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The symptomatology of a glutening June 2, 2014

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I’m going to be traveling later this week, and I realized that I am slightly terrified after having a bad ‘glutening’ over a week ago.  I went to Jimmy John’s and ordered a gluten-free unwich.  Then, without thinking, I asked them to add extra lettuce.  The extra lettuce came from a bin into which people wearing contaminated gloves had been sticking their hands.

It was awful.

The first thing I noticed was during a run the next morning.  A couple friends and I were doing an 8-miler (and that’s a good thing to have friends for because it’s a LONG run without them).  My hand was really starting to hurt, and I asked them if their hands ever swell up while running.  Both of them said, “Yep,” and I didn’t think much more about it…until the next morning, when I couldn’t get up.  In fact, I spent three days unable to get out of bed because of crushing fatigue and horrible brain fog.  I desperately wanted to get up, but even when I managed it, I would do something inconsequential, become exhausted, and not be able to focus on anything anyway.  And pain all over my body.  Not achiness, like the flu, but pain and swelling.  GI symptoms started two days later.  And then a week after that, with still swollen hands, I developed a rash (probably dermatitis herpetiformes (DH)…I still have purple marks) all over my right wrist with a couple spots on my hand.  At first I thought it was poison ivy, but I hadn’t been anyplace where I would get it, and the rash was too diffuse.

I had this fantasy that maybe, once I’d been off gluten for a while, the reactions wouldn’t be so severe.  I was wrong and they’re actually worse.  (While I had skin problems most of my life until getting rid of the gluten, the DH is something entirely new.)  I am terrified something like this will happen on a trip and I’ll be laid up the entire time.

This is me after a glutening. I don't think this would work well at a professional conference.

This is me after a glutening. I don’t think this would work well at a professional conference.

On the up side, it really does make me appreciate how much better I feel the 99% of the time I have managed to avoid gluten.  I like not feeling sick and exhausted and brain dead all the time.

Traveling off the wheaten path April 20, 2014

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One thing I discovered pretty quickly is that I am incredibly sensitive to even small amounts of wheat/gluten.  I am finding that this makes traveling with celiac disease a lot more challenging than I ever anticipated.  It is also frustrating as one of my favorite parts of traveling used to be finding all the cool places to eat.

Unfortunately, travel seems to have become a fairly regular thing for me now, so I’m having to get used to it.

I’m learning some things that help.  First, I have to either be sure there are places I can eat that are reliably gluten-free, or I have to get a hotel room with a kitchen.  (I’ve become a fan of places that end in “Suites.”)  I’ve also discovered that Whole Foods and Trader Joes are my favorite pairs of words when I travel (although probably Whole Foods, moreso).  Planning ahead is pretty vital.

The gist of it is that a trip that involves me driving usually involves me packing a bunch of food to bring along, maybe even a cooler.  If I’m flying, which was the case earlier this month, I have to have a hotel room with a kitchen and a rental car to go pick up food.  I also then have to find this balance between having the right food and not overdoing it so that I don’t leave food to feed an army in the fridge when I leave.

So what do I eat?

I usually do sausage (assuming I can find a safe brand) and scrambled eggs with peppers for breakfast.  Lunch involves salad with chicken (I can usually find precooked breasts or sandwich meat, although I will cook it myself in a pinch) or hardboiled eggs.  For sides, I like baby carrots, and I can even make a very simplistic potato salad fairly easily.  I’m finding there are a lot of packet sizes of things like coconut oil or other stuff that comes in handy as condiments.  If I need something that I can’t get in packets, I just try to buy the smallest available size.

I usually find a place for dinner, but if not, there are options in the frozen foods like fish sticks or corn dogs (with more salad and carrots, of course).  I’m always relieved when there’s a PF Changs nearby.  We don’t have one in Fargo, so not only do I get my Chinese fix, I can do it without any gluten.  And cookies…there are gluten free cookies out there.

Though it’s not the best, I also have a stash of M&Ms or something similar with me…because it’s a good idea in case schedules or something get off.  (While I don’t usually get sick any more, I can’t say I feel the best if I overdo it on snack foods.)

