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When I'm not here, you may find me wandering the pages below. (If I'm a regular visitor to your site and I've left your link off or mislinked to you, please let me know! And likewise, if you've blogrolled me, please check that my link is updated: thisroamanticlife.blogspot.com. The extra (a) makes all the difference!)

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Body: in sickness and in health

I won't lie; this body and I have had our issues with each other for many years. Body image -- sure. Physical and mental overextension -- comes with being a Type A kind of girl. I still struggle with these things, so they show up from time to time in my writing.

More recently, illness, pure but not simple, has added itself to the mix in a multi-system sort of way. And the challenges in figuring out exactly what's gone wrong are many. As problems have revealed themselves in the last few years, beginning with reactive hypoglycemia in late 2008, I've documented them here, partly to gain a little clarity on managing complex conditions but mostly to give voice to vulnerabilities I feel but don't normally share with anyone face to face. Better out than in, they say, right? (Oh yes, humor is one way I deal.)

The links below cover the different angles I've examined (and from which I've been examined) within that experience.

Travel: neither here nor there

When the person you're married to lives two time zones away, you log a fair number of frequent flier miles. And if you blog about commuter relationships, you log quite a few posts en route too.

Since we're no longer in separate places, I blog less often from airports. But we do travel -- together now! -- which is much more fun to write about. So in addition to thoughts on our years of commuting, the links below cover the places we've been as a pair and, in some cases, the adventures that have happened on the way.

Writing: the long and short of it

Why do I do it? Good question. Maybe it's not so much that I like to write but that I have to write, even when the words refuse to stick to the page. Believe me, I've tried doing other things like majoring in biochemistry (freshman fall, many semesters ago). Within a year, I'd switched to English with a concentration in creative writing and wasn't looking back.

After graduating, I taught English for a few years and then worked as an editor, which I still do freelance. In 2007, I applied and got into an MFA program at a place I like to call Little U. on the Prairie. I finished my degree in 2011 and have been balancing tutoring and writing on my own ever since.

The following links cover the writing I've done about writing: process, content, obstacles, you name it. It's not always pretty. But some part of me loves it, even when it's hard. And this is the result.

Heart: family and friends

I'd have a hard time explaining who I am without being able to talk about the family I grew up in as well as the people I've met beyond its bounds. But even with such context, it's not easy! In the simplest terms, I'm a first-generation Asian-American who has spent most of this life caught between cultures. That, of course, doesn't even begin to describe what I mean to, but there's my first stab at the heart of it all.

That's what this group of posts is reserved for -- heart. The essential parts of my life whose influences I carry with me, for better or worse. The links below cover what I've written as I've learned how these forces work within me, for me, against me, in spite of me. They anchor me even as they change me, and they keep life interesting.

Recommended reading

What do I do when there's too much on my mind and my words won't stick to the page? I escape into someone else's thoughts. Below is a collection of books and articles that have been sources of information, inspiration, and occasional insight for my own work.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Substitutions

If you've spent any time in my kitchen in the last three years, you've seen a lot of these in the meals I prepare.

Ever since D and I stopped being able to eat much refined sugar and starch, thanks to reactive hypoglycemia, we've been using any stand-ins that would produce similar results in cooking -- even if the ingredients in question weren't those that naturally occur in foods you could buy at the farmer's market. We're talking products that have been enzyme-modified or chemically transmogrified to fool our bodies into ignoring them. Our pantry was a shrine to the gods of Splenda (packet-style, available in boxes of 700 from Amazon's subscription service), maltitol syrup (straight for baking or flavored for coffee), erythritol (granular for creaming into batters and powdered for whipping into frostings), and xylitol honey (in a squeezable bear-shaped bottle to boot).

It turns out our bodies don't take lightly to being deceived. Cue insidious digestive deterioration.*

The elimination diet forced me to stop using our usual sweetener stock, among many other staples: wheat flours; corn, soy, and dairy products; even eggs and yeast. Did you know that baking powder contains corn? And some vanilla extracts too? What in the name of all baked goods is left to make a pan of muffins with?

Plenty.

Of late, I've been craving cornbread. It's cold out, hearty soups have returned to our menu in full force, and I've been missing the sweet-savory flavor of a fresh-from-the-oven pan of golden goodness to go along with a bean-and-chicken stew. D's mother's cornbread recipe had been languishing in our kitchen file for too long, and I was getting tired of eating rice at every meal. So I pulled out the instructions and started making substitutions.

But wait, you're thinking. How do you make cornless cornbread?

