Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Flip Or Flop

In my last entry, I shared my struggles with anxiety over recently diagnosed food allergies. I'm happy to report that I am in much better spirits. I haven't only let go of the worry and frustration, but I've actually even started to have fun trying new things. As always, the stories have been stacking up in my head, so I thought I'd take the time to share a few of them.

One of my favorite things to cook is pancakes. I have nearly a dozen favorite recipes, most including yummy fruits and even vegetables. I love apple pancakes, strawberry pancakes, peach pancakes, banana pancakes, pumpkin pancakes, and especially blueberry chocolate chip pancakes

When I started my rotation diet several weeks ago, pancakes were one of the foods I grieved for the most. I'd gone off gluten grains (wheat, barley, etc.) and other similar grains (spelt, Kamut, etc). I was able to eat buckwheat and rice, but on their respective days, there weren't enough other ingredients to make pancakes -- or so I thought, until I found The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide. From this book, I learned that you can make quick breads even without baking powder and eggs! All you need is baking soda and some form of acid for leavening, such as vinegar, lemon, or rhubarb concentrate. (Baking soda, like salt, is non-reactive.)

Since I could only have vinegar every four days and I wasn't allowed to have lemon, I ran to the store for some rhubarb, which happened to be in season. I boiled the heck out of it and then strained the liquid, which I froze by the tablespoonful in an ice cube tray. Lo and behold, the results were glorious! Or maybe just edible.

I started with buckwheat pancakes, topped with a simple peach sauce:

I never think to take a picture until after I've started eating!
Buckwheat pancakes aren't the tastiest on their own, but I was so happy to be eating something made of grain that I almost cried. And the peach topping was really yummy. 

The rice pancakes didn't work out so well, though:

I think it was my old griddle, which had been on one too many camping trips. That and the fact that I greased the surface with apricot oil, which isn't nearly so slick as my usual butter. Because my heart had been set on pancakes, I'll have you know that I scraped all of those pancake fragments off the griddle and ate them. The crispy parts were actually quite nice, though the pancakes tasted decidedly ricey, which I suppose makes sense. I've since bought a giant new electric griddle with such an amazing nonstick surface that you can literally cook without oil. (But why would you want to?) Still, it'll be a long time before I try rice pancakes again because my latest blood test showed a sensitivity to rice. Boo! 

The most interesting pancakes of all were the sweet potato ones, which I made when I was on a break from my allergy diet. I'd bought a couple of white sweet potatoes at the local Vietnamese market, which was a fun adventure that I shared with Allyson and my friend Becky. My favorite purchase was two duck eggs. They were delicious! (They should have been, at nearly a dollar a piece.)

I wish you could've seen my face that Saturday morning when I peeled those potatoes. They were purple inside! 

A quick Google search assured me that they were indeed sweet potatoes, with a sweet flavor well suited to desserts. So I cubed and boiled them. I found that they took a bit longer to cook than the orange ones, and maybe I drained and mashed them a bit prematurely due to my piteously growling stomach. 

I figured the purple color would be a bonus; remember how Allyson used to love my pink pancakes (made with beets)? 

Well, who knew that they would come out an off-putting shade of bluish green?

There were bits of purple in them, rather like mini chocolate chips except that they tasted and felt like al-dente sweet potatoes. 

Of course, I ate them anyway. My heart had been set on pancakes, darn it. They weren't too bad, especially since they were made with actual baking powder and eggs. Needless to say, though, I packed the rest away in the freezer and didn't even show the kids. 

My next experiment was with amaranth skillet bread, a recipe in the aforementioned allergy cookbook. This was one of the dozen or so items on Phase 1 of my new LEAP elimination diet. At first I was mystified about how to use this tiny seed which resembles quinoa, a food I dearly miss. As a cooked cereal, it kind of reminds me of Cream of Wheat, only gooier and crispier. I can't explain it any better than that; you'd have to try it if you're brave enough. I'm getting used to it since there's no way I'm omitting any of my allowed foods these days. 

To make the skillet bread, I had to first soak the amaranth seeds in warm water and lemon juice overnight. (The second blood test showed no reaction to lemon. Yay!) The next morning, the only way I could think to rinse them was in the old nut milk bag which I'd used to make almond milk in the past. This worked very well--until I tried to pour the wet seeds back out. An alarming portion of the tiny seeds danced all across my counter top, and their brothers clung stubbornly to the seams in the fine mesh bag. When I tried to brush them out, they stuck just as stubbornly to my wet fingers. Argh! (I've since bought a fine-mesh stainless steel tea strainer, and that works much better.) 

Next I dehydrated what was left of the seeds on my oven's lowest setting, which at 170 degrees Fahrenheit was unfortunately too high to maintain all the nutrients. To compensate, I turned the oven off every few hours and just left the oven light on. By the afternoon, the seeds seemed dry enough, so I ground them into a silky flour in my trusty Nutrimill grain mill. 