Believe it or not, I pack a few ziploc bags, a lunch box, and a blue ice pack into my suitcase.  I stuff the lunch box full of food before I leave the hotel room.  I imagine I look pretty sporting hauling it around with me (it’s a soft-sided, purple and pink box), but it at least removes the temptation to eat anything that could be dangerous.  And it’s better than spending half the trip sick in the hotel room…or coming back very sick.

The biggest inconvenience is the time it takes.  Going to conferences can be rather tiring, and some days are very long.  If I can get there a day ahead of time, I can do a bunch of shopping and prepare food, which makes it easier.  I also go through and rewash all the dishes by hand before I use them, just in case someone didn’t do a thorough job and there are crumbs or other things on there.  (I imagine this is a good idea, either way.)

I’m getting more practiced at this and finding that it’s not as difficult now that I’m getting better at it.  I don’t even get too many comments about my lunch box any more.

3 Karrot Gluten-Free Muffins February 23, 2014

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(Note: I’ve made a couple changes since I originally posted this.  It produces much fluffier muffins, and fluffy muffins are good in my book.)


I could tell you what I’ve been up to lately, but it’s pretty much the same thing I’ve been up to for the past year and a half: I’m either working on a paper or a proposal…although now and again I’m trying to help my student out.  But really, it’s kind of getting silly to say this as it hardly changes.

I have, however, been spending a lot of time perfecting my carrot cake recipe.  One day, a few weeks ago, I had this horrid craving for carrot cake.  The problem I have is that a lot of gluten-free food in general tastes pretty awful: I haven’t had one I like yet.  Second, even if I did like them, most mixes I come across are not FODMAPs friendly…meaning they have some ingredient or other that will make me sick.  (If you’re not sure what this is, you can read about it here.)  Finally, I try, as much as possible, to eat paleo.  Unfortunately, FODMAPS friendly paleo foods are rather tough to come by.  Most use nuts or coconut flour (or taste even worse than the run-of-the-mill gluten-free foods), so those are out.

I decided I had to come up with something myself.  I added the condition that my friends who eat ‘normal’ diets must enjoy eating it, too.  I am pretty sure this one succeeded.  I also tried, very hard, to make it mostly carrots.  I don’t think I succeeded, but I did manage to at least balance the carrot to flour ratio…it’s much better than the standard 3:1 flour to carrot ratio in most recipes.  (Most carrot cake, in my opinion, is just spice cake pretending to be healthier than it is.)   I am aware that most people don’t consider sugar or brown sugar to be paleo, but those, along with molasses, are the only FODMAPs-friendly sweeteners I can handle.

I’ve finally perfected my recipe, so I’ll share it below.  I’m very excited because it’s one of the very few baked goods I’ve made lately that I can actually eat myself.  I will warn you that it’s really a pain to make, but it’s totally worth it.  However, I’m quite serious when I say not to deviate from the instructions.  As much as I love kitchen short-cuts, you don’t want to just throw everything in the food processor and call it good.

And one last note: while you may want to try substitutions, be very careful about maintaining the moisture balance in these muffins.  I learned the hard way (and repeatedly) that one little change can leave you with hockey pucks or mushy gunk in short order.  Therefore, this recipe won’t work if you decide to throw honey in for the brown sugar.  You CAN get away with 1/4 c. of a dry sweetener instead, like palm sugar or raw cane sugar, if you want to try something else.

If you do make changes, please let me know so that I can pass them on to anyone else who is interested.


3 Karrot Muffins

Makes about 12 muffins.


  • 11-12 oz. fresh raw peeled carrots
  • 2/3 c. dehydrated carrot (make sure it’s not processed on the same equipment as wheat…I buy them online)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 c. potato starch
  • 1/3 c. tapioca flour
  • 1/3 c. sweet rice flour
  • 1/4 c. white rice flour
  • 1/4-1/3 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 c. coconut oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Optional cream cheese ‘filling’

  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tsp. coconut oil
  • 2 tsp. sweetener (sugar, maple syrup, whatever)

I’m going to start with the cream cheese filling: you don’t have to do it.  If you’d like to do it, there’s an easy way and a harder way.  The easy way is just to cut your 4 oz of cream cheese into 12 chunks of the same size.  It tends to dry and crack a bit though, so the harder way is to blend the cream cheese and coconut oil (and sweetener, if you want some) in a small bowl using a mixer.  This will have a nicer texture and look nicer, but it doesn’t really taste much different.  Put it in the fridge for later.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Mix the eggs and dried carrots in a separate bowl.  Set aside.  Leave this sitting for a while.  In essence, you’re using your eggs to rehydrate the dried ones.

