17 December 2008

Carrot/Radiccio Slaw

Yesterday I decided to finally do something with the half head of cabbage that has been sitting in my vegetable crisper for a few weeks. I planned on using it to make a low-calorie vegetable soup. After making the soup, I found I had a couple of cups of diced cabbage left over. I wanted to make a more interesting salad so I looked around the crisper and found some radiccio and shredded about a half a head of that as well. Then I added some grated carrot, diced apple and about a half a cup of red seedless grapes and a few raw walnuts. I made a vinaigrette out of walnut oil and rice vinegar, drizzled in some agave nectar for sweetness and then added a teaspoon of mayonnaise. The dressing seemed to need more bulk but I didn't want to add any more mayo so I tossed in a couple tablespoons of plain, unflavored nonfat yogurt. The result was this dish, which was so good that even my husband, who is not a fan of radiccio, loved it. It is naturally gluten-free and lower in fat and calories than the usual slaw.

Carrot/Radiccio Slaw

2 cups diced green cabbage
1 large carrot grated
1/2 small head of radiccio, shredded
1 small apple (skin on) diced
1/2 red seedless grapes (sliced in half)
1 oz. or less raw walnut pieces
1 T walnut oil
1T rice vinegar
dash of agave nectar (or honey)
1 heaping teaspoon mayonnaise (I used Best Foods)
2 T plain unflavored nonfat yogurt
salt and pepper

Combine first 6 ingredients in large bowl. Whisk together walnut oil and rice vinegar in a small bowl. Whisk in agave nectar and mayonnaise. Pour over vegetables and toss. Add yogurt to salad and toss again. Salt and pepper to taste.

Makes about 8 servings if using as side dish

Karen, herself

09 December 2008

Gluten-free Travel, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The hiatus in my blogging this Fall was the result of several trips: ones to San Francisco and Phoenix in October and the mother of them all— a 10-day Mediterranean Cruise in November. The photo above is yours truly at Santorini, a Greek Island. 

I thought since my last GF travel blog sparked some interest that I would update it with my more current experiences. Most of them were good—some not so much. My little weekend jog to San Francisco for a Naginata seminar was easy and good as I stayed with my sensei and she and I prepared gluten-free pasta salad to take with us to the seminar for lunch. It was such a hit that we shared it with several other people (also we made way too much!). Breakfasts were rice cakes with peanut butter as we stayed with yet another friend in San Jose where the seminar was and there wasn't much time for food prep. Dinners were at Chinese and Japanese restaurants in San Jose. I approached the Chinese one with trepidation, fearing all I would eat was a bowl of rice and steamed vegetables sans sauce. How wrong I was. This little hole-in-the-wall place (Bo Town) was wonderful. They didn't have wheat-free soy sauce, but they made several suggestions about things I could have which included a corn-egg soup, a whole steamed fish with vegetables, etc. There was one other person in our group who needed to eat gluten-free and we certainly did not starve. Similar situation at the Japanese restaurant in San Jose's Japantown (I think it was Minato). No wheat-free soy, but a friend ducked into a grocery store nearby and grabbed some bean sauce that was wheat free that we used as a substitute. Then I did sushi and rice for the rest.

Phoenix was even better. We were staying in a resort that had condos so I could have a kitchen and we discovered the Phoenix Whole Foods right away and stocked up on fruits and veggies, tofu, soy milk and a couple of things to make dinners. Breakfasts were tofu scrambles for the most part or cottage cheese fruit and brown rice bread. I also brought a little GF rolled oats with me to make oatmeal. We didn't eat in the whole time, though. I discovered a great restaurant in Scottsdale: Bloom. Fantastic food and service. The decor is very contemporary. Fusion cuisine. They went out of their way to make sure I had not only safe, but delicious food. Would definitely go back.

We were staying near a JW Marriott Hotel which has 5-6 restaurants and we tried 3 of them: Blue Sage Cafe where we had lunch a couple times and Meritage Steakhouse and Ristorante Tuscany. They were all good and all were happy to deal with my gluten and other food issues. The best of the three was definitely the Tuscany. We saved it for our last night and the chef, Brian Archibald came out to meet me and go over my food sensitivities with me. Everything there is made to order and they really took care of me. This was one of the best experiences I have ever had dining out gluten free. They even had warm GF bread for the bread basket (from a local GF bakery - Gluten Free Creations) they made GF pasta with a fresh tomato sauce for a pasta dish and I had shrimp scampi to die for. My entree had sauce too...no naked food that night. It was like being a normal person again and for that I thank them from the bottom of my foodie heart. For all the Marriott restaurants, I booked online and told them ahead of time about my gluten issues, so they were well prepared. I also used my restaurant card with my food allergies listed on it.

Ok., so that was the good, or most of it, anyway. Having had such wonderful experiences and after my previous good experience flying American Airlines and ordering a gluten-free meal, I was expecting a similar good trip to Europe, especially since we flew in Business Class this time. Unfortunately, my good luck did not extend to the trip on AA. Business Class is definitely nice and the seat, the leg room, all the pampering...no complaints there. Imagine my heartbreak while everyone else was dining on their choice of three entrees, starters, salad, etc. I am served an overcooked overseasoned (to the point where it was inedible) but gluten free meal. It was more like spicy mush, to tell the truth. If if weren't for the seasoning, I would pass it off on the flight attendants overcooking it, but even proper heating wouldn't have saved the slop I was served. Mush that was supposed to be quinoa, canned green beans (which I am allergic to) and overcooked chicken pieces that someone dropped a bottle of chili powder on). I took a couple bites and then pushed it away. I starved and then dug out my reserve rice cakes and peanut butter. It seemed to me that a couple of things on the regular menu would have been ok, so on the way back, I cancelled my GF meal and took my chances. It was a smart move. I had a fine meal and no problems. I know enough about how things are cooked and what to avoid that I can pretty much manage on my own. It must also be the case that a little cross-contamination does not cause symptoms in me.

