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It's been a whole week since I started this post (basically, since I wrote the title and then closed the laptop lid). ​But what full week! Somehow,  Ash Wednesday (aka this year, the crazy day that ended in much peace), first Friday in Lent (and the first first Friday I remembered to stay meatless for that night's dinner in years), and a long President's Day weekend at home (with a tradition of indoor ice skating planned) seemed busy enough.

​But why stop there? Life threw in a new car (!), travel planning (aka food prep logistics) for me, viruses almost all around that gave us movie days instead of skating and swimming days, and reconnecting time with old friends. Plus a cardio check up (results pending), new job offers, and more. 
Absolutely still too young for this. Thank goodness!
But Lenten fasting is still on my mind. After removing so much food this year already for EoE, I opted for the first time ever to not give up a food for 40 days. Frankly, there's no particular food that's a crutch/vice right now that doesn't also fill a nutritional need these days. It's weird not to have an answer to the wholy (ha!) Catholic question: "What food did you give up this year?" But it's a bit freeing, too. It allows me to widen my gaze, expand my efforts this Lent. Because Lent's not just about giving up a food. 

Our priest for the first Sunday in Lent (so, two days ago) is one of my favorite homilists. He happens to be the priest who counseled me and annointed me before my surgery, too, so I have a soft spot for him all around. He is wise beyond his years, humble and caring, and thoughtful and kind and funny. His homily this week was no different: he emphasized the triad of Lenten efforts that aims to bring us all closer to God (however we define God): fasting, alms, and prayer. This year, I'm trying to hold all three, not just fasting, closer to me each day. 

Fasting
Fasting is not just about giving up a single food...or meat on Fridays...etc. That's good, but not the only way. Instead, says Father Rampino, fasting is about choosing not to have something that is ours "by right"---much as Jesus in the desert chose not to have things he could have by right---all of the kingdoms, stones into bread, etc. Fasting, then, is also about giving up something we consider natural but can go without to fill our life in other ways: can we limit our news, our tech time, our favorite comfort? Can we fill those hours with prayer, peacefulness, giving to others, sharing outside our comfort zones instead? This year, I'm fasting from foods more by necessity---choosing to go without instead of using multiple medications to maintain a normal diet. Thinking more broadly about fasting, I'd like to stick to a once-daily media check and have replaced some "by right" choice apps with new ones. My favorite: 

The Jesuit's Loyola Press Three Minute Retreat, an old favorite, is back on my new phone now. It's a much calmer and thought-provoking default app than Pinterest, Twitter, FaceBook. If priest's messages aren't for you, they have more choices! Speaking From the Heart is a sister (pardon the pun) podcast and blog, for example. 
Alms
Giving for me has often revolved around food, so I am again challenged to rethink my charitable acts. I'm seeing a theme. :)

I'm still giving foods to show love and sometimes for support of others, but on a much smaller scale. I mourned that change for some time, but I do see that it's given me time to try new ways of reaching others. Again well outside my homebody comfort zone, but already fulfilling in surprising ways: new friendships, progress toward tangible gifts for friends and strangers alike (in particular efforts to really commit to sending handmade knits to children and groups in need), and more.

I hope this Lent to renew an old favorite of mine that I had to give up because of metal allergies: making and donating rosaries and other prayer beads. It's up to me to come to peace with my limitations and make something for others with materials I can use---not to make the most beautiful item, but to make something meaningful and useful that can help others in journeys that are undoubtedly harder than mine.
Prayer
It's easy to get into prayer ruts, for just about any person, any religion. I tend to slide out of my daily rosary every winter when the days get shorter and the outdoor walks end. Every Lent, I bring back my rosary walk, though (ideally sooner than in years past!).

This week's homily reminded us that other things are simply things---niceties; prayer is what we all need. And prayer should strengthen us and others, not just be words to say. This year, I'd like to take my devotions a step further and talk about them more with others. Regardless of established religion, many people have strong faith and devotional practices. This year, because I've reached outside my comfort zone already, I have already found new prayer experiences in surprising places. To enhance my prayer life and hopefully use it toward positive efforts and relationships, I'm introducing two new daily reading experiences to my 40 days, one of which came directly from those surprising places: 

1) 40 Ways for 40 Days: A daily text message, with a link to meditations, is a brand new effort from our diocese, which is under the direction of a new Bishop. Bishop Burbidge seems caring, funny, and willing to meet people where they are (so, on tech). He's started a new podcast (!) and initiated this outreach based on messages of Pope Francis, too. It's a great feeling when the text ping isn't a new work deadline but instead is a message of how to encourage love or how to bring more Christ-like mindfulness and awareness to yourself and your actions.

