Scratch Cooking Advanced Kitchen Basics Part Two

 

Plate of scones on a colorful table cloth, with a small tea light lantern and a pot of fruit marmalade.
You know you’re ready for some advanced kitchen basic skills when you want to make more complex baked goods and dishes that you can’t customize anywhere else but at home. Read my three steps to making new foods with confidence and flair. Photo by Imei Hsu taken on an iPhone 7 Plus.

Note: This post is Part Two in a three-part series on Scratch Cooking and Kitchen Basics. If you haven’t had a chance, please skim Scratch Cooking Basics Part One to see what was covered. 

If you follow a medically-necessary diet and have been trying to eat accordingly, you have probably come to the conclusion that eating out and eating processed foods don’t just conflict with your diet, they can damage your health, reverse positive progress in your battle against your disease, and leave you fatigued, undernourished, or gravely ill.

All of that just sucks.

And so, one way or another, kicking and screaming, or perhaps with excitement mixed with fear,  you’ve decided to give scratch cooking a whirl. Maybe you’ve cleaned your kitchen, bought a few new cooking tools and gadgets, pushed a cart around your grocery store’s perimeter (where the produce, meats, dairy, and unprocessed foods are located), and gotten a bit more comfortable making a few simple ingredient meals.

This calls for some celebration and congratulations! You made it! You’re alive! Woo hoo! This is no small feat. Most of the people around you are cramming garbage food full of empty calories, unhealthy fats, and excess sugars in their pie holes, and taking pictures of decadent foods to put on their Instagram, while you hold a salad with a dried up piece of chicken diced on top, thrilled that you can eat an avocado without feeling sick to your stomach.

It’s one step. And I will applaud that step, because I know what it feels like to go from laying in my bed and feeling about as lifeless as a rock until my body was able to absorb nutrients and bring some energy back into me. Feeding yourself is a big deal.

What the rest of the world doesn’t understand — but painfully, you do — is that if you did not grow up learning how to cook from scratch, it’s a skill that isn’t easily adopted as an adult. We are more likely taught to use every shortcut as an advantage over time and effort. People are being taught that it’s not just easier, but somehow better living to drink your meal in the form of a replacement shake rather than learn how to balance your meals for vitamins and minerals.

However, in the real world people treat food made from scratch differently than industrially-made food. Case in point: at the Beat the Blerch running races, foods such as donuts, Nutella, candy, cookies, and cake are served at the start of the race, at the aid stations, and at the finish line. Most serious runners will refuse all sweet treats because it will do a number on their guts. However, I observed in 2015 and 2016 as a volunteer and as a runner that more people stopped to eat cake during the race when they discovered who had made the cake.  Once it was understood that the cakes were from a much-coveted local bakery that specializes in making cakes, the cake magically disappeared. People made an exception.

Our biggest challenge comes right after we have barely managed to  keep ourselves from starving by making about five to seven repeatable dishes. Around the end of the first month of eating the same meals, with just a few small variations (like chicken tacos instead of beef tacos, and a lime dressing on that shrimp dish instead of the usual cocktail sauce because you’re avoiding tomatoes), that you suddenly get the idea of investing some money in a cookbook.

Bam, you’re on Amazon, perusing the cookbook section using keyword searches, such as “Paleo”, “Food Allergies”, “Dairy Free”, or “Vegetarian Foods for Heart Health.” After about five attempts, you settle on a couple of cookbooks, order them, and with Amazon Prime and Same-Day Shipping, a package is at your door. You rip into the box, eagerly open the first book, start flipping through the pages, and select a recipe that instantly makes your mouth drip saliva onto the glossy photograph astride a pile of bricks that just happen to be next to a distressed picnic table with wooden spoons and checkered napkins.

Two hours and about half of the bowls, pots, measuring spoons, and three-quarters of all the available countertop space in your kitchen later, you have a main dish that doesn’t look anything like the photograph. And by description, it doesn’t taste anything like it was supposed to either.

Well, crap. You just wasted a good afternoon, a bunch of groceries, and you’re still hungry.

Why? You can’t eat a single one of the recipes “as is.” All-purpose flour has to be replaced with a gluten-free version that doesn’t make you sick. Milk needs a substitute without losing creaminess. You substituted brown rice syrup for pure cane sugar because pure cane sugar makes your tummy hurt. You took out the nuts completely, left out the nutmeg, added a little more cinnamon, and axed the garlic.

If you’re lucky, you eat a little bit of what you’ve made because it’s just barely palatable, and sadly slide the rest of it into the bin and call it a day.

This post is all about cooking from scratch at another level: developing your own substitutions and creating new dishes, with or without a recipe. Read on for more.