We stayed in a Starhotel in Genoa, Italy for a couple days before departing on our cruise and the waiters in their restaurant were fantastic. They brought out GF crackers for me, made GF ravioli, and several wonderful dishes with sauces and everything! One dish was duck breast with pears and a wine reduction sauce. Another was sirloin steak with asparagus and cheese. No bad food, no reactions. The way it should be. I wish I could say the same for the food on the cruise. Unfortunately, Costa Cruises, while making sure no one gets sick, does not seem to care whether people with gluten or food allergies have the same level of food as the rest of their guests—which, by the way, also wasn't that great. They go as far as to reserve a section of the kitchen for dealing with food allergies, which is great, but they seem to be afraid to go any further. I had boiled potatoes and vegetables and naked meat and fish for 10 days. I was a very unhappy camper. I was also hungry most of the time because we tended to eat lunch early because of our schedule (we were on a MacMania cruise and had seminars all day) and then we had the second seating for dinner, which meant that I ate lunch at noon and dinner at 9 p.m. The only food in between was either the pizza buffet or high tea (gluten-laden cakes, etc.), which I couldn't eat, a side salad with no protein or ice cream. Guess which I chose. We were forbidden to bring any outside food onboard so things were bleak for me. Luckily I disobeyed that rule as I suspected they wouldn't have rice cakes on board and I brought a box of GF crackers and my handy individual serving sizes of foil wrapped natural peanut butter with me. I hid them in my lingerie drawer! 

Thanks to Costa Cruises and our weird schedule, I ate a whole lot of ice cream and gained 5 lbs despite the naked food and boiled potato fare. It was either that or get a headache from not eating for so long. I choose ice cream over a headache any day.

Breakfasts we ate at the buffet most days. Having just started eating eggs again, I really pushed it eating eggs every morning, but that or salty bacon were the only protein I could have. One morning we ventured into the dining room for breakfast. I had to sit at the GF table (the leper table, as I called it). I had high hopes of getting GF french toast or pancakes. No deal. They had GF bread, they had eggs, but taking that last step to put them together and make GF French Toast was impossible. So more eggs but at least I had toast. Sigh. 

So now I am home and cooking for myself again and dealing with the excess weight. After I lose the 5 extra lbs., I am making French Toast for sure...and writing a long ugly letter to American Airlines. Here's hoping your travels are all good ones. Comments appreciated.

Karen, herself

02 December 2008

Gluten-free Holiday Fare

Happily, most of the recipes in my Thanksgiving repertoire are naturally gluten-free. The only exceptions are the stuffing for the turkey and the gravy, which are easily managed with gluten-free bread and rice flour, respectively. I like to make soups and usually feature one in my holiday meals. This year I made my favorite, the curried butternut squash soup from The Silver Palate Gourmet Cookbook (vintage 1980's). The first time I made this soup I followed the recipe faithfully and the soup was inedible because the recipe calls for 4 teaspoons of curry powder. I may have had fresh curry powder, but in any case, I had to throw the whole batch out. Since then, I have made some adaptations to the original recipe, mostly in the way that I prepare it, but most definitely in the amount of curry powder I use. I usually cut the recipe in half and then use a slightly larger squash than called for (— how do you determine whether a squash is medium sized anyway?). Then I add more stock than is called for because I like my soup on the thin and silky side, rather than heavy and chunky. I also cut down on the butter and I make my own curry powder minus the ginger, tumeric and mustard. Here it is. It is always a hit.

Curried Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 2" cubes
(use a vegetable peeler and if need be, microwave the squash for 1 minute first to soften)
1 large onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1-2 teaspoons curry powder
1 granny smith apple, peeled and chopped (plus a bit more julienned for garnish)
1/2 cup apple juice
4 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish

Melt butter in heavy stock pot or dutch oven. Place onion in pan, sprinkle with curry powder, salt and pepper and sauté on medium-low heat until onions are transparent (about 10 minutes). Add squash and apple pieces and continue to sauté a bit, then add stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn down to simmer for 20 minutes or so or until squash and apples are soft. Puree in batches in a food processor or use an immersion blender. (In my experience, the food processor gives a smoother texture).  Return soup to stockpot or dutch oven and heat, adding apple juice. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve hot with julienned apple and toasted pumpkin seeds. Sometimes I add a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche too. 

Feeds 6 to 8, depending on serving bowl.

03 September 2008

Low blood sugar and migraine

So I have once again fiddled with my diet. Now, on top of avoiding gluten, corn sugar, almonds, ginger and all the migraine causing things like: nitrates, msg, caffeine, aspartame, etc., I am also watching my sugar intake. Why, you may ask, would I want to eliminate or drastically curtail yet another food group? My reasons are threefold and all have to do with the high-glycemic value of most non-gluten containing grains.

1: I cannot get control of my weight since going gluten-free.

2: I have noticed a correspondence between low blood sugar episodes and my migraines.

3: I seem to get sugar “crashes” during exercise which makes problems No.1 and 2 worse.

I have known since high school that skipping meals, fasting, or waiting too long between meals is a sure recipe for a headache of any kind. So, for years I have made sure I eat something every 3-4 hours. The trouble is, as I have gotten older, I have noticed that this doesn't ensure I won't have a sugar “crash” which can and has brought on a headache. I even tried making sure I ate protein with my snacks, and it didn't seem to matter. 

