Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Book Review and the Four R's

When your digestion isn't functioning well, a comprehensive approach is needed to put it right. I have a wonderful book called "Optimal Digestive Health - A Complete Guide" that is packed with great information about digestion. It is a collaborative effort on the part of many experts in the field of nutrition and digestion and is over 550 pages long. You might want to look into getting it at your local bookstore on online at amazon. 

Explaining first How the Body Works, then providing a list of Tools for Evaluating Your Health, Finding New Strategies for Inner Health, Therapies for Mind-Body Medicine, to providing a List of Treatment Options for Specific Conditions, it is a great resource for anyone interested in improving their digestion. I wanted to share a section from the book written by Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D. that I find to be the core of not only the book, but of improving digestion. Something called "The 4R Support Program".

Here's what Dr. Bland writes:

"A comprehensive approach to normalizing gastrointestinal function, referred to as the "4 R's", involves four basic steps: Remove, Replace, Restore, and Repair. 

"Remove" focuses on eliminating pathogenic bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, allergens, and toxins from the GI tract. This is a crucial beginning step on the path to digestive wellness.

The second step is "Replace", replenishing enzymes and other digestive factors that may be lacking, such as pancreatic enzymes, hydrochloric acid (HCI), or intrinsic factor

The third step, "Restore", refers to restoring the beneficial bacteria that are commonly found in a normal digestive system, but may be missing from a dysfunctional one. It is an important step in restoring healthy function to the gut. A variety of supplemental resources may be considered helpful in this phase, including cultured and fermented foods and supplements containing live beneficial bacteria.

The fourth step in a 4R approach, "Repair", addresses intestinal permeability through the use of nutritional supplements known to be critical in intestinal function.

Step 1: Remove
  • Common food allergies or sensitivities
  • Bad bugs - candida (yeast) or bacterial overgrowth or parasites
  • Problems from viruses
  • Minimize environmental and digestive toxins

Step 2: Replace
  • Betaine hydrochloride (hydrochloric acid)
  • Enzymes (animal or plant-based)
  • Bicarbonate (which enables the enzymes to work)
  • Intrinsic factor
Step 3: Restore
  • Probiotics - L. acidophilus and other probiotics
  • Provide prebiotics if starches and sugars are tolerated. Nourishment for the beneficial microflora such as FOS (fructo-oligo-saccharides) and inulin
  • Increase fiber and monitor the response. Soluble fiber such as oat bran increases butyrate and other essential fatty acids. Nonsoluble fiber such as cellulose is best tolerated by some people, but not others
  • Increase resistant starch in the diet to reduce acidity, and raise fatty acids
  • Monitor level of starches and sugars (carbohydrates are a common source of digestive upset)
Step 4: Repair
  • Provide nutrients to heal the GI mucosa: vitamins A and C, B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyrodoxine), the amino acid L-glutamine, and the mineral zinc
  • Support the immune functions of the GI tract: vitamin A to nourish antibody production
  • Continue to avoid allergens and irritants: certain drugs (such as NSAIDs), alcohol, and foods that trigger allergies."

In Step 1, finding out if you have these "bad bugs" requires testing, and usually not by a regular doctor. You might have to request these tests from a specialist. Some can even be performed by a specialized lab via mail. The book has a great list of resources throughout on where to go for help.

How to go about doing all these steps is outlined in the book, of course. Each section gets a well-researched and extensive list of suggestions to get well. Of course no one thing works for everybody, and it might take trial and error to find out what's really going on with your own digestion, but it helps to have a place to start from. I highly recommend this book. It has helped me immensely.

Regarding my own digestion, I have had much success avoiding lactose and doing the FODMAP Diet. While I sometimes still have low-lactose-containing foods, they still cause some discomfort and therefore must remain an occasional treat nad be eaten in small quantities. Onions and garlic are back in, and while eating them raw causes the most trouble, cooking them very well or adding them to foods during the cooking process and then removing them (and not eating them) helps tremendously.

Just like life, it seems, getting to know one's ever-changing body is a journey and a learning process. Learn by reading good books such as this one.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Swiss Chard

This leafy green was identified by a Swiss botanist and is a variety of Beta vulgaris, belongs to the same family as beets and spinach, and shares a similar taste profile with a flavor that is bitter, pungent, and slightly salty. The plant has numerous monikers, including silverbeet, Roman kale, and strawberry spinach, though I always see it as "Swiss chard" at the markets where I shop.

Swiss chard is one of several leafy green veggies often referred to as "greens", something we're supposed to be eating much more of because of their impressive list of health-promoting nutrients. Chard is available throughout the year, but its peak season runs June through August when it is in the greatest abundance at your market. So now is the time to run out and get some at your farmer's market!

Swiss chard has a thick crunchy stalk that comes in white, red, or yellow, with wide fan-like green leaves. Plants can grow to 28 inches high and look really good growing in the garden. They make a great display of color and look pretty even if you don’t plan to eat them!

As I mentioned, Swiss chard is a nutritional powerhouse -- an excellent source of vitamins K, A, and C, as well as a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, and dietary fiber.

And like beets, chard is a unique source of phytonutrients called betalains. In this family are found reddish-purple as well as yellowish pigments that scientists have identified provide us with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification support.

