Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Happy Birthday NGR

Oh happy birthday No Gluten Required! You are 3!
You are a rambunctious toddler who often throws fits and rages on in rant form. Though you have also accomplished many impressive feats.

NGR is 3, which means I have been sans gluten for 4 years. The internet informs me that:

Traditional Anniversary Gift: Leather
Modern Anniversary Gift: Crystal/Glass
Travel Anniversary Gift Ideas: Luggage
Traditional Anniversary Gift: Flowers
Modern Anniversary Gift: Linen/Silk
Travel Anniversary Gift Ideas: Lingerie, Hawaiian Vacation

So if we are nit-picking here, you should probably just send me to Hawaii. For those traditionalists, you can FabLab-etch some No Gluten Required luggage for the trip. It will be awesome. I promise to post a bit more, eat an unhealthy amount of poi, macacamia nuts and beverages from faux tiki heads.

In all seriousness, thank you to everyone who reads, comments and emails. I felt pretty alone when I was first diagnosed and kind of sick of many of the woe-is-me message boards, though I was grateful for them, especially on bad days. I feel particularly lucky to have access to the internet, online communities and friends and people willing to share recipes, thoughts, tips and ideas for free. Thanks for being awesome, fun, interesting, and being part of a Phil Collins spoof that actually turned into something more.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Homemade tonic water

Several friends have invested in seltzer makers. They save money and make fun farting noises, what is not to love? The discussion about whether it was possible to make homemade tonic water arose. Always a fan of an overly complicated way to make something from scratch that is probably cheaper and easier to just purchase, I decided to research the project immediately.

Step 1 - find a recipe
There are several out there, but almost all point to Jeffrey Morgenthaler's How To Make Your Own Tonic Water. Other recipes offer more exotic mix-ins, and some offered sugar rather than agave nectar as sweeteners. 

Step 2 - find ingredients
I knew that citric acid was available at the co-op, but I could not find the cinchona bark - the ingredient that contains quinine - anywhere. I tried the health food store, the food co-op, spice shops; a friend even translated cinchona into pinyin and I attempted to find the bark at 3 pharmacies in Chinatown. No dice.

I finally broke down and purchased online from Penn Herb Co for $25/lb. plus shipping. I had to get a pound of the stuff, and the recipes only call for a quarter cup, so its safe to say that this is going to be one of many attempts at tonic water.

Step 3 - Making the goods

Tonic Water Syrup
4 cups water
1 cup chopped lemongrass
¼ cup cinchona bark
zest and juice of 1 orange
zest and juice of 1 lemon
zest and juice of 1 lime
zest and juice of 1 grapefruit
1 tsp whole allspice berries
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
¼ cup citric acid
¼ tsp Kosher salt

3 cups of sugar
1 cup of water

1. Combine the 4 cups of water, bark, zest, juice, spices, citric acid and salt into a sauce pan.
2. Bring to a boil, lower and simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Allow the mixture to cool, then strain through coffee filters - this takes a while.
4. In a clean sauce pan, combine the strained mixture with 1 cup of water and 3 cups of sugar. Bring to a low boil to disolve all the sugar.
5. Allow the mixture to cool.
6. Combine the mixture with seltzer and booze of your choice.
¾ ounce of syrup, 1½ ounces of gin and 2 ounces of soda water - is what Morgenthaler recommends. I prefer 1 part syrup to 2 parts soda water and 1 part vodka. But you have taste buds of your own, so do what feels right.
Lemongrass is a beast of a plant to cut. You will need a sharp knife, and probably 2 stalk = 1 cup chopped. Its worth it. Don't skip this step, plus the inside is PURPLE!

A rasp is key for this project - it will get the zest without the white pith.


Cool down...

The flavor is a lot more complex than the clear tonic water you can buy in the store. It is not nearly as sweet, and with the exception of the bitterness from the quinine, its hard to pick out each of the individual ingredients, but I mean that in a good way. The flavor is pretty complex, but it doesn't fight with the gin, if gin happens to be your mix-in of choice. I would say that if you have a soda-stream at home, to make the water extra farty, since stirring in the syrup does knock out some of the carbonation.

The final product is good, really good. Better than I expected and worth the effort.

Consider it summer and me tickled pink.

When traveling, pack extra snacks

Oats are not gluten-free. In the United States, oats are NOT gluten-free. I want to shout it from the rooftops - OATS ARE NOT GLUTEN FREE!

This is not because oats contain the proteins gliadin and glutenin - which together make up gluten - but all standard oats in the U.S. are grown, housed, and/or processed with gluten containing grains (wheat, rye, barley, etc.) that make oats NOT gluten-free.

I spent part of last week at the Association for the Study of Food and Society's annual conference in Missoula, Montana. I have never been to a conference with so many gluten-free labeled options. Buffet-style does not keep items safe for very long, but I was excited to see more than undressed salad as an option. There was at least two items I could eat at almost every meal.

Then there was the snack break on Saturday where the fruit and granola compote was labeled "dairy free" and "gluten free".

I subdued my rage and panic of "ohhhhh shit, was what I ate yesterday really safe?!??!!"

I quietly pulled aside one of the catering staff and explained that oats in the U.S. are not gluten free and that the sign was incorrect, and should be removed - if possible. (I quelled my desire to violently sharpie-out the inaccuracy. And note, I did not get angry at the staff member. It was not her fault, her call, nor could she do anything about it other than relay the info to the chef. Never yell at the in-between-staffer making minimum wage. You have all seen Fight Club, so I won't harp on this point.)

