a lack of positive blog topic thoughts.  I've just completed the dreaded, often annual event that most of us celiacs have to deal with...the colonoscopy/endoscopy.  It was just a check up, but anyone who has had one will tell you that that doesn't make it any better. 
         Sweet Caroline, my big sister, came up from Nashville to drive me to and from Durham.  She was a great nurse, but her favorite part was recalling all of the crazy things I did afterwards while I was zonked out:  persistently asking the doctor what kind of alcohol I should be drinking, undeterred by the fact that he had already answered me three times; angrily correcting people who thought Caroline was significantly younger than I am; glaring at the sweet but naive nurse who apparently told me, "It's all over!  Now you can go get a biscuit!"  No, I can't, honey.
         Maybe it's all the lack of food or sleep, but I've been thinking about what comes next -- life-wise.  I'm getting much better, which is unbelievably wonderful, but what do I do with my life now that I'm "healthy"?  I've been moderately unhealthy for many years now.  I'm not sure I know how to turn all of that around.  The real scare is what career path am I going to jump on now.  Of course well meaning family and friends keep asking me this, but the real pressure is coming from inside my own head.  I've always been a dedicated student with a very clear path that I wanted to follow, and when I was diagnosed all of that disappeared.  But while I was still sick/recovering people were very understanding--she just got some really bad news and needs this time to get well.  But now that I'm well... Where do I go from here? 

March 26, 2012

The New Real Cornbread and Mom's White Chili

       I am arguably the biggest cornbread fan on the planet.  I always have been.  My grandfather Bob always ate it crumbled up in a glass of buttermilk, and I thought that was genius.  Since my transition into gluten free living it's been one of the things I've missed the, more than cake or pasta or anything.  Sure, you can make flourless cornbread, but I have to ask the question:  why would anyone want to?  William and I have tried countless recipes, and they all turn out flat, dry, and so crumbly you can hardly pick it up.
        BUT.  Tonight something really amazing happened right here in my so-small-it's-practically-nonexistent kitchen.  I think it's the best cornbread I've ever eaten, although (just trying to keep it honest) I haven't had normal cornbread in a year so my judgement may be impaired.  Either way, this cornbread tastes like the real deal, and I'm as happy as a clam!  It came from Bon Appetit's website, but I've made a few changes.

Real Cornbread

Whisk together:
  • 1 3/4 cup rice or soy milk
  • the juice of 1 medium lemon
  • 5 large eggs 
  • 2 Tbsp sugar (don't worry--this isn't that sweet cornbread our northern neighbors like to make)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
Then whisk in 2 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal and finally 3 Tbsp melted Earth Balance.  Then pour into a large-ish cast iron skillet that you grandmother has passed down to you, and bake it all for about 22 minutes at 400 degrees.  

         This recipe may even be better with any combination of the following:  jalapenos, caramelized onions, fresh corn, and delicious little bits of crispy bacon.  I served mine with my mom's delicious white chili.  I have been blessed with two parents who really shine in the kitchen, which is one of the main reasons I always wanted to become a chef.  My mama has a soft spot for comforting soups, and this is one of my favorites.  Here's how you make it.  

Mom's White Chili

Saute 1 diced yellow onion and several minced cloves of garlic with a little oil in a very large, heavy pot.  Once they are translucent, add 2 cans of drained corn (of course, in the summer time this is even better with the fresh kind), 3 cans of white beans, 2 shredded chicken breasts, lots of chicken stock, a bay leaf, several minced chilies in adobo (depending on the level of spice and smokiness you prefer), and salt and cayenne pepper to taste.  Let this simmer for a while and then serve it with cilantro, green onions, avocado, and diced habeneros.  

       William likes to crumble his cornbread straight into the soup.  I like to eat my cornbread on the side with a little drizzle of honey to counteract the heat of the chili.  Any way you want to eat this it's going to be so perfectly comforting.  Plus you have the joy of several days of leftovers, and nothing beats that!