Sometimes at the market, different colored varieties will be bunched together and labeled "rainbow chard". I like to buy these because they're pretty. When the nutritionists tell you to "eat the rainbow" it doesn't get much better than this.

One cup of chopped Swiss chard has just 35 calories and provides more than 300% of the daily value for vitamin K. But skip this veggie if you’re prone to kidney stones; it contains oxalates, which decrease the body’s absorption of calcium and can lead to kidney stones. (One way to reduce the oxalates is to boil the chard.)

According to some research I did, chard shows benefits for blood sugar regulation in animal studies due to it containing syringic acid, a flavonoid shown to inhibit activity of an enzyme called alpha-glucosidase. When inhibited fewer carbs are broken down into simple sugars and blood sugar is able to stay more steady. While studies on humans have yet to be performed, I take this research nonetheless as another reason to incorporate it into my diet.

Cooking Swiss chard:

Prepare Swiss chard by rinsing the crisp leaves several times in warm water. Leaves and stalks can be boiled, sautéed, steamed, or roasted, but boiling seems to reduce the bitterness the best, from what I’ve read.

Ideas for using Chard:

Toss with penne pasta and olive oil, lemon juice, and chopped garlic
Add to omelets and frittatas
Use in place of spinach when preparing veggie lasagna

I once posted a recipe for Swiss Chard and Bacon Quiche. It's still one of my favorite things to do with chard, although now I’d make the crust gluten-free. And while that quiche is totally delicious, I would save a recipe like that for the weekend when I have more time to cook. Here’s what I typically do with Swiss chard on weeknights.

Sauteed Swiss chard with bacon & garlic

Chop some bacon into little bite-sized pieces and place in a saute pan. Get it nice and crisp.

Once crisp, you can either remove the bacon, leaving the fat, or leave everything in the pan. Either way, clean your chard well and chop off the stalks and then chop them into pieces the same size as the bacon. Dry these off really well before adding to the bacon fat else your stove top will get a good splattering of fat all over the place. Saute the chopped stalks for several minutes to soften a bit. Then add the leaves, which have also been chopped. Let the leaves steam a bit before giving everything a good stir. Add some chopped garlic, and continue cooking until the leaves are properly wilted (about 10 minutes), stirring every so often. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with a little fresh lemon juice before serving.

We had it last night alongside a piece of sauteed fish in garlic butter. Mmmhh, boy did we smell like garlic!

To make this vegetarian, simply replace the bacon with a generous amount of butter. Do not use oil and most definitely do not use margarine! That stuff'll kill ya.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Ethiopia in Los Angeles

It's been a long while since I've done a restaurant review. It's because I don't eat out that much anymore, as you know, and when I do, it's just some little taco place or Thai restaurant in the neighborhood - nothing really too out of the ordinary. But I wanted to tell you about my experience in Los Angeles last weekend.

There is this section along Fairfax Avenue just south of San Vicente that I have travelled past for many years. It isn't more than a few blocks long and it was established in the late 1980's with a single restaurant. After a little while other business people flocked to the area to open shops themselves nearby when they saw how successful this one restaurant had been. Eventually the area became well-known as an Ethiopian hangout and in 2004 the mayor coined it "Little Ethiopia". 

Every time I would drive by this unique little neighborhood I would tell myself that "some day" I would have to stop and explore it. Of course, as most things go, that day just never seemed to present itself, until recently.

I was invited to join a group of former co-workers and their friends at that very first restaurant I mentioned earlier, which was then, and still is, called Rosalind's. 

The group meets there quarterly and is a collection of former work associates, their friends or spouses, or fellow volleyballers. The one woman who connects all of us is, no surprise, Ethiopian, and it was she who we deferred to when it came time to order dinner.

She ordered a sampler platter that allowed us to try a variety of specialties, both vegetable and meat.

A typical presentation

This sampler was served on a large round platter on top of Ethiopia's staple, Injera, a unique unleavened flatbread made of teff. I had heard of teff but had never tried it.

Teff is an African cereal that is cultivated almost exclusively in Ethiopia, used mainly to make flour and out of this flour comes Injera.  Injera is the national dish. It's a sourdough-risen flatbread with a unique, slightly spongy texture.  It's used as not only the starch of the meal, but the utensil as well, for Ethiopians don't eat with fork and knife. They eat with their hands, using Injera to scoop up the food. 

Ethiopian dining is therefore a very communal event! You can't be shy, either, or you'll get the leftovers after everything has been picked through. You have to just dive right in.

But let me not get ahead of myself. The first course was a simple salad dressed lightly with lemon juice and maybe a little oil. 

Then came the platter, which contained vegetables dishes such as a carrot and cabbage combination, green beans with onions, pureed chickpeas, lentils and sauteed collard greens. The meats included lamb and beef which I didn't have (not my thing) which was fine because there was a chicken and hard-boiled egg dish that I fell madly in love with. Called Doro Wot, it has a very unique spice blend as a base for the sauce, cooked with pureed onions, garlic and chicken broth. Super-delicious. And of course, I was immediately compelled to make it myself.

But let me finish with the dinner. When we had eaten the meal, our waitress came by with a smoking pan of green coffee beans. She passed the pan under our noses so we could enjoy the smell of roasting coffee beans. She then took the beans back into the kitchen and ground them and then returned with a pot of freshly brewed coffee served in little cups much like espresso. It was divine. Alongside the coffee drinking we had burning frankincense, which is part of the "coffee ceremony". (Trivia question: where did coffee originate?)

