Monday, April 30, 2012

Life Proceeds Gluten Free

Yippee, some time to write!! The past week was busy with house guests and our son's 6th birthday celebration. It was also full of peaceful, aesthetic moments as captured in the photo above. Spring is in the air and life is good. I am beginning my second month of leaving gluten and dairy out of my diet. During the first month my self-diagnoses was confirmed a few times when I unintentionally or intentionally partook of gluten. I still find it a bit bizarre that one day I could eat it, and apparently digest it uneventfully, and the next day I couldn't. But I guess that is how life works. Things change. They are always changing. Usually the changes happen gradually so we have time to adapt but sometimes they broadside us and we are forced to make rapid mental and sometimes physical adjustments.

It really is a fortuitous time, relatively speaking, to go gluten-free. There is a newfound awareness of potential problems associated with ingesting gluten and a resulting infusion of gluten-free labels and gluten-free products in the marketplace. Of course, most whole food is already gluten-free. Some people are capitalizing on this. Just make sure not to be fooled into paying more for gluten-free rice or peanut butter!

At least so far, I feel that I am doing a pretty good job of taking the change in stride. Interestingly, the most difficult adjustment has not been giving up gluten and dairy, but rather changing some of my other ingrained habits associated with food. I am a zero-waste kind of gal and pride myself on shopping, cooking, serving, and cleaning up in a way that virtually eliminates any food waste. I don't feel this way about all food, only quality food. I pick up my son from kindergarten at noon and every day I see two large trash cans full of uneaten crappy food-like-substances that his school tries to pass off as an acceptable lunch for the children. I actually feel a sense of contentment that all that junk didn't make it into their digestive tracks. But I wouldn't hesitate to cut off the bite marks of a half-eaten organic apple and save or eat the rest. I know my son and husband's eating habits, so in our home I compensate for what I know my son will probably leave on his plate by putting less on mine and then cleaning his plate when he is done. Well, now that some of his food is off-limits for me, I find myself, oftentimes without success, offering Leo's picked-over or nibbled-on leftovers to my husband. The conversation might go something like this: 
"You could finish Leo's quiche." 
"Uhhh, yeah, no thanks."
"It is still good, it's just mashed up a bit."
"I'm really not hungry."
"If I put it in a container, do you think you might have it for lunch tomorrow?"
"Probably not."
And who could blame him really.
And so, unable to eat it myself; unable even to compost it (which would feel better) because of the bear that regularly visits our property, into the trash it must go. I apologize to the food-gods, bid farewell to the asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms, the gruyere, farm fresh eggs, nutmeg, and cream. And drop it with finality and helplessness into the garbage can. This letting go has been the surprise hardest part of my new gluten and dairy-free life.

Other than that I have been enjoying cooking, baking, and eating without gluten and dairy, and I did a lot of all those things last week. I look forward to sharing as I expand my gluten-free baking repertoire. I was able to find rice flour and potato starch and xanthan gum at our co-op. I ordered sorghum and tapioca flour through Amazon. Yes, you can buy anything from Amazon. I've already made some respectable lemon bars and birthday cupcakes and am excited to continue to experiment.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Spring Lily Soup

Unless you have a greenhouse, there isn't much in the way of spring gardening here in the mountains. May 31 is considered the beginning of the safe zone for planting outside without the chance of frost or even snow. Of course many people take the risk and plant sooner. I've done it myself plenty of times. I've also had to pull up frost-bitten and wilted little plants and start over. Today was one of those days that can seduce you to throw caution to the wind. The sun was high in sky and it approached 80 degrees. Surely winter is behind us. Surely this warmth will continue...... Beginning with June we are then favored with four frost-free months before the possibility of it returns. It is a short growing season but it does get quite warm, so a productive summer garden is achievable. 

Green String Farm in Petaluma, Ca, had super-fresh baby leeks when I stopped by last week on my way back to Quincy from a Sonoma County visit. And then at Tony's, between Marysville and Oroville, I loaded up on fat fresh asparagus from their garden because ours doesn't make an appearance until early June! I made a blended (I'm into those lately) spring soup out of the leeks, a few of the asparagus, and whatever else I could find in the fridge. It was delicious so I will share what I did in case someone wants to try something similar. I am not a very exacting cook so it is a challenge to try to capture a thrown together soup but I scribbled as I went. I went a bit heavy on the butter for richness because my belly currently seems to tolerate it better than, say, cream.

Spring Lily Soup 
a couple large or a half dozen small leeks
1 medium onion
10 asparagus
3 yellow potatoes
2 cloves of garlic
6 mushrooms (optional)
1/2 t. crushed dried or chopped fresh thyme
1/2 t. crushed dried or chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 c. white wine
3 T. butter
2 T. olive oil
3 c. chicken or vegetable broth (or water and bouillon cube)

Melt butter with olive oil over medium heat in a heavy soup pot. Add chopped leeks, onions, asparagus, garlic, and mushrooms. Add the herbs. Saute until tender; about 8 to 10 minutes. Deglaze pan with the wine and cook a few more minutes. Add broth (or water and bouillon) and peeled potato chunks and a few sprinkles of salt and simmer until the potatoes are tender; about 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool slightly. Puree in food processor. Return to soup pot. Taste. Add a few more sprinkles of salt if needed. Serve plain or with chopped chives and crumbled bacon or with a fried egg as I did.

