You, with your hand raised. Yes, you, the one who carries an EpiPen, inhaler, and has a butt load of food allergies, intolerances, Oral Allergy Syndrome, Outdoor Allergies, and an Autoimmune Disease. Uh huh. I see you.
I believe this is your question after I tell you that I had a wonderful time at the International Food Blogger Conference in Sacramento. Your question is: How do you do wine tasting and eating out in El Dorado County and have a good time? Aren’t you scared? Won’t you get sick?
In fact, how do you EVER enjoy the holidays, socialize with friends, and navigate food allergy and intolerance nightmares out there in the real world?
Great questions! Two answers: 1. Fantastic preparation, and 2. Great hosts and chefs who know their stuff.
If you don’t have BOTH of these components when you enter a food-oriented conference and food-oriented events, you won’t have the kind of experience I did in El Dorado County for a day of eating and drinking. In fact, without these two components, you wouldn’t have much fun in any food-related event, which is why I typically won’t attend food festivals where the quality and preparation of food is much harder to vett or control.
Read on for my experience as The Sensitive Celiac at the food blogger event of my year.
Have you turned your kitchen into your medicine cabinet, health clinic, and recovery center? Is the family table now Yum Central? Does your home smell like vinegar, bay leaves, and gluten free bread?
Two years ago when I started this blog just before IFBC 2015 in Seattle, WA, I had an idea: if you depend on eating nutritious, allergen-free and low-processed, no-processed foods, you want to turn your kitchen into a magical place where you become Food Scientist, Head Chef Extraordinaire, Master Baker, and Food Artist. To do that, you need kitchen basics, for sure, and I’ve written a couple of posts to get you started in building that kitchen arsenal, even if you only need to feed an army of one: YOU.
This year’s “Five Kitchen Must-haves” post is taking a different direction, one of imagination, technological advance, and the future of food and cooking. While I’ll always include at least one item that is simple, clever, and relatively inexpensive, and I’m adding on with something to capture the imagination of cooking, even if you cook from the world’s tiniest kitchen and an even smaller budget. I’m giving you a taste of the future, and the future is simmering with emulsions, sauces, and frou frou presentations meant to dazzle and delight.
Why should everyone else have all the fun? I’m also renaming the post to align with this new direction: My Five Kitchen Favorite Things. And it’s all about my journey of making food fun again. Don’t worry. I’ll keep you grounded with good, everyday stuff too!
Disclaimer: Cobram Estate and Boundary Bend did not pay me to write a review about their olive oil or production press. In exchange for a discounted price on conference attendance, I have agreed to write three posts about any aspect of the conference, and this post is the second of three. Cobram Estate gifted each excursion member a bag containing a bottle of first-press extra virgin olive oil.
I wrinkled my nose. I immediately disliked it. The fresh greens, tossed with olive oil and vinegar, held a fetid odor, and the thick liquid caught in my throat and ejected itself into the air with few uncontrolled coughs.
We sat in the chain restaurant of the day, plastic menus collected and bread baskets with salad on the table. As a person of Chinese descent, I grew up eating most of my cooked vegetables stir-fried with a cheap oil, so I expected a light salad with the heart-healthy darling of the food world, olive oil, to be a rich and enlightening experience. Yet as a young adult in the early 1990’s, I had much to learn about American cuisine, and I knew even less about Mediterranean food. As I continued to gag, I couldn’t understand what the big deal about olive oil was all about.
Nearly thirty years later, I’ve come to realize that I probably had tasted rancid olive oil, oil that had either sat out in an container for hours on end, and quite possibly lived inside of an opaque or dark glass container far longer than its shelf life.
In other words, the olive oil was rotten.
And everyone was eating it on their salads, dipping their bread into it, and pouring it over their foods, pursuing its known anti-inflammatory benefits, yet saying not a single word about how incredibly awful it tasted directly on the tongue.
Why? The answer to this can be found when you taste good olive oil and understand why part of the olive oil industry are working hard to protect high quality oil, while others simply want to exploit it.
When I laugh, you would laugh too. I’ve been told my laugh is more infectious than the Ebola virus and stomach flu, combined. One time, I made a tent full of people laugh so hard that people came running in to see what was going on. All they got to see was a Chinese woman squealing louder than a penguin being tickled.
In the world of food allergies, intolerances, autoimmune diseases, and chronic illnesses, food journalism is an understandably serious subject. I do not write nearly as often as I should or could, mostly because I spend a lot of time researching food subjects and “getting it right.” My readers deserve the best.
However, I thought it was time to also give you a little lightness and levity in the midst of all that seriousness. Why now? Because if I have to add the indignity of having had 21 days of runny, antibiotic-driven diarrhea post dog bite to the 2017 year, I might as well throw in there the bowel prep for a colonoscopy (wait for it) — three days before Thanksgiving Day. Nothing worse than clear liquid poo to make me want to crack a few jokes.
Yes, I chose this. It’s the right time, I’m due for a colonoscopy, our insurance will cover most of the cost, and it is still magnesium citrate hell. Maybe I’ll get an IV chaser or two afterwards.
So for your reading pleasure, and for kicks and giggles, here are my lovingly crafted Food Intolerance Haikus (with references to autoimmune disease and my chronic illness, Medullary Sponge Kidney). I hope to add to these every year. Feel free to share with others who understand.
And yes, I do know that food allergies, intolerances, Autoimmune Disease, and Chronic Illnesses, in themselves, are not funny. Adults and children suffer and some die from complications of these conditions. I am not making fun of them, but rather the eye-rolling situations many of us find ourselves in every day of the year as we manage to make food fun again.
As a reminder, I don’t edit for course language. It is what it is. Parental discretion is advised.
The meal tray arrived off the cart as ordered: a plain, dried-out beef patty conspicuously missing an oily sheen of healthy fat, a plate of steamed broccoli, just barely tender from its hot sauna, and a 70’s style cassolette of plain brown rice.
I rolled my eyes. I was now looking at lunch and dinner meals for the next two, maybe three days, in this exact presentation. It was, after all, a hospital. I might die from boring food rather than this infection in my leg.
If it wasn’t for some smart decision-making that led me to cook some Celiac-safe foods at home before I walked into the ER on a Saturday morning, I wouldn’t have had a cooler full of supplemental food my husband brought in. Separated from my kitchen, my Mission Control where I make my favorite foods and add special touches I can’t find in most restaurants, I was about to resign myself to plain meals without embellishment, dessert, or treats, when I remembered that I had someone to call.
I texted Estella Martinez of Liberated Foods. Her gluten free, dairy free, nut free tea cookies. I can eat these. I texted her, half hope and half desperation. And she responded!
Read on for why I can’t stop talking about Estella’s tea cookies and other allergen-free foods.
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.
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.