Sunday, June 24, 2012

Gluten-free for now

A few months back, I decided that I would try a gluten-free diet to see if it would lower my liver enzyme levels and inflammation.  This is a bit of a gamble since my blood tests were negative for antibodies associated with celiac disease. It has been a relatively easy, except when I have been travelling or eating at catered work events.  A couple of times I ate my sandwich and guiltily loved every bite of bread.

There are a lot of gluten free products on the market, and most of them I have avoided.  Not because I am against them, but because the pre-prepared stuff is expensive and since we make most things from scratch at home it wasn't necessary. We have a wheat grinder that I appropriated to make rice flour and corn flour.  I tried to grind rolled oats in it, but they gummed up the works, but Leila ground them in the blender fine enough to use.  Most gluten-free dessert recipes rely on guar gum, tapioca flour, or more exotic chemistry to hold the flours together.  I haven't used them, but have relied on extra egg and a mix of different flours to do the trick.

Most days, before I decided to experiment with my diet, I ate sandwiches for lunch.  I would pile as much lettuce, swiss or farm cheese, meat - if available, or egg, and mustard and mayo that I could squeeze between two peices of bread.  Colleen called them my Shaggy and Scooby sandwiches.  I needed to replace them with something that was quick to prepare that I could eat for lunch, but was filling.  I tried a number of things, but the fastest and best replacement for a sandwich is this salad:

I will try and load a picture, but it isn't really a beautiful meal, and varies with what is available in the garden and what I have on hand.

Poached egg and rice vinegar salad
1-2 poached eggs
Bowl of salad greens - lettuce, beet greens, cabbage leaves, etc.
Splash of Rice Vinegar
Pinch Salt
Dash of Pepper

Optional ingredients:
Beet greens

Banana slices
Apple slices

Preferably farm cheese or Havarti

The way I learned to poach an egg, is not technically poaching.  It is a mix between sunny side up and steamed eggs.  I put a bit of oil or butter on the pan and crack 1-2 eggs.  Add a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper.  Once the edges start to turn white and the pan is really hot, pour 1/2-3/4 c. of water around the egg and cover with a tight lid.  Then steam until the water evaporates off.  I like the yolk still runny in the middle.

While that is cooking, I wash my lettuce and greens.  Depending how much dirt is on them from the garden, this can be fast or slow.  We are starting to get cabbage loopers on our lettuce so I try to pick through and find them before I stick in my fork.  The salad spinner is great, but won't get the bugs out.  Today I found two.  One in my bowl at the table.  Uggh.

I like the mix of vinegar, egg yolk, and greens.  The greens wilt a little with the hot egg, but somehow that improves it to me.  Especially if the greens are a little bitter.  The banana slices are actually quite good with the mix, even if it sounds strange.  I had it in a salad at a conference in Indianapolis at a very swank restaurant.  The waiter swore to me that the best thing on the menu was a salad with blackened tuna and bananas. I was very skeptical, but he was right.  Amazingly good combination.

One day I was desperate for some whole grains and started trying to make different pancakes.  The recipe I settled on is roughly this:

Corn, rice, and bean flour pancakes
1-2 egg
1 c. sticky rice flour
1/2 c. corn flour
1/4 c. white bean flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Dash of salt

 I don't measure my ingredients well.  Mostly a dash of this and that, but the ratios are pretty close.  I tried single flour versions, but the rice one was kinda gummy and the corn one needed more egg.  I didn't try an all bean flour version, but my theory is that it is high protein enough to hold it together.  This makes as good of a pancake as I have had.  It can be a bit dense, and adding some oil to the batter helps.  I sometimes have added savory spices - onions, garlic, or salt and pepper.  I have used that instead of a hot dog bun or as a side with my dinner, especially if they are a bit thin they are great.

Leila tried modifying this to make biscuits, but they were grainy.  I think they needed less corn meal and more bean flour.  I will work on it.  Overall, it is a doable.  Our attempts at desserts have been mostly successful.  Leila made a good oatmeal raisin cookie recipe that doesn't use any wheat flour and I keep some in the freezer for when I get snacky after the kids are in bed.  Leila made a great flourless chocolate cake for Kate's Birthday - she is three.  Crazy.  Emily makes a custardy rice pudding with sticky rice that I really like. I think I will stick with it for another month until I am due for another blood test.  If my liver enzyme levels are down, I will probably stay on it, if not I will bake all day long.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Museum Hopping in D.C.

I tried to find as many boat pictures as I could in the art museum
While we were in D.C. we visited some of the Smithsonian museums.  When I was younger I thought there was a single museum and I imagined it had the warehouse from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  I have been to D.C. three times and spent days each trip in different museums, but I have not even come close to seeing all of them.  There were thousands of school kids swarming over the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum so we spent more time in the art museums than Emily and Aleah would have liked.  