In all honesty, I had a great time and did not get sick. I did head over to the campus store and grab some extra Lara Bars and snacks so I could avoid the remainder of the catered foods.

Dining out was relatively easy in the city. I had a few killer meals... but I will post more about that later!

Monday, June 6, 2011


A friend handed me the Style section of this Sunday's New York Times. Smack, in color, in front of me, was the article "Looking for a Plan B? Make it Gluten-free". I wanted to like it... well I wanted to not hate it. What started as a medium irritation festered into a full-on yelling-at-the-newsprint swearing event. I was waving the paper back and forth, yelling quotes aloud, the full nine yards.

It began with:
Who even heard of gluten (or the lack thereof) a decade ago? The estimated 1.3 percent of the population who had celiac disease, which is basically an inability to digest gluten, did, but the general public awareness was minimal.

I realize it is the Style section, but that is no excuse. 

Celiac disease is NOT "basically an inability to digest gluten" it is an autoimmune disease. There is a big fucking difference.

Then there is Ms. Gillette, who allowed food-allergic FIVE-YEAR-OLDS to cook with items they are allergic to:
She found a startling number of them could not eat the treats they made because of allergies; the most common allergy was to gluten. “There’s nothing like seeing a five-year-old make a chocolate chip cookie and she can’t dive into it,” Ms. Gillette said. “It kind of broke my heart. I told myself I’m going to have to teach myself how to be a gluten-free chef.”"

Who the hell would ever EVER allow children to touch, never mind cook with ingredients that could make them violently ill? Even if the kids do not eat the final product or ingredients, there is a good chance they are going to get it on their clothing, hands, face and increase the risk that they could ingest some. This sounds like the most irresponsible educator ever.

Oh then there is this gem by Edie:
“I’d tasted a lot of gluten-free bread and thought, ‘Wow, this stuff is terrible,’ ” she said. “I thought I could do better and thought because I didn’t need to eat gluten-free, I could hold it to a higher standard.” 

Who the fuck do you think you are? Just because you have the luxury of not having to eat gluten free, you have a superior palate? Whether intention by the author or not, this made dear Edie sound like an asshat. First of all, taste is cultural and personal - so what is "good" is relative. Secondly, gluten-free substitute foods, like bread, have been around for decades and the demand for "better" has pushed many before Ms. Irwin to be creative in the kitchen and in professional bakeries alike.

There is also an undertone throughout the article that gluten-free bakeries are the "plan b" option for those looking for a life/career change and want to cash-in on a money-making trend. The last couple profiled are the Kings, who warn that:

“Anyone who thinks they’re going to start a food company as we did, with no money, better be passionate about it,” he said. “If you’re in it for the money, good luck to you.” 

While perhaps helpful advice to anyone thinking about starting any business venture, the article ignores that this possible "plan b", is cashing in on misfortune.
“There was a certain satisfaction in putting up a 10-story building,” Mr. King says of his old profession. “But it can’t be matched when someone thanks you for something you’ve given them that they haven’t been able to have.” 

No discussion about who gets to eat at these new bakeries, nor how much their gluten-free alternatives to gluten-filled standards cost. Us, dear readers, are also left wondering if these businesses are financially sound, never mind successful... though a fluffy write-up in the Times usually isn't bad for business. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Daikon salad

It has really warmed up in Boston, so the idea of turning on an oven, or even the stove has ranged from -234 to about 1. (I am visiting Boston for a bit, and apparently compared to the scorching weather in D.C. I should not be complaining.)

With bbqs slated for the long weekend, I wanted to bring something bright, fresh and requiring zero heat to prepare. I found some fresh daikon in Chinatown and decided on a vinegar-but-not-quite-pickled salad.

The ingredients: daikon radish, jicima (I decided to omit, so just admire it), scallions, kolrabi, carrots, nappa cabbage and a jalapeno

Wash and peel the daikon:

With a hand peeler, or mandolin, very thinly slice the daikon. (I split it in half when the slices got too big for the peeler, so there were rounds and half moon shapes.)
Peel and ribbon the carrot - basically keep peeling the carrot, rotating it around so you get thin slices.

Cut the ribbons into thirds:

Peel the kolrabi - you are going to need a knife for the peeling part because the outside is thick and fibrous, but the inside is AWESOME. It tastes a bit like sweet broccoli, mixed with turnip. After its peeled, you can treat it like the daikon, and thinly slice it with the peeler or mandolin.
Clean the scallions and separate the greens from the whites. Thinly slice the white ends vertically to create long, thin slices. Save the greens for another thing.

Put all the chopped and sliced veggies into a salad spinner and SPIN. Get them as dry as possible.
In a separate bowl, add the sliced jalepenos - as much as you like (this pepper was very mild, so I kept the seeds in). Add in a few tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, a few teaspoons of sugar and a few good pinches of salt. (This is going to vary depending on how many veggies you have, start with 2 tbsp vinegar, 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tsp salt, and add more if you need it.)
Once the sugar and salt are disolved in the mix, you can toss in your veggies.
I added a little bit of lime juice to up the tartness. The longer the veggies sit in the mix, the more they will wilt and take on the vinegar flavor. Its great to serve it chilled with hot items off the grill.