2) 40 Graces for Forgiveness is a thought-provoking, meditative book that's also already calling me to actions that I hope will become past-Lent habits. In addition to daily Scripture and prose, the passages naturally promote journaling, or other reflective comforts, to slow down our days and widen our gaze on the world---our needs, those of others, and more. I had been lucky enough to randomly meet the author, Maria Keffler, at a meeting for our kids' school music program. We both showed up with knitting. :) It turns out that we have a shared love of music, and that we are both writers. Plus, she has an awesome sense of humor! Stop back by the blog after Easter, and you can find my full review of 40 Graces. So far, I'm having a hard time sticking to one passage a day! 

Maria's book, which is in print and electronic versions on Amazon.

​So, I may have added enough Lenten goals to fill a 40-hour day, 40 times over. But if I keep to even some of them, I'll have learned a lot and hopefully helped a lot. It's not the successful checking off of each item every day that counts; it's the meaning behind it, and the love in the effort, and the getting back up and doing it every day despite "failures" the day before.
It's still a food blog, people. Recipes and ingredient info will be back! For now: the start of fresh toppings for our zillionth round of nachos for dinner at our house. :)
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This is a low-photo post this week, but for a happy reason: Every time I've tried to make something for dinner with masa harina, it's been gobbled up in a snap, without leftovers. 

Rather than recipes, I'd like to go into some differences about corn products that can replace wheat in (mostly) savory free-from products. That sounds simple, but it's deceptive---there are enough types of ground corn available to make my head spin. At the start, let me offer an obvious disclaimer: this post isn't for you if you have a corn allergy!
These gnocchi are mostly made from potatoes in a traditional Italian-American way. Instead of all-purpose flour, though, I used a surprising type of semolina.

If you're a sometimes baker, you probably are already familiar with cornstarch (cornflour when in Australia and the United Kingdom). It's a white, tasteless, powdery ingredient that, when heated, thickens everything from gravy to pie fillings. In the Americas, corn flour is yellow---the powdery ingredient of the entire corn kernel (not just the hard-shell endosperm of the kernel that gives us cornstarch).

If you pride yourself on homemade pizza on special stones, you might even have some cornmeal, that coarser grind of the entire kernel. Or maybe you're a fan of polenta or grits, which is just a medium-ground version cooked into porridge.
Semolina
I thought that this was plenty of corn for my new wheat-free life, but it's really just the beginning. I came across semolina corn flour at our local international food market and picked it up without knowing what I'd do with it. Semolina wheat is the type used for Italian pastas, but I'd never heard of a corn version. The word semolina actually refers to an extremely fine grind of the endosperm of a grain only. Thus, corn semolina or rice semolina are absolutely real. 

Finding semolina corn flour led me to an Italian corn pasta company called Le Veneziane. I do have black bean, lentil, and other wheat-free pastas in my cupboard, but this corn pasta was the first success: It didn't get gummy, could be cooked like wheat pasta (for me, that means no timer, cooking until al dente), and did not stick together upon draining). It's amazing! 

Now I'm excited to try making my own pasta with corn semolina flour. But first, I'm going to try the grain in a semolina corn cake recipe (like this one). I've tried corn cakes before, by mixing corn kernels with corn and chickpea flours, but the results were a bit too bland and a bit too gritty for my liking. 

Masa
But all of these options and ideas aren't enough; Mexican corn flours take the grain a step or two further. The most common option available in typical US grocery stores is masa harina---a corn flour that is soaked in lime (calcium) to break down the hulls before grinding and drying. 

​When I stopped eating wheat and yeast in our already--dairy-free household, I found myself making a lot of Asian and Mexican dishes. Naturally (right?), that led me to wonder about making my own tortillas instead of buying them. I used a Craftsy class subscription to learn more, quickly, about authentic tortilla methods and varieties. It was a fantastic experience! I learned that I only needed water, masa harina, and salt to get started.

You don't need to, but I went ahead and bought a small tortilla press and a small comal, or cast-iron griddle. I picked up some masa harina (Maseca is the brand I used) and got started: mix, roll, press, brown each side on a dry griddle, wipe the griddle clean at the end. The biggest tip I learned from my classes and online recipes was that the dough is best rolled and pressed by hand to the consistency of Play-Doh. So making dinner was also a lot of fun! 

I found a small press and comal online and store them with a glass jar of my excess masa harina under the counter.