After we were stuffed to the gills, our Ethiopian friend took us a few doors down to a market with all sorts of African items for sale. I was particularly interested in seeing the spices and food products and my friend showed me which spice blend to buy to make this incredibly flavorful sauce. It's a red chili pepper blend but contains over 14 different spices. I scoured the internet (of course) for recipes for Doro Wat and found several. This one, though sounds exactly like how the technique was described to me, so I'm going to try this one.

I found it on a pretty cool-looking website called Food Republic. I'm going to just insert the link to it here. Nice picture of it, too!

I'll let you know how it goes.

But if you're ever driving along Fairfax and you come across this part of town, I do encourage you to get out and explore and perhaps eat at one of the local establishments in Little Ethiopia.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Frittering away the evening

I am approaching Week 6 on the Low-FODMAP Diet and I must say it has been successful overall. I've had setbacks, but as it says in the book I've been reading, this is normal. "Life happens" and you eat things accidentally, or out of habit and forgetfulness, and have a setback. You get the bloating, the gas, the diarrhea or the constipation, the cramping, the whatever, and you don't feel so good. And it reminds you, like when you fall, to get back on your feet and continue. More than anything, you want to feel good again.

It has been such an enormous relief to now have the tools with which to take back control of my health. I felt so out of control, and for me, that is a very difficult thing. I don't like feeling helpless and weak and don't want life to just blow me around like a leaf in the wind. I can honestly say that this way of eating has changed me, and to those two doctors in Australia who created it, I will be eternally grateful. 

I'm not done yet. I'm to now start adding things in again and test the results. This may take several more weeks of patient experimentation.

I'm sorry to report that my sourdough experiment failed. Nothing happened to my starter. It just sat there, staring at me. I found myself talking to it (I know!) encouraging it: "come on, you can do it...". Crazy. Finally after about 10 days (hey, I gave it a chance, didn't I?) I tossed the lot down the sink. Dejected, I haven't started a new batch yet. My friend Ken, who is anxiously awaiting some starter from me when this takes off, encouraged me to try again. So I will. Sometime this week.

In the meantime, I had a menu to plan for the upcoming week, and decided that I wanted something I hadn't had in while. I don't eat fried food very much at all. Don't care for it usually, but sometimes I get a hankering for vegetable fritters. As I paged through one of my vegetarian cookbooks to find some inspiration, I found vegetable fritters with tzatziki. If you know me, you'll know that I ADORE tzatziki. And I already had everything I needed on hand, including some homemade lactose-free plain yogurt. I just needed some vegetables and some oil to fry them in.

After my visit to the market, I got started.

Vegetable Fritters with Tzatziki

The dip:
1/2 cucumber, coarsely grated
1 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint (optional)
1 garlic clove, crushed
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the fritters:
1 large eggplant, peeled and thickly sliced
2 zucchinis, thickly sliced
1 egg, beaten
4 Tbsp all-purpose flour (to be gluten free, I used tapioca flour but I think rice flour would work just as well)
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
salt and pepper

For the dip, mix the cucumber through salt and pepper together in a bowl and set aside.

Layer the eggplant and zucchini in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Leave for 30 minutes. The salt will pull out the bitterness in these veggies. Rinse in cold water, then pat dry very well.

Beat the egg in one bowl. Put the flour and remaining seasonings into another bowl. Dip the vegetables first into the egg, then into the seasoned flour and set aside.

Heat about an inch of oil in a deep frying pan until quite hot, then fry the vegetables a few at a time until they are golden and crisp. 

Drain and keep warm while you fry the remainder. Serve warm on a platter with a bowl of the tzatziki dip lightly sprinkled with paprika.

I served these as a first course before we had prosciutto-wrapped chicken for the main course. This is a super-simple recipe. You can get very fancy with this dish and add a sage leaf or rosemary twig before wrapping, you can make a slit in the chicken and stuff it with fontina cheese before sealing it back up and wrapping in the prosciutto, you can stuff it with spinach and feta before wrapping...........the possibilities are endless. But this is a simple, fast, straight-forward dish that takes less effort and still tastes great.

Prosciutto-wrapped chicken

Chicken breasts (1 per person)
Prosciutto slices (1-2 per breast, depending on the size of the chicken)
Ground sage
Garlic powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rinse and pat dry your chicken breasts.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and rub 1/4 tsp ground sage and a bit of garlic powder on to both sides.
Wrap each chicken breast with a slice or two of prosciutto. Place on an oiled baking sheet, and bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 40 minutes or until done. Allow to sit 5-10 minutes before serving, to allow the juices to be reabsorbed into the chicken so they stay juicy.

I like to drizzle a little bit of balsamic glaze around my chicken breast on the plate for a little sweetness. Prosciutto-wrapped chicken is also delicious with roasted asparagus or roasted potatoes with rosemary. Either way, everything is excellent with a glass of French Rhone wine.


Friday, May 2, 2014

The Berry Best Berries

May is the month of the Strawberry! Everywhere I look, another community in Southern California is celebrating this luscious red fruit (see bottom of post for a listing of some of them). Strawberries should be on everyone's shopping list right now, and in California this is easy. Did you know that California supplies nearly 90% of the nation's strawberries?

