Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Quinona, it rhymes with Winona

We've been both using things up from the freezer in anticipation of what Dad refers to as Mom's "Mother Hubbard" tendencies, as well as trying out a few new things. In the fall, Mom begins stocking up the cabinets, the stairway pantry and the freezers. Through winter, we are nearly always stocked for a blizzard. Anyone who doesn't know, living just a little south of Chicago, most winters, there is the very distinct possibility of being stuck for at least a day if God decides to bless us with some snow days. Now, of course, around here, it takes a heck of a lot more snow to constitute a "snow day" than some where like North Carolina, so if we get there, we do need to be prepared.

More often than not, however, the weather is burdensome in terms of going out shopping, but nothing more. That said, Mom still begins gathering nuts like a mother squirrel, stocking a tree for winter. In order for that to happen, we have to use up the old to rotate in the new.

One of the things in the freezer are packages of pork chops, which come from a farmer from whom Mom and Dad have bought 1/2 a pig each of the last few years. We had so much pork in the freezer we could have started a barbecue joint. For some reason, this year they seemed to eat less, so we are still working on it. Mom and Dad had pork chops tonight.

While they ate from the farm, I looked to the sea. A while back I was at Ultra Foods and found some individually wrapped salmon fillets. They were a reasonable portion at a great price so I put some away for easy lunches of dinners. I used the last one for my dinner.

I was thinking about making some tomato sauce the other day, so I was reading some tips for getting the best flavor. One of them mentioned cooking up a bit of tomato paste to add to the mix. The author said that by cooking the paste for a bit, letting it darken, you cook the sugars, sweetening and enriching the flavor. I am a big fan of sun dried tomato flavor, and I have learned that cooking tomato paste this way produces a similar flavor if you use a bit of olive oil. While perusing the freezer and discovering my last salmon fillet, I thought I might try this flavor with the fish.

I saute├ęd some tomato paste in a splash of olive oil until it turned from bright read to a deep burgundy, adding a bit of stevia and some crushed garlic. The sweet flavor and heavenly smell consumed my senses when I sampled a bit. I put most of it away, leaving only enough to have a bit of a tomato crust across the fish when I added it to the pan.

With the proteins taken care of, we turned to the sides. Mom and Dad picked up several new things last time they ventured out to Costco. I'm sure you've seen those microwavable bags of rice, 90 seconds in the microwave to steamed, sometimes flavored, rice. Almost all of the flavored varieties are off limits to me because they use some form of flour in the seasoning. The plain ones and the buttered flavored ones are okay, but plain brown rice can become boring if you have too much. While shopping, the parents discovered a similarly package product which is a mix of brown rice and quinoa, with garlic seasoning.

I read the label carefully and discovered, gleefully, that it does in fact appear to be gluten free*. This seemed like the perfect night to give it a try, alongside some steamed vegetables. This great product, Seeds of Change Unyuni Quisnoa and Whole Grain Brown Rice, did not fail to please. It still tickles me to hear Dad talking about eating quinoa. He still can't pronounce it (he calls it Quinona, it rhymes with Winona), but a year ago, I'm not sure he would even have tried it.

All in all, the meal was beautiful on the plate and on my tongue. The salmon, tender inside and slightly crisp with a tomato crust on the outside, had a sweet, smoky flavor of sun dried tomatoes gathered from a far off Italian vineyard. The rice was tender, the quinoa slightly firm, the combination accented by a wonderful garlic flavor cooked soaked into each grain. While I'm not giving them much column space, a dependable frozen vegetable medley, upped the nutritional content and had a slightly buttery flavor, cooked simply by steaming them in the microwave. Stay tuned to see what else finds its way to the table from the freezer.

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*On the website (linked above), it lists this food as Dairy Free, Vegetarian appropriate, and whole grain. It is NOT listed as Gluten free, and this is one of their labeling options. Perhaps they do not use a dedicated facility and do not want to risk labeling it as such. I based my decision to eat it on the ingredients listed on the package, and suffered no reaction. I have contacted the company to ask about the labeling and will update when I hear from them.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Summertime, and the livin' is easy...

If you're prepared.

Well friends, this year's family picnic marked the one year point in my gluten free journey. Last year at this time, I was thinking along the lines that cutting most of the gluten from my diet would alleviate symptoms of several conditions with which I was struggling. I hadn't yet realized that the gluten was not simply exacerbating those problems, but rather causing them in the first place.

Thinking as such, I headed to the 2009 Turner Family Picnic with the idea that I had been so good about cutting out gluten for the whole week that I could go ahead and have some of the delicious baked goods my cousins and aunt passed around. I ate fried chicken brought by another aunt, dutifully stripped of it's coating and skin, but with no regard for the fact that this did not at all guard against cross contamination. I gleefully consumed brownies, cookies, sweet breads and the like, all the while praising myself for my restraint the entire week leading up to this day which allowed me to enjoy these treats.

That evening and for several days to come, I saw the consequences of my error in judgement in the form of stomach cramps, a resurgence of the psoriasis on my knees, a flare up of the acne like condition on my cheeks, sluggishness and many other symptoms I which had been miraculously absent from my life the week before. That day, I promised myself I would never again knowingly cause myself to feel that way.

It's been a year, full of learning and making mistakes, trying new foods and discovering some truly wonderful, naturally gluten free foods, which I might not otherwise have tasted. In the past year, the one lesson most important in my life is one the Boy Scouts have been telling us all along. Always be prepared.

Whether I'm planning ahead for a quick and easy dinner after a late day of work or class, or packing for a family gathering, preparation remains the key element to a successful, low stress day. With that in mind, I began preparing for today's picnic yesterday. I baked Betty Crocker gluten free chocolate chips (add in a little guar or xanthan gum for better consistency) and cornstarch brownies. I cooked the rice pasta salad from my Lil's gift bag, and I took out chicken burgers and OMG's burger buns from the freezer. Before leaving this morning, I wrapped each burger and each bun in a foil package so they could be cooked on the grill beside everyone else's food.

After explaining to my cousin why I needed my food to remain in the foil, and knowing that everything else was ready, I had the easiest day in a whole year. How amazing it felt heading into the meal knowing that I would not need to fill up on chips or cheese to hold me over until I got home (I've done that on less prepared days). When the food was ready and we all gathered in prayer, I offered my own silent gratitude for the gift of foresight, which made the entire day a breeze.

I made a meal of chicken/Swiss cheese/honey mustard burgers on gf buns, pasta salad with corn and black beans, and potato chips, with a dessert of cookies and brownies which matched those being passed around by the wheat eaters.

The simple joy of planning ahead allowed me to enjoy my family, the nice weather, and a delicious outdoor meal. Now, if only the mosquitoes hadn't taken advantage of all those things...