The Peaceful Feast

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

This week, my boss bought me a 5 lb. bag of Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour from Costco just … because. She’s a lovely person, and I thought I should repay her generosity by baking a treat.

Since she and I share a love of bananas combined with chocolate, and there just so happened to be a banana bread recipe on the back of the bag of flour, I decided to bake up a loaf of bannana-chocolate chip bread.

I’m still quite new to the gluten-free lifestyle and baking was never really my thing even when I ate wheat. Did I mention I live at a high altitude? Can you see where I am going with this? In other words, there was not much of a chance the evening would end with a decent loaf of banana bread. So my plan was not to say a word to anyone and just quietly throw the loaf away if my attempt to repay the boss-lady’s generosity turned out poorly.

The evening’s baking started inauspiciously when the pecans I was roasted to add to the batter ended up charred in the oven. Sorry, no pictures. 🙂

Things got better though. I followed the recipe on the back of the bag, except in one step where I substituted arrowroot for xanthan gum, which effectively replaces wheat gluten as a thickening agent in baked goods. Given my lack of high-altitude, gluten-free baking no-how, you may be wondering, “Peaceful, why go and complicate things?” And that’s a good question. Short answer: Xanthan gum has a laxative effect which I don’t need.

But, the main reason I went for the arrowroot is aesthetic: You know that black slimey goo that forms on vegetables when they start to go bad? That’s caused by the same bacterium that makes xanthan. Ick. No thanks.

On the other hand, arrowroot is a starch derived from a tropical tuber plant that is way thicker than wheat flour. No germs and no reported irritants to the bowel system here.

So how did my banana chocolate-chip bread turn out? Quite well, thank you! The recipe made one large loaf of bread that was quite dense yet somehow airy (i.e., did not resemble a brick). The bread was only slightly dryer and more crumbly than its wheat/gluten-full counterpart.

Next time, I’ll use real butter instead of oil and maybe add another mashed bannana to the mix. After eating a slice this morning, I decided that my banana chocolate-chip bread was good enough to bring to work. I’ll let y’all know what the boss-lady thinks! 😉 UPDATE: She liked it and was surprised at its moistness. 🙂

No Hassle Banana Bread
Contributed by Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods
Adapted from Special Diet Solutions by Carol Fenster, PhD.

* 1/3 cup Canola Oil
* 2/3 cup Brown Sugar, packed
* 2 large Eggs
* 1 tsp. Vanilla
* 1-3/4 cups Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour
* 2 tsp. Baking Powder
* 1-1/4 tsp. Cinnamon
* 1 tsp. Xanthan Gum
* 1/2 tsp. Salt
* 1-1/2 cups Banana, mashed
* 1/2 cup Pecans or Walnuts, chopped
* 1/2 cup Raisins (Unsulfured)

Preheat oven to 350�F. Grease 9×5-inch non-stick loaf pan. Cream together oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in large bowl with eletric mixer. Add flour, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder and cinnamon to egg mixture, alternating with bananas. Beat until smooth. Stir in nuts and raisins. Batter will be somewhat soft. Transfer to pan. Bake for 1 hour.

Serves 10.

(per serving)

Calories 310, Calories from Fat 120, Total Fat 13g, Saturated Fat 1.5g, Cholesterol 40mg, Sodium 230mg, Total Carbohydrate 46g, Dietary Fiber 4g, Sugars 19g, Protein 5g.


Peaceful Eating in and around Boulder

In addition to being cruelty free, VG Burgers offers gluten-free options on its vegan menu. I’ve been dining here for about 6 months and it’s definitely got a peaceful vibe going one. Matter of fact, on one wall is a drawing by a local school kid of a VG Burgers factory pumping out peace symbols and hearts. Peace and love factory indeed! VG Burgers is the most peaceful feasting establishment in Boulder!

Last week I was pouting because I couldn’t have some hand crafted Christmas cookies that were going around the office. This week, I’ve got a big grin on my face because Helping Hands Bakery put together some lovely gluten-free sugar cookies for the holidays. Did I mention that I love sugar cookies? Helping Hands is a non-profit organization aiming to “to help enhance the lives of children and adults with special needs in the greater Boulder and Denver communities.” Good cookies for a good cause. Helping Hands cookies are available at Whole Foods.

Tastes Great! What’s In There? Really? You Can’t Tell!

Yesterday, one of my wonderful co-workers sashayed around the office with a red tray in hand, offering each of us a homemade, fresh baked sugar cookie. One glance of the beautifully decorated (she’s one of those perfect people that is great at everything) creations was about all I could take. I quickly averted my gaze, feeling almost a little guilty for even thinking about consuming something so pretty and deadly. I’m sorry, I can’t, I said. Co-worker stared but then recovered, “Wow,” she said, “you are really good at resisting temptation.” She moved on to the next cubicle where her cookies were received with joy.

By the way, I’m not at all good at resisting temptation. In fact, for the rest of the day, all I wanted was one of those cookies.

Later, I explained to her that I can’t have gluten for health reasons in order to alleviate any hurt feelings. I felt good about my decision, but the desire for cookies lingered and so I went to my local Vitamin Cottage and grabbed a bag of gluten-free cookie dough by IMO the best grain company in the world, Bob’s Red Mill. Unfortunately, the cookie dough mix is not featured on its website, but that doesn’t mean you can’t order it online. Go for it!

The mix looked authentic but was a little short on chocolate chips so I added some gluten-free chips that I had on hand. I mixed up the dough according to the directions on the back of the bag but things looked a little dry so I added a sprinkle of almond milk to get things sticking.

I plopped the cookie batter down in rounded lumps on a greased cookie sheet and they turned out great. In fact, better than great! They were actually cookies. Like, real cookies. Like the ones I grew up baking and eating. Oh yum.