For maximum flavor and to help support your local farmer, buy your berries at the farmer's market. For a fun thing to do with kids sometime, some farms offer "u-pick" opportunities. In fact, it can be fun for adults as well. A farm we have in our area offers tractor-led wagon rides through their fields where sampling of the produce is actually encouraged. There we got to taste freshly-picked, sun-kissed berries. It was a little warm from the sun, bursting with juice and with such an intense flavor, it far surpassed any berry I could have purchased from my local supermarket. It was incredible.

Strawberries are great in so many things, but one of my favorite ways to eat them is simply sliced and sprinkled with just a little bit of sugar to get the juices flowing. I let them sit out at room temperature for about half an hour and then top them with a little whipped cream. It's delicious and light.

Another way I like to eat them is in muffins. Strawberry and Ricotta Muffins are light and fluffy and divine to eat on a Sunday morning. Muffins are fun to make: they're easy and fast and really convenient to take with you as you head out the door in the morning. But muffins are best eaten the day they are made. I've also made strawberry muffins with walnuts but this time I wanted to make them with ricotta. If you're dairy free, you can just eliminate it or try coconut yogurt instead. Enjoy!

Strawberry and Ricotta Muffins

· 2 cups medium strawberries
· 3/4 cup ricotta
· 2 large eggs
· 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
· 10 Tbsp. butter melted and cooled, divided
· 2/3 cup sugar
· 1 tsp. lemon zest
· 2 cups flour (I use cake flour for a lighter texture)*
· 2 tsp. baking powder
· 1/2 tsp. salt
· 1/4 tsp. baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Gently wash, hull, and cut strawberries into quarters. 

2. Brush a 12-mold muffin tin with 2 Tbsp. melted butter. Set aside.

3. In a bowl, whisk together ricotta, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in remaining butter.

4. In a large bowl, use your fingertips to rub together sugar and lime zest until sugar is moist. Mix in flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Use a spatula to gently but quickly fold ricotta mixture into dry ingredients. Don’t overwork it. The batter will be thick and heavy. Stir in strawberries and spoon batter evenly into muffin tins. Bake until tops of muffins are golden and springy to the touch, about 20-25 minutes.

*You can make your own cake flour by substituting 2 Tbsp. of flour per cup of flour with corn starch. Or if you're on a gluten-free diet, substitute your favorite GF flour blend, ideally one that contains tapioca flour. It provides a nice light texture to baked goods, along with cornstarch and white rice flour.

Makes 12 muffins.

Strawberries added to greens offers a fresh and different flavor element to salads, especially when the dressing consists of balsamic vinegar. My favorite is "fig balsamic" - slightly sweet  and perfect for a salad containing strawberries. Fruit, combined with nuts and cheese, dressed with a great vinaigrette, is perfect for a springtime lunch. Add a little sliced grilled chicken for a more substantial entree salad.

Strawberry, Hazelnut and Goat Cheese Salad

· 1/4 cup hazelnuts
· 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
· 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
· 1 tsp. dijon-style mustard
· 1 tsp. honey
· 1 clove garlic, minced
· 1 shallot, minced
· 1/4 tsp. salt
· 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
· 1 head butter lettuce, washed and torn into bite-size pieces
· 1 cup strawberries
· 1/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put hazelnuts on a sheet pan and bake until toasted, about 10 minutes. Put nuts in a clean kitchen towel and rub vigorously to remove skins. (Don’t worry if not all of the skins come off.)

2. In a small bowl, whisk oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, garlic, shallot, salt, and pepper.

3. Gently wash, hull, and cut strawberries into quarters.

4. In a large bowl, toss lettuce, strawberries, and hazelnuts with enough dressing to coat evenly. Pile high onto salad plates and top with goat cheese. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Local Southern California Strawberry events:
Through June - Tanaka Farms Strawberry Tours, Irvine, (949) 653-2100.
California Strawberry Festival, Oxnard, (888) 288-9242.
Garden Grove Strawberry Festival, Garden Grove, (714) 638-0981.
Vista Strawberry Festival, Vista.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sourdough on my mind....

The one thing I really, really miss about my old way of eating is sourdough bread. That fresh tang of sour, the pockets of air making it light and fluffy, the aroma of it when it's being toasted….for those of you who love it, too, you understand.

A slab of butter on a freshly toasted slice. Maybe a little sprinkling of sea salt on top, or garlic powder. What could be better?

And yes, having gone so long without eating bread, I do feel envious when I go out to lunch with friends who inevitably order sandwiches while I end up with a less-than-satisfying salad. I can only look at the bread and dream….

And lately, I've had a hankering for sourdough. I get these every now and then, and sometimes I end up breaking down and buying the sourdough at Trader Joe's. But I'm still ingesting gluten, which I want to stay away from. While doing all this reading lately about improving digestion, I've come across numerous articles that speak of the benefits of eating sourdough. Apparently the cultures in sourdough make it an easily digestible food, one that I can enjoy from time to time without guilt or pain. But there's still the matter of that darn gluten.

What are the benefits to Sourdough?

1 - Increases beneficial lactic acid
The longer rise time needed for sourdough increases the lactic acid and creates an ideal pH for the enzyme phytase. This enzyme breaks down phytates more effectively than in yeast breads. Sourdough rye has the least amount of phytates making it healthier, if it weren't for the gluten in rye.