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Choo Mee Flip Top Cap

Reusable Pouch Toppers for Your Active Life

ChooMee Sip’n Pouch Toppers | Cycling| Triathlon | Trail Running | Food

Do you eat real food to fuel your adventures? Carrying your calories while in motion can make or break your experience. Here’s my review of the ChooMee Sip’n Pouch Toppers. Photo by Imei Hsu

 

For awhile, marketing language on branded software apps often stated that a product was so easy to use, “Even your grandmother could use it.”

In the case of single-handed refueling options for people who like to cycle on long rides or go for long runs, it turns out that I should have looked for options for the other end of the age spectrum, as in, “So easy to use, even your four-month old could use it.”

From the running community, I found out that people who liked long distance running but couldn’t eat processed foods like race gels and cookies came up with real-food options. Many of these options are compatible with the AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) diet, which is gluten free and free from foods that typically cause inflammation in sensitive guts.

Putting two things together — pureed real food and reusable baby food pouches — was a game changer for long endurance training and my first Ironman race. But I had run into a simple problem. For shorter races and trainings, the screw tops on the baby food pouches were difficult to unscrew with one hand while bombing a hill or maintaining speed on flat sections of road without getting a little wobbly and risking a crash. I had to balance the pouch between my two hands while still gripping the aero bars of my tri bike, yet manage to not drop the screw cap while sipping from the pouch. It was too many steps, and it never felt comfortable.

During the actual Ironman race that I used the food pouches on, I only ate when I stopped moving on the bike, because the wind was so strong that day that it was impossible for me to keep my bike and body from being knocked over by random wind gusts and eat at the same time.

As a self-proclaimed, “Gut Whisperer”, an inconvenience simply provides a new challenge. My real-food options were not the problem; the delivery system was the problem to solve. What could make that pouch better? I had to do something about that screw top.

Here’s better.

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Low Sugar Freezer Cacao Treats

Low Sugar Cacao and Coconut Milk Freezer Treats

A new favorite creation of mine, just in time for the hot days of summer. Pictured Left: cacao nib topping. Pictured Right: crushed pistachios.  Photo by Imei Hsu.

The Seattle area went through one of the wettest winters in twenty years. We didn’t see much sunlight for almost eight months, and almost all my professional friends took turns posting pictures from winter vacations in the Hawaiian islands, soaking up some rays and getting our Vitamin D.

My  Asian skin lost its usual brown tint , and when springtime hit in late May, I still wore long-sleeved shirts and pants to match the grey outside. To throw some perspective, our local lakes were still too cold to swim in comfortably until the very last weekend of May, and even then, it was a bit on the brisk side.

So you can imagine the surprise when the area transformed from winter snow one day to sizzling summer heat the next. All my ads on Facebook turned into local ads for air conditioning units. You’d think that I would have the routine down, as June is often called, “Juneuary” among those of us who have lived here many years. Mornings start out at a chilly 52 degrees Fahrenheit, and can jump into the 70’s or 80’s by afternoon.

We were gobsmacked by a heat advisory one weekend, with the thermometer hitting 102. The only one happy about that in our household was my cat Loomi, who made it known to all that she is truly a desert animal! The house got warm, and she insisted on sleeping in her heated bed. I, however, started craving summertime frozen treats and cold foods, such as an AIP coleslaw, and chilled slippery rice noodle salads. Even a Bacon and Avocado salad, minus the nightshades, was making my stomach growl.

What’s a guy or gal who can’t eat ice cream supposed to do?

Make your own freezer treats, that’s what!

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Scratch Cooking Kitchen Basics Part One

How do you move from wanting to eat a healthy diet to actually doing it? Read here about the basics of the scratch cooking kitchen. Photo from Pixabay (no attribution required).

When people share with me what is the hardest part about eating well, no matter what their diet, medical condition, or limitations, most of them do not tell me that they don’t know WHAT to eat.

They tell me that they don’t know how to change their lifestyle.

It’s your lifestyle that is  getting in your way of eating well. They may have a list of foods, a meal plan set up by their nutritionist, and a doctor’s order to eat a diet free of grains and preservatives. They tell me that they get stuck on the how.  How do I actually eat the things I know I am supposed to eat?

The how  – that is, the lifestyle changes that makes eating healthy for your individual needs happen —  intersects with an important activity and location: cooking real food, and shopping for, preparing, and cooking that real food from the grocery store or your garden to your table. Since there are few shortcuts that allow you to actually do this correctly (even food delivery services cannot cater to the needs of food allergic or medically-based nutritional profiles), I thought it was high time to start at the very beginning, so that anyone could jump in and get started.

Ready? Here’s my first post in a series on the basics of The Scratch Cooking Kitchen for the person with food allergies, Autoimmune Disease, and other medically necessary diets.