Since my first attempt at tortilla making, we have
  • baked the browned tortillas to crisp them in the oven
  • hand-pressed the dough to make thicker patties
  • wrapped the dough around leftover meat and browned the stuffed hand pie (tlacoyos) on the comal

​We have even shaped the uncooked dough into muffin tins and parbaked them, then filled them with taco meat and returned them to the oven to crisp and heat up some more. 

My next plan is to try yet another corn flour product: arepa flour, or masarepa. This flour is an instant yellow flour, pre-cooked masa harina that is prepared similarly to tortillas but cooks quickly when stuffed or topped. This could be my sandwich bread replacement down the road...what do you think? 
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Free time. So fleeting, so hard to squeeze in. I'm more jack-of-all-trades than expert in any one hobby or topic. There's always much talk about work-life balance, but I have been thinking about life-life balance.

With older kids, routine work loads, and a year without enormous health or other challenges, my family and I have been having so much fun together, from swimming to skating to travel. It's been a real joy! I've found, though, that I struggled to make an effort to enjoy my own interests regularly when I found myself with time alone. 

Example: Blogging weekly! I did it for a year, so this shouldn't be a challenge. But I find myself either baking, or writing, or reading, or knitting, or playing piano. What a first-world problem to have, I know. :-) 

Last week, I had the chance to work on my family's 100+-year-old Italian mandolin. It's not a valuable antique, but it is a personal family treasure. While I'm devoting all of my energy to non-food joy (finishing the gluing and staining this week, I hope), here are some photos of the start and the work in progress.

You're not seeing double. A luthier in WV had a smaller near-copy of my mando, so we splurged on it for my daughter---soon, we can play duets!
I haven't abandoned the kitchen entirely...just the documentation. Some of my recent successes: 
In a clockwise circle: Mel's veggie sauce (before puree), sweet potato brownies, cherry brown bread, free-from snack mix, unsliced brown bread, my favorite scones (now GF), dairy-free artichoke dip, Sicilian-style mackerel meatballs...and a centerpiece of homemade veggie nachos (with real cheese snuck in while kids were on playdates!)

​I'm bound to return to writing down my kitchen efforts as soon as I am done with my obsessive focus on this gorgeous instrument! Until then, have a great week everyone.
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Fudgy brownies with a surprise ingredient!
​It seems that I'm on an 8-day rotation for blog posting in 2018. I need to step up! This week, I intended to post a recipe round-up of five new favorite recipes adapted from some expert gluten-free bloggers. Unfortunately, that turned into more book than post, so I'll be doing a recipe per post, instead. And, of course, I'm starting with dessert!
A soft skillet brownie by Kelly at The Pretty Bee caught my eye this month. Grain free, and overall free of our family allergen list (not to mention DOUBLE chocolate), I had to try it. To get that lava cake--like softness, she used sweet potatoes! I miss lava cakes so much...and I happened to have a leftover baked sweet potato. Kismet.

You know I can't just leave a recipe well enough alone, though. And I wanted to use some of my King Arthur Flour gluten-free all-purpose mix in something. And I was out of maple syrup. And I don't own a small cast-iron skillet. So I can't say that I actually made Kelly's recipe, except maybe in spirit. And her recipe was inspiring---both the size and the moistness of ingredients, and the easy baking and serving instructions. 
Mmmmm. Gooey enough to spoon and eat right out of the oven. Chocolate joy.
I have a habit of pulling ideas from all over the place when I get started in the kitchen. Sometimes, that ends with boiling brownies. Other times, it all comes together, at least eventually. Unbelievably, this inspired-by-but-not-quite-the-same recipe worked on the very first try! And the second try...and third.... It was good enough on the first try that we've now made it three times in one week. I'll blame that on the small size, but really it's just because it's so easy and yummy and fun to share. 

So, in addition to The Pretty Bee recipe, I used a 4-ingredient recipe for ideas about baking without the leavener and how to increase the longevity by refrigerating overnight to set the brownies a bit more without losing the awesome fudginess. 
Try 1 after an overnight refrigeration. Still spoonable if you want to, but sliceable if you are feeling extra proper.
And I'm linking it up to this week's FreeFromFridays, because...brownies, as soon as possible, and often.

Here's my short version of our successful sweet potato gluten-free vegan fudgy brownie:  

INGREDIENTS
3 ounces sweet potato (no skin), baked and cooled
3 Tbsp unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp psyllium
1/2 cup chocolate chips (reserve a small handful of these until the end)
3/4 cup gluten-free flour mix (I used King Arthur All Purpose)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, mix the sweet potatoes, applesauce, sugar, and cocoa until smooth. Add the salt, psyllium, scant half-cup of chips, and GF flour. Stir until just combined.
Spoon the thick batter into a small baking dish (I used a 4" square ceramic cake dish, ungreased; lightly greased is fine, too).
Top the batter with the remaining chips. 
​Bake for 20 minutes. 
And here's a prettier downloadable version: 
On try two, I doubled the quantities, baked half as on try 1, and baked the other half in a 24-count mini-muffin pan with liners (ungreased). I baked that pan for only 14 minutes. Those turned out bite-size and delicious, too! 