With millet.

The results were more than I could ever have hoped for. These tiny little grains, when cooked, produce an uncannily cornmeal-like texture and flavor. I won't say the final product was indistinguishable from true cornbread, but it was a more than respectable stand-in that I had to remind myself not to consume in a more than reasonably sized portion. (For anyone with reactive hypoglycemia, it's still full-strength on the carb scale, even though it contains no refined sugar.)

The success made my week. It's been hard not to think of the food I've been allowed to eat as a second-rate option to the foods I've had to give up. But that is exactly what I've needed to change in order to move forward with the body I have now -- the one that probably will never be able to eat wheat or dairy again. No more thinking of our allowed options as substitutions. They're alternatives, incredibly freeing ones because they won't mistreat my body.

That said, I'm not settling for lesser quality in our baked goods. If an alternative bread or scone or muffin doesn't make me want to go back for seconds (against my better judgment), then the recipe needs tweaking.

So. I'm posting this week's cornbread recipe with original and alternative ingredients side by side. For anyone with food sensitivities or just a curiosity about different baking options, you can employ as many or as few of the suggested changes as your palate desires. (N.B.: the directions account specifically for alternatives; if you use only standard ingredients, simply mix the dry then add the wet and pour into your chosen pan.)

Corn/{millet} bread

2 cups all-purpose flour / {1 cup gluten-free oat flour and 1 cup brown rice flour}
4 tsp. salt
5 tsp. baking powder / {2 tsp. arrowroot starch, 2 tsp. cream of tartar, and 1 tsp. baking soda}
4 tbsp. sugar / {3 tbsp. sucanat** and 4 tbsp. pear butter***}
1 1/2 cups cornmeal / {3/4 cup millet flour and 3/4 cup cooked millet****}
2 eggs / {2/3 cup water and 2 tbsp. ground flaxseed}
2 cups milk / {2 cups coconut, rice, or almond milk}
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. melted shortening / {1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. olive oil}

1. Mix flours, salt, arrowroot, cream of tartar, baking soda, and millet flour in a large bowl. Add sucanat and cooked millet, breaking up clumps with a fork.

2. In a separate bowl, mix water and flaxseed. Allow to stand 5 minutes (mixture will gel slightly). Stir in pear butter and milk.

3. Add wet ingredients to dry; beat quickly with fork. Stir in olive oil until combined.

4. Pour into 12 muffin cups (place extra, if any, in mini loaf pan or ramekins). Bake at 400 F for 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (crumbs are okay, batter coating is not). Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then unmold and transfer to wire rack. Centers will fall slightly -- without gluten or egg, the bread has less structural integrity -- but should not cave in. (Xanthan gum is a recommended additive to rectify this problem, but I'm holding off on experimenting with it until after the remaining food trials are done.)

Makes 12 muffins plus one mini loaf. Half recipe makes one 9-inch square pan of bread. We use a muffin pan to make single servings easier to measure.

* I do not claim that substitute sweeteners single-handedly caused the GI disaster of 2009-2011. But they were certainly associated with the problem; once they were eliminated from our diet, I started to feel better. Symptoms returned during repeated trials with at least one of the sweeteners mentioned above, as they did during trials of a number of other foods. Which just means I won't be consuming any of those items in the near future.

** Sucanat is plain old dried sugar cane juice (but not the same thing as evaporated cane juice, which undergoes more processing). We've found it at Whole Foods, on Amazon, and in our local co-op.

*** We make our own pear butter by boiling down ripe pears with a little water and honey. If you want our recipe, just send me an e-mail; otherwise, similar fruit purees can be used (e.g., unsweetened applesauce).

**** I had leftover millet that I'd prepared in our rice cooker (one part grain to two parts water). For simple guidelines on cooking millet on the stove, check out this site.

5 comments:

Sherlock said...

I have used almond flour and flax meal for all my baking for a year now. There are some awesome recipes online for baking with almond flour. Check it out. Last week I made pound cake and banana bread. A while back I made donuts. I also use davinci or toani SF syrup to make shakes with carbmaster yogurt (6 carbs per container). I have found all kinds of shortcuts! Good luck!

C. Troubadour said...

Thanks for the tips, Sherlock. I will look into almond flour. We've used almond meal in the past too.

As for the Da Vinci or Torani syrups, those are Splenda-based, and Splenda no longer works for me. Carbmaster yogurt is also still true dairy, I believe, which has been one of the major offenders in my diet. Soy yogurt might be okay, though ...

TKW said...

