Monday, December 28, 2009

Veggies, veggies, veggies!

It's been a while since I've updated this blog, the reason being that I've been busy gardening. Okay, that's not the real reason, but look at my garden!!  Not bad for a rented property with a concrete backyard and patchy sunlight. 

On the right is my greens patch. That mass of green is edible... all of it! Spinach, rainbow chard, coriander and lettuce share the bed in a pick-n-grow manner. On the right hand corner is my little strawberry patch, grown in an old recycling crate. I have flowers so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for fruit. I've never had much luck with strawberries, but I'm not going to give up on trying.

There's something a little odd going on with my peppers (capsicum). The plants were somewhat tormented as youngsters -- planted as seedlings and then overcome by my enthusiastic tomato and potato plants. I transplanted them to a new bed where they recovered, however the fruit is more cylinder like that I remember them being when I last grew them. I'm sure they'll be edible, no matter what the shape. I'll wait and see.

My Thai Basil is going great guns. I use it rarely, but love it so.

This year I have an abundance of apricots. Many are so high up and overhanging the roof of the shed that I just can't reach them. It's such a shame. They are delicious and freeze so well once cooked up. If I can somehow work out a way to get to the rest of the fruit, I'll have enough to last all winter.

[Note to people on the FODMAP diet, be careful with apricots. They contain sorbital and may not be well tolerated. I don't go so great when they're raw, but can handle them cooked... in moderation.]
The tigerella tomatoes are going well. I've yet to taste them as they are still too small and green, but aren't they so pretty!?

The snow peas are still hanging on. Who knew they were still in there? I'll have to search harder. The tomatoes have taken over. I'm surprised anything can still grow through all that.
Garlic chives... mmm... This strong growing bunch of herbs died off through neglect a couple of years ago. I didn't throw the pot away, though I figured them to be long dead. After some heavy rainfall, they resprouted and I transplanted them and voila, healthy green herbs. They're resilient, I'll give them that.

I couldn't resist sharing a photo of a new bunch of tomatoes just being born. Okay, that's just corny, but c'mon... there's something magical about growing your own produce. I love every stage, from creating the beds to planting, tending, nursing, watering, fertilising and finally picking. Oh, and let's not forget eating! The best part!! 

And lettuce. Home grown lettuce is never boring, ever! I can't bear to buy that shop bought stuff anymore. I swear I can taste the chemicals on the leaves. Urgh!

Okay, that's it for this check in of the garden. Oh, except to add that this is my next project. Em, when you get here, I'll need your help. :-)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grilled pork with rice noodles

This is loosely based on Luke Nguyen's Char Grilled Pork Neck with Vermicelli Noodles. My version differs from the recipe due to my having to adapt because I couldn't find all the ingredients. Despite that though it still tasted amazing!

I used pork schnitzel instead of pork neck, and less onion than the recipe called for due to my need to limit the amount of onion in my diet.

I marinated the pork for two hours, no longer because I was impatient and hungry, and instead of char grilling I used a grill plate instead.

Instead of vermicelli noodles, I used thin rice noodles which was more like thin spaghetti. I prefer those instead of the hairlike vermicelli. I couldn't find all the herbs that Luke's recipe called for, so instead I sliced Thai Basil, bean sprouts, lebanese cucumber and finely sliced spring onions. To that I added Nuoc Nam Cham Cha Gio (I hope I've got that right), a Vietnamese dipping sauce for Spring Rolls. I hoped it might fill in for the missing herbs and maybe replicate the marinated veggies. Also, on the program, Luke had added marinated vegetables which I see he omitted from the recipe.

It plated up beautifully. I dripped more of the dipping sauce over the top to add to the taste. And boy, what a great taste! So fresh and vibrant, and as Luke often says, so well balanced with the mix of sweet from the sugars, sourness of the vinegar, tang of the herbs and fish sauce and mildness of the rice and bean shoots.

Such a great recipe and so easy to make. Thanks to Luke Nguyen and SBS for the inspiration!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Big Breakfast with Buckwheat Pancakes

What better way to start a Sunday than with a big home-made breakfast?! It's just me to cater for today, but that didn't stop me dragging out the recipe book, opening up the cupboards and defrosting a large bacon rasher to go with the spread I had planned.

First up, the buckwheat pancakes. Simple to make, delicious to eat. I reduced the quantities by about a third, which meant my measuring was inaccurate but I've found that the recipe accepts some flexibility.

When the mixture was ready, I tried my hand at hashbrowns. I worked from the online recipe but the result did not end up like the picture, and now my frying pan is a mess. *lol*  I need me a potato ricer!

