Mar 22, 2010

living gluten free has posed a few specific problems that i'm still learning to work around. the biggest challenge has been snacking while out. i have to keep food on me at all times, just in case i'm out and about and stuck in a situation where i can't find a safe gluten free snack or meal. little bags of nuts and apples are staples in my purse, but i've been craving granola bars, most market varieties of which aren't safe for me to eat. most ingredients in granola bars are inherently gluten free - oats, nuts, honey, sugar, fruit, peanut butter, etc. the problem is in the oats. although naturally gluten free, oats are most commonly processed in plants and on machinery that also processes wheat, so cross contamination is impossible to avoid. Bob's Red Mill makes gluten free oats, processed on machinery dedicated to the oats and nothing else. we love Bob's Red Mill.

there are some brands of GF granola bars out there, and they're good, but they are expensive and i go through them rather quickly. so i decided to make my own, with some of my favorite ingredients. the result is a delicious, hearty and healthy snack, inexpensive and pretty easy to make. enjoy!

gluten free cashew currant granola bars
yields 16 bars

2-1/4 cup gluten free rolled oats
1-1/4 cup cashews, lightly chopped
1/4 cup millet
1/3 cup ground flax seed
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup currants

preheat oven to 350 degrees. toast first 5 dry ingredients for 15-20 minutes, until aromatic and lightly toasted, stirring a few times to make sure everything is distributed evenly.

meanwhile, heat the next 5 ingredients (honey - salt) in a large heavy bottom pan (big enough to hold and stir everything later), and stir until the sugar melts. let the mixture boil for just a minute then turn off heat.

line a 9x12 jelly roll pan with tin foil and lightly grease with butter or vegetable spray. set aside.

when the dry ingredients are toasty, remove from the oven and turn the oven down to 300. pour the oat mixture into the pot with the honey mixture, add the currants and stir until everything is well coated and evenly combined. pour everything into the jelly roll pan and spread evenly, using a lightly greased rubber spatula. press down while spreading to compact the mixture.

bake for 25 minutes until the top is lightly toasted. remove from the oven and let cool almost completely, then turn out onto a cutting board and peel off the layer of foil. cut the granola sheet lengthwise down the middle, then into 8 even sections across, making 16 bars. (save the crumbly pieces for your granola!) store in a jar, wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper, and enjoy! they should last for about 2 weeks.

Mar 8, 2010

i'm having trouble eating. i've been told to stick to a gluten free diet, a STRICT gluten free diet, and it's making me crazy. no wheat - no bread, bagels, flour tortillas, wheat pasta, pastries, cupcakes, english muffins, cookies, pizza, crostini, croutons, most cereals, granolas, etc etc etc. no soy sauce, no candies without checking the label, no prepackaged foods or dressings or mixes without thorough research.

i eat mostly whole foods. i am a chef. i love to cook. i have not had any trouble coming up with delicious menus that avoid all of the above ingredients. meats, vegetables, fruit, rice, quinoa, potatoes, eggs, dairy, beans - all on the A-OK list. pre-packaged foods have never been part of my meny planning, so that hasn't been an issue. my problem has been with the emerging collection of gluten free substitute foods out there - rice pastas, GF bread and cake mixes, GF tortillas, premade GF breads. i have not found one that i can enjoy. scratch that, i found a GF pizza crust at Rose's Bakery in Evanston that is pretty good - not the same as a chewy gluteny wheat crust - but passable. most GF baked goods taste off. the texture is usually a bit gummy, chewy, dense. the flavor is usually potato-y, bean-y, almost sour due to the replacement flours (tapioca, potato, garbonzo, rice, sorghum). i'm sure there are better options out there that i haven't found yet, but that's just the problem - i haven't found them. i've tried brands that other celiacs rave about, i've tried recipes that GF chefs have promised would be delicious. (the GF chocolate chip cookies were actually pretty tasty.) i just haven't found THE ONES. the staples that i can depend on.

it's not the same and i keep expecting it to be the same. that's probably just something i need to let go. it will never be the same. which is terrifying and tragic for someone who has turned her whole life upside down to pursue a career in the culinary field. i may never eat a piece of french bred again, and that kills me.

eating out has been a whole other experience. most restaurants have been pretty accommodating, willing to adjust menu items to exclude flour or bread, or going through the menu in detail with me to show me what i can and can't eat. gluten hides in all sorts of places. breading on fried foods, flour dredged fish, roux in sauces. i'm pretty savvy with a menu to decipher what i can and can't eat, but there's always something that sneaks up. and you can never be 100% safe from cross contamination. i had been winging it for a few weeks, but it's time to be more aware, which will probably mean eating out less. and probably, because of the misunderstanding of the disease and annoyance of having a guest with a complicated dietary restriction, being invited by friends to dinner less often as well.

at home i'm dealing with an annoyed stomach and stockpiles of tested pastas and bread mixes that i probably won't be eating except in extreme emergencies. i'm eating a lot of vegetables, lots and lots of rice, potatoes, and corn. i can live without most sweets, but all i've wanted for the last month is a tasty grilled cheese sandwich. and lasagna. and a hamburger with a bun.

learning to live without is proving more difficult than i thought.