Baking powder has corn in it? Who knew?

I admire your fortitude and your determination to re-create dishes you love and can no longer consume. What a task!

Good Enough Woman said...

So you are feeling better these days? Do you feel as if you've determined the worst culprits of GI disaster 2009-2011? You wrote that with an end date, so I'm hoping that means you are doing well.

BTW, I'll post about this soon, but the GI doc says that the Boy does NOT have celiac disease. He said that the boy's positive test result was not on the "business end" of the . He seemed so sure of his diagnosis that I am not spending much time doubting him. But we will certainly keep an eye on the Boy as he develops. He doesn't have GI trouble; we were just worried about his size. I still worry, but I am mostly reassured.

C. Troubadour said...

TKW -- my fortitude comes and goes. When it's there, it's good. When it isn't, I bury myself in distractions (goodness knows there are many). But sometimes they just aren't enough, which tends to cycle me back to mustering some fortitude lest I go crazy ...

GEW -- I am feeling better! Not perfect yet, but very markedly improved. And so I am much less in limbo about what was making me sick, which is a relief. (We still have to keep narrowing things down through the food sensitivity testing, but that is a finite process, even if it feels like it's taking forever.)

As for the news on the Boy, YAY! Cutting out gluten is hard. I hope reports from the doctor continue to be reassuring. I don't have celiac, per repeated blood tests, but it doesn't mean that I don't have a sensitivity to something else in wheat (and my latest reaction to it would indicate it's not friendly food for me).

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Substitutions

If you've spent any time in my kitchen in the last three years, you've seen a lot of these in the meals I prepare.

Ever since D and I stopped being able to eat much refined sugar and starch, thanks to reactive hypoglycemia, we've been using any stand-ins that would produce similar results in cooking -- even if the ingredients in question weren't those that naturally occur in foods you could buy at the farmer's market. We're talking products that have been enzyme-modified or chemically transmogrified to fool our bodies into ignoring them. Our pantry was a shrine to the gods of Splenda (packet-style, available in boxes of 700 from Amazon's subscription service), maltitol syrup (straight for baking or flavored for coffee), erythritol (granular for creaming into batters and powdered for whipping into frostings), and xylitol honey (in a squeezable bear-shaped bottle to boot).

It turns out our bodies don't take lightly to being deceived. Cue insidious digestive deterioration.*

The elimination diet forced me to stop using our usual sweetener stock, among many other staples: wheat flours; corn, soy, and dairy products; even eggs and yeast. Did you know that baking powder contains corn? And some vanilla extracts too? What in the name of all baked goods is left to make a pan of muffins with?

Plenty.

Of late, I've been craving cornbread. It's cold out, hearty soups have returned to our menu in full force, and I've been missing the sweet-savory flavor of a fresh-from-the-oven pan of golden goodness to go along with a bean-and-chicken stew. D's mother's cornbread recipe had been languishing in our kitchen file for too long, and I was getting tired of eating rice at every meal. So I pulled out the instructions and started making substitutions.

But wait, you're thinking. How do you make cornless cornbread?

With millet.

The results were more than I could ever have hoped for. These tiny little grains, when cooked, produce an uncannily cornmeal-like texture and flavor. I won't say the final product was indistinguishable from true cornbread, but it was a more than respectable stand-in that I had to remind myself not to consume in a more than reasonably sized portion. (For anyone with reactive hypoglycemia, it's still full-strength on the carb scale, even though it contains no refined sugar.)

The success made my week. It's been hard not to think of the food I've been allowed to eat as a second-rate option to the foods I've had to give up. But that is exactly what I've needed to change in order to move forward with the body I have now -- the one that probably will never be able to eat wheat or dairy again. No more thinking of our allowed options as substitutions. They're alternatives, incredibly freeing ones because they won't mistreat my body.

That said, I'm not settling for lesser quality in our baked goods. If an alternative bread or scone or muffin doesn't make me want to go back for seconds (against my better judgment), then the recipe needs tweaking.

So. I'm posting this week's cornbread recipe with original and alternative ingredients side by side. For anyone with food sensitivities or just a curiosity about different baking options, you can employ as many or as few of the suggested changes as your palate desires. (N.B.: the directions account specifically for alternatives; if you use only standard ingredients, simply mix the dry then add the wet and pour into your chosen pan.)