While waiting for the carrots to rehydrate, add the following dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl:  potato starch, tapioca flour, sweet rice flour, white rice flour, brown sugar, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt.  Combine thoroughly.

Place the raw carrots in a food processor or blender (if it’s a really good blender) and run until the carrots are finely chopped.  (By finely chopped, I mean ‘not quite a puree but as close as the machine can get.’)  Next add the dried carrots and egg mixture.  The eggs should whip up and give the mixture a lighter orange color, and it should look like a puree.   (Note: don’t shortcut and throw it all in the food processor at once unless your machine is VERY good.  I tried that and ended up with a serving of baked carrots in the middle of a couple of muffins.)

Before you take the next step, get your muffin pan ready.  I generally like to use foil muffin papers for these as they seem to soak through paper liners.  I also suspect the foil liners do a better job of baking the muffins evenly.

Add the coconut oil, vanilla extract, and lemon juice to the food processor and run again.  Add contents of the food processor to the bowl of dry ingredients and combine thoroughly.  I usually just use a large spoon to do this as the mixture seems awfully thick for a mixer.  Divide batter evenly between muffin liners.

If you’re using the cream cheese (mixture), add about 2 tsp. to each muffin.  Make sure to press it down into the batter a bit.  I don’t recommend making divots in the muffins as it seems to create big air bubbles.

Bake for 25 min.  Let cool for a couple hours at room temp before serving (even though they smell incredible).  Because of the raw carrots, these put off a lot of moisture and need to be cooled properly.

Recipe Double Header: Maple-whipped sweet potatoes and gluten-free sweet potato pancakes January 1, 2014

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The other day, Mike and I were eating at one of our favorite local restaurants (i.e., one of maybe five that is celiac-friendly and hasn’t tried to kill me yet), I tried a new dish: maple-whipped sweet potatoes.  We both fell in love with it, and so I’ve made it a couple times at home.  It’s super easy.  Also…it might be paleo, depending on your feelings on maple syrup.

The best part of making these is that I usually make large enough quantities that there are leftovers.  Some people I know think, “Yay! Leftovers!”  I personally think, “Yay! Pancakes!”  Some people think that’s too much work.  However, given I cringe every time I watch my kids dump a half gallon of maple syrup on pancakes, these are sweet enough (in my opinion) to avoid syrup altogether…unless you’re younger son who still thinks they need syrup.  A pat of butter is nice, though.  So far, everyone in the house seems to like them.

Mom! He's not sharing!

Mom! He’s not sharing!

Maple-whipped sweet potatoes

2 lbs. of sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

3 tbsp. coconut oil

1/4 cup. maple syrup OR 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tbsp water, 2 tsp maple extract

Toss the sweet potatoes in the cinnamon, nutmeg, and coconut oil.  There’s two ways you can do this, depending on the time you have.  You can throw them in the crockpot (low for 5 hrs, high for 3 hrs) or bake in a covered dish at 350°F for one hour.  I prefer the crockpot method as they always seem more moist, but if you’re in a hurry, you’ve got options.  Once they’re done cooking, let cool for 5-10 minutes, then put them in a large mixing bowl with the maple syrup.  Use a hand mixer and blend until smooth and creamy.  (Whether you’re doing this with the brown sugar mixture or maple syrup, you may need to add water, a tablespoon at a time, to get it creamy.)

Serves 8.