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The Sensitive Celiac Technical Baking Challenge

I am so excited about this, I could pee my pants (but I’m not going to!).

During my long rides on a Computrainer in our garage (affectionately named, The Cave of Suffering”), I compounded my miserable biking training sessions with the agony and ecstasy of watching multiple episodes of, The Great British Baking Show.

My friends rolled their eyes. How could I do this to myself? Isn’t it just torture to watch contestants making sugary, savory, creamy, gluten-filled pies, breads, and cakes, knowing that I would never be able to eat them?

Oh my Hungry Minions! There is always an idea waiting to be hatched whenever I am in my own mental trenches of gluten-free baking hell. My job was to focus on the “what” of an idea, and to understand that sometimes, I’m not the one who needs to figure out the “how.”

If two heads are better than one, I invite you to read on and participate in the “how” of this post: the first ever Sensitive Celiac (or Gluten Free Guru) Technical Bake Challenge!

On your marks… get set… bake!

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Why Attend IFBC 2017

Food Bloggers Conference

 

Disclosure : As an IFBC Citizen Blogger, I received a reduced conference rate in exchange for sharing three posts about my experience. This is the first of three. 

If it wasn’t for a little race called Ironman, I would have attended the International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) 2016 conference, held in Sacramento, CA. But wait! What does an Ironman race have to do with interfering with plans to attend a food blogging conference?

Well, actually, Ironman training made a great many decisions for me in 2016, from what available time I had, who I socialized with,  how much and when to eat, and yes — even determining what conferences I could attend.

Last year, I spent 15-20 hours a week on top of my hours in the office as a private practice counselor, training for Ironman Mont-Tremblant. Every spare hour was spent in the pool or in the lake, riding my bike on a trainer or up and down hills, and running for hours. To do all those things, I also had to grocery shop, prep, and cook all my own meals and make my own race food.  Over time, my needs grew to the point that I could not eat outside my home, and could not spare even a day of food sensitivity by making inferior food choices. When the IFBC 2016 dates were announced, I realized they were just too close to the dates of my race, creating some risk for the Celiac athlete to try new food combinations or sample beverages. It didn’t make sense to put my race in jeopardy, so I took the conference off my plate (pun intended).

When I heard that the IFBC would return to Sacramento in 2017, my mind was made up: I would come back again. This was an exciting development, because I was really kicking myself for having missed the 2016 conference at that specific location.  This post is about why I’m attending IFBC 2017 as a “citizen blogger” for the second time. And it’s also about why you as a reader should care.

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Things You Should Never Say To A Person With Autoimmune Disease or Food Allergies

Autoimmune Disease | Chronic Illness | Invisible Illness | Etiquette

Things You Should Never Say to a Person With Autoimmune Disease or Serious Food Allergies

I’m going to skip past the customary introduction to the subject of autoimmune disease etiquette faux pas and allow your imagination to run wild. For the moment, let me just say that people say the dumbest things with the kindest intentions. Yes, they sometimes do.

I was on an airplane flight, and when the attendants began handing out snacks. As is my custom,  I politely returned mine with a, “I can’t have this, but thank you.” The attendant asked me if there was anything I could have from her snack cart, and I said, “I have Celiac Disease and a lot of food allergies, so if you have a gluten free snack, I could look at the ingredients to see if it’s safe for me.” She began to rummage through the options.

An older couple next to me overhead my response*, and the woman said to me, “Oh, I’m gluten free too! You should try their corn chips. They’re gluten free, you know.” I tried to explain to her that I couldn’t have those corn chips, because CORN (and the usual gastrointestinal HELL that is unleashed when I eat corn). Then her husband cut in, suggesting that I try flying to Europe sometime and eating their wheat, “Because this writer said that the wheat in Europe isn’t full of GMO’s and so we are safe to eat the gluten there.”

It took everything in me to not give them an eye-roll. Eye rolling is a sign of resentment, and yes, I have a number of things I feel resentful of in this life. Their momentary presence in my life is not one of them. But when I’m tired, I can feel my eyeballs start to move upwards, as if drawn by an irresistible force, and I have to just stop and breathe, emotionally lassoing my eyes to look straight ahead, soften my gaze, and relax my jaw from clenching.

On a good day, I can just listen and not react. On a stellar day, I can listen, not react, AND if I have the energy and the audience is listening, I can educate on the subject with a nearly unlimited amount of patience and understanding.

But on a day where I’m traveling, where there is nothing to eat, and the guy across the aisle is on his fourth beer and flinging  his gluten-laden snack and sandwich crumbs in at least two meters in all directions, I want to go off on a rant. A RANT, I say!

And so, you get to read my rant about the things you should never say to a person with Autoimmune Disease and multiple serious food allergies.

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