2 - Predigestion of starches
The bacteria and naturally occurring yeast in the sourdough culture work to predigest the starches in the grains, thus making it more easily digestible to the consumer.

3 - Breakdown of gluten
Here again, the longer soaking and rising times in the preparation of sourdough breaks the protein gluten into amino acids, making it more digestible.

4 - Preservative
The acetic acid which is produced along with lactic acid, helped preserve the bread by inhibiting the growth of mold.

5-Better blood glucose regulation
There has been some research suggesting that sourdough bread - white sourdough bread - showed positive physiological responses. The subjects' blood glucose levels were lower after eating sourdough white bread compared to whole wheat, whole wheat with barley and plain white bread. Interestingly, the subjects tested after eating whole wheat bread fared the worst - with spiking blood glucose levels.

So what exactly is sourdough?

Sourdough is a bread product made by a long fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeasts. In comparison with breads made quickly with cultivated yeast, it usually has a mildly sour taste because of the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli.

A sourdough is a stable symbiotic culture of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and yeast in a mixture of flour and water. Typically, the LAB metabolizes sugars that the yeast cannot metabolize and the yeast metabolizes the products of the LAB fermentation. Broadly speaking, the yeast produces the gas that leavens the dough and the LAB produces lactic acid, which contributes flavor.

Some sourdough recipes add yeast to them, but this is not necessary, as the fermentation process creates a naturally occurring yeast to form, and thankfully I have no problems digesting this.

Origins of Sourdough

Sourdough likely originated in Ancient Egyptian times around 1500 BC and was likely the first form of leavening available to bakers. Sourdough remained the usual form of leavening down into the European Middle Ages until being replaced by barm from the beer brewing process, and then later purpose-cultured yeast.

San Francisco has long been associated with sourdough eating gold prospectors, though they were more likely to make bread with commercial yeast or baking soda. A "Sourdough" was a nickname used in the North (Yukon and Alaska) for someone having spent an entire winter north of the Arctic Circle and refers to their tradition of protecting their sourdough during the coldest months by keeping it close to their body.
The French family Boudin began making sourdough in San Francisco in 1849, blending the sourdough recipes the miners in the area used with French baking techniques.

The great thing about having a yeast allergy (as if there really was a good thing about it) is that there's still sourdough bread to enjoy. But when you are eating the gluten-free way, you're dogged. It's not easy finding gluten-free, yeast-free sourdough bread. I've looked. I'm sure it's out there somewhere, but a loaf will probably cost me big bucks. By the time I find some specialty bakery somewhere in America that makes it and then have it shipped to me, I'll probably be out $20 or more. For a loaf of bread!

So just like I always do when faced with a dilemma like this, I look to my own kitchen to solve the problem. With the help of a fellow gluten-free friend, I am armed with what looks to be a very good gluten free sourdough bread recipe.

I've gathered my ingredients and have begun to make my starter. This photo shows my starter, sitting in a large glass jar on my kitchen counter top. In it are simply flour and water. To help things along, I did add a sourdough starter mix that I purchased from my local health food store, but you could do without. The brew has been working for a day and a half so far. Soon I should be seeing some bubbles form, which is what you want. It means it's working its magic.

Over the jar I've placed a bit of cheesecloth held in place with a rubber band. This allows the air to reach the brew and help the fermentation process along.

I will continue adding a cup of flour and a cup of water every 12 hours to this starter to "feed" it. Somewhere I read that you must treat your starter like a pet - it needs continuous feeding and watering. Eventually, it should look like this.

If you do a search on the Internet for sourdough starters, you'll find a lot of various methods and flours to use. I'll share the recipe of this one once I know it's actually working.

But I am excited about the possibility of once again enjoying sourdough bread - this time a gluten-free variety!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Eating out when your gut is touchy

Adhering to a new way of eating is difficult enough when you're cooking for yourself, let alone when you find yourself away from home.

Let's face it - dining out while on a special diet is tough. And I don't mean a diet to lose weight. I mean a diet that is sometimes imposed on you, like when you're allergic to some kind of food or trying to heal an inflamed gut. 

But sometimes there's no way around it. Maybe you're travelling for business or are on vacation. Or you've been invited to a birthday party or a holiday event. What are you going to do - stay home because of the foods that might be there?

Eventually when you're on a special diet long enough, you become familiar with and more confident making it work for you. Eating out should be an enjoyable social experience. The trick is to look for friendly places to dine. Places that demonstrate an awareness of gluten-free or dairy-free eating, or are willing to make substitutions. I can't stand it when I see this written on a restaurant's menu: "NO substitutions". Run, don't walk!!

A good idea is really to telephone ahead to a restaurant or cafe and explain your special dietary needs to the chef. Chefs are becoming increasingly aware of food intolerances. Tell them what you can and can't eat. Ask about the ingredients in specific dishes. They are intimitely familiar with what's on their menu and what would be suitable, or how they can modify a dish to work for you. If they want your business, they'll make it happen.

If you're following a low-FODMAP diet such as myself, there are several cuisines where you can assuredly find something that will work:

Middle Eastern and Indian

Kebabs (skewered meats), tikka dishes, tandoori dishes, plain cooked rice

Southeast Asian
Fried rice (without scallion), steamed or sticky rice, rice paper rolls, sushi (check the fillings), omelets (check fillings), steamed fish, chili, ginger or peppered shrimp, meat, fish or poultry; roasted meats, steamed and stir-fried vegetables, rice noodle soup (pho), sorbets

In my opinion this is one of the toughest, although not impossible. You're just going to have to ask a LOT of questions.