Ten years ago, I gave up regular coffee at breakfast (which was a HUGE sacrifice for me) and noticed that the sugar crashes stopped. Great, I thought. Then a few years ago I noticed that if I had jam on my morning toast, I would have a sugar crash a couple hours later. After I gave up gluten, I started indulging in buckwheat frozen waffles for breakfast...with fruit and maple syrup (avoiding the corn syrup, of course). One day in May of 2007 I ate that for breakfast and had one of the worst sugar crashes of my life and as luck would have it, just as the weakness, lightheadedness and shaking started, I saw a bright light from the glare of sunlight reflecting off a window and — bam! Classic migraine (with aura). My day was shot. I took a triptan drug (Amerge) but it took 2 hours to work and I felt lousy the rest of the day.

Two weeks ago I had a ham sandwich on Tapioca Bread with lettuce, tomato and a few baby carrots and I grabbed a couple of potato chips off my husband's plate (!) and an hour and a half later in the middle of teaching our Naginata class, I had the mother of all sugar crashes. I had to stop practicing and since I hadn't thought to bring food with me, my only choice was to get orange juice out of the vending machine and chug it down while I sat on the bleachers waiting for the shaking to stop. Not good.

I had to find a way to eliminate refined carbs from my diet. Not easy when you have an egg allergy that you are not sure is a real allergy or just an intolerance and a moderate cow's milk allergy. I am a lifetime member of Weight Watchers and I had been struggling trying not to eat too many carbs. I looked on the WW forum under restricted diets and noticed that all the gluten intolerant and allergy sufferers were doing the “Core Program” which is based on real food, whole grains, etc. Sounds good, but I had avoided it because of the egg and milk problems I had. Same with South Beach Diet. Most breakfasts that are low carb seem to revolve around eggs.

I decided to try doing the Core program like the first phase of South Beach for 2 weeks and see if I could handle the eggs a little. At first it worked like a dream. I lost the sugar crashes and the sugar cravings and seemed to be ok with a little egg. Then on the third or fourth day I crashed big time. Could barely get out of bed I was so fatigued. I happened to be reading a book by Dr. Diana Schwarzbein about the importance of balancing carbs, protein and fat, especially if your adrenals are burned out...which I suspect mine are. Dr. Schwarzbein says that if you eliminate carbs altogether in that situation, you burn out your adrenals even more and will end up even more fatigued. So, I added some whole grains back in and things are going better now. I am not really missing the refined carbs now and they will taste even better when they are a rare treat instead of an everyday craving. Headaches have been fewer and really only resurfaced after I weakened and ate some chocolate the other day (!). Breakfasts are the most challenging, but I am rediscovering tofu as an egg substitute. Check out my lamb sausage tofu scramble. It's delicious and not too time consuming if you cut up the tofu ahead of time and refrigerate.

Lamb Sausage and Tofu Scramble

2 oz. loose lamb sausage (nitrite-free)
2 oz. firm tofu cut into small cubes
olive oil
1 green onion
1 T fresh mint, minced
1/4 cup or so cucumber, chopped
1/4 cup or so yellow squash, chopped
1 mushroom, chopped
1/4 cup tomato, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

pour a little olive oil in a non-stick skillet on medium heat
add lamb sausage and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon
add tofu and cook until heated through
add squash, cucumber, mushroom and tomato and cook a minute or two
season with salt and pepper
add green onion and mint and cook another minute

makes one serving (5-6 WW points if you’re counting, depending on how much oil you use)
(note: lamb is pretty greasy, you won't need much oil, just enough for flavor)

Enjoy! You won't be hungry until lunch!

Karen, herself

14 August 2008

Gluten-free Air Travel

Travel, particularly air travel, for those of us on a gluten-free diet is tricky. Adding migraine avoidance to the mix makes advance preparation absolutely essential for a pain-free travel day. With airlines no longer serving meals in coach and substituting boxes of junk food for purchase, bringing a healthy meal on board with you is key. You might be able to find something other than fresh fruit in the airport, but why chance it? Also, if you have a long day of cross country travel coming up, as I do tomorrow, a whole day eating nothing but fruit and water doesn't sound like much fun. The solution is to pack your own lunch and bring it with you. 

Whenever I travel I make sure I have gluten-free and migraine trigger free food with me. This time I am taking Real Foods Multigrain Corn Thins in a zip-loc bag, a few EnviroKidz Organic Crispy Rice Bars, some cut up celery and some apples for snacks. (You never know when you might get hungry, especially if your flight gets delayed. Better to bring extra things to tide you over). For breakfast I am taking gluten-free lemon poppyseed muffins I baked a couple weeks ago and froze and for lunch a smoked salmon and wild rice salad with blueberries. I made the salad this morning and have it cooling in the fridge. Tomorrow morning I will take it out and put it in a thermal lunch box with an ice pack so that it stays nice and cold until I am ready for it. I'll make sure I grab a plastic fork from a concession in the airport and buy a bottle of water and I'm set to go!

Smoked Salmon Wild Rice Salad with Blueberries

1 package (4 oz) smoked salmon (preservative-free)
1/2 cup or so fresh blueberries
1 cup sautéed vegetables (I used asparagus, yellow squash, zucchini and wax beans sautéed in 1 tsp. lemon-infused olive oil (O & Co) with a little minced garlic, salt and pepper)
1  1/2 cups cooked wild rice
2 tsp. basil vinaigrette (see recipe below)
salt and pepper to taste

(makes 2 servings) (6 Weight Watcher points per serving)

Slice salmon into slivers. In a medium bowl mix salmon, rice, vegetables and basil vinaigrette. Toss. Adjust seasoning. Add blueberries and gently mix. Divide into travel containers and refrigerate. Pack in a thermal lunch sack with a cold pack.

Basil Vinaigrette (from most recent AARP Magazine)

1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 T finely minced shallots
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

In a medium bowl, combine the mustard, shallots and salt. Slowly whisk in the vinegar, lemon juice, and oil until the mixture is emulsified. Add the basil and chill for 30 minutes.