Serves 4ish.

A trick my dad taught me - instead of breaking off the tough ends
of the asparagus, you can peel them.


Monday, April 16, 2012

The Local Blog Scene

A sad and, I think, rather pathetic result of budget shortfalls in our county has been the cutting off of funding for our Plumas County Visitor's Bureau. The Visitor's Center on the outskirts of Quincy has a black sheet hanging ominously over its roadside sign. The county website sits unattended and outdated for the time being.

But on the upside (isn't there usually an upside somewhere?) I see a grassroots "Quincy Pride" movement taking shape in our super-awesome, righteous, gorgeous, best-town-ever. (See?!!) If there will be no county resources provided to help promote our area, we will have to do it ourselves. A local woman has started a new website to inform locals and potential visitors about our vibrant regional scene. New features are being added weekly and I see its potential to be a real internet hub for the area. Check it out here:

There are several blogs being written for the site itself which are evolving nicely. I volunteered to compile a list of other local blogs of interest to link to through this new website. It was a pleasant little journey of discovery. When I began, I knew only of my own. I ended up with a list of seven blogs, all very different. Here are the other six:

Margaret Elysia Garcia, local writer, blogs about the joys and challenges of mountain living at:

Julie Hatzell, Quincy CafĂ© and Coffee Shop owner, blogs about eco-ethical business practices and issues at:

Sierrosmith describes Quincy as a quirky quixotic bit of Utopia lost in the Sierras. He offers an eclectic mix of snapshots reflecting the local scene at:                

Greg Williams of Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS) maintains a blog about Plumas and Sierra County trails and trail projects at:

Joe Willis loves natural history and blogs in hopes of inspiring others to get outside and discover the wonderland called Plumas County at:

I am familiar with all of these people, except Sierrosmith, but their blogging life was heretofore unbeknownst to me. Joe Willis is particularly prolific, logging a whopping 384 posts in 2011. I know! More than there were days!

Also, continuing in the vein of shameless self-promotion and touting the merits of our exceptional area (see, I can't stop), Carrie Hawthorne, the woman who started the new website, is hosting a video contest. In her words, "In order to promote our region and foster economic development through awareness and tourism, we're hosting a video contest on QuincyCa.usThe goal of the contest is to encourage the production of short videos that reflect the natural beauty and vibrant community that exist in our area."  

I've never gotten into making videos. The only videos I've ever created are unedited snippets of our son doing interesting and not-so-interesting things. But for fun and to contribute to the cause (go, Quincy, go!), I pulled together snapshots taken in and around the Quincy area over the past several years, created a slideshow, and uploaded it to YouTube. You can view my video entry here: 

That's all for now.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Gluten and Dairy Free!!!!?

I've always been able to eat anything. Allergy is not a familiar word in the history of my family. A childhood friend of my brothers, named Michael, had allergies. It was the first time I had heard the word and I remember examining him with a certain intensity to see if I could detect a difference in him that would elucidate these "allergies". He did seem a bit pale (or maybe that was just his northern European descent?) and thin. Anyway, people with allergies have always been an enigma. When I've heard of people with multiple allergies like dander, grass, pollen, milk, eggs, shellfish, AND nuts it just hasn't made sense to me. They were born of the earth, how could they be allergic to it? Well I'm still not well versed in the science of it but I now know plenty of people with allergies and sensitivities and now possibly may have to count myself among them.

These days you hear a lot about gluten intolerance. It's all the rage. I'm joking of course. I understand fully that celiacs disease is a serious issue. But what IS going on? More and more people are realizing that when they avoid wheat and other gluten-y grains that they feel better. I was in a Whole Foods Market in Napa a couple of days ago and I saw a huge selection of gluten-free products. It is growth industry right now. 

So here's the story. I had a tummy ache for about 2 weeks and instead of going to the doctor, (I have an aversion to Western medicine), I decided to eliminate gluten from my diet to see if that helped. Well, it seemed to. I was on day 4 and keeping a food journal when I had a decadent dairy-based treat. After a couple of hours I had extreme tummy pain and other unmentionable unpleasant symptoms. So maybe dairy is the issue. Back to the computer for more googling.... If you do have celiacs and there is actual damage to the villa in your small intestines it can cause you to have problems digesting dairy products even if you wouldn't ordinarily. So the two can be linked. I also read that some level of lactose intolerance in adults is the norm worldwide. I'm on day 9 now with no gluten or dairy and my tummy is feeling fine. I have mixed feelings of course. I plan to stick to the program a month or two longer until I feel that I have a good solid baseline to then re-introduce gluten and dairy in small quantities and take careful note of their effects. 

