Friday, May 29, 2009

Desert Island Cookbook List

I bought the Science Teacher Culinary Artistry for Christmas one year. Towards the end, the chefs featured in the book rattle off their desert island lists, the ten or so ingredients they would choose to spend eternity with if stranded on a desert island. I seem to remember that olive oil recurs the most.

Enter the desert island cookbook list.

With our impending move to Tbilisi, we're in the position of drastically downsizing our cookbook collection, which, while not huge, contains well-used books. Unlike Foreign Service families, we don't get over a 1000 lbs of freight; instead, we'll fly with everything and pay for a few additional duffles for the extras. Space for books is at a premium and has to be divvied out among cookbooks, teaching books, and fun books.

The question is what to take. I'm leaning towards How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and Joy of Cooking (new edition). But my beloved Jane Brody cookbooks (Good Food Book and Good Food Gourmet) and the Moosewood Daily Special are clammering to come along--and I use them all of the time. And there are the books like the Moosewood Book of Desserts, which I use for inspiration and just love reading. We're definitely planning on copying a bunch of recipes from our other cookbooks and taking them along.

What two or three cookbooks would you take with you?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Date-Hazelnut Balls Dipped in Chocolate

Better (way) late than never.

For a holiday that's infamous for a week without bread, Passover sure involves a heck of a lot of food that contains matzo. Everyone has an odd favorite food to eat while being afflicted--matzo brie, for instance--and there are whole cookbooks devoted to soaking, pounding, and grinding matzo into food that's meant to be more interesting than plain buttered matzo. During Passover this year, I watched a mom spend a half hour turning matzo into pancakes in hopes that her son wouldn't beg for Cherrios. The result? Kid wrinkles his nose and says "they taste like matzo." Well, yeah.

The most ironic concoction I've come across this year is matzo cake meal--flour that's been baked into matzo then ground into flour. Oh I understand why the process is necessary (you might unintentionally consume something leavened if the "flour" you use isn't made from matzo, which has only been baked for a short amount of time and is certified by a rabbi). But if you really think about it, matzo cake meal isn't ironic at all. Passover is all about recreating the Exodus story and revising it to be relevant to our lives year after year. That's why we always list modern plagues (like hunger) alongside the ancient plagues (murrain, anyone?).

While Passover should be a gluten-free smorgasbord, you still have to be really careful. Matzo shows up in just about as many things as flour does during the rest of the year, though there do tend to be more meringues around than usual. This year, I took chocolate-dipped dried pineapple, dates, and apricots to my first seder. While I was dipping the dates, I slit a few, dabbed hazelnut butter into the cavity, closed it up, and dipped them in chocolate. Wow, yum. There's a reason why Nutella sells.

So for our seder, I wanted to expand on that idea a bit. I soaked dried dates in hot water then pureed them in the blender, added ground hazelnuts, and tasted. The concoction lacked the intense hazelnut flavor that I wanted so I add a big spoonful of hazelnut butter and a little salt. That really did the trick so if you're experimenting, definitely add some nut butter. I mixed it all up, rolled the glob into balls, dipped the balls in melted chocolate, and had dessert. Eat your heart out Ferrero Rocher. These are even good for you.

Date-Hazelnut Balls Dipped in Chocolate
Makes 18-20.

1/2 lb dried dates
1 c. ground toasted hazelnuts
2-3 tbsp. hazelnut butter
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4-1 c. chopped chocolate for melting

Soak the dates in hot water (especially if, like me, you don't own a Vitamix--I've already killed one mini chopper this year) for 10-15 min. Puree them in a food processor. Scrap into a bowl. Add the ground hazelnuts, salt, and hazelnut butter. Mix it all into a paste and roll into golf ball-sized balls.

Melt the chocolate (I generally microwave the chocolate for 30 sec., stir, then microwave for 15 sec. at a time, stirring in between, until the chocolate is fully melted). Coat the balls in chocolate by dropping each ball into the melted chocolate, rolling it around until fully covered, and lifting it out with a fork, allowing the excess to drip off. You can thin the chocolate with a little milk (cow, soy, coconut, whatever's your pleasure) if it's too thick by itself. Allow the balls to cool fully on wax paper.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Millet: Bring On the Bird Seed

I probably used millet for the first time in preschool. Remember those pinecone bird feeders smeared with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed? I've never been particularly interested in birds or the composition of their food, which means I didn't actually learn that millet is a key component of ordinary birdseed until I was an adult.

My first encounter with millet as a food source was in Russia. My host dad, Zhenya, brought some home in a little 2 lb. sack. I looked at it, and he said, "Eta prosa." Prosa, of course, what was I thinking and where was my dictionary? I deduced it must be couscous and thought it might be good for breakfast. I cooked my prosa in water, topped it with jam, and ate a deeply unsatisfying meal. So ended my relationship with millet for quite a while.

