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Well, it’s been almost a week, and I feel I owe you an update on the gluten-free experiment.  The trouble is that there hasn’t been any actual cooking around here.   The boy and I have both been feeling icky, which means that the boy has been eating a lot of fast food and frozen pizza, and I’ve been eating a lot of cobbled together meals (usually involving corn chips: corn chips and hummus, corn chips and guacamole, etc.).  On Sunday the boy cooked us a gluten-free meal of chicken and brown rice with a tomato and zucchini sauce.  I was so excited to blog about it: the main thing the boy cooks is spaghetti, so the from-scratch gluten-free meal was quite an achievement.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t wonderful.  It wasn’t awful, and we both ate it, but it just wasn’t what he was aiming for, so I’ll wait and post it when he’s perfected it.

Other than that, there hasn’t been a lot of real food going on here.  And I’ve been eating a lot of rabbity food.  And lots and lots of potatoes.  This is kind of the central conundrum of going gluten-free for me.  Given plenty of energy to grocery shop and cook, I feel like I could manage at least my 2 week trial without much trouble.  The problem is when a 10 minute drive to the grocery store seems utterly overwhelming and exhausting.  The 20 minute drive to Whole Foods – impossible.   Actually cooking real food??  No way.   Sigh.  Oh well.  If this works, and makes me feel better, then I will have energy to cook.

In addition to all of this, I’ve managed to make the whole experiment more difficult for myself.  I decided that I would not buy any specialty versions of staples: no GF flour mixes, no replacing all my standard sauces and seasonings with GF versions.  My theory was that if it works, then I’ll have time to go and buy all that stuff.  On the other hand, if it doesn’t work, what’s the point of having a bunch of GF stuff?  Plus, I had smugly told myself, “How hard could it be?”  Ahh, arrogance…how you always return to bite me in my smug ass.

Today the plan is to (despite all my resolutions) make a quick bombing-run style trip to Whole Foods, and get a few things to make my life a bit easier for the next week.  Also, I’ve heard Betty Crocker makes a GF brownie mix…this might require investigation.

Eat well!

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I should preface all of this with one statement: I love gluten.  I love all things gluten-y.  When I roast a chicken, I look forward to making a stew out of the leftovers, just to that I can top it with a crust or pour it over biscuits.  When I make soup, I always imagine it mostly as something to dip crusty bread in.  I love baking bread, I love the smell of it, and the act of kneading.

This morning is the beginning of my gluten-free trial.  I have been tested for celiac’s disease, with negative results.  But, my doctor has suggested that cutting out gluten might make a big difference in my symptoms. She says she has many patients with negative test results who see a huge difference when they go gluten-free.  Sigh.  I’ve been putting this off for a very long time.  My excuse wasn’t entirely made up – I was waiting until I reached some stable place with my medications and symptoms.  Well, it’s time to stop waiting.  I have to tell you, the last month or two have not been so good.  Before Christmas, I was doing pretty well.  I was swimming 2-3 times per week, I was working consistently on my dissertation, and I was generally feeling well.  Based on all this fabulous progress, we (doctor, husband, me) decided to decrease my methotrexate dose, hoping that a lower dose would still maintain the progress I’d made.  It didn’t work out so well.  Even after increasing the dose again, things have not evened out.  Just a reminder that Behcet’s and my body don’t mess around.  And they don’t really care if I’m months behind on my dissertation (years if we’re being honest, but let’s not do that).  So, to sum up: lots of mouth sores, lots of pain, and lots of fatigue and brain fog.  All of this adds up to going gluten-free.  I hope it works…and I kind of hope it doesn’t.

The morning, and the trial, started with peanut butter and chocolate flavored children’s cereal, so it’s not all bad.  I have blueberry waffles in the freezer, also gluten-free.  I have an enormous bag of brown rice in the pantry.  Oh, and the freezer still has probably 30 lbs of zucchini, tomatoes, and bell peppers from last summer’s out of control garden.

The reality is that a gluten-free trial of 2 or 3 weeks should not be that difficult.  If the gluten-free diet actually works though, I have no illusions that it will be easy to maintain indefinitely.  But, if it made me not hurt?  If I could focus for more than 30 minutes at a time?  If it allowed me to decrease my meds?  It would be worth it…but I will miss the biscuits and pastry.

I’d be infinitely grateful for any tasty (preferably wintery, cozy) gluten-free recipes you might have.   Eat well!