Risotto (no onion, no garlic), gluten free pasta with pesto (check for garlic), carbonara or many marinara sauces without onion and garlic (good luck); steamed mussels, grilled chicken or veal, shrimp cocktail, mozzarella salad (if not dairy intolerant), antipasto, polenta, steamed vegetables, gelato, granita, and zabaglione (if not dairy intolerant)

Another tough one because of the beans and salsa. But, you can try.

Plain corn chips, tacos (no salsa), tamales (without onions or garlic), tostadas, fajitas (without the onion and ask for corn tortillas), arroz (rice), and some of the desserts like flan or arroz con leche (rice pudding) depending on your level of dairy tolerance

Pub Food
plain grilled or roasted meat with vegetables (check gravies for onions, garlic), grilled fish, risotto, salads, flourless cakes, sorbets, meringues.

Another option is to "take your own"

Take your own salad dressing, to make sure it doesn't contain garlic or onion or any other high-FODMAP ingredient
Take your own wheat-free bread or roll to a sandwich bar and ask them to fill it
Take your own wheat-free bread or roll to a hamburger place where they provide the patty and fillings
Take your own gluten-free pasta to have it topped with low-FODMAP sauces, etc.
Take your own pizza base to a restaurant and ask them to top it with onion-free sauces and low-FODMAP ingredients.

Eating at a friend's or family's house

Ask politely what they intend to serve and then decide if you'd like to ask them to make alterations or if you'd rather bring some of your own food. This way you won't starve while everyone else is eating. If necessary, eat something before you go. Then just nibble on appropriate snacks during the event. Don't let the food (or lack of it) spoil your good time or anyone else's.


The key to successful vacationing is planning, planning, planning!

Bring your own food on board the airline. That stuff they serve is crappy anyway, even if you didn't have a special diet to follow! 
Take snacks and easy-to-transport foods with you so that in a pinch, you won't be stuck with nothing and starve. Nonperishable foods such as breakfast cereal, crackers, appropriate trail mixes and nuts are always easy to take with you.

Overseas Travel

You may have to check with US Customs anad Border Protection and inquire about food restrictions in the country to which you are travelling. But once you're there, especially in many countries, such as the UK, Ireland, Italy, Germany and Australia, gluten-free products are relativey easy to purchase. While in other countries, especially in Eastern Europe and across the Middle East, it can be more difficult. In many Asian countries, much of the local food is rice, tapioca or potato based so it's a lot less challenging to find foods that will work for us.

Travel within North America is undoubtedly easier without the language barrier to deal with when trying to make oneself understood abroad. But I say, never pass up an opportunity to get out of your own country and see another part of the world.  Even if you slip up a little and end up not feeling well the next day, you make note of what didn't work and move on.

The easiest solution to eating while travelling is camping...I can pre-cook food at home, put it in plastic storage containers and bring it along with me to reheat. Easy, peasy and no gut-wrenching stomachaches to deal with.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Where to begin with IBS

Week 1 is behind me and I feel loads better being on this new eating plan!

If you have IBS or think you do, there are several things you can do right now to start feeling better right away.

Probably one of the first places to begin improving digestion is to minimize, or remove entirely, common stomach irritants such as coffee, alcohol, pepper, spicy foods and anything you already know you're sensitive to. At least for a little while. After some time you may be able to bring these foods back.

The FODMAP diet removes the other common gastric system upsetters that many people have trouble with: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, leeks, shallots, and garlic, unfortunately, as well as other less commonly known irritants: carbohydrates / sugars from fruit, lactose, and gluten, to name a few. 

Another way to minimize discomfort is to eat more frequent but smaller meals. Eating too much at one sitting causes stress on the digestive system, having a lot to suddenly handle.

Avoid carbonated beverages, especially if you have excess gas.

Engage in non-strenuous exercise - walking, easy cycling, tai chi or yoga - until you feel better and can do more strenuous exercise. A hard workout just isn't good when you're feeling weak and don't want to rattle your stomach. But not exercising at all just isn't wise, especially when you have had IBS for months or years. I find that gentle forms of exercise can usually be well-tolerated. When I'm not feeling up to par, I go for a long walk and do some stretching. Something is better than nothing.

Getting proper sleep and learning to relax are also key to calming the digestive tract. I will go to bed a little earlier than usual and just read to relax.

So in addition to the above, here's what I've done: I have adhered strictly to the FODMAP eating plan except for one thing. I ate some non-dairy cherry "ice cream" forgetting that cherries are currently out. Can't say I can report any specific symptoms from that. 

What did me in though is the cream I put in my coffee the last 2 mornings. (Yes, I'm occasionally still drinking coffee. It's a hard one to give up). Anyway, I digress. FODMAP says that cream is a better additive than the milk in half and half (the milk contains a ton of lactose). On Wednesday I did ok with it but not yesterday. Two days in a row is apparently too much for me. Back to tea for a few days. Then I don't know what I'm going to do about my morning coffee. All those non-dairy creamers taste horrible, especially soy creamer, and they have such terrible ingredients. This is such a total bummer. 