Note to Migraine sufferers: None of the above ingredients cause any problems for me. Even the mustard and vinegar are ok in small amounts. Your triggers may be different from mine. Substitute where necessary.

Try packing a gluten-free lunch on your next trip and see how much better you feel—physically and emotionally. Not to mention that those sitting around you will be jealous!

Bon voyage!

Karen, herself

07 August 2008

Brown Rice and Black Bean Salad

Some people balk at leftovers. I embrace them. My favorite lunches have leftover chicken or pork tenderloin as a major component. This particular lunch was easy to put together with leftover brown rice and canned black beans and tuna. I added a bit of broccoli that I steamed in the microwave and some fresh tomato, shredded red cabbage, then tossed it in a bit of homemade vinaigrette and—lunch! Healthy, gluten-free, full of fiber and very satisfying.

People often say they have no time to make healthy meals, especially lunches, but with a little advanced planning and some imagination, you can eat well without spending all day in the kitchen. The day I made this salad I had a busy morning, so I put brown rice in the rice cooker, pushed the “on” button and off I went on my errands. When I came back a few hours later, it was lunch time and my rice was ready for me. Then a couple minutes to steam a cup of broccoli in the microwave, slice off a bit of previously washed cabbage and tomato, open a couple cans—you get the picture. Pretty quick.

These days I work at home and my lunches are leftovers from the previous night’s dinner or a big salad with leftover meat or fish. When that fails, I steam some vegetables, add rice or not and maybe open a can of tuna or salmon or add some tofu. I never spend more than 15 minutes making lunch and my salad dressings are all homemade, stored in recycled jelly jars. So  my advice is to think positive and invest in a good salad spinner and a rice cooker. Buy some good olive oil and start experimenting. 

За ваше здоровье!

Karen, herself

16 July 2008

Beet and Peach Salad

I love pairing fruit with vegetables in the summer. I especially like fruit and cheese added to summer salads. My typical lunch is a big salad with leftover meat or fish from the previous night’s dinner. The most common fruit I use on salads is apple, but in summer I lover the addition of stone fruits—peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots. The other day I used leftover roasted beets (you can also use canned) and fresh peaches to a salad with pork tenderloin. I topped it off with mild fresh goat cheese (Chavrie is my favorite brand) and a homemade olive oil and champagne vinegar dressing. The natural sweetness of the beets is enhanced by roasting with a bit of olive oil and the sweet/savory mix of the beet and peach with the cheese is heavenly, I think. If you don't like goat cheese, feta also works well here. I suppose blue cheese would also be good, if you like it. For me, more aged cheeses can be problematic and cause headaches. I happen to be allergic to blue cheese, so that is reason enough for me to avoid it.

In addition to being naturally gluten free, this kind of salad has the added benefit of being great for those watching their waistline. As a lifetime member of Weight Watchers I weigh my meat or fish to be added to the salad. Two ounces of  pork or beef or three ounces of chicken or fish are pretty standard for lunch salads and are quite enough if you are adding fruit and cheese. The Chavrie cheese is only 1 Weight Watcher point per 2T so it is ideal for adding to salads and pasta. I rarely use more than 1T at a time so it only adds a half a point to my meal. I also measure out my salad dressing to keep the points and calories low. If you are a migraineur who cannot eat vinegar or citrus, the Chavrie is soft enough to dress your salad without a typical dressing. I use it to stretch out my vinaigrette and make it creamy. Just toss the salad well—as the French say: “Fatiguer la salade”. It is an idiom that just means to dress the salad, but it makes me smile, because I think of it as mixing it well to tire it out!

With Farmers’ markets in full swing now that is my choice for keeping the cost down on organic salad greens. I am also fortunate to have friends who give me vegetables from their gardens and I even ventured into growing my own this year. No harvest yet, but things are growing and looking good. Much great eating in sight down the road.


01 July 2008

How to keep it simple on an elimination diet

One of my favorite blogs is The Daily Headache, which has a migraine forum. Recently, someone in the forum was asking for help following an elimination diet. She had read my blog but apparently not found an answer to her question: “What can one actually eat while on an elimination diet?” Good question, especially if you haven’t ever tried one.

The thing is, I have long suspected that migraineurs (those who suffer from migraine) who complain about elimination diets and avoidance of common triggers have either never really tried to do it properly or have not suffered enough to be willing to give up foods that they love in order to buy a little pain-free time. I say this last part with sincere sympathy for my fellow migraineurs, as I was, until recently, in that category. I was that person who proclaimed I would NEVER give up coffee or chocolate. Well, never say never. I have given both up, at least with rare exceptions, and I can honestly say that it is quite possible to live without them. Abstaining from caffeine actually gives you energy, especially if you also abstain from alcohol most of the time. 

Having said that, elimination diets can look bleak. I have read about studies done in England in the 1980’s where the subjects ate nothing but rice and lamb or chicken for five days. Their headaches disappeared at that point and they then started to reintroduce foods to see which ones brought them back. I think when some people read about these diets that this is the point where they take things a bit too literally. I think it is safe to say that the subjects of the group probably seasoned the rice and chicken and lamb (with at least salt and pepper). I think they probably used cooking oils of some kind. I do not think one needs to go on a prison ration in order to try an elimination diet. But I could be wrong. It is just my opinion.

I began eliminating food gradually. Four years ago on the advice of my neurologist, I gave up regular coffee and tea, diet soft drinks and other diet foods with aspartame in them, msg, and nitrites. I cut back on the chocolate and almost entirely eliminated alcohol. It didn't really lessen my headaches, but I thought it was a good idea, especially since I am over 40 and caffeine and alcohol drain your adrenals and can leave you feeling exhausted. 18 Months ago I learned that my adrenal hormones were low, that I was gluten intolerant and had mild allergies to a lot of foods, many of which are considered major headache triggers: aged cheeses, yogurt, certain nuts, beans and spices and corn sugar. I decided to eliminate all of them for 9 months to two years while I strengthened my adrenals to see if I would outgrow the sensitivity. This actually did produce some positive results. 

