Gluten-Free Princess Cruise to Panama

    Once again Don and I were off on a cruise. Don’s sister, Pat, flew in from Maine to meet us at the ship terminal in Fort Lauderdale where we were to board the Island Princess for our ten day trip. This meant airline travel and it was my first experience in coach on a 737 with seats jammed six across each row. I am not a large person but this experience was extremely claustrophobic. We are strategizing for our trip to visit Pat and other family in New England later this year. So far it will involve a Kindle pre-loaded with a lot of books and Dramamine which will give me several hours of total unconsciousness.

    Again I tried to prepare for gluten-free travel. It was not one of my better efforts. Success on previous travel left me overly confidant. Basically I had a Larabar for every day of travel plus some of my flax meal biscuits for bread-type carbs. I started the trip with a hearty breakfast of Giant Upside-Down Apple Pancake  that I had saved from recipe testing for Ricki at Diet, Dessert, and Dogs plus an almond milk latte and that sustained me all through the morning.

   A surprise dining bright spot was the one hour layover at Dallas-Fort Worth airport. At the Au Bon Pain Deli I found a nice little boxed salad with ultra-fresh veggies and four small rolls of ham with a savory cheese filling plus a Black Cherry Dragonfruit SOBE life water beverage. It was satisfying without bogging down the digestive system.

   We met up with Pat at the ship terminal and once aboard we all headed to the Horizon buffet for a snack. Fruit and a slice of cheese would get me through safety drills, setting sail and planning our activities. It was at dinner and asking questions of the Horizon staff that I discovered that gluten-free was only guaranteed in the Bordeaux dining room. Line server asked someone else who fetched the chef who called his supervisor. No one spoke fluent gluten-free.

   We tried the Bordeaux at noon the following day. The menu is published each afternoon at four o’clock for the next day. You are supposed to negotiate your gluten-free meals for the next day from that menu. While the impromptu meal they served me was totally delicious and artistically presented I was not pleased and neither was Don. Pat was OK with the dining room option. She is such a happy person by nature that there is not much that she cannot deal with. While ‘anytime’ dining was the option in that dining room it was much more formal, white tablecloths, ordering from a menu selection (the day before for me), someone else putting your food on your plate and then several waiters hovering, refilling your beverage every few sips, and asking ‘is everything is all right?’. We did not plan to do that.

   Ships that traverse the Panama Canal have a size restriction. Most of them squeak by with only inches to spare. The ship sides are constantly repainted to repair the damage caused by scraping the canal walls while passing through. With a smaller ship there are fewer facilities and amenities as well as passengers. And so it was with the galleys and chefs.

   And then there was the weather. In Costa Rico we were advised that they do not have seasons as we know them but there are seasonal variations in wind and rainfall. The Caribbean was smooth by most standards except that of my own personal gyroscope. Most of the time it was marginally queasy but a couple of days were mostly sea sick. This limited my interest in eating at all and when I did it was mostly the very plainest and safest options. Fried rice with steamed vegetables with small selections of anything that was plainly prepared sustained me. Some prepared salads met that criterion as did the build-it-yourself salad bar. The vinaigrette dressings were creamy in appearance so I avoided them and chose a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and Pepitas to add flavor. For dessert I tried an individual baked flan that was not at all tender with a thin syrup layer on the bottom. Everything else was cookies, cakes, pies, and tortes.

   All-in-all the buffet food on this trip was disappointing for me after last year’s trip on the Ruby Princess. Don and Pat enjoyed themselves and by walking the decks for several miles every day managed to only gain a couple of pounds. I was a bed and/or balcony slug and lost a pound.

   On the balcony we read, planned excursions, and chatted while watching for flying fish. During one of those times we spotted a sea turtle swimming off to the side of the ship. We were not quick enough to get a picture. Instead we came home with a sea turtle image from the clay works in Jamaica as one of our trip souvenirs.