March 24, 2012

Goodbye, Winter! Meatballs

I’ve been in a very self-indulgent slump lately, not wanting to cook without my beloved forbidden ingredients.  But today is the first day of spring, and I woke up wanting to make something a little special to say goodbye to the nice wintery ingredients.
            To get in the perfect spring mood I cooked all of this while listening Clueless soundtrack, guaranteed to put you in a dancing mood (rolling with my homies, anyone?) and make you want to find a plaid mini skirt and thigh high socks stat.
            Now that you’re in the right mood, let’s get cooking!  First I threw together my meatball ingredients:  ¾ lb. ground chuck, 2 hot chorizo sausages removed from casing, 2 eggs, several cloves of garlic, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and a couple of handfuls of minced kale.  Mix all of that up with your hands.  Then roll it into whatever size balls you want and bake accordingly.  I opted for 1 to 2 inch in diameter balls and baked them at 350 for about 25 minutes.
            In the meantime, heat about ¼ cup of olive oil and a pint of cherry tomatoes over low heat.  When the cherry tomatoes burst and mix with the oil...there will be major splattering.  Plan accordingly.  Let these cook down and caramelize for about 30 to 45 minutes.  For the last 5 minutes or so, add 2 large, crushed cloves of garlic.  Once your tomatoes are sufficiently cooked, cool them off a bit (so that no explosions occur) and blend until smooth in a food processor with the oil and garlic.  Taste and season it up.  Mine needed salt, a touch more olive oil, and a pinch of sugar to balance the bitterness.  This stuff is dangerous.  I almost drank it straight from the food processor. 
            You can have your meatballs and sauce over pasta, you lucky dogs, but William and I are having ours over roasted red and gold beets and sautéed garlicky kale, all topped with crispy homemade chiffonade kale chips.  I’m definitely out of my food rut now!

March 15, 2012

Gluten Free, Dairy Free Creme Anglaise

A year ago, I would have hated any recipe that started with "gluten free" OR "dairy free," much less both!  But here I am, and this recipe is revolutionary to the way I think about my new "free" lifestyle.

Reduce a cup and a half of vanilla soy milk and a pinch of salt to about 3/4 cup.  Then reduce the heat and let the liquid sit until it's just simmering.  In the mean time, whisk one egg yolk and a tablespoon or so of sugar until it's pale yellow and slightly thickened.  The very, very slowly temper the eggs with the milky mixture and let it all cook, whisking constantly, until it's just the right consistency for you.  I like to be able to draw a line in it on the back of a spoon.

This is delicious!  No, I don't know what I'm going to pour it on top of yet, but just about anything would taste delicious topped with this.

February 28, 2012

Bananas Foster Quinoa

Big news, friends!  It looks like my celiac has unfortunately caused secondary lactose intolerance.  So, no gluten, no dairy.  Going dairy free is really pretty good for just about everyone.  The health benefits are unbelievable, and thanks to vanilla soy milk, I'm still able to happily enjoy my favorite food:  cereal!...although, I'm pretty limited to Chex these days--good thing those are so delicious!  The hard news here is what do I eat for dessert now?  Not too many options.  Also, comfort foods are a little hard to come by.  So what did I cook to ease the pain of a strained back this morning?  Bananas foster breakfast quinoa!!!

I know I've already mentioned the joys of breakfast quinoa on here, but this really took the cake!  Here's what you need for one serving:
-1 cup vanilla soy milk (or any other dairy substitute)
-1/2 cup quinoa
-sprinkle of cinnamon
-1/2 Tbsp. Earth Balance buttery spread (doesn't that sound terrifying?!  actually, it tastes just like butter and       there's nothing weird in it either)
-1 Tbsp. brown sugar
-1 banana, sliced

Okay, in a sauce pan, bring your soy milk to a boil.  Then add your quinoa and cover.  Reduce the heat to low and let cook for 15 minutes.  Next sprinkle in a little cinnamon, recover, and finish cooking on low for about 8 more minutes.

In the mean time, add your "butter spread" and brown sugar to a saute pan, and let them get nice and bubbly and a little thick before adding your sliced banana in an even layer.  After a minute or so, flip your banana slices and revel at the beautiful caramelization!  Yum!!!  Then just top your quinoa with your bananas, and you have the most deliciously comforting breakfast or dessert you could ever hope for!

February 14, 2012

Vietnamese Barbeque Pork Noodle Bowls!