Oh my gosh!  Has it really been over a month since I posted?  Well, I never said I was reliable.  But, when I come back, I come back with something good.

I first had a Thai curry at a tiny little restaurant in the Grandview neighborhood of Columbus, OH.  A friend and I had just finished a wonderful yoga class at It’s Yoga! and were ravenous.  We went in search of chinese food, and found this tiny place just called “Chinese Restaurant.”  When we went inside, low and behold, they had Chinese food, but they were clearly a Thai family and they had many Thai dishes on the menu.  I got a coconut chicken curry, and my life has never been the same.

I should say, I do not do spicy foods.  I like them, but I have almost no tolerance for spicy things.  What can I say, I was raised on British food.  So, although the kind owners of the restaurant assured me that they made it “not spicy” for me, it was very, very spicy.  The first version I made at home was also very, very spicy.  I’ve since toned down the spice.

The original of this is cooked like a soup (with the chicken simmered in the coconut mixture), and served with rice.  I’ve also done this with fillets of fish in packets: just layer al dente rice, fish, and veggies, ladle sauce over and seal.  Bake or grill until fish is cooked (time will vary based on type of fish and size of fillet).  This weekend I marinated kabobs with chicken, sweet potato, bell pepper, onion, cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms in the same sauce.

However you serve it, you absolutely must serve it with tomatoes.  I don’t even like tomatoes that much, but little cherry or grape tomatoes simmered in this sauce are to die for!  When I’m using this for kabobs or a packet style meal, I just whisk everything together in a measuring cup and don’t simmer it.

Spicy Thai Coconut Curry Sauce
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp red curry paste (adjust according to taste; beware, heat intensifies as it cooks)
1 cup chicken broth
1 can coconut milk
1 lb chicken breast tenders, thinly sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 Tbs. fresh basil, torn or chopped

Combine ginger, garlic and curry paste in a medium saucepan.  Heat over medium heat until fragrant.  Add chicken broth and coconut milk.  Bring to a simmer.  Add chicken or other protein, simmer until cooked.  Add cherry tomatoes, simmer another 5-10 minutes.  Remove from heat, add fresh basil.  Serve with rice.

You know (or maybe you don’t, but I’ll tell you) how wordpress logs all kinds of fun info about how people find blogs and what search terms sent people to your site?  Well, they do, and it’s a great way to procrastinate.  I could spend hours looking at my stats and thinking about what I should add based on what people are looking at. 

Anyway – I saw a very interesting search that sent someone to my site.  The query was: “can you cook roast beef without foil.”  This made me realize that I didn’t give traditional cooking instructions with my roast beef recipe.  I assumed that everyone knew the traditional way, and so I just offered my revised version.  But then I realized that not everyone spends 95% of their time thinking about food, and not everyone grew up in a household that held roast beef in such high regard.  Whatever the reason, this oversight on my part must be remedied!

YES!  You can cook a roast without foil.  I use foil for 2 reasons: 1)I’m lazy, and foil makes for easier clean up, and 2)it keeps the juices around the meat, infusing more of the meat with yummy flavor and making it more uniformly tender.  That said, I have gotten great results using a more traditional method.  Traditionally, since you’d sear the meat on all sides and then saute some aromatics, you would use a large dutch oven (or other heavy pan with a tightly fitting lid).  I’ve used this method with my version of roast beef and it works just fine.  If you choose this option, you should choose a vessel with the smallest possible diameter in relation to your roast.  This way the liquid will cover more of the roast.  (again, if you were making a traditional roast this would be different, since you’d want a slightly larger pan for the searing).  If you don’t have a dutch oven (I highly recommend an enamel coated cast iron one, it’s a great investment and there are lots of inexpensive alternatives to the expensive name brand), you can use a roaster with a lid, a casserole with a lid, a soup pot, etc, etc.  Just keep in mind that the wider the vessel, the shallower the liquid will be around your roast. 

So, go, free yourself from aluminum foil!  Or, you could invest in some foil and a disposable foil roaster and free yourself of dishes almost completely!  (I do this on holidays when I’m going to have a lot of people and a lot of stuff to do, and soaking and scrubbing a pot is the last thing I want to waste energy on). 

Hello again!  I just got back from a whirlwind visit with family.  I met my sister and my mom at my Aunt’s house in the Detroit area.  I’ll be honest – I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the visit ahead of time – I hadn’t been feeling great, I was tired, I’m up against some deadlines, all the normal life-gets-in-the-way stuff.  But, aside from the warm welcome and hugs all around, I was immediately glad I went.