But I can report that overall, this FODMAP thing is working. Part of this process is learning what I can tolerate and what I can't. It's looking a lot like lactose is a problem.

For the elimination portion of this eating plan, I have 5 weeks to go. Then comes the "food challenge" part. But more on that in future posts.

On to the recipe.

If you've followed me for some time, you know that on the weekends I sometimes like to whip up a batch of muffins for breakfast. They are quick to make - you can usually pop one into your mouth inside an hour. I don't usually eat a lot of pineapple but I just happened to have a can in my pantry and since pineapple is on the FODMAP list of acceptable fruits and contains digestive enzymes which I figured couldn't hurt, I decided to make these. They are also gluten-free. Best eaten the day they are made.

Pineapple Muffins

1 cup fine rice flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup potato flour (I didn't have any so I used tapioca flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 cup superfine sugar
2 eggs
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
One can crushed pineapple, drained (reserve liquid)
3/4 cup suitable yogurt
1 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper baking liners. Sift the rice flour, cornstarch, potato flour, baking soda, baking powder, and xanthan gum three times in a medium bowl (or mix with a whisk to ensure they are well combined). Add the sugar and mix until well combined.

Break the eggs into a second bowl and whisk. Using a large spoon, stir in the melted butter, pineapple and yogurt. Fold into the flour mixture.

Spoon the batter into the muffin liners. Bake for 15-20 min until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 5 min before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Combine the confectioners' sugar with enough of the reserved pineapple liquid to form a smooth spreadable icing. Drizzle over the cooled muffins and serve.

Makes 12. Each has about 270 calories, and 49g carbs. To cut the carbs and calories, I didn't glaze mine.

Friday, April 4, 2014

What is IBS, and what am I gonna do about it?

Last week I shared with you that this blog would be headed in a slightly different direction and that I would be focusing on improving my digestion. This week I want to share a little more about IBS and my plan for tackling it. 

Years ago my gastroenterologist had indicated that I had a "functional" problem, because none of the tests (endoscopy and colonoscopy) showed any physical signs of damage or inflammation. I strongly suspect that, after all these years of dealing with a variety of symptoms, I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

So what is IBS exactly? According to the NIH (National Institute of Health):

"Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, meaning symptoms are caused by changes in how the GI tract works. People with a functional GI disorder have frequent symptoms; however, the GI tract does not become damaged. IBS is a group of symptoms that occur together, not a disease. In the past, IBS was called colitis, mucous colitis, spastic colon, nervous colon, and spastic bowel. The name was changed to reflect the understanding that the disorder has both physical and mental causes and is not a product of a person's imagination."

Rather than quote the entire website, which by the way does an excellent job of describing the condition, I would simply direct you there, if you're interested in knowing more. Click here for more information.

Estimates show that anywhere from 10-15 million Americans suffer from unexplained digestive problems that could be considered Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

So what can one do about it? The NIH recommends the following:
  • making changes to one's eating, diet, and nutrition
  • taking medications (if needed)
  • taking probiotics
  • exploring therapies for mental health
Hippocrates said, "let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food", and I have always believed this. I also realized that just "eating healthy" wasn't going to be enough, because I was doing that and things weren't improving. I knew that I'd have to make some changes to my diet, so following the first NIH recommendation was a given. 

My internet research on diets for IBS led me to a variety of sites that kept talking about FODMAPs. WebMD covered it, as did the Irritable Bowel Syndrome Group Forum, the IBS Information Page on, and of course, there's even "an app for that".  But what in the world are FODMAP's? 

FODMAP stands for:

"Short-chain carbohydrates (oligosaccharides), disaccharides, monosaccharides and related alcohols that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. These include short-chain (oligo-) saccharide polymers of fructose (fructans) and galactose (galactans), disaccharides (lactose), monosaccharides (fructose), and sugar alcohols (polyols) such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and maltitol.

The term FODMAP is an acronym, deriving from "fermentable, oligo-, di-, mono-, saccharides and polyols". The restriction of these FODMAPs from the diet has been found to have a beneficial effect for sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome and other functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID). The low FODMAP diet was developed at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia by Dr. Peter Gibson and Susan Shepherd, PhD."

I promptly went on Amazon and bought this book by the creators of the diet. Though there are many books on IBS out there, I wanted to hear this news directly from the people who developed it. I read their well-written and detailed explanation of the diet, how it works and why, and it convinced me to give it a try. 

In short, this pdf provides a quick and dirty list of what to eat and not to eat. But I would advise you to read the book, or any book on the subject, to better understand how and why this might work for you.

So I started the other day. The hardest thing for me, believe it or not, is giving up onions and garlic. I cook everything in onions and garlic. You know - I love FLAVOR! The second hardest is giving up the high-lactose dairy products I count on for protein (like cottage cheese and yogurt) and half and half in my coffee. Gluten is no big sacrifice, since I'd already more or less given that up anyway. But, I want to feel better, so I'm ready to do whatever it takes.

The book also has recipes. The very first recipe sounded really good to me and it was. (I violated another rule of IBS sufferers: don't eat too much at one meal as this puts strain on the digestive system. I couldn't help myself - they were just too good)! This recipe serves 3-4. 