Bite-size fudgy brownies set up well and lasted a few days in a sealed container at room temp or in the fridge.
My biggest take-away: Always keep a baked sweet potato in your freezer in case you have a fudgy brownie craving. :-)
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Although my oldest had some unusual and somewhat fleeting allergic reactions as a toddler, it was my second daughter whose allergies really shocked our family. From day 1, she struggled with nursing, with formulas. She was losing too much weight to continue nursing and be discharged from the hospital, and she remained small enough to not be on a growth curve even after we found a formula that she mostly tolerated. In fact, she didn’t make it onto a growth chart at all until she was 8 years old.

If you’re like us, your lives have been upended and (I hope) resettled because of severe food allergies, and a surprisingly large challenge---aside from avoiding anaphylaxis!---was keeping a good nutritional balance in a growing child with such strict dietary limitations. The temptation to stick with ground beef, oatmeal, and green beans, for example, every day is strong, especially in those busy early years. And a lot of those boxed allergy-friendly products just don’t fit into a good nutritional diet, especially if you have to rely on them for every meal. 

As we have all grown, and as our allergies have changed and our tastes expanded by necessity or interest, we’ve learned a lot about what nutrients bodies really need to feel tip-top, and some creative ways to get those in.
  • We’ve fought with pediatricians who think multivitamins cause cavities without seeing the bigger picture (we don’t always get enough nutrients from our limited diets, and none of us have cavities despite the vegetable-based vitamins recommended by the primary physician!).
  • We've explained for the hundredth time why our youngest can't have jello for dinner while we all eat a regular meal on trips to see family.
  • We've packed shelf-stable items from every food group in suitcases so that we can take family vacations.

But dinnertime often remains an unending circle of what to make that is
a) interesting
b) tasty
c) safe for everyone
d) affordable on our budget and
e) nutritionally sound in at least one way.

It’s easy to see why that last one drops off when times get busy, money gets tight, kids get picky, parents get too busy to grocery shop for new ingredients when there are hot dogs and tater tots in the freezer.
​ 
Some early attempts at wheat-free dinners have potential (for taste and nutrition): cornflake-crusted fish, potato gnocchi, corn cakes, pizzelle cookies with sweet rice flour, and (of course) granola

​Anyway. I found all of this daunting even though I write about nutrition and nutrients for a living. Here are some highlights of what we as a family have learned, pulling from research but making options that are live-with-able, too. Every family will have their own favorites, safe foods, and more, and I won't tell you the exact foods you should eat. But these ideas could help you fill your nutritional gaps as you build your family’s safe food world. I've added links to a few free resources I like below each section.

Vegetarians and vegans
Sometimes we tell people that our daughter eats "vegan + meat" to really get the no-dairy point across. It also is a good reminder that she won't get the iron, protein, and B vitamins she needs without some extra attention to her diet---and the converse, that she can rely too much on red meats instead of dairy to fill her up, especially with a nut/tree nut allergy thrown in. 

Diets low on traditional Western sources of protein should focus on plant sources of protein instead, as well as pulses and beans. Luckily, this is getting easier every day as food options become more globally available. Plant and bean proteins have a huge extra benefit, too: a ton of fiber that is filling, helps digestion, and helps the body absorb nutrients from other foods. They're often low fat and low sugar, too, so their benefits pretty much extend to everyone: one family meal.
Vegetarian diet: staying healthy
Vegetarian diet: benefits and risks
Useful research from specialists
Getting ironB vitamins, and protein 

​Gluten-free needs
Luckily for my family, I have a wheat allergy, not celiac disease. Still, I spent awhile walking around with rice crackers and chocolate chips for snacks while my family ate English muffins or cookies. Making wheat-free versions of favorite foods has been an adventure; I had been eating whole grains with almost every meal, and I didn't anticipate how carefully I would have to watch the replacement items.

​Starches, white flours, and gums not only upset my stomach at first but also didn't give me the type of energy or heart protection that my body needed. This effort, for me, is still a huge work in progress, but adding brown rice flour, oat flour, and potato starch have been my early modest improvements. Crushing freeze-dried vegetables like beets into my flours has given my meals a fiber lift, too (and the kids have no idea it's there!). 

