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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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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Neutralizer Drops for Tummy Issues

Dropper bottle with label with golden brown liquid sitting on a desk.
4 ounce dropper bottle of Neutralizer for “Tummy Issues” compounded by Hidden Alchemist. Photo by Imei Hsu (Dec 2016)

How many times have you had one of these “tummy days”, when you’re even too tired or embarrassed to admit that you’ve been struggling with diarrhea, cramping, flatulence, and digestive problems?

Anyone who has mild to severe intolerances, a gastro-intestinal disorder (i.e.Crohn’s, IBD), or an Autoimmune Disease that creates a whole host of sensitivities and intolerances knows the painful reality of how many hours and days we lose in a battle against “Tummy issues”.

The reality of living with these symptoms often enough that you can no longer call them occasional should have you thinking that the best remedies aren’t always grabbing a bottle of Imodium. So what is a food-sensitive person to do?

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The Inconvenience of Avoiding Convenience Food

Food Allergies | Autoimmune Disease | Fast Food | Convenience Food | Lifestyles

The inconvenience of avoiding convenience food involves the loss of spontaneity, and planning ahead.
The inconvenience of avoiding convenience food involves the loss of spontaneity, and planning ahead. When you don’t plan ahead, “doing without” has its hazards. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

From the very beginning, I knew that writing about eating real food – let alone convincing anyone that eating real food is a viable, valuable, and vital activity — would be a hard sell.

All I need to imagine is the tired eyes of a work weary parent, or an over-worked employee at a corporation with flexible hours who never has time to get a proper meal, and I know that my most powerful statement, “Heal yourself with the medicine of real food” would likely be heard as an ideal to aspire to,  not an action to live by.

Why? Because we perceive that statement as a lofty goal, and not an achievable end-destination. We think it’s too inconvenient to live without the conveniences of modern-day eating, which offers taste, ease, and practicality.

And of course, there is a price to pay for that convenience. Just look around. I watch people coming in and out of food comas, over indulging on alcoholic and sugary beverages, and not understanding why they feel like crap all the time. “But I can get away with this,” says one friend, a reference to not feeling sick immediately after eating a favorite dish at a restaurant.

Since it took a long time to get where our nation is with convenience food eating, I don’t imagine it will go away quickly. There is much you would have to overcome. However, if you’re ready to try — or, like me, it’s “ready or not” because of a medical condition that requires you to change your eating habits now — here are a few things to consider.

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Living in the Land of the Gluteneaters

Gluten | Gluten-Free Living | Home | Health | Food Allergies

Stack of Kirkland pizzas in pizza boxes on the corner of a table
When gluten is all around, how do you figure out how to cope when you can’t eat it but must be around it?

In 2014, I entered my first race Olympic Distance race as a relay, the Victoria BC Subaru Saunders Olympic Distance Triathlon. I took on the 0.9mile swim event, M took on the 27 mile bike event, and a fellow runner friend Rosie took on the 10 kilometer run around Elk Lake. When it came to giving our team a name, I ended up submitting the team name, “Imei and the Gluteneaters.”

Three seasons later, and an Ironman Finisher now going on for her first Ultramarathon, I’m reflecting on what it means to live — and I mean fully live — in the Land of the Gluteneaters.

If you must be gluten-free for medically necessary reasons (meaning: you must avoid gluten or you will become seriously ill or risk severe complications or death), avoiding gluten in your food is a complex enough task by itself, since much of our food supply in westernized countries are embedded with gluten and cross-contaminated as well as cross-reactive ingredients. What happens if you live with others who eat gluten? What happens if you live with others who eat the foods you are most reactive to, such as nuts, dairy, gluten, soy? What if you have multiple food allergies, and your partner/spouse does not?

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