I think when you have food sensitivities you end up being a more mindful eater in general. I want my seemingly iron gut back but if I need to eliminate a category of food in order to be well, so be it. We'll see.

Here is a kale dip recipe I found in the latest Whole Living magazine. I made it back a week and a half ago when I was gluten but not dairy-free. Actually I made it twice. It was good at first, better the next day, and then I craved it.

Kale Dip
1 T. olive oil
1 garlic clove roughly chopped
3 cups thinly sliced kale leaves
coarse salt
1 cup cottage cheese
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 T. fresh lemon juice

Heat oil in pan over medium heat. Add garlic, and kale and season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 or 6 minutes. Let cool. Place in food processor with cottage cheese, red pepper flakes and lemon juice. Puree until smooth. Serve with chips or veggies.

Lastly, I want to share a photo I took on the morning after a large bear came through our yard last week. We have a pet cat whose paw prints can be seen in the snow beside the bear's. Perhaps they are friends?


Monday, April 2, 2012

Cauliflower Revelations

When considering vegetables, cauliflower didn't used to be near the top of my list of favorites. It hovered in the rather bland and unexciting catagory along with cabbage and turnips. Over the past couple of years since I've learned to roast it rather than steam it and more recently, to puree it, it has been promoted. My husband commented that I seem to be really INTO cauliflower lately. Well, I have been trying to perfect a blended cauliflower soup recipe so I've been making it a lot. It is also great pureed as a substitute for mashed potatoes  I blogged about roasting it awhile back and will repeat the method for doing so here: 

Method: Slice cauliflower into 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick "steaks" and pieces. Place in a single layer on oiled baking sheet, brush with your favorite oil, sprinkle with your favorite salt and pepper and roast at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes till nicely browned on the side touching the pan. Seriously, if you are just lukewarm to cauli, this will change your opinion. I can enthusiastically eat an entire small head of cauliflower prepared this way (in one sitting).

So, coincidentally, as I was busy experimenting with cauliflower soups I saw a recipe for one in the winter edible Reno-Tahoe foodie magazine. I really like this magazine. It comes out quarterly and celebrates the local food culture of an area. I especially appreciate the non-glossy, thick paper the magazine is printed on. There are numerous "edible" magazines that publish all over the country. Perhaps there is one representing your "foodshed" below:
Edible Allegheny
Edible Aspen
Edible Austin
Edible Boston
Edible Brooklyn
Edible Blue Ridge
Edible Buffalo
Edible Cape Cod
Edible Chicago
Edible Cleveland
Edible Columbus
Edible East Bay
Edible Dallas & Fort Worth
Edible DC
Edible East End
Edible Finger Lakes
Edible Front Range
Edible Grande Traverse
Edible Green Mountains
Edible Hawaiian Islands
Edible Hudson Valley
Edible Iowa River Valley
Edible Indy
Edible Jersey
Edible Louisville
Edible Madison
Edible Manhattan
Edible Marin & Wine Country
Edible Memphis
Edible Michiana
Edible Monterey Bay
Edible New Orleans
Edible Nutmeg
Edible Ohio Valley
Edible Ojai
Edible Omaha
Edible Orange County
Edible Orlando
Edible Philly
Edible Phoenix
Edible Piedmont
Edible Portland
Edible Queens
Edible Reno-Tahoe
Edible Rhody
Edible Sacramento
Edible San Diego
Edible San Francisco
Edible San Juan Mountains
Edible Santa Barbara
Edible Santa Fe
Edible Sarasota
Edible Seattle
Edible Shasta-Butte
Edible Sonoran Desert
Edible South Florida
Edible South Shore
Edible Toronto
Edible Twin Cities
Edible Upcountry
Edible Vancouver
Edible Vineyard
Edible Wasatch
Edible Westside
Edible WOW

My adaptation of the cauliflower soup recipe which was courtesy of Jack Rabbit Moon restaurant of Incline Village, NV, was the most flavorful yet. I will share it here:

Creamy Cauliflower Soup With Gruyere and Pesto Croutons

1 1/2 T. olive oil
1 large yellow onion chopped or sliced
1 t. salt
4 garlic cloves chopped or minced
pinch of thyme
1 cup dry white wine
1 large or 2 small heads of cauliflower broken in pieces
1/2+ cup grated gruyere or any type of Swiss cheese
3 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cup whipping cream or half and half

Saute onions, garlic, and salt for 5 minutes over medium heat. Deglaze with white wine and cook until nearly evaporated. Add broth, cream, and cauliflower and simmer until tender (approx. 25 minutes). Cool slightly and then puree in blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and stir the grated cheese into the still nearly hot soup. I like to save a little cheese to sprinkle on top.

For the croutons: Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet. Cut whatever kind of bread you have into cubes and saute, stirring over medium heat until crispy. 

Serve soup with croutons as they are or tossed in pesto for an extra burst of flavor. You can drizzle olive oil and/or cheese and sprinkle chopped fresh herbs if you like (basil, parsley, chives...).
Who knew cauliflower could taste this good?