Major Flop!
I heated a tablespoon of avocado oil in a 12-inch nonstick frying pan on high heat, mixed the amaranth flour with some salt and water, and poured the batter into the sizzling oil. Per the directions, I cooked the flat bread for 2 minutes and then drizzled another tablespoon of oil over the batter, I tried to spread the oil with the back of a spoon as instructed, but this tore the fragile bread so I abandoned the idea. At this point, the thinner edges on one edge of the pan were looking mighty black, so after I covered the pan, I only let it cook for 1.5 minutes instead of 5. As black tendrils of smoke curled into my nostrils, I tried to get a spatula under the whole unwieldy mass. Ha!!! The only part that came up was the part that was burned to a crisp. I had to cut the rest into sections and scrape the bottom of the pan vigorously. I did manage to dislodge most of the crispy bottom, but when I tried to flip the cake, it all turned into a giant mess. 

Of course, I ate it anyway. Every last gooey, burned bit. I can't say it was very tasty, but I was starving, and I'd been craving bread, any excuse for bread. But I don't think I'll make that again unless I can figure out how to make it on my amazing new electric griddle. I bet even amaranth flat bread wouldn't stick to it. I'll let you know when I find out. 

Way Harder Than Milking a Cow
Pancakes and other bread substitutes aren't the only thing I've learned to make. I've also had to start making all my own nut and seed milks because the grocery store brands have illegal ingredients. I'd made lovely almond milk in the past but gave it up because it was rather a hassle. So I was tickled to learn that hemp milk and cashew milk are super easy to make and quite tasty (but also very expensive). 

Coconut milk, on the other hand, was very labor intensive. A sensible person would have bought the frozen coconut shreds at the Vietnamese market and rehydrated them, but not me. Oh, no. Nothing but fresh coconut would do! I bought a young coconut which appeared to have been shelled already. The coconut meat looked nothing like I expected, and it was really woody, 

I hacked away at that coconut with a butcher knife for about an hour, growing more and more skeptical that these sawdust curls could ever be transformed into milk. 

When I slipped with the knife and gave myself a little gash on my palm, I was tempted to abandon the whole thing. But my heart was set on coconut milk; I planned to blend it with frozen strawberries and some maple syrup to make blender ice cream that evening. So I watched some YouTube videos and got back to work with my bandaged hand. I now realized that I'd actually picked an unhulled coconut. I'd have to break it open to get at the tender meat inside. 

I didn't have a chisel, but I did have the pink painted hammer which a friend had given me as a housewarming gift. I bludgeoned that coconut over and over until a small crack appeared. Then I drained the water over a pitcher and set it aside to blend into the milk. With a bench knife, I laboriously pried the coconut in half at last. 

I was bitterly disappointed to find only the thinnest layer of tender coconut flesh inside, maybe a couple of millimeters thick. With a bit of help from Allyson, I gingerly scraped it loose with a spoon, taking care not to get any of the woody hull with it. 

After an hour and a half of sweaty work, I loaded it all up in my beloved BlendTech blender and pressed Whole Juice. In under a minute, the blender jar was two-thirds full of smooth, frothy milk. My mouth watered in anticipation!

It was... so-so. I probably should have added more water because it had almost the consistency of half-and-half whipping cream. Also, it tasted decidedly coconutty, way more so than the kind you buy at the store. I'm really not a big fan of coconut, so I wasn't crazy about the milk. However, I'm happy to report that it made the most delectable strawberry ice cream I'd ever tasted. Yum!!

I must also report that these bags are now languishing in my freezer because the second blood test showed sensitivity to coconut. Boo!

Retraining My Brain
One of the best things I'm learning from my allergy diet is to appreciate the food that I can eat. I realize that people all over the world are eating just a handful of staple foods each day, and they are thankful to have any food in their bellies. So I try to enjoy my food each day, and not to focus on the foods that I can't have. 

This has become harder on the LEAP diet. In Phase 1, my only vegetables are bell peppers, carrots, asparagus, and tomatoes. My fruits are watermelon, avocado, and grapefruit. The watermelon is sometimes a treat, if I've managed to pick a sweet one. The avocado is a gift from God, literally. I don't think I could ever get tired of it. 

But the grapefruit... oh my. I've always hated grapefruit. Nevertheless, I decided to try the approach suggested in the literature that came with my blood test results. Each day for at least ten days, I must take just one bite of grapefruit. I must do this when I'm in a relaxed state, always with a smile on my face. Over time, my brain will be retrained to view grapefruit as a positive experience. 

Know what? It works! I don't love grapefruit yet, but I've started eating more than one bite. I can have two or three segments at a time, and I've stopped adding honey. One of the three grapefruits I bought was so sweet that it was actually pleasant to eat, though it still left a wicked aftertaste. 

At Allyson's suggestion, I tried putting grapefruit on my cereal, and that greatly reduced the aftertaste. In the end, I think I will be a grapefruit fan.

Tomorrow I see my dietitian again, and hopefully she'll give me the green light to start Phase 2, in which I can add one new food per day and see how my body reacts. First up: apples. Oh, my mouth is watering for them!

I don't even know whether this diet is helping me, but I'm definitely learning better attitudes toward food, and I'm forming healthy habits that will last a lifetime. I'm also realizing that life isn't just about food. I can enjoy my time with friends and family just as much even when I've packed my own salmon, avocado, and asparagus lunch, no matter what feast everyone else is sharing. We truly don't live by bread alone. 

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