On top of the cooked pancakes, I added the hashbrowns (poor sad things they were), some wilted spinach, fried tomato and red pepper, fried bacon and a poached egg. Then I spent quite some time photographing it for this blog, by which time it was cold... but still so very delicious!

Evidently I still need some practice at food photograhy, but I hope you can at least taste the juicy tomatoes and imagine the heavenly buckwheat pancake texture. Mmm...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Black Forest Cake

This sucker is indecently good! So good it's nasty! :-)

Yet another recipe from the internet. Makes me wonder why I buy recipe books. Oh, because they're so gosh-darn pretty, that's why. *lol*

Here's the recipe: Black Forest Cake.

I fiddled things a little because I didn't have all the ingredients. I used butter instead of Nuttelex, and more rice flour instead of the Farex baby cereal. I didn't use Kirsch and I used black cherries instead of sour.

The cake rose well, but not enough to make three layers. I cut it in half and admired the beautiful rich chocolate texture. I've always imagined gluten free baking to be a cross between a rock and a soggy sandwich, but this looked like a cake, an ordinary, average, yummy chocolate cake. Maybe more like a mud cake in texture, but still, yummy!

On went the fillings and toppings and Tanya, my sister in law, did a wonderful job of shaving on the chocolate. I had no clue. I was trying to use a grater rather than a peeler. Thanks Tan!

This is how it came out:

You can take my word for it, it tasted pretty damn fine! Even better the next day. Oh, and I put strawberry jam on the inside faces of the cake before putting on the cherries. I'd seen that somewhere else and figured, what the heck, no kirsch, let's go for strawberry jam. :-)

It was a great birthday cake! And it didn't make me sick. Well... let's not talk about the effect the sugar had. *whistles and walks away*

Monday, October 12, 2009

Gluten Free Sandwich Bread

This is another recipe found on the internet. This one promised to be a winner, and as my first attempt to bake gluten free bread, I was hoping for a miracle. Here's the recipe, along with all its claims: Gluten Free Sandwich Bread.

My experience with gluten free breads is limited to what I've purchased at the supermarket, being a small rectangular, heavy set loaf with solid texture and a strange taste. I'd resigned myself to a bread-less life if those blocks were anything to go by. I mean, I buy them and I eat them, but I don't much enjoy them. They're not bread, they're something other than bread.

I don't have brown rice flour so I used white instead, and similarly I didn't have ground flax. I did find some flax seeds in the cupboard though, and after a humorous attempt to grind them in a mortar and pestle, and then to vitamise them in a food processor, I resigned myself to throwing them in whole. I used 1/4 cup and added in an extra 1/4 cup rice flour.

The yeast frothed well, which was an encouraging start. I don't have a mixer with a dough hook (though am hoping to get one soon), so I used an electric whisk for the required 4 minutes. Aside from flicking outside of the bowl several times, that seemed to work reasonably well. The dough was soft, wet and much stickier than anything I'd encountered and I really didn't like my chances of getting anything bread-like from it.

Into the bread pan it went and into a warm place. It took forever to rise. Not the recipe's fault but rather my cold house and this burst of spring-winter we're getting. But once it started, it kept going and going and going. When it reached the top of the pan and seemed set to become the incredible blob, I popped it in the oven. This is what came out:

This recipe is everything it promised to be and more! Beautifully textured and light with air pockets just like wheat bread. This is something I'd never expected from gluten free. Morever, it tastes delicious with just a tiny tasty bitterness that I've come to expect from gluten free baked savoury goods. It slices well, holds its form and lasts several days without deteriorating into grainy or mushiness. For my first attempt at gluten free bread, I have to say this has given me confidence to explore further.

Zucchini Bread

This is a recipe Em found online for me when I said I was having guests over for my birthday. I wanted a mix of sweet and savoury foods, and this bread came in as a fantastic option. Here's the recipe: Gluten Free Zucchini Bread. And here's a photo of the bread, sliced and ready to serve.

This bread by far stole the show! It's beautifully textured, slightly chewy, flavoursome and impossible to label as a 'boring' gluten free baking. I served it with butter and jam (blueberry and raspberry), and the slices vanished off the platter. One of my friend's young daughter, who hates zucchini, went back for triple and quadruple servings, and then selected a slice to take away with her. I offered her a copy of the recipe and she couldn't say yes fast enough! What a winner!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Spaghetti Bolognaise

This is a recipe from Sue Shepherd's Irrestistibles for the Irritable. It does contain garlic and mushroom, but in small quantities. And it has bacon, so much yummy bacon!