Sweet potato pancakes

1 lb. maple whipped sweet potatoes

1/4 cup tapioca flour

1/4 cup potato starch

1 tbsp. coconut oil

1 egg

Mix all ingredients together and cook on a non-stick pan or griddle on medium-low to medium heat until browned.  Flip, and brown on the other sides.  I’d suggest making smaller pancakes – about 3 inch diameter.  You have to watch these carefully.  Because of the high sugar content, they go from brown to blackened very quickly if the heat is too high.  Also, there’s no good way to see if they’re done on one side except for checking.  The high moisture content insulates the top side when the bottom side is being cooked.

Serves 4.

Mmmm! Pancakes!

Mmmm! Pancakes!

Post Christmas food frenzy: buckwheat crepes December 28, 2013

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Our family has had a tradition of having a ‘nice’ breakfast or brunch on Sunday mornings. For a while, this consisted of getting together with extended family and calling it “waffle Sunday” because we almost always had waffles. (After my celiac diagnosis, the waffle maker was handed off to another home where it is hopefully happy.) Later, I spent the summer with a friend in Berkeley, and the topic of crepes came up.

I adore crepes.

My friend said his grandfather made the best crepes ever, and so he spent a morning teaching me how to make them. It was far simpler than I thought. You combine 1 cup of wheat flour, 1 egg, and enough milk to have a very sloshy liquid. It’s probably the same consistency as warm custard before it’s set, or maybe egg nog. Then you add about 1/2 tsp. of some sort of oil to a small frying pan, and once it’s hot, add enough batter that you can spread a thin layer over the bottom of the pan. Cook until the edges start to get crispy, then flip. I moved from white flour to whole wheat flour (and my tummy hurts just saying that) because I liked the nuttier taste.

It’s not easy to make gluten free crepes. But another thing I adore is buckwheat because of it’s nuttier taste. The search was on, and I came across a wonderful site explaining the history of crepes and galletes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for as I wanted a buckwheat crepe that would be suitable for things like fruit fillings, and apparently galletes are not. I was thrilled when I came across this recipe for a way to improve the nutritional value of buckwheat and make a sort of pancake out of it. Still…too thick.

I decided instead to try my old recipe using the principles of soaking the buckwheat groats first. I took 2 1/2 cups of groats and soaked them in water for several hours. (You’ll want to check the recipe link to see why I do this.) I then rinsed the groats and blended them with a mixture of water and heavy cream (2:1 ratio, respectively). Once I had a thick enough batter, I added about 3 eggs. Then I continued to add water and cream until I had the same egg-nog consistency thickness I got with my wheat-based crepes. Everything else went the same as before, using between 1 tsp. to 1/2 tbsp. of coconut oil to cook the crepe. They will work for either savory or sweet fillings, if you like a nutty flavor. They are very filling, either way.

Gluten-free buckwheat crepes

(serves 2-3)

1 cup buckwheat raw buckwheat groats

1 egg

1 to 1 1/2 cups water and heavy cream mixed 2:1 (or milk of your choice)

coconut oil

Pour buckwheat into a bowl and add dechlorinated water to about 1 inch above buckwheat. Let soak for several hours. Strain and rinse with warm water to get rid of slimy texture. Add groats, egg, and water/cream mixture to blender and blend to smooth. Continue to add water/cream until batter is ‘soupy’.

Add coconut oil to non-stick frying pan over medium to medium high heat (somewhere between 1 tsp. and 1/2 tbsp per crepe). Add about 1/3 cup batter, pouring into oil, and tilting pan to coat the bottom. (You will have to figure out how much works for you depending on how large your pan is and how thick you like your crepes.) Cook until brown spots form on underside of crepe. Flip crepe and cook for an additional 30 seconds.

Favorite toppings at our house are sliced bananas, berries, sometimes whipped cream. We’ve also used straight syrup (did your insulin level just go out the roof), philly cream cheese honey and nut spread, or a blend of cream cheese (4 oz), orange marmalade (1 tbsp), and maple syrup (1 tbsp). If you want to go the savory route, ham and cheese are always good choices.

Post Christmas food frenzy: knoephla soup December 27, 2013

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If you grow up in western North Dakota (which is about any place west of Valley City), then you probably love knoephla soup.  It’s my favorite comfort food, and I’ve gotten into serious arguments about the best place to get it.  I really liked the stuff I got at Sunset Inn in New Salem, but Trapper’s Kettle in Belfield and the Freeway 147 truck stop outside of Mandan aren’t bad, either.