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this lately, but I have the best boyfriend in the world.  I haven’t been doing too well this past week, and William hasn’t left my side.  Running errands, cooking meals, cleaning my apartment, he is the best nurse anyone could ever wish for.  No, we don’t have Valentine’s plans.  We’re actually not too big on presents for birthdays or Christmas and especially not for Valentine’s Day.  Not only are we broke twenty-somethings, but we’d also rather spend our little money on trips to Asheville, Charleston, or Nashville.  Instead, I am requesting his amazing Vietnamese barbeque pork noodles bowls for our Valentine’s dinner.  Yes, he just made this two days ago, but I really can’t get enough of this. 
            First, cut a pork chop or two into long, thin strips, and marinate it in soy sauce, a splash of rice vinegar, a pinch each of star anise and cinnamon, a good bit of cayenne, minced garlic and shallot, ginger, several splashes of fish sauce, and a little white sugar.  It’s good to let this sit for a few hours. 
            SIDE NOTE:  Fish sauce is scary, especially if you’re not used to cooking with it.  It smells Terrible, and our brain naturally associates bad smells with bad tastes, but don’t let the smell deter you!  Fish sauce is a classic flavor in Vietnamese cooking, and they know how to do it right.  So plug your nose and cook away!
            Time to get cooking!  Wrap the pork and a little of its marinade in tin foil and cook in a 250 (this is not a typo!) oven for 1 ½ to 2 hours.  While the pork is cooking, fix your “nuoc chan” or noodle sauce.  Combine fish sauce, white sugar, rice vinegar, and a little water in a small saucepan and let it slightly reduce.
            When the pork is almost done, boil water and pour it over a big bowl of rice noodles.  Let this sit until the noodles are soft.  Then drop them in a bath of ice water to cool them off.  Drain and set aside.  The last step is to brown your cooked pork in a very hot pan with a little oil.  This will just give it a nice crunchy crust.  Mmmmm, maillard reaction!  Toss everything together and top with thin slices of cucumber, carrot, cilantro, basil, and crunchy lettuce. 
            This is SOOO delicious!  I know the whole thing sounds a little odd, but you have to give it a shot.  It really is incredible.  And Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

February 12, 2012

Football Feast

William and I are not big football fans, but I personally have always loved the Super Bowl...because of the food.  Bill and I made our favorite football foods and ate them while we watched reruns of 30 Rock.  Here's what we made.

Guacamole:  an oldie but a goody.  Avocado, onion, tomato, cilantro, lime, cumin, red pepper.  Yum!

Fried Chicken:  this was a masterpiece!!!  William said he likes it better than normal fried chicken.
        In a food processor, grind 5 or 6 corn tortillas until they look like corn meal, but don't go too far or you'll have a paste.  Set aside in a shallow bowl.  Fill two other bowls--one with cornstarch and one with a well beaten egg.  Set these bowls aside while you cut 2 chicken breasts into tenders.  In a large heavy pan, heat up enough oil to cover the entire bottom of the pan.  Then start breading!  Cornstarch, egg, ground tortillas.  Then just fry them in the oil.  Easy, easy, and incredibly crunchy and delicious!  We dipped ours into hot sauce and loved it.

So it's not the healthiest of menus, but who cares?!  Super Bowl only comes but once a year.

February 5, 2012

Back on Track!

            One of my best friends, Kelsey, recently got diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  Kelsey and I worked together in Clemson, but we really became friends because of our illnesses.  When we met, both of us had been sick for years, and neither of us had been diagnosed.  We seemed to bond over everything:  how our teachers thought we were faking it, how our doctors thought it was all in our heads, how are boyfriends were sweet and stuck by our sides, and most of all, how hard it was to deal with an illness that could shift suddenly from day to day. 
You never know how you’re going to feel when you wake up.  Some days you feel almost normal.  It’s an amazing feeling—you can do anything!  Maybe you’re getting better!  Maybe you’re always going to feel like this!  But on these days, you invariably do too much, and by the end of the day you’re a wreck.  Other days, you are certain that it’s impossible to get out of bed.  On these days, you spend half of your time in the bathtub, usually with a cup of tea or, more realistically, a cup of tequila. 
The key for people with a chronic illness is to make a schedule and stick to it.  Everyday.  No matter what.  On good days, don’t do too much.  On bad days, get the hell out of the bath and maybe even put on a little mascara.  I’m finally settling into my schedule.  I wake up around 8, go for a walk, do some yoga.  I eat breakfast and write and look for jobs.  I play my guitar, hang out with William, and finally go to work around 1:30.  After work, I cook dinner, get in bed by 10, and read a book, something positive.  I’m one of those people who needs a lot of positive reinforcement. 
Kelsey has her schedule too, and you know what?  We’re actually pulling it together.  Yes, some days are still hard, but we’re sticking to our schedules and growing stronger everyday.  We’re eating well and exercising and encouraging each other, and we’re both doing really well.

What I’ve Been Eating:

Nuts and berries
Apples and peanut butter
More tacos
….I’ve really got to get back to cooking!

