Drop and Give Me 20 Bites

I have recently had a friend come to me and ask to help her to go gluten-free.  More accurately, she knew that she needs to be gluten-free and knows, in many ways, how to be gluten-free, but she asked for help keeping her accountable.  She is already helping me to be accountable in another aspect of my health: exercise.  She also knows that learning about gluten could be even more important than taking care of herself because she has a son (a huge concern of mine I have briefly discussed before).  I suppose helping someone along this path is as much about instructing as it is about anticipating their needs.  In that regard, I have already stumbled.  She has learned the hard way that oatmeal isn’t safe.

I believe that everyone deserves to be the best versions of themselves.  For many of us, that goal takes years of discovery before we can even take the first step toward molding ourselves into who we want to be.

Going without gluten is hard.  A lot of you guys know this fact first hand.  Others can think: Would I really want to never be able to eat soft bread again?  Do I want to have a special birthday cake or no cake at all? [Full disclosure: Yesterday was my birthday, and I had no cake.  It’s still a bit of a sore subject.] How do I explain to a child who wants to share their snack with me that I can’t, not I won’t?  No doubt, a lot of people have these concerns about more or other things than gluten.  We are not alone in this fight.  I never wanted to be Celiac.  The first time I ever heard of it, I thought, “I am SOOOO glad that isn’t me!”

Accountability is the funny part that we almost never talk about.  We want to be accountable, don’t we?  We want to do right by ourselves.  Where is the disconnect in our brains that even allows us to not be good to ourselves?  Why is the desire to cheat so hard to fight — especially at the beginning — when we know we will only hurt from it?  Eventually, we grow.  We associate the foods which tempt us the most with the hurt they create, and we no longer truly want them.  At the start, we don’t have that.  We have the words, but we haven’t built it into our brains.  It’s not hard-wired yet.

I have some questions for you Celiac and gluten-free folks out there: Did you have a gluten-free coach?  Did a friend, family member, co-worker help you establish your new life with food?  Did you ask a lot of “stupid” questions?

While I had a supportive family and an understanding fiance/husband, I was on my own when I learned about gluten.  I wish I had had a guide to help me navigate.  I am a researcher by nature and by trade, so I used books and the internet to get me through it until I felt knowledgeable enough to start cooking and baking for myself again (i.e. until I was confident enough to try).  How did you do it?  Have you ever helped someone through a similar situation, maybe with another allergen?

One Flu over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Cuckoo.  Cuckoo.  There’s nothing like being confined to a bed to battle through a flu to drive you up the walls with boredom, but I can now walk to the kitchen without getting knocked down by coughing.

Needless to say, cooking hasn’t been a priority.  My mother, who was also suffering, made a pot of soup that lasted about four meals, and my poor dad asked about whatever he could microwave for us.  I’m sure my husband is sitting back in Belfast, grateful not to have to take care of me for once!  I kid, I kid.  We’re both very good about taking care of each other.  I have said that the “legitimate marriage” portion of the visa application could boil down to one two-part question:

Has your spouse/partner had whooping cough at any point during your relationship?
If yes, did you leave them during their whooping cough?

Needless to say, CB and I are still kicking — in more ways than one!

The one thing I have managed to do was prepare dessert for the family dinner that never was.  We got up and cleaned the house (okay, half the house), which prompted itchiness and sneezing, and then I drove out in the pouring rain to borrow a cup of brown sugar from our friends who live about three times closer than the nearest store.  In Belfast, when I am missing an ingredient, I shove on my wellies and trod down to the Tesco.  All in, it’ll take about 20 minutes.  I was gone more than 20 minutes in the car this time.  Living in the sticks is hard, you know?

Once the neighbourly cup of sugar was obtained (which I imagine happened much like finding the Kokiri Sword) . . .

kokiri sword

You got the Kokiri Sword!

I set out to make pumpkin cupcakes.  Only, there wasn’t a muffin pan suited for the job.  What’s a girl to do?

deku shield

Now, ride into battle!

No, that’s not it.  You make do with what you have.  What I had was a really-mini loaf pan.  So I made pumpkin mini loaves.

For scale, that is a regular dinner plate.

For scale, that is a regular dinner plate.

I only changed the recipe because I couldn’t find nutmeg, so I added a little bit of extra cinnamon to keep it from tasting bland.  I also left them in the oven for 28 minutes.  After dinner, I iced them.

Messy, as per usual.

Messy, as per usual.

I know it’s a little bit of heresy in today’s cupcake-crazy world, but I think I like them better this way.  They did have more of a bread texture than cake, which I can’t really explain, but they were more satisfying and tasted less like I was eating dessert.

I have a few new projects I want to try, so now I just need to catch up on Real Life and do it.  Have you adapted any of your recipes into a new shape or style?  How did it work?

Peanut Butter and Better Labeling

There’s a new law involving gluten labeling working its way through the US government.  It sets guidelines about which products can be labeled “gluten-free” and which products cannot.