I’ll be honest, though.  The best knoephla soup I’ve ever had was at Nichole’s in downtown Fargo.

So what it is?  It’s a creamy dumpling soup made by the German-Russians who settled North Dakota (and surrounding areas).  The dumplings are typically made by mixing wheat flour (and now you see the problem) with water or milk or any number of things to make buttons of dough which you throw in the soup to cook.  Some people put potatoes in, some don’t.  The recipe that follows is fairly preliminary, and I have to admit that I cheated: I didn’t make my own knoephla and instead used gluten-free gnocchi.  (Any sane person who eats gnocchi has got to admit that it tastes remarkably like knoephla.)  At some point, I’m going to give that a try, but I admit that on this occasion, I was feeling pretty lazy.  If I ever do make my own knoephla, I’ll let you know about it…unless it goes badly.

Gluten free knoephla soup

(Or, if you prefer, I suppose you could call it gnocchi soup, too)

1 qt. poultry stock (I prefer homemade bone broth because it really improves the taste)

1/2-3/4 cup chopped carrots

1 onion, chopped

1 tbsp cooking bacon grease or olive oil

2 tsp. salt

2 cups heavy cream

2 12 oz. bags of Conte’s gluten-free gnocchi OR 1 bag along with 2 potatoes, peeled and diced

The first step should be to pull the gnocchi out of the freezer.  You don’t want it frozen solid, so just set it out at room temp until you get to it.  You can set it out before chopping the veggies.  Next, put carrots, onion, and oil or grease into a small frying pan on medium heat.  While the carrots are cooking, put diced potato (if you’re using potatoes) into a large cooking pot (4 qt?) with the broth and salt.  Bring broth to a boil whether or not using the potatoes.  While waiting for the broth to boil, you can take the gnocchi and cut each one in half.  Once the broth begins to boil and the onions in the carrot/onion mixture are translucent, add to the broth and boil for about 15 minutes.  Finally, add the gnocchi and boil for an additional 8 minutes.  Turn off the burner but don’t remove the pot.  Add the cream and stir for a minute or two.

Makes six servings and takes about 45 minutes.

Post Christmas food frenzy: socca bread December 26, 2013

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I realize I haven’t been posting much the past couple months.  While I’ve been busy teaching and with work, the real reason is far more sinister: I’ve been cooking.  Constantly.

Since my episode last fall, one problem I’ve continued to have is tingling in my feet…what doctors call parasthesia.  While they didn’t find any nerve fiber damage, I have found out that this could either be a result of my bad reaction to the medication that set things off…or it can also be a response to gluten.  People with celiac disease, it turns out, have a higher than average chance at having neurological issues, and even trace amounts of gluten will cause the problem.

In that vein, we have cut out the vast majority of processed foods in our diet, most of which were ‘gluten-free’ this and ‘gluten-free’ that.  The result of that, however, is that I cook a lot more than I ever used to…and I used to cook a lot to begin with.

So…because I have been so busy cooking, I figured I would share some of my favorite recipes so far over the next couple days.  If nothing else, it will make them easier for me to find later on.

The first one is for socca bread, which is apparently a French-based flatbread.  I have been looking for a substitute for pita bread as one of our favorite regular meals is gyros.  I discovered that while there were a lot of various bread alternatives, pita wasn’t on anyone’s radar.  After finally giving up, I came across this post on The Patient Celiac (which is an awesome blog for all things celiac, BTW).  It included a recipe for socca bread, which sounded like a good pita substitute.  I tried it, and like most gluten-free bread options, it crumbled as soon as you folded it.  That’s fine if all you’re doing is smearing hummus on it, but not so much if you’re trying to put meat, lettuce and tsatziki in there…

I wasn’t giving up, though.  As I have become more versed in gluten-free baking, the solution soon became obvious: tapioca flour.  I changed the recipe by substituting tapioca flour for 1/6th of the chickpea flour.  Voila! Foldy flatbread, perfect for making gyros.  So here’s my version, which is most definitely not traditional and makes a bigger batch than the linked version (the excess freezes well):

3 cups water

2 1/2 cups chickpea flour (or garbanzo flour)

1/2 cup tapioca flour

4 1/2 tbsp olive oil + more for cooking

1 1/2 tsp salt.