​Boxed, trending, or processed pre-made foods
​There are so many off-the-shelf allergy-friendly items now in regular grocery stores, and that's a blessing and a curse. It's great to have instant(ish) meal or treat options. And many of them are made with great nutritional focus, too. But others add extra salt or sugar, rely on refined grains or high-fat oils, or---more often than I expected---at least three nonreplaceable eggs. On top of all of that, the costs compared with "regular" versions can be triple or higher, so they certainly don't fit in everyone's budget. 

Anyone with food restrictions has heard the solution before: cook at home, bake from scratch.

I had those both modeled for me when I was growing up, but I get it that "scratch" sounds terrifying, or just not worth the time, for many people. If that's you, then seek out the healthiest prepared items you can, at least for now. Find some favorites [shameless plug here for Bob's Red Mill products!]. For example, one thing I'll never make from scratch is cornbread, so we tried four different brands without gluten before we all agreed on one that met my healthy ingredient standards and everyone's taste. It takes forever. You toss out a lot (don't call it waste---it's an experiment!). But you'll get there...and then everything will change again.
​Good luck!  ;-)
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Newly wheat-free, we still managed to make a few traditional holiday treats.

My family and I made it through a fun but overly hectic December---multiple orchestra performances and solo recitals, amazing school projects and group music jams, and mostly positive kitchen experiences. We followed that up with a really lovely holiday break: multiple museums, plenty of time at the House of Musical Traditions "petting" instruments I could blow my budget on in a day, and lots of fun movies and games with my two double-digit--aged kids. I couldn't have asked for much more! 

What I didn't do was spend any planning time on work or fun-blogging. :-) So I'm starting the new year out with a pretty traditional approach: putting my resolutions in writing: 

Continue swimming, lifting, and rowing
In 2017, I joined the IronHeart Foundation Triple Crown Challenge to extend my exercise and health routine beyond completion of cardiac rehab. I met the goals of 100 days, 100 hours, and 100 miles of exercise. I loved the motivation, the flexibility, and the cost (free!). 

In 2018, I plan to continue that motivation on my own time with the Achievement app. It's a program that connects to other apps and rewards you with points when you meet health goals. Eventually, you cash in the points. My biggest hurdle here will be that I'm too low tech to get started: I don't have any devices (or their apps), like FitBit, to connect yet! My cardiologist will be thrilled if I meet this goal, though, because he's been asking me for years to upgrade from my analog-like pedometer. :-)

Continue rosary walks
Even before heart surgery, I was a huge proponent of walking as one of the best cardio exercises. It's free, easier on joints than running, accessible to all ages and ranges of health, and can be done anywhere---even in place. During cardiac rehab, I walked daily; after recovery, I was thrilled with the places I could go! Hills? No problem! Bags of groceries or books? Didn't even slow me down.

My challenge? Walking, by itself, is just a tad too boring. I don't 100% enjoy walking and talking, and, ideally, I like to have a destination. To keep my walks going after rehab, I combined them with my daily rosary. Calming, productive, peaceful, quick enough to fit into any day. 

In 2018, I want to continue these walks. They clear my head, and they get me out of the house on busy work-from-home days that blow by. The rosary walks are nice, but short. My goal is to extend them by adding in a podcast or two afterward. I've never managed to get into podcasts, though I'd like to and have a long list of ones to try. Popping in ear buds and walking to the library seems like a great way to keep me walking this year.

​Organize a blog and media calendar
Right. This one will be a challenge, not because I can't plan but because I LOVE to plan, to the exclusion of implementing the plan. 

In 2017, I learned more than I could imagine about online media: scheduling blog posts, calculating nutritional content, tweeting and replying to tweets, posting to facebook in different locations, adjusting photo sizes and uploading in different places, sharing and labeling pins, joining link-ups (who knew?!), designing my own infographics and PDFs, and so much more. I also learned something surprising: I truly enjoy this online community! The steep learning curve (especially for a devoted Luddite like me) to interact online was more worthwhile than I could have imagined. I am continually inspired and impressed by others' kindness, creativity, openness, and generosity. It's been an unexpected blessing to connect with people around the world, to learn from them and to share experiences.

In 2018, I want to get away from my haphazard approach to these interactions. Right now, I fit them in around work and family schedules. Although this blog isn't a part of my business, per se, it is an important part of my week, and devoting time to it just makes sense. In particular, I'd love---at a minimum---to coordinate scheduled, prewritten blog posts with tweets and other shares, to figure out Tailwind for pinning, to set aside dedicated time to write thoughtful yet focused posts, and to have a real editorial calendar.