Pumpkin, Chive and Feta Fritters

10 oz. fresh pumpkin or other winter squash, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
(or use a can of pumpkin. See note below)*
1/3 cup fine rice flour
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum 
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/2 cup crumbled feta
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 to 1 tsp. ground cumin
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. oil
3 Tbsp. light sour cream if you're not lactose-intolerant
Garden Salad 

Cook the pumpkin in a medium saucepan of boiling water for 8-10 minutes until soft, then drain and mash*. Allow to cool.

Sift the rice flour, cornstarch, and xanthan gum into a large bowl, whisking to ensure they are well combined. Add 2 Tbsp. chives, the feta, mashed pumpkin, eggs and cumin and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 Tbsp. of the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until good and hot. Add a heaping tablespoon of batter per fritter and cook 3-5 minutes. Flip over and flatten with the back of a spatula cooking for another 3-4 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.

Transfer the fritters to a plate and and keep warm while cooking the rest with the remaining oil. Mix together the sour cream and remaining tablespoon of chives. Serve the fritters with a nice big garden salad and a dollop of the sour cream. I skipped the sour cream because I am avoiding nearly all dairy at the moment.

* If you're short on time, you can always open a can of pumpkin, which is what I did. If you do this, you may need to add a little more starch. Make sure your batter isn't too wet after mixing everything together. I added a little sorghum flour that I had on hand.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A blog with a new focus

Nearly four years ago I started this blog called A Passion for Flavor. I imagined it would be fun to do - that I would tinker with for a while but eventually grow tired of it - but here I am, still typing away! 

Obviously, it's been a lot more fun than I had originally realized. Finding things to write about has been at times difficult, yet at other times the ideas just rolled out of me. The inspiration for subject matter was usually just about whatever I fancied at the moment or had talked about with a friend or family member, or an idea I had seen on a cooking show.

But now I'm going to switch things up a bit and take this blog in a new direction, mostly because I can no longer put off addressing an issue that urgently needs my attention. 

It's not an easy thing to talk about, but for nearly the past decade, if not longer, I've had digestive trouble. And unfortunately, things haven't improved much over the years. In fact, they have worsened. Years ago a gastroenterologist took me through the usual battery of tests and found nothing visibly wrong. I heard "you have a "functional" problem." This basically left me without any explanation for my suffering. I left his office thinking perhaps it was all in my head.

But my problems remained and over time I tried all sorts of things on my own: eating this or that thing that was recommended, omitting other things that could aggravate problems but never entirely, drinking peppermint tea (good for an upset stomach), then not drinking peppermint tea (bad for heartburn), drinking fennel tea and ginger tea for digestion, and black tea instead of coffee, cutting carbohydrates, taking apple cider vinegar, probiotics, drinking kefir and eating plain yogurt, drinking bone broth for more minerals, taking hydrochloric acid, pepsin, bromelain, papaya enzymes, digestive enzymes, digestive bitters, homeopathic remedies prescribed by a naturopath, and eventually just taking Pepto-Bismol and Alka Seltzer Gold when flare-ups reared their ugly head and I was frustrated and in a lot of pain. My medicine cabinet is chock full of bottles. And yet, despite all the reading, consulting, pill-popping and witches brews concocted, I suffer more now than ever before.

I had always tried to just ignore my symptoms in the hope that they would just one day go away on their own. This hasn't worked very well for me and clearly a different approach was becoming necessary. We've all heard the saying about the definition of insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." 

I started tackling the issue again. Reading, reading and doing ever more reading. And one day I found something that spoke to me. When a doctor tells you it's "functional", more often than not you have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). As I read about this, the symptoms totally described me. The gas, the bloating, the distention, the worrying about making it to the bathroom in time, the stomach cramping. Sometimes I feel ok, but I have no idea why. What did I leave out to create a friendlier digestive environment?

While not as debilitating as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis or IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease) that all can cause lasting and permanent damage to the digestive system, IBS can still negatively impact your day-to-day life and cause a lot of discomfort.

So, how will this affect the Blog, you ask? I am adopting a new eating plan, one developed for people suffering from IBS. I'll go into more of that next week, but for now, know that while there will still be fruits and vegetables and meats and fish and nuts discussed here, some of all of those things will not appear in my recipes.

The reason why is because this eating plan eliminates the foods that have been shown to cause IBS symptoms. After a period of time in which the digestive system is allowed time to calm down (about 6-8 weeks), one reintroduces one of the eliminated foods per week and logs the results. It makes sense to me that only in this way can I begin to learn what's causing the problem. Unfortunately, no doctor knows what my system can handle and what it can't. No one, despite their best intentions, can tell me what to do to save me the time and effort required. It is really a matter of self-experimentation.

So, will you want to stick around and go with me in this new direction? I'm not sure. But I certainly hope so because I will still be eating, and cooking, and making recipes and wanting to share them with you. And if you suffer from any digestive discomfort, either occasionally, or daily like me, I hope you'll possibly get something out of what I write about. Perhaps you'll learn something new, or reconsider something you're doing that might not be ideal for your digestive health. 

Not much really will change, except that the focus won't just be having a passion for flavor, but having a passion for digestive wellness. Maybe this is what I'm meant to do with this blog: to share my experience. 

So, my hope is you'll hang out with me a little longer. Or maybe because of this, discover me for the first time, or perhaps share me with someone you know who is also suffering from unexplained digestive trouble.

Thanks for reading.

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