When I walked in the door of my aunt’s house (she just bought it and redid the whole place, it looks amazing), and immediately smelled cake.  I’d barely taken off my coat and sat down when she told me it was Grandma Sally’s chocolate cake…which I’ve been dreaming about since I blogged the recipe.  This started an animated 4-way conversation.  It was sparked by my aunt apologizing for the cake – she said it didn’t look like grandma’s or my mom’s, and that she’d used a cake mix and only made the frosting from scratch.  This prompted my sister to ask (urgently, we’re a family that takes dessert seriously) if my cake comes out looking like my mom’s.  I admitted that it doesn’t – all the frosting tends to run down around the edges of the cake, rather than sitting on top.  My sister said hers does the same thing, and it’s because my mom “overcooks” her frosting and lets the cake sit longer than she told us in our versions of the recipe (and she pokes the cake with a toothpick to let the steam out).  This of course let to my mom loudly defending herself, her baking, and her recipe passing skills.  The whole debate ended with laughter and chocolate cake all around. 

This entire exchange, which probably took only 10 minutes of the 24 hours I was with my family, reminded me why I love food so  much.  Sure, there’s the flavors, textures, smells, and appearances of food that are so powerful and captivating.  But, more importantly for me, food creates and evokes memories, laughter, and love.  If you think this sounds cheesy, you’re not alone.  As I write it, it seems cheesy to me too.  But it also seems true.  I remember my favorite events, places, and people through food.  I can conjure up the feelings of those people and places by recreating the food.  After my grandmother passed, I found myself making her cake or her meat and potato pie every time I thought of her.  It made me happier, and brought back memories.  My husband and I occasionally have a dinner made up of cheese, bread, dry sausage, and wine.  This immediately transports us back to our trip to Europe, dining in cafes in Paris and Vevey. 

The greatest thing about all of this, is that the food doesn’t have to be fancy or fussy.  Proust had it right with his image of madeleines and tea: The simplest foods are often the most powerful – saltines with butter and jelly bring back a perfectly clear image my grandma and papa’s kitchen in Tennessee, with Papa spreading the toppings on the crackers and handing them out to us.  It wasn’t anything special to him at the time – it was probably his attempt to pacify two young girls with big appetites until grandma returned home from the store – but to me that simple snack always brings back a warm fuzzy memory. 

Wishing you fond memories old and new –

RR

(and promising more recipes soon)

For those of you who are just here for the food (to quote my beloved Alton Brown), feel free not to read on.  But, the fact is, this blog is going to be about more than my food, it will also be about why I crave, avoid, need, etc certain foods.  So, if you’re on board for all that, carry on.

I can’t be certain, but I think that until about 6 months ago, I was an intelligent person.  I’m getting my Ph.D., I’ve been writing a dissertation, I managed to snag an engineer (no slow-poke that one), and I generally get most of the jokes on the Simpsons (yes, I do believe that this is a good measure of intelligence).  Then, I started to get dumb.  Well, first I started to get sleepy, and dumb followed after.  I guess I should start from the beginning.

Last spring my husband and I started backpacking, first just as an experiment, with rented equipment.  Then we bought our own stuff, started planning longer trips, etc.  By the end of the summer, we were doing extended (for novices) hikes.  I say this mainly to establish that, while I am an academic and a foodie, and therefore prone to be a little “squishy,” I was relatively healthy.  I was able to hike 6-12 miles in a day with a 30lb pack.  I started to lift weights and do additional cardio at the gym so that I could up my endurance.  This is when the problems started.  First, my hands started to hurt.  I attributed this to the weight lifting – after all, I’d only been hiking and such, not really doing and arm or hand work.  Plus, it was just a little discomfort in my fingers, so I figured it would work itself out.  Then, on a longish hike, one of my fingers became so swollen, stiff, and sore, that I couldn’t bend it.  My husband had to buckle my hip belt, adjust my straps, and tie my shoes for me.  By the end of that day, my toes were also swollen.  Over the next week, one ankle swelled so much that my ankle bone (on the inside) became just an indentation.  It was so painful to the touch that I couldn’t wear shoes, and could barely wear socks.  I assumed that I’d strained or twisted something, so went to the urgent care.  There, they did an x-ray and I was pronounced relatively sound.  They figured it was a tendon strain and it would go away. 