I may have set my aspirations too high. This list doesn't even include my fun goals, like learning a new instrument, or at least playing the one I do know (piano) every week. Oh, and the knitting goals...don't get me started. It wouldn't be a January without outsized resolutions and optimism, though, right? 

And it wouldn't be a good food blog if I didn't add some sort of recipe! This one has been tested a few times already and went up just before the Christmas holiday on Bloglovin' and Freedible. The chocolate peppermint bread is free from wheat, dairy (milk and milk products), eggs, peanut, tree nuts, seeds, soy, and preservatives. If you are celiac, this is gluten free, too (it's not necessarily 100% gluten free from my kitchen, though; we're still using rye flour in shared bowls and pans...for now).

Check out the downloadable version, also indexed here on the blog:

If you've followed the blog in 2017, you might notice that this recipe and its download file are derived from my holiday strawberry bread. The new recipe incorporates some gluten-free truths I learned so far, either from others or the hard way (sadly trashing first try recipes), including use of lower cooking times, different amounts of liquid, and measurement by weight instead of by cup scoops. 

The strawberry bread has the same free-from ingredients (except wheat). If you aren't wheat free, I suggest giving that recipe a try first. It's moist and yummy with any type of fruit or veggie! 
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If you are visiting my site and blog, or social media accounts, for the first time at the end of 2017: Welcome! 

This is a quick post, just to say that I mostly met my challenge goal of blogging and/or media chatting every week in 2017...until the winter holidays, when I realized:
1) how much time I (love to) spend holiday prepping
2) how lucky I am to have such amazing kids and wonderful husband
3) how time consuming it is to rework a diet---again---during holiday treat fests.

So, I haven't disappeared permanently, but I have decided to take the winter 2017 holiday time loosely off media and purposefully low-tech at home. So far, it's been delightful. And I'm even taking off much of my professional work at the end of 2017, so I should be ready to be full-on in 2018. My challenge goal for food/blog/media hobbying+writing in 2018?

Having a true schedule and plan for content, recipes, and FYIs to share and maintaining some kind of coordination across all of these techy platforms. And maybe printing paper cookbooks, because sometimes I like low-tech better. ;-) 

If you're interested in some recipes that are tried and true for your holiday baking, check out my Kitchen Adventures and Cookie Chemistry books, in particular, on Amazon (or search the titles on iTunes if you're an Apple user). 

Until 2018, wishing you all warmth, joy, and love---and delicious #freefrom foods, 
​N.
Late fall/early winter round-up---mostly of distractions from food!---with more to come in 2018: Musical outings, holiday decorating, theatre trips, knitted donations, Florida getaways, and a handful of safe comfort foods.
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​First as a pharmacist, and then repeatedly as a new mom, a parent in playgroups, a heart patient, and a person heading toward middle age, I notice a trend when the conversation turns to health. Even when the conversation is about a specific health problem, like arthritis, the discussion ends up on diet. Diet in the sense of the foods and nutrients we are taking in, but also diet in the sense of weight loss---and how to do it. 

As for the weight loss part, I don't have many answers. I can tell you that completely eliminating wheat will cause the pounds to drop! But I can tell you as a health professional that a drop like that isn't a good one. In fact, I worked with my new wheat-free constraints to get more calories and more nutrients regularly each day until my weight, energy, and GI system stabilized to the new norm.

I'd really like to spend some time on this blog about the nutrition end of eating with food allergies---in particular how to understand where our nutrients come from and how to get the macro and micro-nutrients we need when we adapt ingredients.

​Why? First, because changing diets affects not just the allergic person but also the entire family and even the wider circle. Second, because it's hard to see what you are missing in daily or weekly nutritional needs when you're really focused on the safety, and it's easy to redo a diet (for any reason) to one that can hurt you more in the long run---like one that doesn't give you enough protein to keep your body going all day.

Moderation is key, but that doesn't mean it is easy when common foods are eliminated as options.
Starches don't have to be scary if you don't make them the centerpiece of your diet.

For today, I'd just like to share a few resources that have come my way from other food allergy (or just mom-friend) families and from health searches I've done before to help out friends and family who changed their diets, often for non-allergy health reasons. 

It's almost impossible to find sources that are reliable but not scary or intimidating by just random Google searching these days. Most of the top hits revolve around fad diet trends, famous personalities, or "Dr. X" websites that may or may not be written by medical doctors or people with graduate degrees in a health field like medicine, nutrition, or dietetics.