I didn't have gluten free spaghetti, so I used buckwheat fettucine instead. By the way, buckwheat, despite containing the word 'wheat', is a wheat free alternative. And it's all kinds of delicious!

I made up a large batch of this and saved some for the freezer. It's delicious! I can't believe I'd never tried cooking spaghetti bolognaise sauce before. No more relying on a bottle, that's for sure!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gluten Free Show (highlights)

After a couple of false starts, I made it to the Gluten Free Show at Jeff's Shed (aka the Melbourne Exhibition Centre).

Once there, I b-lined to the first information session which was a talk by Sue Shepherd about how to identify gluten free foods when they aren't clearly labelled.

Sue has celiac disease so for her the avoidance of gluten is paramount to maintaining good health. She noted, however, that in the audience were more than just people with diagnosed celiac disease. There were those who had not yet been tested, those who had been tested and found not to have the condition but for whom the reduction in gluten containing food assisted them in maintaining good health and those whom had been diagnosed with IBS and had been advised to limit (or remove) certain foods from their diet, including gluten containing grains and others.

Australian food labelling laws require that wheat, rye, oats and barley must be listed as an ingredient. She explained that 'no news is good news'. If the label doesn't mention any of those foods and doesn't say it contains gluten, then it doesn't. They don't have to say it doesn't, just if it does.

The main alternative flours for gluten free use are: rice, corn, potato, tapioca and soy. Some of these can be bought for a fraction of the price from Asian grocers. This is not a comprehensive list, others include quinoa, millet, sorghum, amaranth and more. As I sat there listening to her talk and picking up on her infectious enthusiasm, I realised that it's not people who live gluten free who are restricted in choice, it's those who aren't. Western society's diet is moulded around wheat. Wheat bread, wheat pasta, wheat thickeners, wheat fillers, wheat additives to flavourings, wheat snacks, wheat cakes... the list is endless. Take out wheat, and yeah, the choice of packaged goods narrows, but the diversity of wholefood options widens. I realised that I suddenly had a whole world of dietary options available to me, an exciting, delicious world, one I had never even considered because of my one-eyed devotion to wheat. Maybe this is a gift, not a curse.

Sue's talk was interesting, informative and rich with enthusiasm for a dietary lifestyle that many who do not need to live it would view as restrictive and boring. Sue is glowing evidence that this is not the case. Her recipe books are filled with examples of delicious, nutrient rich and diverse foods. I left her talk feeling inspired.

Fortunately I don't need to be as careful with my food as someone who has celiac disease, but limiting gluten is still important. The second talk, by Jaci Barrett, a dietician and researcher based at Box Hill Hospital, discussed the similarities between IBS and celiac disease and confirmed what I'd already discovered through experimentation and a food diary.

Unlike in celiac disease, IBS does not result in damage to the intestinal villi or bowel lining, just in embarassing and distressing symptoms. Nutrient malabsorption is rare in IBS and symptoms can fluctuate. Stress is also a factor, though not necessarily the cause. Gluten intolerance in IBS does exist but the mechanism is unknown and the instances of it are rare.

Jaci introduced FODMAPS (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, and Mono-saccharides, And Polyols), aka short chain carbohydrates. Much of what she explained I already knew, in theory, from research I had done on the internet. But the following, I didn't know:

The FODMAPS are made up of: Fructans, Galactans, Polyols, Fructose and Lactose. In over simplified terms: Lactose is dairy; Fructose is fruit; Fructans are wheat and onions and Galactans are beans and legumes. Polyols are spread throughout various foods.

  • are poorly absorbed by everyone
  • move quickly through the intestine to create wind (e.g. baked beans)
  • in healthy people, these carbohydrates may just cause wind. In people with gastrointestinal disorders (such as celiac, IBS, Crohns disease, etc), these carbohydrates cause abdominal bloating, pain, gas, and constipation and/or diarrhea. Ah yes, I know those symptoms well.  ;-)
  • no diagnostic test to confirm these are problematic. No-one can absorb them well, but most can tolerate.
  • only a portion of these are absorbed
  • same as fructans/galactans, everyone is unable to properly absorb these
  • will acerbate symptoms of IBS
  • again, no diagnostic test to confirm these are problematic
  • these are in beer as mannitol (puts on droopy sad face)
  • spirits though, are fine (perks up)
  • usually well absorbed in intestine
  • some people will malabsorb
  • a test is available to identify if these carbohydrate is malabsorbed
  • usually absorbed but requires an enzyme to break it down
  • a test is available to identify if this is an issue.
Fructans, Galactans and Polyols are ALWAYS to be avoided in patients who present with gastrointestinal symptoms. A trial may be all that's required to identify if the removal of these carbohyrates will help. If symptoms abate, then a low FODMAP diet is recommended.