Corn/{millet} bread

2 cups all-purpose flour / {1 cup gluten-free oat flour and 1 cup brown rice flour}
4 tsp. salt
5 tsp. baking powder / {2 tsp. arrowroot starch, 2 tsp. cream of tartar, and 1 tsp. baking soda}
4 tbsp. sugar / {3 tbsp. sucanat** and 4 tbsp. pear butter***}
1 1/2 cups cornmeal / {3/4 cup millet flour and 3/4 cup cooked millet****}
2 eggs / {2/3 cup water and 2 tbsp. ground flaxseed}
2 cups milk / {2 cups coconut, rice, or almond milk}
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. melted shortening / {1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. olive oil}

1. Mix flours, salt, arrowroot, cream of tartar, baking soda, and millet flour in a large bowl. Add sucanat and cooked millet, breaking up clumps with a fork.

2. In a separate bowl, mix water and flaxseed. Allow to stand 5 minutes (mixture will gel slightly). Stir in pear butter and milk.

3. Add wet ingredients to dry; beat quickly with fork. Stir in olive oil until combined.

4. Pour into 12 muffin cups (place extra, if any, in mini loaf pan or ramekins). Bake at 400 F for 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (crumbs are okay, batter coating is not). Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then unmold and transfer to wire rack. Centers will fall slightly -- without gluten or egg, the bread has less structural integrity -- but should not cave in. (Xanthan gum is a recommended additive to rectify this problem, but I'm holding off on experimenting with it until after the remaining food trials are done.)

Makes 12 muffins plus one mini loaf. Half recipe makes one 9-inch square pan of bread. We use a muffin pan to make single servings easier to measure.

* I do not claim that substitute sweeteners single-handedly caused the GI disaster of 2009-2011. But they were certainly associated with the problem; once they were eliminated from our diet, I started to feel better. Symptoms returned during repeated trials with at least one of the sweeteners mentioned above, as they did during trials of a number of other foods. Which just means I won't be consuming any of those items in the near future.

** Sucanat is plain old dried sugar cane juice (but not the same thing as evaporated cane juice, which undergoes more processing). We've found it at Whole Foods, on Amazon, and in our local co-op.

*** We make our own pear butter by boiling down ripe pears with a little water and honey. If you want our recipe, just send me an e-mail; otherwise, similar fruit purees can be used (e.g., unsweetened applesauce).

**** I had leftover millet that I'd prepared in our rice cooker (one part grain to two parts water). For simple guidelines on cooking millet on the stove, check out this site.

5 comments:

Sherlock said...

I have used almond flour and flax meal for all my baking for a year now. There are some awesome recipes online for baking with almond flour. Check it out. Last week I made pound cake and banana bread. A while back I made donuts. I also use davinci or toani SF syrup to make shakes with carbmaster yogurt (6 carbs per container). I have found all kinds of shortcuts! Good luck!

C. Troubadour said...

Thanks for the tips, Sherlock. I will look into almond flour. We've used almond meal in the past too.

As for the Da Vinci or Torani syrups, those are Splenda-based, and Splenda no longer works for me. Carbmaster yogurt is also still true dairy, I believe, which has been one of the major offenders in my diet. Soy yogurt might be okay, though ...

TKW said...

Baking powder has corn in it? Who knew?

I admire your fortitude and your determination to re-create dishes you love and can no longer consume. What a task!

Good Enough Woman said...

So you are feeling better these days? Do you feel as if you've determined the worst culprits of GI disaster 2009-2011? You wrote that with an end date, so I'm hoping that means you are doing well.

BTW, I'll post about this soon, but the GI doc says that the Boy does NOT have celiac disease. He said that the boy's positive test result was not on the "business end" of the . He seemed so sure of his diagnosis that I am not spending much time doubting him. But we will certainly keep an eye on the Boy as he develops. He doesn't have GI trouble; we were just worried about his size. I still worry, but I am mostly reassured.

C. Troubadour said...

TKW -- my fortitude comes and goes. When it's there, it's good. When it isn't, I bury myself in distractions (goodness knows there are many). But sometimes they just aren't enough, which tends to cycle me back to mustering some fortitude lest I go crazy ...

GEW -- I am feeling better! Not perfect yet, but very markedly improved. And so I am much less in limbo about what was making me sick, which is a relief. (We still have to keep narrowing things down through the food sensitivity testing, but that is a finite process, even if it feels like it's taking forever.)

As for the news on the Boy, YAY! Cutting out gluten is hard. I hope reports from the doctor continue to be reassuring. I don't have celiac, per repeated blood tests, but it doesn't mean that I don't have a sensitivity to something else in wheat (and my latest reaction to it would indicate it's not friendly food for me).