While I was doing that,  I tried a yeast elimination diet for one month. I found the diet in a book by Steven F. Hotze, M.D. called Hormones, Health, and Happiness (page 236). Basically you eliminate all sugar and sugar substitutes except xylitol, all vinegars, alcohol, dairy, grains and for the first two weeks, all fruit and butter. What can you eat? All meats, fish, vegetables (go easy on the starchy ones) dried beans, eggs, avocados, black olives, olive oil, lemons and limes, herbal teas. For someone like me who loves good food and loves to cook, I found this challenging at first. But, I discovered some interesting things along the way. Lemon and lime juice and olive oil are all you really need to make a salad dressing. Add some garlic and voila! Water and tomatoes and chicken broth go along way in any dish. Have a recipe that calls for vinegar or wine? Try substituting water and herbs or broth or tomato paste and water. You really do not need the wine/vinegar. Experiment with herbs, especially fresh ones. Also try Bragg’s Aminos instead of soy sauce. It is not fermented, so better for avoiding headache.

The hardest part of the yeast elimination diet was breakfast. I was used to having cereal of some sort or toast (gluten-free of course). On this diet I ate all sorts of things. One morning I had sauteed filet of sole and vegetables! Guess what else? I dropped 5 lbs without really trying. I did have dreams of eating potatoes again (not allowed on the diet) and dairy. But in the end, I didn't go back to dairy right away. I found out I was mildly allergic to cow’s milk so I avoided dairy completely for six months and milk for one year. I now quite enjoy soy milk. I also found I had fewer headaches while following this diet.

So I guess my message is that elimination diets do not have to be bleak. I managed to retool most of my standard recipes to fit into the yeast elimination diet. Afterwards, as I reintroduced foods back into my diet, it was easier to see what I reacted negatively to. (I should mention that I keep a food diary.) When reintroducing, you need to do one food every four days. Takes awhile, but it is worth the wait. The yeast elimination diet showed me that any elimination diet is do-able. Last Fall I tackled eliminating all migraine triggers for two months and then gradually reintroduced them. I discovered that most of them did not effect me, but the ones that do were a surprise (i.e. red onion). I do not think I would have found them if I hadn’t followed an elimination routine. By the way, I still do not drink regular coffee or tea or diet soft drinks and now I am steering clear of chocolate except for rare occasions. I have a glass of wine once in awhile, but not every week and certainly not every day. I feel much better and that is more important to me. I have my life back. I can work most days. This is huge for me.

If you still have questions about what to eat on elimination diets, look at my recipes. If they seem to have things in them that are not on your diet, think about what a reasonable work around would be. Then look at other recipes. See how you could adapt them. It is really not as hard as you may think. Good luck and good eating.

Karen, herself

06 June 2008

Allergy-free Grilled Shrimp, Tofu and Mango Salad

We had a few days of hot weather a few weeks ago and in my excitement over the heat I adapted a recipe I found in a recent Martha Stewart Living to suit my allergy-wracked body and the contents of my pantry. It called for grilling extra firm tofu and that appealed to me as I had never tried it before. It also called for ginger, which I am seriously sensitive to. I left that out. It also called for mint and pineapple, which I didn't have. I  found substitutes. It was still very tasty and very refreshing on a rare hot Seattle day. I served it over cooked quinoa as the recipe suggested.

Grilled Shrimp, Tofu and Mango Salad

1 pkg. extra firm tofu, quartered lengthwise
1 pound medium shrimp, deveined
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
2 T honey
2 T Sweet Thai Chili Sauce
1 clove garlic
1 T cilantro, minced
juice of 1/2 lime
1 large mango, peeled and cubed
2 tsps. olive oil
1/4 coarse salt
freshly ground pepper
3 medium carrots, julienned
1/2 English cucumber, quartered lengthwise and chopped 1/4" thick
1 medium jicama, peeled and julienned

1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
2 T sugar
1 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

If you use the extra firm tofu, there is no need to drain it. If you have any moisture in yours, place it between paper towels and weight it with a plate or something to drain out the excess.
Then slice it as directed. Place shrimp in a bowl. Whisk together the garlic, vinegar, honey, chili sauce and cilantro and pour over the shrimp. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

Preheat grill or grill pan to medium. Brush tofu with oil and grill until brown, 2-3 minutes per side.  Cut into cubes. Combine shrimp with mango, tofu, carrots, cucumber and jicama in a bowl.

Make the dressing by whisking ingredients in a bowl. Pour over salad and toss well.
Feeds 4

(Weight watcher note: you can lower the points value of this dish by using sugar substitute. The original recipe in Martha Stewart Living (6 points per serving) had pineapple instead of the mango and chili paste instead of chili sauce, but the sauce I used is only 30 cal. per T and no fat. so I think the points are the same.)

Some advance prep (I made the marinade in the morning and put it in the fridge until an hour before dinner) makes this a quick dinner even during the week. Try it the next time the temperature reaches 90 degrees.


02 May 2008

Flank Steak with Bell Peppers and Mango

I made flank steak with peppers and mango the other night. It is my husband’s favorite of my invented recipes and one of mine too now that I have perfected my workarounds to avoid gluten, ginger and corn syrup. I started making this dish a few years ago in an attempt to recreate a dish my husband used to make for me when we were dating. The original recipe was from the Time-Life series on Chinese Cooking, published sometime in the 1970’s ( I know I am really dating myself here).

