Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Year of Cooking Dangerously

Digging around through the archives of my core email lists sure brings back memories. They are to us what the letters and diaries of the Regency gentlefolk were to them. And they hold as significant a place in history for our children as those old letters and diaries do for us now. At least, as long as Yahoo's servers don't crash. Which is looking chancy these days. Still, it is illuminating to go back to watershed points in our lives and measure how far we've come since those days.

I remember when we were first notified that my oldest, whom I occasionally slip up and call Dog--much to his preteen annoyance, is gluten intolerant. That was a pretty momentous moment. I think that the next pivotal moment brought even more upheaval. Six months into our oh-so-free lifestyle--gluten-free that is--we began seeing "gluten reactions" even after eating foods that we'd eaten before and knew to be gluten-free. It was a desperate time, casting around in the dark and frantically trying to apply our new gluten-free rules in a situation where it seemed that the rules were changing on us. And our doctor couldn't tell us what the new "new rules" were because he was as untutored as we in all of this. The best answer he could give us was to suggest we see a specialist.

I thank God for the internet. Literally. Because a mom on one of my parenting lists was going through, in her parallel existence, the very same situation. We consequently branched off together in a foodie email list where yet another mom educated us on IgG-mediated reactions. The Reader's Digest version is that IgE antibodies create "classic allergies" of the rashes, hives, and anaphylactic sort that we're all familiar with; IgA antibodies are associated with mucosal tissue, like the intestinal tissue that generates IgA antibodies in response to gluten in the intolerant; and then there are the IgG antibodies that create reactions that aren't necessarily IgE in style and, instead of appearing within an hour or so, manifest themselves past several hours, days, or even as long as two weeks later. (There are other antibody reactions, but I've not researched those.) The IgG savvy mom suggested going to Optimum Health Resource Laboratories, then known as York. Our results from their lab were later endorsed by our allergist.

The test results were both relieving and devastating. Relieving because now we knew what the new "new rules" were. Devastating because almost all of their favorite foods were on the list, which I've since learned is a very common dynamic in intestinal hyper permeability or leaky gut syndrome. The initial loss was 19 different foods, which later cascaded to consume entire food groups, some of which we still have not recovered. My first response was, "Oh, my God, what are they going to eat?"

And this began what I started calling "The Year of Cooking Dangerously." It set the trend for me that in moments of dietary crisis, I would retreat into the kitchen to experiment without regard for effort, waste, or whether anyone outside of our family would like it. Just desperate to find replacement foods that approximated what was lost without using the ingredients that would trigger another reaction episode. It was during those times that I learned what each and every ingredient brought to the recipe and what things might bring similar characteristics as substitutes. A hands-on crash course in the chemistry of cooking. If it hadn't been such an emotionally charged time, I might have been able to segue it into scientific unit studies for the children, but I didn't have the poise to pull that off. As a result of that year, I've been left with an unbreakable habit of tweaking recipes even though I don't have to so much anymore; R from Down Under calls me "Tweaker."

From a "pumpkin brownie" recipe that was making the gf/cf/xf food list circuit at the time, my cosmic twin tweaked a recipe from which I've tweaked my current pear butter muffin recipe. It became the foundation for my "baking" during the grainless years. It is one of those recipes that can be yanked in a million different directions and still come out edible. Okay, maybe only edible to my kids. They eat things that amaze onlookers. Like spoonfuls of ghee. They line up like little birds for this. Tool Guy watches and shudders. I've made this recipe so many ways...without eggs...without grains...without eggs and grains...that it typifies for me the art of Cooking Dangerously. Reckless experimentation within narrowly constrained parameters.

Egg is one of the most difficult ingredients to lose in baking. Easier to lose grain than eggs. It brings to the recipe both binding and leavening elements. Flax seed boiled in water can help replace the binding and for those who are seed-free, a teaspoon of gelatin in a cup of hot water will act similarly. The grain-free, egg-free pumpkin brownies turned out sort of what I'd imagined a baked pudding to be like. As my children adjusted to their reduced choices, this became the favorite snack and they even requested that I freeze it, sliced into cubes. They'd then help themselves to a cube when in the grasp of a Hobbit moment. Bug, then 2 years old, called them "tump'in brownies."

Grainfree, Eggfree, Pumpkin Brownies

1 cup pumpkin/sweet potato/yam/butternut squash puree
3 t ground flax seeds mixed with 1/2 cup water or 1/2 cup gelatin water
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 t vanilla
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup arrowroot starch
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup acorn starch
(Starch flours can be tweaked to any combination of at least two of these, as long as the total amount equals 2 cups)
1 t guar gum
2 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1 t cloves
1 t allspice
2 T featherlight baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 cups sugar or equivalent sugar substitute

In mixer, blend wet ingredients. In bowl, mix dry. Slowly blend dry ingredients into wet ingredients for two minutes. Spread into 15x10x1 baking pan and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees, until it passes toothpick test.

Since eggs and grains have come back into our lives, so has the loft in our baked goods. These days, I'm baking muffins now and serving them hot out of the oven. Looking back, the basic recipe isn't so very different, but what a difference a little difference makes.

Pear Butter Muffins

1 cup pear butter (sweet fruit puree of any stripe will do)
3 eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
2 t vanilla
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup potato starch
1 cup gluten free grain flour
1 t guar gum
2 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1 t allspice
1 T cream of tartar
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 cup date sugar
squirt of stevia

In mixer, blend wet ingredients. In bowl, measure out dry. Mix dry into wet ingredients, only mixing until fully incorporated. Put in baking pan or muffin forms and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes for pan or 15-30 minutes for muffin or until dry toothpicked.

It definitely warms my heart to see this recipe that, in all of its incarnations, has been with us for four years, will now, even when there are more novel foods available, still inspire squeals of delight. It still sends Bug, who is never the soul of discretion, nor can ever keep any good thing to himself, through the house, shrieking, "The muffins are ready!!"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is the beginnings of the revolution.

Back to the old paths.

Thanks for the Ig info. It is very helpful.