All of the above ingredients are mixed well and left to sit.  (Ideally, you’d want to let it sit for about 24 hours to maximize fermentation and hence nutritional value, but it depends on how far ahead you’re thinking.)  You can also add spices, as the linked version suggests.  I particularly like rosemary, myself.

To cook, I put approximately 1 tsp of olive oil in a heated six inch frying pan.  I add around 1/3-1/2 cup of batter and let it fill the bottom of the pan, flipping once the top is mostly dry.  I’m using a sort of crepe-cooking method, although the linked version has a couple different ways to make this, like broiling.  My bread is also smaller than the linked version.

And that’s it!  So…I now have a substitute for pita bread, and as long as the garbanzo flour is processed in a gluten-free facility, I shouldn’t even have to worry about trace gluten in the bread.

I hate having celiac disease November 9, 2013

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This week has been one of those days where I have to remember that I have a lifelong disease, and it can really suck.

I have been sick for the past month or so.  I knew I had eaten gluten from my symptoms, except I wasn’t sure what I would have eaten.  I’m pretty meticulous about my diet.  However, most of the reason I’m meticulous is because I don’t buy a lot of processed foods.  When I get into a situation where I can get processed foods, I sometimes run into trouble unless I check every little thing.  And it’s hard to remember to do that sometimes, especially when you don’t have to worry about it at home (too much).

Today, for example, I decided I wanted to experiment with some cooking, and so I bought a box of Rice Dream (rice milk, for those of you not in the know).  It says gluten free right on the box.  But then something clicked, and I looked it up.  It turns out that Rice Dream is sweetened with brown rice syrup, and some types of brown rice syrup are made with some sort of barley enzyme.  A lot of people with celiac disease have problems with this drink.

That’s when I realized why I’ve been feeling so cruddy for the past month: someone offered me some really delicious nut clusters.  I remember scanning the back of the bag and being pleasantly surprised I could eat it because the only ingredients were nuts and brown rice syrup.  I had a handful of them, and thought I ought to go pick up a bag when I have the chance.  What a great travel food!  Except, not so much.

And I’m discovering the sad truth that when I do have gluten, even tiny amounts, it can take weeks to recover.  I’m back to not being able to eat any fruit but bananas, when I was happily able to munch on strawberries and raspberries just two months ago.

The other problem is going out to eat.  Mike and I recently went to one of my favorite restaurants for dinner.  They have a gluten-free menu and have been great in the past.  This time, it was obvious the server had no clue what was going on.  He plunked the bread basket (yeah, basket…with holes) on top of the appetizer plates…so obviously I wasn’t going to be using those (or at least the top one).  Then I ordered an appetizer.  Someone brought it out as the server happened to be walking past.


“Excuse me, but I ordered this gluten-free.”

“Well, yeah.  The appetizer itself is gluten-free.”

The gluten-free appetizer had four slices of toasted focaccia smothered in herbs and olive oil placed directly on top.  It was very pretty, but all I could think was a string of expletives.  Fortunately, the guy bringing the food out understood this was a mistake and said he would have a new one made.  I decided that if came back out within two minutes, I wasn’t going to eat it because someone had just pulled the bread off…

Yes, I’ve gotten sick from toast crumbs.  This is how bad it gets.  This is why I can’t have food that’s been anywhere near food with gluten in it.

So for those of you who don’t have celiac disease, I hope you can understand why some of us are so particular about our food.  If you offer us something, it’s not that we don’t appreciate the gesture, but so few people (except maybe those with food allergies) understand what it’s like to feel like every bit of food not prepared with our own hands is a potential landmine bringing weeks of illness with it.  It’s not that we don’t like you…it’s that no one likes to be sick.