Wassi Arts Sea Turtle

Wassi Arts Sea Turtle

   We managed several shore excursions and several of those were outstanding. The butterfly farm in Aruba is simply a delight. Don and Pat were all over taking pictures while I wandered around in awe at the beautiful butterflies everywhere. The banana plantation tour in Costa Rico was a university level education in local topography, wildlife, vegetation, transportation, business planning and earth friendly processes thought out in detail. All of that was packed into a 3.5 hour excursion by bus. In Jamaica we visited at Wassi Arts pottery works where nothing is automated. Their clay is delivered as burlap sacks of dry stick and rock contaminated clods about the size of softballs. Outside on a terrace the clods are soaked, pounded in barrels, strained through about a 15” sieve, and poured into cement troughs for evaporation to reach a workable consistency. The troughs must be covered when it rains.

   It really was a wonder filled getaway in spite of my grumpy comments. Don and Pat are great companions for me and each other. And I do look forward to visiting with Pat as well as my family later this year. At least it will be on land once we arrive.

Gretchen

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Ricki Heller’s Recipe Books

    Can you imagine ‘tastes great’ and ‘healthy’ as describing the same recipe? Ricki Heller with her PhD in nutrition and love of good food manages to create recipes that do just that. Living in Toronto and backed by years of experience teaching, running a bakery, and veteran of  television demos, she uses her imagination to create new and innovative recipes to nourish the body and delight the spirit.

    As I began to follow Ricki’s blog ‘Diet, Dessert, and Dogs’ I drooled over the recipes, admired the photography, and enjoyed the saucy comments allegedly from said dogs, Elsie and Chaser. I decided ‘what the heck’ I’ll just sub in some gluten-free flours and see what happens. Somehow that first attempt was a winner and I began cooking more and more recipes from Ricki’s blog. Before long I was following along the trail that Ricki was blazing and gluten-free wasn’t so bland anymore. 

    Ricki’s first recipe book, Sweet Freedom, was published in 2009 and in April 2010 made it to Ellen DeGeneres ‘bookshelf’.  This recipe book is filled with wonderful healthy vegan dessert treats. Vegan? I never thought to go that way until I realized that when family and friends mentioned egg and/or dairy allergy that the vegan recipes automatically cover those conditions.

    When Ricki began designing gluten-free, vegan breakfast dishes for those battling Candida infections I knew that those were automatically good for folks dealing with diabetes. It has been pointed out to me that you cannot cover ALL dietary constraints with one recipe and I agree. However it is possible to share delicious food with people and cover many issues without treating them as a big deal.

     That is why when Ricki announced her new recipe ebook in development and put out a request for recipe testers I jumped right in there. ‘Blended Cereal with a Boost’ was pictured in The Gluten-Free Edge on January 20th right after my Pork and Beans in Pumpkin Sauce recipe. ‘Blended Cereal with a Boost’ is the best hot cereal I have ever tasted!

     The latest test recipe was the multi-serving baked pancake pictured below. I loved it because this is real fuel that kept me going for hours and it was light and luscious. Ricki hopes to have her new eBook, Top of the Morning: ACD Recipes without Sugar, Gluten, Eggs or Dairy, published sometime in March so stay tuned!

Giant Upside-Down Apple Pancake

Giant Upside-Down Apple Pancake

Doesn’t that look delicious?

Gretchen (Mom)

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hCG Experience – Week 1

I haven’t written a post in a while…not that Mom hasn’t been on my case to do so. She is on vacation so I thought I would surprise her and hop back in here again.

I am currently enrolled in the Masters of Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture at AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine in Austin, Texas. Yes, I am very busy but I am learning so much about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that I do eventually want to share it all. I just have to learn how to communicate it!

Yin Yang Symbol

Yin and Yang

I had written before about my journey in trying to regain my health. I moved to Austin last summer and found access to alternative healthcare resources here. I had continued to experience fatigue and anxiety…tried some acupuncture at the AOMA student clinic and had a blood test with follow-up herbal treatment for my liver at a local chiropractor…but these have still continued.

I experimented in November with homeopathic HCG (very diluted version of hormone) as I also wrestle with my weight. The scale creeps up if I don’t watch it. I was on the diet and drops for 18 days and lost 10 pounds, mainly around my torso. But monthly hormones stopped me cold as I was supposed to continue on the drops for a minimum of 21 days to maximum of 41 days. I loved how I looked but could not go the distance or maintain the loss.