January 31, 2012

School Lunch

I’ve recently started working at an elementary school’s after school program.  I am the 2nd and 3rd grade leader, in charge of 22 extremely rambunctious kids who have been sitting quietly for seven and a half straight hours and certainly aren’t about to be quiet for one minute more.  The job is challenging but rewarding even though some days I’m “the meanest person EVER!” referring back to the whole trying to stay somewhat quiet thing. 
Last week, I asked some of the kids what they had had for lunch that day.  The vote was split:  “Pizza!” “Nachos!” When I laughed and said that that must have been a pretty fun lunch, they just shrugged their shoulders.  “Nah, it wasn’t very good,” they replied.  Really?!  We’re serving them nachos and pizza, and it’s not even good by an 8-year-old’s standards?!  Now I would love to talk about the fact that Congress just decided to consider the tomato sauce on school pizza to count as a vegetable, but instead I’ll just tell you about what I used to eat at school:  Lucy lunches.
I think Lucy was my friend in preschool, although I couldn’t tell you for certain, because the only thing I remember about Lucy was that she had the best lunches.  Most kids took sandwiches in their lunch boxes, mainly peanut butter and jelly.  Lucy on the other hand never had sandwiches.  She always had a mix match of smaller items:  apples slices, tortilla chips, carrot sticks, string cheese.  I don’t know what about this was so exciting, but it is still to this day my favorite type of lunch.  Not only was it fun, but it was healthy!  And she and I both Loved our lunches, which is more than my kids could say about nachos and pizza. 

What I’ve Been Eating

Chinese New Year’s Dinner:  White rice with stir-fried bok choy, carrots, and spring onions and fried shrimp with spicy garlic honey glaze.  This was Amazing!

Sushi:  Veggie rolls made with cucumber, carrot, and avocado.

Breakfast Quinoa:  Bring ½ cup of quinoa, 1 cup of vanilla almond milk, a cardamom pod, and sprinkle of cinnamon to a boil.  Then cover and reduce to a simmer for about 15 minutes or until the quinoa is translucent.  Serve hot with a little brown sugar.  The perfect thing to fulfill that oatmeal craving!  (Celiac Fact:  Less than 2% of people with celiac disease react to oats, but with my track record, I’m not taking my chances!)

January 16, 2012

The Definition Is...

The FDA is still having a hard time determining what “gluten free” means, and while I normally wouldn’t side with such a ridiculous government organization, I have to say I can’t blame them.  This is becoming a bigger and bigger problem in the US. 
Every time we eat packaged foods, we are putting our well being in the hands of food companies, trusting that they are telling us everything we need to know about the product.  The Washington Post recently explained that many companies are not even testing whether or not their “gluten free” foods have gluten in them, while other companies are testing their products, confirming that gluten is present, and STILL labeling them gluten free!  Are you kidding?!  It’s time for the FDA to crack down on this.  In fact, the decision on defining gluten free was supposed to be completed in 2008, but here we are in 2012 still waiting for an answer. 
Currently 20 ppm or less of gluten is considered gluten free and GRAS (generally recognized as safe) for people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease.  Once the FDA starts enforcing strict testing for gluten free products, that is the standard they will have to meet.  Unfortunately, the severity of my celiac disease causes me to react to only 2 ppm.  So what’s the answer here?  Buy gluten free products produced in Canada.  They have much stricter regulations than we do and make some damn good muffins.

January 7, 2012

Down and Out

Recently while I was listening to Regina Spektor, one of my all time favorite singer/songwriters, I heard a line that I hadn’t noticed before:  “The genius next door was bussing tables.”  And I realized that’s where I am right now…except at least that genius has a job.  Ok, I’m not saying that I’m a genius, but I am quite smart.  I graduated with a great degree from a great university, and here I am sitting in my apartment, sick as a dog, jobless, and I’ll admit a little hopeless right now.
 My celiac symptoms aren’t getting better yet, and my compromised immune system is causing all kinds of other problems.  Today I had to wander outside to buy chicken broth for my cold, yogurt for my antibiotics, and ginger ale for the vomiting that my antibiotics are causing.  I bought all of this while hobbling around the grocery on my cane because my celiac induced vertigo is back.  Let me tell you, I looked like a mess!
But don’t feel bad for me (and trust me, you won’t once you finish this sentence) because I just got back from Fiji!  That’s right, Fiji, the tropical island on the other side of the world.  William’s all too generous aunt and uncle invited me to join them along with William and his two brothers for a week in tropical paradise.  The five of them spent most of their days scuba diving, while I sun bathed, went to the spa, and sipped alcoholic drinks from coconuts.  As it turns out, Fiji is the perfect place for people with celiac disease or dairy allergies seeing as the majority of their food consists of fruit and fish.  Everything I had there was delicious!
So now back in my apartment in cold, gray Boone, I’m looking at pictures from the trip, admiring my extra freckles in the middle of winter, and realizing that maybe all of this is going to work itself out after all.

What I've Been Cooking:

Chicken Broth:  combine various chicken pieces or a whole chicken to a stock pot along with carrots, celery, onions, garlic, peppercorns, parsley, thyme, and salt.  Cover with water and let simmer away until chicken is cooked through.  Strain and you're done.  I like to freeze mine in muffin tins so I can heat up an individual serving when I'm feeling sick or add some to sauces.