Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cellular Respiration-or, if you prefer, The Makings of Really Good Bread.

This post comes a little later than I had expected, but I wanted to be sure that I got it right.  This being my first recipe post, and me being a bread lover, it seemed most appropriate to share a bread recipe.  A gluten, dairy and egg-free sourdough bread recipe, to be precise. 

Ain't she a beaut?
What's there left for it to be made of, you might ask?  (Or, at least, that's what one of my friends asked me via Facebook as I documented my work.)  Well, not much, and therein lies the magic of this recipe; it can be as simple or as complex as you please.
Before I get into the details, though, it is important to note that I did not develop this recipe entirely on my own.  Rather, I offer a variation of the sourdough bread recipe from the Art of Gluten-Free Baking, along with additional tips and tricks that I have discovered along the way.  Now, on to the recipe sharing!
The first thing to do is grow a sourdough starter.  Sourdough bread, like most other breads, is leavened by yeast.  Unlike most other breads, however, sourdough utilizes wild yeasts.  A sourdough starter is, figuratively speaking, the net with which one may catch wild yeasts from the air.
Now, here's where the simple part comes in: a sourdough starter can be made with just flour and water--about one cup of each should do.  It is important to use filtered water, since tap water often contains chemicals like chlorine, added to keep out micro-flora like our yeast friends.  As far as the flour goes, yeast seem to like fattier, more protein-filled flours the best, but any type will work as long as it contains starch.  I like to mix a big bag of 2 parts navy bean flour, 1 part teff flour and 1 part brown rice flour, as per Nourishing Foodways' flour blend, and use that to feed my yeast.
Mix your flour and water together in a wide-mouthed jar or a pot, and let it sit on your counter.  You'll want to cover it with a loose-fitting lid or a clean dishtowel; the idea is to attract wild yeast while keeping any bugs out.  I also added a fourth cup or so of honey into mine, to further entice the little yeasties, but it isn't necessary.
Continue to feed the starter with a one cup each of water and flour, once or twice a day as you think of it.  Within a few days, you'll notice bubbles pucker and pop when you stir the starter.  It will begin to smell rather like sour cream, and the air in the jar/pot will feel warm.  Congradulations!  This evidence of cellular respiration signifies the maturity of your sourdough starter!  In other words, you are ready to begin baking.
You can't really see the bubbles in this picture, but you'll notice them when you stir your starter.
When you use your sourdough starter, you'll want to make sure there is always a little bit left so that you won't have to go through all the trouble of attracting yeast every time you want bread.  At this stage, don't feel too bad if you forget to feed the starter for a day or two at a time.  It should be pretty stable, especially if you feed it whole grain or otherwise oily and protein-y flours.  If you know that you won't be able to feed it for a length of time, or if you do not wish to bake with it for a length of time, you can store it in the refridgerator and feed it a minimum of once a week.
Seeing as how this post has already become quite lengthy, I will walk through the rest of this recipe in my next post, which I will publish posthaste!  Until then, by all means, waste no time in starting your own sourdough starter.
Linked to: Sunday School 3/3/13 at Butter Believer, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday 3/5/13 at Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, and Party Wave Wednesday 3/6/13 at Holistic Squid

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Learning Curve

Prior to any dietary restrictions, my mom did most of my family's grocery shopping.  She could run in and out of the grocery store in about 35 minutes, zipping through the aisles in record time. 

Now, I always accompany my mom on trips to the grocery store.  Expert label-reader that I am, it still takes a good deal of time to comb through a store--actually, several stores--to find allergen-free foods.  And then, as complicated as grocery shopping can be, it's only half the battle.  Sometimes, the real struggle takes place in the kitchen.

There's a learning curve, but after a period of transition, the process of shopping for and preparing food becomes streamlined.  Here are a few of the lessons that have helped me in the past few months:

1. Focus on fresh, whole foods.  When it comes to finding allergen-free food, the outer ring of the grocery store is your best bet.  In a conventional grocery store, you're much more likely to find peanut, soy, or whatever else-free meats and produce than cookies and crackers.  In this way, food allergies are a blessing in disguise:  they give you an extra kick to eat healthily.