In hearing this, the final puzzle piece in my search for a solution to my dietary dramas slipped into place.

I won't list all the foods that are known to contain these three carbohydrate combinations, but the main ones that I now avoid are: wheat, rye and onions. Mushrooms may also be a problem, as are a list of about another 20 fruits and vegetables.

I wandered through the rest of the show, stopped by the cooking display to see a television chef making a delicious looking fish dish while the cameraman stuck a great hulking camera so close that it almost disappeared inside the pot he was working over. I guess the chef is used to it, but me, I'd swat the damn thing out of the way.

From this day I took away the secret to recovering my health. It's simple: no wheat; no rye; no onion. The other problem foods I can try in moderation, but I have enough experience with wheat, rye and onion to know that they are not my friend, not matter how enticing and tasty they may seem.

I bought a recipe book, Irrestistibles for the Irritable, some delicious low fodmap sweets and a brimming urgency to unleash a new way of cooking and eating -- one that doesn't make me sick, miserable and deplete my iron stores so I have to live on iron tablets and multi-vitamins... oh, and doesn't leave me achy, tired and depressed. It goes without saying that I have no sadness at losing those other IBS symptoms that are best not mentioned in polite company. ;-)

Gluten free ain't all that bad. Compared to the alternative, it's heaven!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Gluten Free Show

Tomorrow I'm heading in to the Gluten Free Show.

I'm not gluten intolerant but I do seem to do better when I limit (or remove) wheat, rye and other gluten grains from my diet. After deliberating about whether to go to this show or not, I made my mind up after reading that there will be an information session about Coeliac Disease vs IBS that will explore whether the dietary management of IBS and coeliac disease are similar. Well, I can't very well NOT go to that now can I?!

The deal was that I'd write 2,000 words in order to have permission to go to the show. Guess I better get scribbling, huh?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Leafy greens

The FODMAP diet suggests that some vegetables are less well tolerated than others. Of the 'safe' veggies are several of my favourite green leafies and that are relatively expensive to buy fresh. I figured I'd reestablish my veggie garden and grow them myself. Here's the result.

I built the patch out of old bricks and discarded materials. It helps to have a brother who is a builder (and a hoarder).  The soil came from around the garden and some old bags of potting mix that I'd bought and never used. I used dried and partially decomposing shrub cuttings for the bottom layer because I built the bed straight onto concrete. Near the bottom is a layer of chicken poo (thanks Crackles) and I'll use lawn clippings for mulch when I have them available.  The bed construction and soil cost nothing. The veggies cost $30 and I've put two buckets inside to catch water from the shower and the sink to use for watering them because we're on water restrictions here.

And here's the veggies:
- celery
- spinach
- rainbow chard (silverbeet)
- basil
- chives (the only member of the onion family that is okay to eat)
- snow peas and
- mixed lettuce

I've netted them with old green mesh that I found laying around. This is to keep the birds out, but in particular the big orange (chicken) bird named Crackles who has free roam of my backyard. One go with her chicken-claws and the seedlings would be all over the yard.

Now we just need some sunshine and all will be well.  :-)

Banana flat bread

Ingredients: 1 cup gluten free plain flour
1 egg
1/3 cup water
1/2 banana, thinly (wafer thin) sliced
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Mix all ingredients together and pour into greased (I used Nuttelex margarine), heated saucepan. Cook for five minutes on low heat then turn.

These came out better that I'd expected. I cut the large circular 'bread' into six triangles and had half with breakfast and saved the other half for a later snack.

These could freeze quite well and be good as work snacks or with different flavourings, meal accompaniments.

Here I had them with spinach, eggplant, mushrooms and tomato. Would have been better with bacon and eggs but I didn't have those on hand.

Gluten Free Beer

I'm on a FODMAP diet and I love beer but have had to give it up. But, now that I've discovered FODMAPs and have found out that there are gluten free beers available, well life just suddenly got a whole lot better. There's no FODMAPs in beer. None at all. I searched and scanned and researched and could find no reason why I can't have it. Right?


I tried one bottle on Friday night. It tastes delicious, has all the lovely, beery, malty taste that I love in beer but the next morning... oh no.

Note to self: beer is not worth the pain that comes the next day. Get over it!