I decided to give it another shot after my celiac diagnosis. I mean, why limit myself even further by turning up my nose at a grain after one bad experience? I check millet out on wikipedia and found out that millet is a fairly common staple grain in many semi-arid and arid countries, including India and many African nations. Check out this website for more information about millet.

Millet was actually one of the first grains we fed the Little Potamus, and he loves it, especially millet-cauliflower mash, which has the surprising texture of mashed potatoes (see below for a recipe). Millet seems to pair particularly well with tahini, so lately I've been eating it for breakfast with that and a little soy milk.

Basic Millet

1 cup millet
2-3 cups water
pinch of salt

Heat a little olive oil in a pan. Add the millet and cook until the grains smell toasty. Add 2-2 1/2 cups of water and cook for about 20 minutes until all of the water is absorbed. You might need to add more water if you want very soft grains. Add salt and pepper for a very simple dish, but millet is also excellent with nut butters, cheese, scallions, toasted nuts, etc. (though perhaps not all at the same time!).

Here are some ideas for cooking with millet:
Mark Bittman's Autumn Millet Bake at 101 Cookbooks
Gluten-Free Mommy's Millet Oatmeal Bread
Millet-Quinoa-Cashew Kugel
Spicy Millet-Chickpea Pancakes
Millet-Cauliflower Mash (add cheese, tahini, or miso to the mash at the end for a great variation)
Karina's Gluten-Free Irish Soda Bread (made with millet)

Friday, March 27, 2009

High-Protein Breakfast Smoothies

The Little Potamus sucking down a pint of smoothie.

I've never thought of a smoothie as a meal in itself. A great addition to a weekend breakfast maybe. A good use for last-summer's berries. A reminder that it won't snow forever. But smoothies never seem to have the staying power or the chew factor that I usually deem necessary in my breakfasts. Probably the ones I've made in the past involve too much sugar and not enough protein.

When we went to the Yucatan last month, though, I found myself wanting a light and cool lunch in the middle of the day--I just couldn't face a plate of enchiladas in 80 degree heat. We stayed a few days in this little town south of Cancun called Puerto Morelos that had a smoothie-coffee-sandwich shop on the corner (Le Cafe d'Amancia--check it out here). The smoothies were good with fresh fruit and milk (you could also get fresh juices for those of you who are dairy-free) though not mind-blowing. For that I would have to go back a few days to the tumblers of strawberry-pineapple-orange juice we ordered and reordered in Valledolid, but that's a whole other post.

When we came back, I found myself craving smoothies for breakfast. I wanted a recipe without sugar so that I could feed it to myself and to the 18-month-old Little Potamus sans guilt. When I found a one that contained dates, I knew I was on the right track. I'm always totally amazed at the ability of dates to make more conventional sugars totally unneccessary. Add some peanut butter, and it's starting to get more substantial. I've become totally addicted to the following recipe, though it's taken some adjustment to my banana buying habits. I have to buy far more than I'm used to so they don't all get eaten up before they ripen enough to freeze!

Protein-Packed Breakfast Smoothie

Makes 1 pint glass.

1 chopped frozen banana
1/2 c. plain yogurt
1/2 c. milk of choice
4 chopped dates (rehydrated, if neccessary to make them soft)
1 tbsp. nut butter

Dump all of the ingredients into the blender, and blend until your smoothie is smooth, creamy, and, well, smoothie-like.

Check out these protein-packed smoothies for more ideas:

Friday, March 20, 2009

Go Michelle O!

When I saw Michelle Obama on the cover of O Magazine with Oprah, I winced then yanked open the magazine to the interview. Like a lot of people, I think I get my American royalty fix from reading about their lives but I also hate feeling like this incredibly professionally experienced woman is reduced to a great pair of arms, nice clothes, and sound mom-skills.

On the other hand, maybe she's also just very politically saavy and determined not to go the way of Hillary. She does seem to be taking a small but firm and public stand on family and food issues.

Regardless, I never really expected that they would have a White House garden. Gee, a reasonable request from the American public actually being implemented? I guess I'm still a little cynical, despite the Obama-infused euphoria.

Check out the NYT article on our new White House farming operation!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gluten Free in the Greens is Moving...

Physically but not virtually. The Science Teacher and I just accepted teaching positions in Tbilisi, Georgia, for the next two years. Wow.

There's a back story here that needs to be told. Once upon a time there lived an undiagnosed celiac girl who loved all things Slavic. She discovered Russian in high school, majored in Russian in college, spent a year in college rumbling around St. Petersburg, worked in Odesa, and finally ended up in Sofia to jump start her Bulgarian. After that long travel bender, she landed back in Virginia without a job.

She fixed on Vermont for her new destination. Vermont featured an ex-boyfriend, who wasn't quite ex enough, and, man, was it a gorgeous state (yup, I'm one of those people who moved to Vermont after having spent a summer there--quite a shock when those -25 degree F January days rolled around). She got an Americorps VISTA position at Middlebury College, rented a U-Haul, and drove north. Hello life.