Check out these links, and let me know if you have any favorites to add. You can find links to other reliable resources on my Useful Resources and Tools I Use pages, too. 

​Happy Monday, everyone!

​DietSpotlight.com
​A reader whose kids have food allergies and who works to teach other kids about food allergies shared an article from this website with me a long (too long) while back: https://www.dietspotlight.com/diet-watch-common-food-allergies/. Marion and daughter Ashley, thank you! 

The direct article link will take you to a page with a thorough but not overwhelming list of reliable sources of information about food allergy reactions, precautions, medical information, and more. I loved that these were collected into one easy list and included places like MayoClinic.org, which I use for personal and work research every week, and the latest ChooseMyPlate materials, including the one aimed at kids.

​Although DietSpotlight the company is focused on weight loss products, its approach is well researched, transparent, educational, and friendly. Really, what all medical communication should aim for. I don't use or endorse products for weight loss specifically, but I also realize that many people look for supplements to help them, especially when personal efforts or traditional medicine just aren't enough. So, I scanned through the rest of the site, and I found a lot to like:

​Certified or verified vitamins and supplements
Almost 70% of Americans take over-the-counter supplements. Although people should (theoretically) be able to obtain the nutrition they need from daily food intake, the reality is that not everyone---by choice or necessity---eats to make that happen, and numerous chronic diseases can sidetrack the ability to get sufficient nutrition from foods.

So, vitamins and supplements can be good. But. Many people don't realize that these products are not held to the same standards as medications, even over-the-counter medicines. Instead, manufacturing standards apply more often. That doesn't guarantee the quality or quantity of the ingredients, nor does it speak to the success of that ingredient to improve health. 

A few organizations are trying to change that, though. In addition to places like Consumer Labs, the US Pharmacopeia rigorously tests vitamins, herbs, and other supplements to confirm the accuracy of labeled ingredients. Products submitted for approval can receive a USP Verified stamp. An example is the NatureMade line of products. 

You can find an updated list of verified products at the Quality Supplements website (www.quality-supplements.org/verified-products).

If you are looking for more information specifically on herbal medicines, you can find researched facts about different herbs---searchable online at The Herbal Medicines Compendium---and a list of supplements at the USP websites, too. 

Finding Help to Fix a Diet
Sometimes the amount of information out there, or the number of health problems you are trying to balance, becomes just too much. Registered counselors and dietitians or nutritionists are experts in the many reasons and safe ways to rework a diet.

The Chrysalis Group serves the DC metro area and offers specialized support for kids with food allergies. Perhaps even more useful, the "Find a Health Professional" website has a database of dietitians who focus on food allergies, wherever you live. 

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Ah, another Friday and I have yet to finish the blog post I started on Monday night. 2018, that’s going to be my year of planning ahead, I hope! I’m aiming in 2018, and really now too, for the mantra “get it done, not perfect” ---with encouragement from the Mamapreneurrevolution

Instead of that nutrition post (still in the draft folder), which really just isn’t done, I’m going for a get-it-done post today.

Last night, I needed to use up a lot of random foods for dinner, and I had to make it in just a few minutes if possible, without a lot of prep time. As my kids get older, my husband and I find ourselves all over town with them in different directions---a somewhat new occurrence for us. I needed a dinner to lay out ahead of time that I could toss together when we all got home, hungry and ready to eat right away.

And, instead of planning that dinner, I spent the morning looking at carrot cake recipes. 

Let me explain: I don’t actually like carrot cake. Or at least I don’t think I do.

​I have a dear friend in Florida who adores it, though, and a neighbor friend who makes the most amazing cake I’ve ever seen…and it’s carrot. I trust these two an awful lot. And I found pre-shredded carrots at Trader Joe’s. And I found a gluten-free carrot cake bread-loaf recipe at ElaVegan, and I’m pretty desperate right now for a good slice of quick bread for autumn mid-mornings. 

Naturally, I started searching for more examples of carrot loaf cakes, because the one I found looked amazing but wasn’t quite what I was going for. Then I started brainstorming about what I might do with the recipe. And I realized that I’ve almost never explained how or why I remake recipes---trying to balance the art and science of cooking and baking without any professional kitchen experience whatsoever (like most of you, I hope!). Thus, this post was born. 

Most of my "recipes" these days are made up on the go as we tease out the true allergies in the house. So, today, you get a walk-through of how I start to build a recipe-creating/converting grid AND a recipe-free method for the quickest allergy-safe dinners ever. Maybe I’ll get to that nutrition post by 2018….

Converting and Creating Allergy-Safe Recipes

If you’re like me, you have a ton of recipes from your past that you adore and can’t make as is anymore because of food restrictions. That’s a natural place to start converting ingredients to safe ones, of course.

