Saturday, April 23, 2016

Grain-free Crackers

When people with digestive troubles hear that they should give up wheat, as it could be the cause of their trouble, either due to a possible celiac condition or simply a food intolerance, they inevitably switch to GF (gluten free) flour for their baked goods. Sadly, many times their symptoms actually worsen, as was the case with me. Due to the high starch content of nearly all gluten-free flours, if you suffer from digestive problems, you might want to consider completely removing them from your diet, at least for a while, until you get your symptoms under control. That’s exactly what I have done and I feel so much better!

But this is a drag, to say the least, as your baking options have now shrunk considerably. But it’s not completely impossible to enjoy muffins, breads, and crackers again. Two options are coconut flour and nut flour!

One of the most versatile nut flours available is almond flour. There are 2 types of ground almond products on the market - almond flour, and almond meal. Almond flour is made by taking blanched (skinless) almonds and pulverizing them into a very fine powder. Almond meal is made from whole, ground raw almonds - a heavier product than almond flour. If you’re intending to bake muffins and cakes, the lighter blanched almond flour would be preferable, as it will result in a lighter, fluffier product. But when you’re making crackers, it doesn’t matter much. 

When I started omitting starchy things from my diet (once I regained my appetite!), I started to really miss crackers. I enjoy crunchy things, especially when I have cheese. When I got the cookbook, "Against all Grain" from Danielle Walker, I was excited to see a recipe for crackers. Not just a regular boring old cracker, but a rosemary and raisin cracker - something that sounded like it would go so well with my new favorite cheese: English Coastal Cheddar! 

I have been making these almost weekly for months now, so that I have nearly a steady supply! One batch lasts me about a week. Even if you’re not on a grain-free diet yourself, you could benefit from reducing your reliance on wheat-based products and make these every so often. They are really a lot healthier than wheat crackers or even rice crackers, as wheat disagrees with a lot of people and I do believe that eating too much wheat can lead to an eventual wheat allergy, and rice frankly has no nutrition worth talking about. It’s really just all starch. Why not eat more nuts? Nuts have fat, which makes us feel fuller (as opposed to rice, which is like eating air), plus they have fiber and minerals.

Blanched Almond Flour

These are easy and quick to make - from start to finish, it’ll take you maybe 20 minutes. But do stick around the kitchen while these are baking though because, being nuts, they can burn easily. You can make these with 100% almond flour if you like, or 50% almond flour and 50% almond meal. I’ve tried them both ways and it doesn’t make any significant difference because crackers are not meant to be fluffy. Plus the meal adds a little more fiber if you need more of that in your diet! For a twist, you can substitute some finely grated Parmesan cheese for 1/2 of the flour, omit the raisins and seeds, and replace the rosemary with thyme. That’s pretty tasty, too, especially when topped with a sliced tomato. 

Anyway, on to the recipe.

Rosemary Raisin Crackers

1 cup blanched almond flour
2 Tbsp. raisins
2 Tbsp. cold water
1 Tbsp. raw sunflower seeds 
1 sprig rosemary
1-1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place all ingredients in a food processor. Process for 15 seconds or until thoroughly combined with small bits of speckled raisins throughout.

Form the dough into a ball then roll it out to a rectangular shape, 1/8 “ thick, between 2 sheets of parchment paper.

Remove the top sheet of parchment. Use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into 1 inch wide rectangles. Transfer the parchment paper to a baking sheet. 

Bake 12-15 minutes, rotating the pan once until crackers are golden. Check to see how they are doing - you want golden, not brown.  You may also want to turn the oven temp down if it’s looking like they are browning too quickly. 

Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then carefully break the crackers apart. Cool completely before serving.

Recipe courtesy of Danielle Walker from her cookbook, “Against All Grain”.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Mexican Chicken Soup

The weather is going to be a bit nasty this weekend. Rain is forecast for the next 4 days - unheard of in Southern California! Could it be El Niño (gasp)? We’ve been expecting it for months now, and we’re still waiting. Regardless, you know me - at the very mention of rain and the inevitable cooling of the temperature (however slight it may be) I’m off making soup! And in honor of El Niño, this time we’re making it Mexican.

I’ve made this soup several times now and love it more each time I have it. It’s a great combination of flavors. The addition of the roasted tomatillo salsa makes it "the bomb!" The traditional version of this soup is “chicken tortilla soup” but as I’m avoiding grains right now, there are none in this version. It’s from Danielle Walker’s cookbook, “Against All Grain”, a cookbook geared towards those with digestive trouble. It’s very digestion-friendly.

The recipe calls for it to be prepared stove top but I recently made it in my slow cooker because I was leaving the house and wanted it ready when I got back. So please note that I  only cooked it this way for a few hours. All day would be too long for the chicken, which would overcook and become dry.