Middlebury was only supposed to be a pause between trips. She went to the Peace Corps info sessions that fall on campus and put together her Fulbright application to study Bulgarian poetry. Everything was going according to schedule.

Then came Thanksgiving. She'd met a girl from Middlebury during the summer who was coming home from grad school for the holidays and who invited her to dinner. Sounded close and familial, so she accepted. She rang the doorbell and was ushered by her friend's mom into the kitchen with her mushy Granny Smith apple pie (I still have no idea what happened to that pie). And there stood the Science Teacher in a plaid shirt. He got her a glass of wine, they sat down beside each other on the couch and discovered their Swarthmore (her)-Haverford (him) connection, and the rest is history.

Within a weekend a half, we'd been on a snowboarding date. Within two weeks, we were pretty much inseparable. Within seven months, we were engaged, and a year later we got married in a Quaker ceremony in his parents' backyard.

But in the midst of this lovefest came my Fulbright letter--I'd gotten my grant. There wasn't ever really a question that I'd go without him, but our relationship wasn't quite advanced enough to see him quit his job and us married within a year of knowing each other--that's what we would have had to do if I had decided to take the Fulbright. But I saw where our relationship was heading, and I liked the trajectory. As most of my relationships have shown, whether one works has a good deal to do with timing. I've dated some wonderful men, but I never found someone who was in the same relationship head space as me until I met the Science Teacher. I knew enough to not reject that connection lightly.

In the end, I sent the letter and gave up my grant. The Science Teacher has always felt pretty guilty, especially when I'm going through a tough period. I don't really dwell on it--my decision has given me a partner who I love and who can communicate; the opportunity to go to grad school, discover that I like teaching, and figure out that teaching could be an interesting way to live abroad; and have a supurb Little Pottamus.

One of the things that brought the Science Teacher and I together is our desire to see the world by travelling but also by living abroad. As teachers, we have a better shot at actually doing that than most--there are hundreds of international schools that employ certified (and non-certified) teachers to enlighten kids from all sorts of countries. When I decided to give up the Fulbright, we shook on the fact that we would live abroad together someday. We've been talking about ever since, but there has always been something to stop us: grad school, student teaching, the Little Pottamus. This year, however, we decided to get serious.

Turns out this year isn't a great year to get a job anywhere, much less in an international school. The job fair we went to had many more candidates than jobs. After a fraught weekend, however, we managed to come away with an offer to teach at the QSI International School of Tbilisi. I won't say much about Georgia here since I'm sure there will be much more in the future. Check it out on wikipedia.

Of course, moving to a developing country brings up all sorts of issues when you're trying to follow a special diet. When I lived in Russia, I was trying to be vegan, but after a while, I just got tired of lentils and kidney beans and rice. Thankfully, I can and am willing to eat dairy products this time around, but I know this adventure is going to force me into adaptation mode again. I've been thinking a lot recently, especially when I was reading Straight Out of Bed Cakefree and Dried for the Adopt-A-Blogger event, about how much a lot of us have had to give up in terms of our diets and how much resilence and creativity we keep showing no matter what we--voluntarily or not--take away. After reading Sally's recent post, I'm guessing that we're all constantly adapting, getting comfortable, and then having to push ourselves to change again.

In past posts, I've talked about how frustrating it can be for me to feel the need to take a suitcase full of food every time I travel. Of course, I love having my favorite cereal in the mornings and Larabars when my blood sugar dips. But I also think longingly to the days of me, a small backpack, and six weeks of train hopping (of course, with the Little Pottamus, those days are long gone, regardless of my diet). In some ways, this move will be the next big push for me--I won't be able to order special gluten-free food, so I'll be limited to what I can carry with me and to what I can convince people to bring me.

I have my hand grinder so I'll be able to grind nut butters as well as flour from whatever whole grains I can buy (probably millet, white rice, and kasha). Dried fruit and nuts will be readily available, as will all sorts of yummy dairy products, some kinds of dried beans, and probably root veggies in the winter. In season, I'll be able to buy all sorts of fresh veggies and fruits.

I'm also excited about the changes this will obviously bring to this blog. I'll probably blog fewer recipes and more about my experiences finding food in Georgia and explaining celiac to strangers in Russian.

If you've read this far, thanks! Here are a few questions. If you were moving to a foreign country, would you try to bring as much special food with you as possible? Would you accept that you'll have to give up certain foods--like my favorite quinoa--and adapt to what's available? Would you compromise and eat questionable foods, such as oats, in the name of nutrition (I should note that I don't have immediate or severe symptoms when I've eaten gluten)?

Great Gluten-Free Resource

Great blogs are partly about creating new and interesting content and partly about gathering and disseminating information. Rachel over at The Crispy Cook does both. She always has great recipes, but now she's compiled a list of 101 gluten-free blogs. If you haven't branched out recently into new gluten-free blogs, head on over to see what new thoughts are afield. Thanks to Rachel and to everyone who rounds-up recipes and organizes blogging events!