Of course, by now you can guess that it didn’t go away.  I went to my GP and she gave me a course of prednisone.  I mentioned the hand pain, which had continued to get worse (by this point I couldn’t type), and the fatigue (I was falling asleep at my desk at work – and I have a really uncomfortable desk, and having trouble staying awake while driving).  She decided to run some blood tests.  They came back showing some inflammation and some other things that made her nervous, so she referred me to a rheumatologist.

 Thus began my round of specialist visits.  I was still feeling terrible.  My joints were swollen, red, painful, and stiff.  My feet and hands were swollen (I couldn’t wear my wedding rings anymore), and I was constantly tired.  The first rheumatologist did lots of tests and a thorough exam, but continued to tell me that all my symptoms could just be “overexertion.”  This despite the fact that I’d stopped all physical activity (I could barely go to work, let alone do 30 minutes of cardio), and everything continued to get worse.  I went to a second rheumatologist who actually listened to me, and began treatment. 

So, here I am.  I’ve been diagnosed with undifferentiated connective tissue disease, which is an autoimmune disease that doesn’t quite have enough specific symptoms to be classified as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.  I’m on a bunch of medication, and I still feel like an 80 year old woman most days.  And, to return to the issue of intelligence, I don’t feel that I’ve had anything resembling a clear thought in 6 months.    My experience has led me to re-examine what I put into my body (a lot of the things I’ve been doing in the last year probably contributed to triggering my disease: allergy injections, birth control, etc).  As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m really trying to eat more healthfully.  I try to avoid foods that are known to have inflammatory properties (hence the links to the vegan and gluten-free sites….I’m going to try going gluten free, but I really, really like gluteny things!).  And I’m trying to be better about self-medicating with food.  But, let’s be honest.  Look at my header – I love chocolate, I love baked goods, and I have always, always found comfort in food.  So, I’m trying, but I’m not aiming for complete change.  Maybe gradual evolution? 

 If you made it this far, thanks for reading.  If you’re having similar symptoms, please see your doctor.  Trust your own sense of your body – you know yourself better than any doctor. 

Happy, healthy eating all!

P.S. as of this post, I’ve developed painless sores in my mouth…this likely points to lupus (I think?).  I’m not sure if that makes me sad, relieved, or what.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve recently been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.  They’re not quite sure which one yet, so I’m currently labeled “undifferentiated connective tissue disease.”  Well, last night I got to experience one of the paradoxical symptoms.  So, one of the main symptoms of any autoimmune disease is overwhelming fatigue (not just being tired, being so exhausted that you feel like every part of you is weighted with lead…some days drying my hair makes me want to crawl back into bed).  If you go on rheumatological websites, they also list sleeplessness, or poor sleep as a common symptom (along with arthritis, muscle aches, headaches, etc, etc, etc).  I always thought this was crazy talk.  Since I’ve been sick, all I’ve been really good at doing is sleeping.  Well, as of last night, I realized that these two things really can co-exist.  I was absolutely exhausted, but couldn’t sleep.  I did all my tricks for when I’ve been unable to sleep in the past (this has never been a big problem for me; I’m a champion sleeper).  No good.  I ended up finally forcing myself back to bed around 1am and tossing and turning for awhile longer before finally falling asleep.

 So, you say, “Sorry to hear about your luck…but what does this have to do with food?”  I understand, no offense taken.  This is, after all, a food blog.  Well, in my late-night wanderings, I experienced another first: a desire to raid the fridge.  I have never been a late-night snack person.  I’ve never woken up with the urge to get up and get something to eat.  I wake up with the urge to burrow deeper under the covers and go back to sleep.  But, last night I found myself awake and hungry.  Alright, hungry isn’t quite the right word for it.  I wantedto eat…and I was, maybe, slightly hungry.  I wandered around, found nothing satisfactory or appetizing, and ended up eating….a spoonful of peanut butter. That’s right.  Peanut butter.  Not on anything, not with anything, just a spoonful.  Ok, two spoonfuls. 

So, given this pathetic revelation, I have a request: does anyone have any great, late-night snacks that they just love?  Could you share them with me?  I’m hoping this will not be an ongoing problem, but I’d like to be prepared just in case. 

P.S.  I tried to take a picture for dramatic effect…but found out that peanut butter is singularly unphotogenic.  It really looks disgusting – which adds an extra layer of desperation to this plea.

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