During the holidays, I got searching on the Internet and found a clinic that provides the hCG shots (actual hormone) within a comprehensive 12-week wellness program. Well, of course that costs more than just buying the homeopathic version and doing it on your own…but since I had obstacles I could not overcome on my own, I signed up. I was curious when I first started researching HCG weight loss information and I figure I can at least provide others with what actually happens to me. I am excited.

Week 1

The program begins with a four-week cleanse. I am on a restricted diet as to choices, but for most of the time I can eat any amount I want. Highlights of what I cannot have: red or deli meats, eggs, dairy or milk products, gluten or corn products, nuts or seeds and dried fruits. I also drink a powered functional food supplement (chocolate) that I whip up in the blender to make sure it mixes well. I completed this and had a 4.5 loss on the scale for the week. I know, mainly water! I also found out through blood and saliva tests taken at the initial visit that I need some hormone and thyroid prescriptions and Vitamin D3 and Iron Glycinate supplements.

I am happy to have the additional support resulting from these tests. But what also has me thinking is that except for the dairy and gluten, I eat most of the eliminated food items I listed all the time. When I go on maintenance, I am definitely rethinking what comes back in my diet. It is funny how old habits take new forms…so even though eating gluten-free and more simply, I am highly motivated to evolve yet again to eat the kind of fuel that would maintain my now older body, but hopefully lower body weight.

Good to be back and more to come!

Rita 🙂

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Quinoa – Learning to Love It

    Quinoa (kee-nwa) was an ancient food of the Incas – it was considered sacred and referred to as ‘mother of all grains’. Although no longer widely known or used it is gaining in popularity due to its nutritional qualities and versatility.

    Unlike most other grains and seeds quinoa contains all of the amino acids needed for humans to assimilate as a high-value protein. In addition to being gluten-free and easy to digest it is a good source of dietary fiber, protein, phosphorus, magnesium and iron.

    The quinoa seeds, as harvested, have a somewhat soapy and slightly bitter coating of saponins that discourage birds from consuming the seeds. Most quinoa available at your local grocers has been pre-soaked and rinsed to remove this coating. I always soak and rinse my quinoa whether it is presented in bulk or packaged and labeled as pre-rinsed. This insures that the seeds are clean, tender, and ready to accept the seasonings in your recipes be they sweet or savory.  Evidently a short-lived experiment in raising quinoa without the saponins coating resulted in birds consuming most of the harvest. And so I soak  . . . .

1) Measure out the quinoa and add enough water so that the mixture is slushy when stirred.

Quinoa Seeds Soaking

Quinoa Seeds Soaking

2) Pour the slush into a mesh strainer and thoroughly rinse. If the soaking water is only slightly hazy when stirring then 15-20 minutes is probably enough. These pictures are of bulk quinoa that needed about an hour of soaking and a change of water to clear.

Draining the Soaked Quinoa

Draining the Soaked Quinoa

3) Dump the soaked quinoa into your pan and cover with water. Turn the heat on medium until the mixture starts to bubble. Then turn the heat down low and put on the lid. Watch it very carefully until it settles down to a steady simmer because like oatmeal or pasta it will make fierce bubbles that climb the pot walls and boil over onto the stove.

Turning Up the Heat

Turning Up the Heat

4) The quinoa is done when it looks something like a sand dune on top with minor dips and valleys that are no longer moving. There should be no liquid visible when you take a spoon and check the bottom of the pot.

This Batch Is Fully Cooked

This Batch Is Fully Cooked

    Cooking quinoa is similar to cooking pasta in that you may prefer it very tender or ‘al dente’. You may pre-cook it for a recipe or add it directly to liquids in the recipe. It has the capacity to absorb an amazing amount of flavor from added ingredients. I pre-cook it over low heat for 15-45 minutes; then turn off the heat and let it cool slowly on the burner. The longer it was soaked the shorter the cooking time. Also, if there is still water and it is cooked as long as you like then just drain of the excess water. If you cook it without salt or seasoning then you can use a portion of it in a sweet recipe and the remainder in a savory dish like this one.