Also, though, I tend to find recipes on favorite food blogs/sites or even on allergy-friendly sites that just don’t quite fit our needs. Maybe they’re dairy-free but not egg-free, or they’re wheat-free but not dairy-free. You get the idea.

When that happens, I grab the recipe that inspired me, search for a few more examples that might replace other allergens, and line them all up in a table with the same/similar ingredients on the same rows. Like so: 


​Then I aim for my own version, which uses the ingredients I know are safe and work for us, and which usually relies on ingredients I already have on hand.

​For example, if it’s a fruit or veggie product, I might use juice instead of milk. If the original has nuts, I might replace them with dried fruit or just leave them out. If peanut butter is key, this recipe might not be for me! But it can still work in some cases with another thick spread or oil, if I’m lucky. If the recipe has 1-2 eggs, I’ll use one of my favorite egg mixes (applesauce, starch, and water), might increase the oil or fruit/veggie content a bit, and might add some extra leavener (baking soda) if it’s a baked good that should dome. 

​If my final version is quite similar to one of the originals, then it’s ALWAYS called an adapted recipe if/when it goes on my blog or in a book. If the final differs pretty substantially (a qualitative statement, I know), it’s simply inspired by, or maybe acknowledged in another way. 

A lot of my recipes come out of my family archives, but I get more and more inspiration from friends and families lately, too!


​Here are a few lessons I’ve learned during my baking grid experiments so far:

1) If the recipe calls for coconut oil, or is a no-bake recipe, you really can’t replace the coconut oil with a liquid oil. Semi-solid oils are crucial for holding together batters after they cool. You can try to lower the amount of coconut oil, though, for heart healthy purposes.

2) Recipes with 3 or more eggs are really tough to convert to egg-free versions. Sometimes it’s worth cutting the original in half and making smaller batches at a time instead.

3) Recipes without the fatty mouth feel of dairy and eggs really need some extra kick sometimes, even if you get that texture from oils or fruit sauces/butters. We have “accidentally” used double the amount of cinnamon, vanilla, and many other herbs with a lot of success.

4) Too much baking powder gives you bitter cookies. Baking soda and powder are both important. Don’t use just one if the recipe calls for both! If I’m replacing eggs in a recipe that calls for just one, I try to use the other option for a better balance. Don’t forget the extra lemon juice or vinegar if you add soda to a recipe, though, because the acid isn’t built into that leavener.

Since I “wasted” much of my morning browsing around carrot cake ideas, I really had to stretch to pull off our Recipe-Free Dinner. You know what’s funny, though? Everyone thought it was delicious (even the kid who won’t eat food that touches each other, usually).

This dinner was made in one pan and was served in individual bowls right from the pan. I measured just about nothing and went for the Rachael Ray eyeball-it method. Minimal cleanup necessary.
 
Hectic Day Dinner

Ingredients
Pick a sautéing oil (we love olive oil, always on hand)

Pick a veggie (we used pre-frozen sliced peppers, defrosted, but fresh will work well here of course)

Pick a protein (we used 1 pound of stir fry beef, defrosted, but beans or fish or another meat will do)

Pick a sauce or liquid vehicle (we used a leftover half-empty jar artichoke red pepper dip because I needed to get rid of it. To thicken it all up, I added a dusting of cornstarch, too)

Pick some seasonings (we used a huge scoop of minced garlic, unmeasured, and a ton of shakes of a Bavarian spice mix from Penzy’s)

Pick a healthy (low GI) carb (we used thin sliced farm red potatoes from our WGG delivery that morning)

Pick a leafy green (we used romaine on the side but a collard/kale green shredded into the bowl would be ideal if it’s on hand)

​Directions
Warm some olive oil in a medium covered pan on the stovetop.

Add the veggies on medium high.

Add the meat, cut into small dices, and saute briefly; then cover and turn the heat to medium to steam.

Add the sauce or liquid, cornstarch, and garlic. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil, then return to medium and add the seasonings.

Wash and thin slice the potatoes, then cut slices in half and add into the pan (or stir in broken up rice noodles, instant rice, couscous, or other carbs if you choose).

Cover the pan and allow the steam and liquid to cook the potato slices. When they’re soft, dinner is ready.

Ladle some of the meal into each bowl and add the greens on the side or shredded into the mix.

*You can make this an even faster dinner by using leftover cooked meat, drained beans or tofu, and vermicelli-style Asian rice noodles or tiny Italian pasta (pastine).
So, what would you use in your version?!
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