Anyway, being the lazy sort of person that I am sometimes, I didn’t feel like digging out the book and I thought I remembered the marinade well enough to wing it. This was before I knew I was gluten intolerant, so I used regular soy sauce, rice vinegar, Mirin, corn starch and ginger. I like red bell pepper better than green (which was in the original recipe) so I used those as well as shallots (which were always in the recipe). It came out pretty well and I continued to make it, eventually adding a jar marinade (Thai Chili Roasted Garlic Dipping Sauce from Wild Thymes) that brought some heat to it and I tossed in some red wine at the end. One summer I added sliced nectarines and the result was heavenly.

My first few attempts to make it sans gluten and ginger were pitiful. I could substitute sake for the Mirin and wheat-free soy for the regular, but substituting the ginger was really hard. I was afraid to use the Wild Thymes dipping sauce because it had unidentified “spices” in it and I am allergic to chili powder. I experimented with different spice combinations and discovered that allspice, cinnamon, paprika, red pepper flakes and cayenne worked pretty well. It tasted good, but not particularly Asian. The nectarines were still great and in the summer I would alternate with peaches. In the Fall I tried Fuyu persimmons and then I hit on the mango version. All of them are great and allow me to make the dish in any season. I recently discovered that adding a bit more soy, rice vinegar and sake near the end of the cooking process brings a bit more Asian flavor to it and gives the sauce that extra sweetness I used to get with the red wine—without the headache! I serve it over Japanese style white rice cooked in a rice cooker.

Flank Steak with Red Pepper and Mango

1 lb. flank steak, cut lengthwise into 4 or 5 strips, then cut crosswise into bite size pieces.
2 red or orange bell peppers, cut into 1" squares
1 large shallot, peeled and roughly sliced
1 mango, peeled and cut into large dice
1 T peanut oil
a few drops of sesame oil

4 tsp. wheat-free soy sauce
2 tsp. corn starch
1 tsp. sake or corn syrup-free Mirin
1 tsp. rice vinegar
a few drops of sesame oil
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
dash of cayenne
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

Japanese style rice

feeds 4

Start rice (if using a rice cooker, it should finish right on time).

Cut steak. Add marinade ingredients to meat. Toss to coat.

Chop vegetables and mango.

Heat peanut oil in wok (use medium heat if using non-stick pan). Add shallots and saute until slightly soft. Add bell peppers and mango and cook slightly. Remove from wok with slotted spoon. Add marinated steak to wok (add more oil if necessary). Use a slotted spoon or tongs to add meat. Do not pour in rest of marinade. Trust me. The steak will boil in it and end up tough. Brown the meat well on all sides. Let it form a crust before turning. Add the vegetables and mango back in. Cook, stirring all until the meat is done to your taste and the vegetables are still a bit crunchy. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add a bit more soy, rice vinegar and sake. Cook a minute more and taste, making any adjustments necessary. You should have a lovely sauce by then. Serve over rice. Sigh with happiness.

Karen, herself

04 April 2008

Aneurysm — A real headache

I started this blog to talk about my quest to eat well and stave off migraine, but about a month ago I had a life experience that made all my headaches seem trivial. The night of March 4th my husband, who has lived most of his life headache-free, suffered a brain aneurysm and nearly died. Most people who experience this do not survive, and if they do, suffer some level of disability. The survival statistics are truly frightening. About half do not make it to the hospital and another 25% do not survive the next month.

My husband Kurt was one of the lucky ones. I was with him when it happened and I was able to get help for him quickly. Everything worked the way it is supposed to work. I called 911, the operator talked me through CPR until the paramedics arrived and they arrived quickly and did all the right things. We are also fortunate to live less than 20 miles from the best trauma center on the West Coast — Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where they have doctors that specialize in treating aneurysms. 

Kurt was transported there less than an hour after arriving at the emergency room and spent the next 10 days in intensive care. They were able to drain off the damaged cerebral spinal fluid and repair the aneurysm and Kurt is now home recovering. Through the miracle of modern medicine and his lifetime of healthy living and just plain luck he is pretty much the same as he was before the incident—just sporting a new haircut as they had to shave a good portion of his head while in the hospital. He sometimes has trouble remembering the right word for something, but at our age, we all have word-finding troubles and his are no more noticeable than that.

We are so grateful to all the people who took part in saving Kurt and to all our friends and family who were there for us. In the first few seconds after it happened, I thought I had lost my husband and I spent hours wondering if he would wake up, hoping  he would recognize me and then days wondering if our lives would ever be the same. Now it is starting to seem like a bad dream and our lives are slowing going back to what they had been.

So forgive me for not posting on this site or any other for the last month, but I have been just a little bit busy and preoccupied. I did learn that it is possible to find gluten-free food in the hospital cafeteria, which really saved me as I spent a good portion of the first two weeks there. My own headaches flared up at first due to the lack of sleep that first night, I expect. Other than that, things have not been too bad for me. It does help to see someone else in far more trouble than you to put things in perspective. For many reasons, I feel very lucky.

03 March 2008

Teff Oatmeal Cookies

“What the heck is Teff?” I wondered when I first read about it in a gluten-free cookbook. It sounded strange and not very appealing. Well, let me tell you, one taste will make a Teff lover out of you. I have been searching for ways to bring whole grains back into my diet since going gluten-free. Being somewhat sensitive to brown rice made it difficult. Amaranth is ok, but to me it has a bit of a bitter taste. Not so with Teff. This African grain is gluten-free and smooth tasting, even caramel-like when you add brown sugar and vanilla to it. I made these oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with it yesterday and I think they may be the best tasting oatmeal chocolate chip cookies I have ever had. I modified a recipe from Annalise Roberts’ Gluten-Free Baking Classics to make them. I wanted to try Teff in a cookie and I wanted to use agave nectar for half the sugar. Then I realized I was out of potato starch, so I substituted sweet rice flour and used chocolate chips instead of raisins. (*Teff flour mix: 2 cups teff flour, 2/3 cup sweet rice flour, 1/3 cup tapioca starch)

Teff Oatmeal Cookies

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup Crisco (sans trans fats version)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup dark agave nectar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup Teff flour mix*
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. guar gum
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup Rolled Oats (Gifts of Nature, Inc. is certified GF)
1/2 cup Dagoba Organic Chocolate Chocodrops (GF)

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Position rack in center of oven. You can grease a cookie sheet lightly or use silpat, as I did.