The soup is very simple to make but do make sure you use homemade (chicken) bone broth for best flavor and superior nutrition. A simple soup needs a boldly flavored broth to lend backbone to it. Don’t use a wimpy stock from the grocery store unless you absolutely have to.

You can either choose, at the end of the cooking, to puree half the soup in a blender and return it to the pot to thicken it somewhat, or you can just leave it as it is.

Mexican Chicken Chowder


2 pounds chicken thighs, boneless, skinless, trimmed of fat
2 cups roasted tomatillo salsa
4 cups Chicken Broth
3 cups peeled and cubed sweet potatoes or butternut squash
2 cups peeled and sliced carrots
2 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. sea salt (or more to taste)
2 cups chopped pre-washed spinach
Garnish: chopped fresh cilantro and avocado slices


Place the chicken, salsa, broth, sweet potatoes, carrots, lime juice, garlic and salt in a stockpot over medium-high heat.

Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 1 hour over medium-low heat.

Remove chicken, and using 2 forks, shred the chicken and set it aside.

Scoop 2 cups of cooked vegetables from the soup and puree in a blender. Make sure there is at least 1/4 cup of broth with it. Puree for 15 seconds or so and return to the soup pot.

Add the chicken back in and then the spinach and simmer 10 minutes until the spinach is slightly wilted.

Serve hot, garnished with the cilantro and avocado.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Playing Doctor

It’s horrible having digestive trouble.

You learn to not take anything for granted any more. When you have a “good day”, you are so ecstatic you don’t know where to begin to make up for lost time. Time that’s lost on the “bad days” when you have no energy, feel sick to your stomach, are on the toilet ½ the day, or are doubled over with cramps and pain. On the bad days, which usually outnumber the good days unfortunately, you question “why go on”? It can be so utterly depressing and feel so hopeless.

For those of us with debilitating digestive issues, what’s especially depressing about this situation is that the medical “experts” we consult are often of no use to us if they cannot find something “wrong” with us after performing all the usual tests. It’s important to understand why. Doctors are not required to take any nutrition classes throughout their entire medical education.

Why don’t doctors, especially gastroenterologists, even think to link diet with digestive issues? After all, Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, said eons ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. What went wrong?

We veered away from the knowledge that older generations had about the medicinal properties of chicken soup, how ginger helps with nausea, that chamomile soothes. The medical community unfortunately developed a drug-based bias and tossed the conventional wisdom that people knew all along because there was no money in it. We started worshipping doctors and believed everything they told us. People never question doctors. Hey, people say, my doctor never told me I needed to stop eating _____ to ward off _____ (fill in the blanks). So why would we link food to health if even our doctors aren’t telling us to?

What floors me in this Internet age is that there is a tremendous amount of information available to each and every single one of us. You’d think your doctor would do some research, but alas, he’s too busy golfing or buying a Tesla. So what are you to do? Wait for your doctor to come around and start caring about you? Why waste even more time having “bad days”? Start doing your own research.

Google is your friend. And as we all know, it’s a rabbit hole. Once you Google something, you suddenly find yourself off on a tangent, reading about something else. That’s ok when you’re doing research. That’s exactly what happened to me. While investigating one thing I ended up on a different path. I think I learned a lot that way, just going with the flow, allowing myself to venture off course a little. I did start to see patterns in what I was reading and a lot of overlap, so I figured I was on the right path because all roads eventually led to Rome. That’s when you know you’re on to something.

Just now I googled “Let food be thy medicine” and found an interesting article from Johns Hopkins University that I think is worth reading. It gives me some hope that even mainstream medical communities are finally waking up to this reality:

If you are suffering from any digestive ailment, I encourage you to start reading, exploring, and researching on your own. Read quality stuff though. Visit the NIH (National Institute of Health) website. Read medical papers if you can find something written in layman’s terms. Don’t trust the drivel written on quack websites and Better Homes and Garden. 

If you are not getting the answers you should be getting from your doctor, fire him and find another one. Do not feel badly that you are dumping him. He works for YOU and if he is stubborn and adamant that your lingering problems are not in any way related to food, or won’t approve a test that could conclusively diagnose a problem, he is not helping you. Find someone else.

My hope is that you have a doctor that you trust and respect and that trusts and respects you. Tell her what you’ve learned in your research and that you want certain tests done and why. Be prepared to support your requests with what you’ve read has worked for others.  On many forums I’ve read about people that end up teaching their doctors something new! The best doctors, in my opinion, are those without an ego, who want to learn because they truly want to be of help to their patients. They are open to expanding their knowledge, so that they in turn can help others.

I believe that we need to collaborate with our medical providers. We are in this together. And we should be solving our digestive problems together, looking for new methods and treatments, exploring both allopathic and alternative options, being open-minded to all possibilities.

Sometimes you have to play doctor yourself.

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