(This would be a good place to insert a photo of the finished product, however, I am image-free until Christmas when one of santa’s elves will bring me a digital camera, according to sources.)

The cookies were still soft the next day when I brought them into work. I passed them around to my colleagues: Gluten-free cookie? It was funny to see the way their faces initially pinched up as they politely took the smallest piece possible. Moments later they would be singing praises.

Wow! What did you put in here?

Really? You can’t tell it’s gluten-free!

These are fantastic.


Gluten-Free First Fruits At A Food Bank
December 3, 2009, 12:07 pm
Filed under: food allergies, food allergy, food sensitivities, gluten-free, wheat-free | Tags: ,

This morning on my way in to work, I was listening to an interview on a local NPR station with the founder of a company that aims to promote urban farming. The interviewee spoke repeatedly about the need to make urban farming — including fish farms — profitable.

I wasn’t listening closely to the interview, so I am not sure if I am describing the company or the interviewee accurately, but bothered by all the talk of business, I turned to my car pool companion and said that urban farming should help the poor as part of its mission. In my church, I said, there used to be boxes and boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables dropped off by food producers at the church office for the hungry to take as needed. I don’t know what happened to these boxes. For all I know, since I don’t go to the church during the week, these fresh fruit and vegetable offerings to the poor, first fruits, may still be around.

Now that the whole nation has been hit by a recession, this compassionate sense of mission is needed especially now. A bad economy coupled with needing to follow a gluten-free diet for health reasons takes a massive toll on one’s budget. I’ve seen my food bill shoot up dramatically since adopting a gluten-free diet two months ago. Luckily, I have a job and with a little simplicity I can afford this diet.

But not everybody can. There’s a lot of hungry people out there who can’t have gluten. Which is why I am really thrilled to learn that a food bank not too far from me is collecting gluten-free food for needy families. Which leads me to wondering if there’s some room at the pantry for boxes of fresh produce for an urban farmer to donate. No need to label these fruits and vegetables. After all, they’re naturally gluten-free!*

*Thanks to Gluten Free Dee for taking the initiative on this and tweeting it. 🙂

How Did I Get Here?

We all know the smart thing to do when you are sick is to go to the doctor. We all know to seek expert advice, but who to turn to when these experts fail?

My entire life has been plagued with mysterious ailments and illnesses. Some of these are definitely food related, others are environmental, and the source of others is still unknown. For decades now, doctor after doctor has been unable to pinpoint the cause of all these strange sufferings.

Infancy: Colic and an aversion to eggs, according to mom, who herself was lactose intolerant and allergic to mangoes. I occaisonally get itchy when I eat citrus. My dad was allergic to shellfish. I can’t handle scallops myself.

Early childhood to early adulthood: Allergy-related eczema of the hands and feet. Had weekly shots for several years but the shots ended even though the allergic reaction was in force. Doctor told my mom that I was having an auto-immune response to a number of environmental irritants. Food allergies were never considered. He told my mother to see to it that I marry “a rich man” so that I can hire people to clean (expose themselves to chemicals) for me. Hold on a minute …. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA …. Okay, I am back. Well, we see how that worked out considering that I am both poor and unmarried, but now there’s non-toxic cleaning products, so that’s .. uh … good, I guess. Just kidding. No really, that’s great. If you have got to do your own cleaning chemical free is the way to go.

Age 10: Trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling): This is considered a psychiatric disorder along the Obsessive-Compulsive spectrum, but like many other mental health issues, there is some evidence of physical basis to hair pulling. John Kender believes that this disorder may be caused by an allergy to a common yeast found on the skin and in the gut. Kender is not a medical expert but he is a hair puller who devised an anti-yeast diet that he, and many others, claim is a cure for trichotillomania. I haven’t tried this diet so I can’t vouch for its efficacy but here’s a link in case you are interested.

Age 16 — 40: Clinical depression with anxiety. Another mental health issue with roots, some say, in physical health. Depression and anxiety is associated with carbohydrate cravings, which can pack on the pounds. Some carbohydrates are allergens, like wheat, corn, and potatoes, which can create a response from the body, including abrupt changes in mood.

Adult depression and anxiety has been linked to childhood allergies. Many celiac sufferers have been misdiagnosed initially as suffering from depression instead of a gluten sensitivity.

Lifelong: Hypothyroid: Diagnosed at 40 and guess what? Celiac and hypothyroidism are connected.

Age 20 — Irritable Bowel Syndrome: I actually started suffering from this around my mid-teens. Wheat and dairy are implicated in IBS. I’ve also suffered IBS very badly after eating semolina pasta and marinara sauce.

Age 40 — Painful Bladder Syndrome: This is the working diagnosis for what initially was thought to be bladder cancer. Inflamed cells fooled cytology tests into thinking that the inflammation was cancer. My urologist made the wheat/gluten connection to these symptoms and suggested the celiac panel. The panel results came back mixed. Based on my doctor’s recommendation, I’ve been off gluten since October ’09.

A common theme throughout the years is that these are all ailments that correspond highly to food/environmental allergies, yet only in the case of my childhood eczema and the painful bladder syndrome were allergies ever considered a cause of illness. So much for the so-called experts. No wonder Americans are going online looking for cures for what ails them. No wonder alternative healing is a multi-billion dollar industry. Yet, when people overhear me muttering to myself trying to figure out what’s going on inside, I hear words and phrase like “neurotic”, “self-absorbed”, “overly sensitive”, etc.

Oh, poor me. I’m a wee bit self-pitying today after writing an inventory of these health challenges. Well, at least with the gluten sensitivity diagnosis, better late than never. We’ll see how I feel after 6 months gluten-free.