    This basic recipe was served at a potluck lunch meeting and received very favorable comments. It was prepared with a large, sweet onion and two fresh tomatoes. I included some ground turkey breast to make it a main dish meal.

    When I make it for Rita, who is currently avoiding nightshade plants I use washed and chopped zucchini in place of the tomatoes. The resulting texture is very similar. I also add a small carrot cut in bits to provide some color,

Savory Quinoa Casserole
Ingredients:
1 cup of dry quinoa cooked with 2 total cups of liquid = 2-2.5 cups cooked quinoa
(If a can of organic diced tomatoes is used for part of the liquid then omit the fresh, sliced tomatoes.)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground yellow mustard (French’s yellow mustard works – it is gluten-free)
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 small tomatoes, thinly sliced (optional, see above, or zucchini))
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro

Directions:
    Heat the oil on medium or medium high  in a large skillet that has a lid.  Add your mustard and bay leaf to the oil and let it sizzle. Stir while adding your cumin and wait a few seconds before adding the onion.
    Sauté the onion until it starts to soften and turn brown. Add ginger, tomatoes (or zucchini/carrot), and turmeric. Let soften and then add your quinoa, stirring it in gently and sprinkling with salt. Reduce heat and cover, cooking for 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir once, sprinkle with cilantro, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff and serve.
    If you add meat, tofu, or beans then include it already prepared along with the quinoa. This is a good recipe to extend leftovers from another meal. And any local vegetables in season are excellent options.

Gretchen (Mom) and Rita

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Celebrate Valentine’s Day with Chef Alain Braux

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Press Release:
    Edible Austin presents author Alain Braux talking about his new book, Living Gluten and Dairy-Free with French Gourmet Food at  BookPeople on Monday, February 14, from 7–9 pm. Treat yourself (and perhaps a loved one) to an evening of conversation with Chef Braux (recently named in the Top 10 Food Celebrity list as well as a Best Sweet Bites of 2010 by the Austin Chronicle), who will prepare his bliss-inducing Flourless Chocolate Torte for us. Also meet Sarah Bartholow from Hail Merry, who will be sampling a selection of their scrumptious gluten-free and vegan products. We’ll also have a selection of celebratory beverages on hand. Free!
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    Alain’s comment `gluten-free junk food is still junk food’ is such an astute observation. He believes we should eat thoughtfully, be aware, and indulge joyfully on special occasions. Enjoy dessert on Valentine’s Day at Book People and chat with Alain – he loves to talk about food!

For those of you who live in Georgetown you can find a copy of Alain’s book at the Georgetown Public Library – NBNF 641.563 BRAU.

    Alain is also the author of How to Lower your Cholesterol with French Food. Both books are available at Amazon in paperback or Kindle editions.

Features found in his book aside from the wonderful recipes:
1) Narratives from people about their journey of GFCF discovery – one of these stories might be your `aha!’ trigger
2) Sympathy for the many reasons you may be attempting to self medicate and suggestions on how to find the right doctor
3) Why keeping a food journal is so very important (there may be additional sensitivities)
4) Setting yourself up for gluten-free and casein-free success
5) A comprehensive list of resources for Celiac Disease and Autism including books, magazines, organizations, and online support
6) Those mysterious food additives that could indicate `hidden’ gluten – pages of them
7) `Safe’ and `not safe’; in medication, vitamins, toiletries, household cleaners

    Rita and I visited with Alain recently at People’s RX at the Westlake location where you will find an extensive gluten-free grocery section and gluten-free options in the deli. The North Lamar and South Lamar locations also have gluten-free options in the deli.

Gretchen (Mom) and Rita

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Pork & Beans in Pumpkin Sauce

    Rita is a full-time student this semester and Mom is in the background supporting her efforts as best I can. It is most important these days to keep up the nutrition and avoid the gluten. Many of the new gluten-free products becoming available are still in the fast-food, empty-calorie, snack-food category that we try to avoid. And so we cook.