Well, it’s a start.  I think it’s very important that companies not put “gluten-free” on their packaging if the product is not, in fact, gluten-free.   What the US really needs is the requirement to label all gluten-containing foods.  I think the UK is behind the US in a lot of ways when it comes to dietary restrictions, especially when it seems no one understands that being vegetarian means that, no, you actually don’t want sausage. But it’s just a little sausage. No. You can pick it out. No.

What the UK does have going for it is an intense allergen labeling system.  I can go through the entire candy aisle and see exactly why I can’t eat anything but Dairy Milk. A Celiac with a milk allergy is just screwed — but they can easily know that they’re screwed!  I spend a lot less time in the shop, reading all the labels; I pick one up, see “contains gluten”, put it back down.  Now that I’m in the US for a wee while, I have to remember to be ever more vigilant.

I have always had a love-hate — okay, it was more like hate-hate, if I’m honest — relationship with breakfast.  For years, I never knew why.  The fact is that breakfast is mostly meats and breads in different combinations.  In the South, we had grits.  Grits I liked.  Grits I could stand.  I’m really iffy about eggs, I had to pass on the bacon and sausage, and I never knew why toast left me feeling gross.  Even the quick-and-dirty options were bad because they were mostly Pop-Tarts and pastries.  All of my reasons sounded like excuses to miss the most important meal of the day: I get tired when I eat breakfast; I get nauseous when I go to gym class after eating breakfast; If breakfast is supposed to increase and sustain your brain power, why can’t I concentrate when I eat it?  Even now, I never look forward to breakfast, and — horror of horrors! — I still usually skip it.

Not a paid advertisement. I just like the stuff.

Not a paid advertisement. I just like the stuff.

When CB and I were visiting my parents over Christmas, my mother opened her pantry to reveal a treasure so bright and shiny: Gluten-free Chex Cereal.  As I explained, I’m not into breakfast, and cereal is no exception.  Typically, my thoughts go to “Yes, I’d love a bowl full of that thing that makes me bloat up like a balloon!”, but there are a lot of flavours to try.  Plus, it reminded me of getting a bag full of homemade Chex Mix for Christmas (We called it trash.  I don’t know why.  It’s better not to ask these things once you’re grown.).  Get this: it’s actually good.  I mix different ones together in the same bowl — another no-no in the Sydney Book of Rules about Food — and dig in.

Since she opened the pantry that first time, my mother has been saying, “I thought you might could use them for a crust for something.”  Well, I finally indulged her. Hello, gluten-free peanut butter pie.

Peanut Butter Pie

If you don't like peanut butter, look away now.

If you don’t like peanut butter, look away now.

Ingredients:
For the crust:
3 cups gluten-free Chocolate Chex cereal
1 tablespoon honey powder
2 tablespoons almond flour
pinch of salt
1/2 stick of butter (57g)

For the filling:
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup icing sugar
8oz cream cheese (usually 1 package), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
about 5oz whipped cream (I don’t know how to measure it. It was half a tub of Cool Whip — for shame, Sydney!)

Hardware:
2 mixing bowls
pie dish
small microwave safe bowl
wooden spoons or other stirring utensils
measuring cups and spoons
oven
refrigerator
microwave (for melting butter)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C.

Crunchy.

Crunchy.

In one of the mixing bowls, crush up the Chex cereal.  I use my hands because I am classy.  You don’t want it powder-fine; you should still be able to see what it was. Add in the honey powder and almond flour and mix to combine. Melt the butter in the microwave and stir into the bowl. Spoon the mixture into the pie dish and press into the base and up the sides. Bake for 10 minutes.

Crusty. I had a picture both before and after baking, but it looked exactly the same.

Crusty. I had a picture both before and after baking, but it looked exactly the same.

In the other mixing bowl, stir together room temperature cream cheese (Okay, I’ll admit that I didn’t leave it out to get to room temperature. I put it in the microwave for 19 seconds. Yes, 19. If you want someone to make sense, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you want pie, stick around. I like your style.), icing sugar, peanut butter, and vanilla. It’ll be a bit tough to stir, and you’ll probably wonder if you’re really just making a mess. Try to form as even a consistency as you can.

The point at which I thought it was a goner.

The point at which I thought it was a goner.

Much better.

Much better.

Add the whipped cream to the mix, bit by bit. You want to fold it into the peanut butter mixture. You do NOT want to stir or beat it together because the whipped cream has the air that gives the pie its creamy texture. Like I said, I used a bit more than half an 8oz tub of Cool Whip. I would say that I would have whipped my own if I had Ruby with me, but my mother has a stand mixer, and I totally didn’t do it.  Once you have it all mixed together, just make sure your crust (and the pie dish) is completely cooled and spoon it into the crust. Spread it around however you want.  I don’t make things pretty. I just make them tasty.

I think it would be good with shaved/grated chocolate or mini chocolate chips on top of it. We only had regular chocolate chips, and, since it doesn’t go in the oven, I thought they would be a little much.  Leave the pie to set in the fridge for at least an hour.  You’ll want to take this one somewhere you’ll have to share it, or else you’ll be tempted to eat it all at once.  Peanut butter is good for you, right?!