2. Find new favorites.  Rather than try to replace old favorites with an exact allergen-free equivalent, which can be disappointing, sometimes it's best to find new favorites entirely.  You might be amazed what variety of fruits and vegetables your local grocery store offers.  You also might be amazed to realize which ones you haven't yet tried. 

Another good place to search for new favorites is the ethnic food aisle.  My favorite things from the ethnic food aisle are canned coconut milk, red and green curry paste, puppodums, rice paper wraps, dried legumes and grains. 

You could also purchase more exotic ingredients, such as blueberry balsamic vinegar or flavored extracts, online.

3. Keep snacks around.  It's a good idea to keep some quick-preparing pantry staples on hand.  Gluten free crackers aren't always very tasty, but you'll sure be glad you thought to purchase some when the fridge is empty.

4. Don't be afraid to mess up.  This one is key.  Especially with baking, mistakes happen.  Not everything that you make is going to taste good, but that's okay.  It's part of the journey.  You won't learn anything if you never try anything new. 

5. Figure out what works for you.  Some people like foods that others might not, and some people are willing to put more time into their food than others.  Every body is different, so take all advice with a grain of salt.

Well, that's it for today!  I'll be back next week, possibly with a recipe for gluten free sourdough.  See you then!

Friday, February 8, 2013

My Story

As a kid, my favorite food was always bread.  I loved nothing more than to stuff myself with a thick, yeasty pizza crust every Saturday night.  Little did I know, my favorite food didn’t love me back.

When I was in fifth grade, I developed a hereditary skin disease called psoriasis. I wore long-sleeved polo shirts and long pants, rain or shine, to cover the angry red splotches that peppered my arms, legs and torso. A flaky crust of dried skin blanketed my scalp, choking out some of my hair. After trying a dozen different creams and lotions to no avail, I visited a dermatologist.  The doctor was specifically a children’s dermatologist, but as a fifth grade student, I found his brusque approach intimidating.  I was thoroughly overwhelmed when the visit closed with a blood draw.  While the medications prescribed by the dermatologist were effective in temporarily easing my symptoms of psoriasis, the rash always returned.

In middle school, the clues continued to emerge:  breakfast left me feeling unsettled, and all too often, my stomach ached terribly, inexplicably, in the middle of the afternoon. When I moved on to high school, the discomfort came with me. By my sophomore year of high school, digestive discomfort plagued me more often than not.

I was determined to get to the bottom of the issue. Every night before I went to sleep, I scoured the internet for individuals with experiences similar to my own. I was shocked to find that many of the symptoms of Celiac disease exactly matched my own. Here was an explanation for not only my digestive discomfort, but also my psoriasis, migraines and moodiness. Repeated searches supported my hypothesis. I was going to have to give up bread. 

At first, the idea of going gluten free terrified me.  The more I thought about it, though, the surer I became that it was the thing to do. 

Rather than repeat my experience with conventional medicine, I decided to visit a naturopathic doctor.  This doctor, barefoot and wearing a colorful sundress, personally greeted my mother and me at the door of the clinic. We visited with her whilst filling out paperwork, and then she sat down with us for nearly two hours, asking me questions and explaining the inner-workings of the body.  The doctor prescribed only dietary changes and supplements, but a short while after visiting the naturopath, miscellaneous and seemingly unrelated aches and pains disappeared. Within two weeks, the after-dinner stomachaches ceased.  My psoriasis, though not yet completely gone, was as minimal as it had been since before fifth grade.

As the naturopath explained it, the main principle of naturopathy is that the body has the capacity to heal itself, and that all systems of the body work together. The skin, for instance, might expel unwanted toxins that could not otherwise be expelled from the body. This is why, in the long run, the topical medications prescribed by the dermatologist were ineffective in combating my psoriasis. However, when the pressure is removed from one system of the body, a healthy balance is restored to the body as a whole. In my case, this was accomplished by changing my diet. As it turned out, a blood test revealed that I was allergic to not only wheat but also eggs, dairy, pineapple and halibut. 

Others often react with pity when they hear of my dietary restrictions, but I don’t feel sorry for myself.  Instead, I feel sorry for those who eat whatever they please and later suffer the consequences.  I cannot recommend a food allergy test highly enough.

 Over time, I imagine that the contents of this blog will come to reflect my interests in food and health, perhaps coupled with a bit of scientific research. 

As for now, thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join me in my quest for health.