    This started out as a hearty chili recipe tailored to eliminate some of the elements that Rita is trying to avoid in addition to the gluten. One of those is all nightshade foods, especially tomatoes. The initial recipe caught my eye because the tomato in the recipe was replaced by pumpkin. We are both fans of all things pumpkin so we were very enthusiastic about the possibilities. The lean white pork also met with our approval although it can be substituted with a vegan option or eliminated entirely.

    I printed out a starter recipe and carefully noted every little change as I went along. The seasoning changes strayed so far from the original recipe that it had me quite anxious about the final result. Toward the end I emailed Rita what I had done so far and asked for her input on the choice of beans to be added. She chose navy beans but any favorite bean can be substituted.

    The result is something that I think is very tasty. Rita admitted to me that she liked it so well that she was having a bowl for breakfast as well as for dinner. So I am hoping that this is useful for all the nightshade-challenged individuals trying to stay healthy!

Pork & Beans in Pumpkin Sauce
Ingredients:
1/2 pound navy beans, soaked overnight, and cooked until tender
1 pound lean white pork, bite-size diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 cup celery, diced

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon savory
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
14 oz. water
1 15 oz. can pumpkin

1/3-1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
Fresh cilantro (optional)

Process:
    Put the beans on to soak a day ahead of time so they can be cooking while you prepare the sauce. Drain, rinse and add enough water to cover and cook the beans in a 2-quart saucepan. Do not add salt as this can cause the beans to be tough. Cook gently on the lowest heat necessary to keep the water bubbling. When they are tender remove the lid and leave on low heat. Reduce the liquid to retain the nutrients without excess liquid when you add the beans to the remainder of the recipe.

    Use a 4-quart, heavy bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven to prepare the sauce. Add the olive oil to the pan and sauté the pork (or substitute) over medium high heat until it is lightly browned. Stir in the onion and celery. Cook and stir for a few minutes until tender and fragrant.

    Stir in the cumin, coriander, garlic powder, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, salt, savory, and marjoram. Also add the water and pumpkin. Bring the heat up slowly and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes or until the pork is tender.

    When you taste the sauce it will seem very flat. This is where the cider vinegar comes in. It adds the sweetness and tang that you are looking for in a chili. Start with 1/3 cup and taste to see if you want a bit more. The difference is quite amazing. Add the beans. Simmer for another few minutes. Top with the fresh cilantro if you are using it.

Gretchen (Mom) and Rita

PS – There were no pictures. I was too anxious to remember while in process and it went directly into the freezer until I was able to get it to Rita.

    However, here is a picture of my breakfast this morning. Ricki Heller at Diet, Dessert, and Dogs  is writing a new cookbook centered on gluten-free breakfast dishes for those battling Candida infections. This was SO yummy – flavor, texture, and nutrition all wrapped up in one bowl of hot cereal!

Blended Cereal with a Boost

Blended Cereal with a Boost

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SO Cultured Coconut Milk

    Rita first became interested in the probiotic qualities of fermented foods during her studies in Virginia. And when Chef Alain Braux, Austin-based nutritherapist, spoke about how fermented foods can promote intestinal healing in people with damage from gluten intolerance I determined it was time to give them a try. For the past two months I have used some of the recommended products.

    We were on my first shopping trip to Natural Grocers when Rita introduced me to this tangy, creamy SO Cultured Coconut Milk product (also known as SO Coconut Milk Kefir). And how strong could it be after appreciating the very strong taste of fermented daikon radishes? So I came home with a bottle.

SO Cultured Coconut Milk Beverage

SO Cultured Coconut Milk Beverage

    Several bottles later, it reminds me of the cultured buttermilk that I used to mix with pineapple juice and no-cal sweetener to create a beverage that tastes like pineapple sherbet. And I plan to try that mixture again especially after discovering that this beverage is so very thick. In the meantime I mix it half & half with water, add a few drops of stevia and enjoy a tangy, refreshing drink that feels really good in the tummy. I am definitely hooked on this.

    Right now it makes a nice bedtime treat but come summertime I am already thinking of tall, frosty, fruity drinks.

Gretchen (Mom)

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