Beat butter and shortening and sugar and agave nectar in large bowl of electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix. Stir dry ingredients (except oats and chocolate) together with a whisk. Add to butter and sugar mixture. Mix. Stir oats and chocolate drops in by hand with a wooden spoon.

Drop teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool slightly on pan, then remove to wire rack. Wrap in wax paper and put in freezer container. Freeze leftovers. Thaw on counter if you can wait that long. Otherwise use microwave!

Makes 20-30 cookies, depending on how large you like them.

27 February 2008

Dining out gluten-free

The best way to ensure a successful gluten-free meal out is to communicate your situation with your waiter and the best way I have found to do that is to have a card that explains what you cannot eat like the one pictured above. Some people explain on their cards what gluten intolerance is and what they can and cannot eat. Since I have multiple foods I need to avoid in order to keep from having a constant migraine I don't have room for all that on my card. A graphic designer by profession, I designed my card to be small enough to be carried in my purse, but large enough to have all my allergies and sensitivities legible for the waiter.

So, you may wonder, how does it work when I dine out? I show the card to my waiter as soon as he/she approaches my table, so that they know up front that I need special attention. I try to have a short explanation of my situation ready and then also have an idea of what I might be able to eat on their menu. This way, they can check with the chef (I encourage them to take my card with them) and see if what I have tentatively chosen will be free of gluten and all my other allergies. I also try to be as pleasant and accommodating as possible. Many times I have lived without the delicious sauce that normally accompanies the entree, or the salad dressing. If the restaurant tries to accommodate me, I am gracious and a generous tipper.

Other things that help the experience is bringing along my own salad dressing or deciding ahead of time that I will be fine with a lemon wedge and olive oil. I try to arrive at the restaurant when they are least busy and I sometimes make suggestions that will make the meal more palatable to me without causing them too much trouble. If I have to live without the sauce and their special seasoning (which might include gluten or dextrose), I make sure to tell them that they can use olive oil, salt and pepper. You might think the latter is unnecessary, but I most often have chefs go to extremes to make sure I am safe and will not put anything on my meat or fish. I had the experience in Paris last summer where I was warned off having beef entirely because the chef couldn't be certain what the cow might have eaten!

I have generally found waiters and chefs to be quite willing to help. My best experiences have been at places like Il Fornaio in San Jose, CA, where the sous chef came out to meet me because she was so impressed with my card. She said that most people just tell them verbally what they cannot have, even if it is a list of 15 things and then are very demanding if the staff forgets something. I also had great success in France and Belgium last summer where I took a French version of my card. I did decide to laminate the card after my first one got so grease-soaked that it became difficult to read. Also, I do tend to stick to higher end restaurants where they are more able to cook something from scratch for me. My worst experience was at a high-end place outside of Detroit where they pre-marinated all their meats and fish...except the scallops. Because I couldn't be sure what was in the marinade, I had only once choice for dinner that night...grilled scallops and a salad with a lemon wedge and a glass of water. One more word to the wise: places with gluten-free menus are not as easy as you might expect, especially if you have additional allergies like me. I had an egg allergy, which I think I have since outgrown, and I discovered to my horror that P.F. Chang’s marinates nearly all their meat and fish in egg white. It is not listed on their menu and I only found out because the first time I went there with my card they took it back to the chef and checked everything out.

So if you haven't been using a card, make one up and start using it. You want to err on the side of caution and always check to make sure they aren't sneaking in gluten in your mashed potatoes or something. Bon Appétit!

17 February 2008

Borscht with Sun-dried Tomato and Dill

I just got my first delivery of organic produce from a local farm and it came with a bunch of beets and fresh dill. I was in the mood to recreate my Ukrainian grandmother’s borscht recipe...with a few twists of my own. Try this on a cold afternoon. If you can tolerate sour cream, add it to the garnishes.
За ваше здоровье!

Borscht with Sun-dried Tomato and Dill

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and chopped or grated
1 leek, washed, white and light green part chopped
1 bunch beets (4-5), peeled and cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup or slightly more unsulfered sun-dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon or less chopped fresh dill
2 cups chicken stock (I used homemade)
2 cups water
1 tsp. vinegar (I used rice vinegar...sulfite-free)
1/2 tsp. sugar
salt and pepper to taste

chopped cucumber and dill for garnish

Heat oil in large, heavy pot. Add leeks and carrot, salt and pepper and saute over medium low heat until carrot is soft. Add beets and tomatoes and saute a few minutes. Add chicken stock and water, dill, vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil, then simmer 20-30 minutes or until beets are soft but still retain most of the their color. I pureed mine slightly with an immersion blender, but it isn’t necessary.

Ladle into bowls, garnish with cucumber and dill.

Feeds 4

11 February 2008

Endive, Celery and Tuna Salad

I adapted this salad from a recipe in the January/February issue of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. I needed something different to go with canned tuna and this fit the bill. As I recently discovered that raw red onion and possibly wine vinegars trigger my migraines, I omitted the onion and the wine vinegar, substituting rice vinegar. I only added the tuna and cucumber to the original recipe, but I think chives or green onion would be nice also.

My version
2 tablespoons rice vinegar (without added sugar)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 celery stalks, sliced thinly
2 heads Belgian endive, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/3 English cucumber, sliced
3 oz. canned tuna packed in water and drained
sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and rice vinegar add salt and pepper to taste. In medium bowl, place sliced endive, celery, cucumber and tuna. Spoon 2 tablespoons of dressing on salad and toss well. Jar remaining dressing and refrigerate for future use.