The paleo diet: just like grandma used to make October 19, 2013

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I know this isn’t really sciencey in the physics sense, but it’s been an interesting exploration for me.  In the past couple of months, I have been doing some dietary changes, primarily because I’m finding that, with my celiac disease, I really can’t tolerate any grains except rice.  Even the wonderful, delicious, gluten-free Udi’s bread and muffins obviously do a number on me and have to go.

As a result of trying to go grain-free, I’ve started reading a lot about the paleo and primal diets.  It turns out I’d pretty much gotten rid of dairy (although I have another post about that particular adventure) and beans since those have made me sick for a long time.

When you read the comments about paleo by non-paleo folks, it’s interesting how they discuss it as an extreme diet, how it’s horribly based on animal foods, etc.  I understand what they mean.  I have always had a bit of trouble with the idea of eating organ meats, which are touted as wonder foods.  I remember being force-fed liver as a kid and forced to cook it as a teenager.  I watched in disgust as my parents and grand-parents would squabble over turkey hearts and gizzards at Thanksgiving.  (Heck, my dad and grandmother still argue about it.)  Who would eat that stuff?!

Thinking about these things brought me back to a lot of the dreaded trips to relatives as a kid.  Beyond the organ meats, there were canned veggies.  My grandmother canned everything, and with the exception of peaches, it was generally pretty gross once it came out of the jar.  That’s what they did on the farms: grow as much as they could during the summer and then can it for the winter.  Old habits die hard when you grow up on a farm, so that’s what we ate for dinner at grandma’s: lots of canned veggies.

I often wondered about how these old ladies could live well into their nineties eating some of this stuff.  It could only be attributable to their sturdy constitutions, as far as I was concerned.  They had those hardy German-Russian and Norwegian genes to keep them going.

Except now I’m sitting here in my 30s with an autoimmune disorder that’s becoming increasingly common and I’m starting to wonder…if I ate that awful stuff, could I live into my 90s?  Because really, I look at this “extreme paleo diet” and am realizing that it’s really not that different than the things that farm families ate all the time in the rural areas of North Dakota just 100 years ago.

I pulled out my copy of “German Food and Folkways” and started looking very carefully at the recipes.  You know what I noticed was lacking?  Flour.  There are a few recipes here and there, but they’re scattered and there’s no section that focuses on baked goods.

If you click on the pic, you can buy a copy of the book.

If you click on the pic, you can buy a copy of the book.

I did find a huge section talking about meats.  Apparently my German-Russian ancestors probably gorged on liver and kidney.  They ate tons of fresh eggs and raw or fermented dairy.  And then there were the veggies: copious amounts of beets, cabbage, and potatoes.

Corn was fed to animals when there wasn’t much to graze, so no one in their right mind would eat it.  Wheat flour was used occasionally but not all the time because it was a lot of work to process and would go bad pretty quickly, not to mention attract rodents and other pests.

Now I’m starting to wonder.  Rather than telling people that I’m going on the paleo diet, which people think is extreme, I wonder if they would react better to me calling it the traditional German homesteader diet?  Because bacon is involved, I’m sure they’ll be more open to it.

And now you’ll have to excuse me…I have to see if I can force myself to cook some liver and onions.

Food stamps and the SNAP challenge with celiacs disease September 28, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in food/cooking, societal commentary.
Tags: , , ,

I grew up relatively poor: our family received food stamps during various parts of my childhood.  I remember what eating on the ‘food stamp’ diet was like.  We ate a lot of ‘goulash': a pound of really cheap hamburger mixed with a pound of macaroni, a can of corn kernels, and a can of tomato soup.

To this day, I can’t stand the taste of corn with anything tomatoey because of it.

I thought of this after reading about Ron Shaich’s experience with the SNAP challenge.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this, Ron Shaich, who is CEO of Panera, decided to try to live for a week on $31.50, which is the average amount someone on food stamps receives.  In the article, he said:

My approach to grocery shopping was to try to stay full. That meant carbohydrates. In retrospect, it was a poor choice. I ended up with a diet largely based around pasta, lentils, chickpeas and cereal. While it wasn’t a ton of food, I could mix and match for various meals and find myself not quite full — but enough to get by. Breakfast and snacks were Toasted Oats. Lunch and dinner varied between chickpea, jalapeno and tomato soup, lentil casserole and pasta with tomato sauce and garlic. Fresh fruit, vegetables and yogurt were too expensive.

I read this and my first thought was that I would neither be full nor healthy.  In fact, a diet like this would likely cause me to end up sick within a day or two.  I can’t eat wheat at all (and I have other food sensitivities), and if I ate tons of carbs (even if it was something like rice and beans), I would feel cruddy in the short run and, over the long run, end up with metabolic syndrome.

In fact, I know this because this is pretty much what happened to me growing up on foodstamps.

Reading this comment, I started to wonder about how my celiacs diagnosis would change things.  This made me wonder if I could put together a menu that would be less carb intensive (so that I would feel sated) and gluten-free.

Using the online shopping feature at my local grocery store, my grocery list looked like this:

  • tea – I buy bulk tea, which costs about $.05/day, so $.35 for a week
  • 2 cans of Starkist selects tuna in olive oil $3.18 (all other tuna adds broth)
  • an 8 oz brick of cheddar cheese $2.50
  • 8 oz. of butter $1.59
  • 2 dozen eggs $3.58
  • 2 lbs. of 80% ground beef $7.18 (cheapest protein with most calories)
  • 3 small heads of romaine lettuce $3
  • a 5 lb. bag of potatoes $3
  • 2 green bell peppers $2
  • 3 tomatoes $1.06
  • 7 bananas $2.10
  • 1 little can of cumin for spice $1.29

My total, therefore, was $30.83.  If I were to do this over a two week period, I might swap out the cumin and be able to afford half a bag of rice…but potatoes are generally better both in the nutrition and satiety department than rice.

My diet would consist of a couple eggs every morning in 1 tbsp of butter.  For lunch, I would have salad every day with either tuna or a hard boiled egg.  For dinner, I would have potatoes every night with some variation on toppings of cheese, butter, or maybe meat with tomato and pepper cooked in.  I could have stuffed peppers a couple of nights.  I’m not sure if I would have salad left over for dinner, but if I did, I would try to have a bit.

I decided to look at the nutritional content of the food using fitday.  This would be about 1460 calories per day…assuming you eat all of the hamburger grease.  If you look at the vitamin and mineral content for the entire week, you get this:


All in all, not horrible.  Keep in mind that this is over 7 days, so anything close to or above 700% RDA is good.  I’d probably be okay if I could take a multivitamin…except you can’t buy those on food stamps.

I know I could eat like this because this is actually not too far off from what I do already.  I don’t have as many potatoes, instead having more berries, yogurt instead of cheese, and some nuts and dark chocolate when I’m really hungry.

The kicker is that most people could not, however.  I’m trying to lose weight, and this is the best way I’ve found to do it because it doesn’t leave me hungry.  The rest of my family eats this way, but they eat a lot more than I do…and both Mike and the older son are under doctors orders to NOT. LOSE. MORE. WEIGHT.

You see, since going gluten free, both of them are actually struggling with eating enough to not become underweight despite me constantly piling more fruits and vegetables on their plates…and the occasional gluten-free brownie.  (The older boy is six feet tall and has a 29″ waist, to give you an idea.)  Therefore, I know that a normal healthy person cannot eat this way and sustain their weight.

My conclusion, therefore, is that it’s only possible if you’re planning to lose a lot of weight…and once you’ve lost that weight, you’re going to be starving.  If you are a normal weight adult or, worse, a growing child, you will not have enough to eat regardless of how healthy your choices may be.  There are a lot of people out there with dietary needs who are stuck: if they don’t follow their diet, they can become sick and unable to work with the best alternative becoming disabled.  (And as one blogger wrote, that doesn’t necessarily help the problem.)  If they do follow their dietary restrictions, they’ll still likely end up starving.  This whole issue is a reflection of a series of larger problems from inadequate health care to having a living wage.

I thought about trying to do a SNAP challenge and eating this way for a week.  I’ve decided I’m not going to, though.  I spent a good chunk of my childhood doing that, so I already know what it’s like.  I have the utmost empathy for anyone going through this.


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