Feeds 1 for lunch entree
Weight Watcher points (about 5 - depends how much dressing you use)

The last couple of weeks have been fairly headache free for me and I have used the time to catch up on things that I kept putting off when I was chasing one headache after the other. Like cleaning the house, installing new software, making chicken stock...sounds like simple stuff, but when your head is pulsating and you feel nauseated and light and sound are killing you with every step even everyday things feel monumental.

I am hoping that I have finally hit on a strategy for dealing with winter weather-induced headaches. I had a visit to my neurologist last week and he told me something he has probably said many times before but I think it actually sunk in this time. Maybe I am just more willing to do what is necessary now. He said that weather is the #3 headache trigger among migraine sufferers and that managing triggers is probably going to be the main thing for me to work on. I guess that before I realized I had food triggers (besides alcohol) I didn't think that advice was very useful for me. Also, for the last year, I have been avoiding gluten and all the foods I am even marginally allergic to and the headaches kept coming, especially in the November-January time frame. Granted, they are fewer without gluten and eggs and almonds...but still too many.

In November I read a controversial book about migraine triggers (Heal your Headache by Dr. David Buchholz) and I decided to try his method for two months. He says to avoid ALL potential trigger foods and all migraine meds (except aspirin and Aleve) to get rid of rebound headaches and then gradually reintroduce the trigger foods. Well, I lasted two weeks without Amerge because I couldn't tough it out while cooking Thanksgiving dinner! But the interesting thing is that I started to realize that I really did react to some of the known migraine trigger foods.

I previously didn't think most of the common triggers bothered me. I suspected the aged cheeses after finding out I was allergic to Parmesan and blue cheese. I am also allergic to yogurt, which is on the list. Nitrites I am not sure bother me, but I know that other preservatives do. I never thought that onions were a problem until I figured out I was getting a headache every time I ate a salad with red onion in it. Then came the vinegar revelations. So, I toughed it out for almost the whole two months and I am really glad I did. I am starting to figure out some of my triggers. While red onion is one of them, cooked white onion is not. Citrus is not. Peanuts are not, but other nuts are a maybe, certainly the ones I am allergic to, but maybe some of the others as well. Lima beans and lentils I am still unsure of but will try to reintroduce soon.

Then I started wondering about sulfites and did some research only to find even more overlap with the migraine food trigger list. Balsamic vinegar, wine vinegar, fruit juice conentrates. Well, I am pretty sure now that sulfites are an issue for me. Could be dose related, but it still makes an awful lot of foods potential headache triggers.

So how did all this knowledge translate into almost two weeks of headache-free bliss? I realized that I had to avoid all triggers when the wacky winter weather was here...especially as a cold front moves in. I have been tracking incoming cold fronts (every other day here in Seattle for the last month, it seems) and I have been abstaining from all my known triggers, from sulfites (which includes chocolate, wine, wine vinegars, balsamic, fruit juice concentrates, etc.) and using ice packs and aspirin when I start to get my symptoms. I have also continued my exercise, getting 7-8 hours of sleep, and eating at regular times and what do you know, the headaches just stopped. I am almost afraid to write this, as I am more than a little bit superstitious about headache-free claims. I have even been able to reintroduce some foods from my moderate allergy list (which I have avoided for over 12 months) and I am still ok. Amazing. Hope it continues. Now I am going to have to redo my allergy restaurant card. Happy days.

24 January 2008

Tofu stir-fry with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes

With the double-whammy of my gluten intolerance plus corn sugar, ginger, mustard and egg allergies (among others), eating asian food in restaurants is challenging, to say the least. The good news is that cooking gluten-free allergy-free asian food at home is easy. This dish was one I came up with recently on a cold rainy night using up the last of some vegetables in my fridge. Making stir fry without ginger may put your cooking skills to the test. Here I used part of a recipe from the back of the tofu box (minus the ginger) and used mirin/sake and honey for sweetness and sun-dried tomatoes to perk it up. I served it over Japanese white rice since I have a moderate allergy to brown rice.

Migraineurs take note that everything is fresh except the sun-dried tomatoes, which are unsulphered and free of all preservatives. Shallots take the place of migraine-causing onions and the rice vinegar is clear (cider vinegar and wine vinegars seem to be headache triggers for me).

4 T wheat-free soy sauce
1 T rice vinegar
1 T corn-syrup free mirin (or sake)
1 tsp. honey
dash of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. each black and white sesame seeds

1 T peanut or vegetable oil
splash of sesame oil1 lg. shallot, sliced
1/2 small head cabbage, shredded
1 head broccoli
1/2 bag washed spinach
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (unsulphered)
soaked in water and drained

1 pkg. extra firm tofu

Mix the first seven ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

Drain the tofu and remove excess moisture. Cut into 1 inch cubes. Set aside.

Stir-fry the shallots, cabbage and broccoli in the peanut and sesame oil for a few minutes — until the shallots are starting to carmelize and the cabbage is soft. Add the tofu, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes. Stir-fry a minute or so. Add the sauce and cook until the tofu is cooked through, but not mushy. Serve over rice.

Feeds 4

01 January 2008

Kathy Casey’s Coriander Citrus Shrimp Lollipops

I tried these shrimp lollipops for a gluten-free holiday party I threw a couple weeks ago. They are from Kathy Casey's column Dishing in The Seattle Times and they are fabulous. They were the hit of our party so my husband and I made them again last night for our stay-at-home New Year's Eve celebration. I skipped the dijon mustard in the recipe as I am allergic to mustard and they were still great. The recipe is online at The Seattle Times, December 5, 2007. Click on the link above and it will take you there.