They had a sketchbook from Paul Guaguin that I thought was really interesting.  Emily and I each sat down and tried to draw some of the scenes.  

At the Air and Space Museum, Aleah discovered that she looks a lot like Amelia Earhart as a young girl.  Emily dressed as Amelia Earhart for a school project one year and they both look like her.  She is an inspiring woman.

The national mall is full of people always, and the grass is very sad.  The dirt it sits on is highly compacted from tourists and locals, from protests, and celebrations.  The probably need to deep rip it every 3 years and start over.

We spent almost a full day in the Natural History Museum.  From the biology to geology displays we could have spent another day.  I just love this stuff.

Aleah was obsessed with the short films about evolution.  She was really interested in all of the human ancestor species.  They have a display that shows reconstructions of each branch that makes it easier to imagine.  Neanderthals really would not have looked very different from other people I realized.  The Homo floriensis exhibits were really cool (Emily is reading over my shoulder and is reading this in her best British pompous accent so I will try to not be so erudite. Look that one up, Emily).
We had a great time canoeing with my Mom and it was a great visit.  I just wish we could hang out more often.  She wrote about it on her blog too.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Emily's Vacation Reading Reviews

Post by Emily:
 Tomod:a templers apprentice- Tormod Macleod,  a boy cursed with the Vision, delivers a secret message to the Pope and gets sucked into an epic adventure as Templer Alexander's apprentice. He will face dangers because they are hunting him. Tormod has seen what will happen,but could he change it?
                                                                           4 stars

Tormod: a templers gifts- Tormod has returned home to his many younger siblings, older brother, mom and very angry dad. The Power he developed while with the templer stands out and he leaves. Tormod's power is going out of control until he meets a girl called Aine also with the Vision and the Power. Only she can mend him.  They are still being hunted.  They must find Bertand, he will help them.
                                                                         4.5 stars 

The true meaning of Smekday: A group of aliens called the Boov have invaded Earth and Gratuity's mom has been abducted (by the aliens).  The boov want all the humans to relocate to Florida but Gratuity is set on not going. With her cat Pig and a criminal Boov called J.Lo she embarks on a hilarious journey. But that's not all, they're faced with more problems, such as the undefeated Takers, or Nimrogs or Gorg. Whatever.
                                                                  Infinity stars



    Thursday, June 07, 2012

    Sleeping on the train

    I should have taken more pictures.  Here are my sketches of the girls resting on the train.

    Kate's drawing of our family.  I am the hairy one in the middle. 

    Monday, June 04, 2012

    Emily's description of her conversation with Kate.

    Today while Emily's German-pancakes were cooking Kate walked up to her and said:

    Kate: When a pancakes be done?
    Emily: Five minutes?
    Kate: No.
    Emily: Maybe ten minutes?
    Kate: No.
    Emily: No minutes??
    Kate: Yes!

    Sunday, June 03, 2012

    Taking the train to D.C.

     I told Leila that I wanted to take the train because it was cheaper than flying.  This is true, but not all true.  The real truth is that I wanted to take a train trip.  It seemed so cool, like a hipster way of travelling better than the frantic queues of frustrated fliers waiting to get through inane security.  (Does anyone really think taking off our shoes keeps us safer? Don't get me started.) I hate driving long distances and the train stops one hour from Huxley.  And somehow a train trip is an adventure, with the potential for good and for bad times.  When I told Leila about the cost that was just an excuse.  I wanted to do something exciting.  

    It takes ~ 28 hours to go from Osceola, IA to Washington D.C. Union Station on the train, including the 5 hours downtime in Chicago between trains.  Leila saw through my arguments completely and decided that this adventure was one she could sit out.  Sleeping on the train, in our seats, potentially bad food, truly strange strangers, and the very real possibility of train delays were actualities brighter than any romantic notions of train travel.  Aleah and Emily I volunteered.  I told them it would be awesome.  

    We were supposed to catch the train in Osceola, IA at 7:30 AM.  I got the girls up at 5:00 AM to get there in time to get a parking spot and to be on time for the train.  We didn't need to hurry.  The tiny station was close to empty, and the train didn't get there until almost 9 AM.  When the train pulled up, it was still exciting though.  He tooted his horn and we climbed aboard.  The seats were larger than plane seats with room enough that I couldn't reach my foot to the seat in front of me, only to the footrest.  

    Aleah in the Lounge Car.  She just beamed at everyone.  
    It took about 6 hours to get to Chicago, and then we had a long wait until our next train.  We wandered around the city and Aleah quickly tired of walking with her stuff.  We decided to get a locker, but then discovered that when we squeezed our bags in it broke the kindle screen.  That was one expensive locker.

    On the way back we had the same long wait in Chicago, but ditched our stuff sooner and made it to Millenium Park to see the sculptures and the play in the fountain. Chicago's Union Station is probably the worst designed building I have ever seen.  This beautiful waiting area is mostly empty, because to get on your train you have to go down a level and cram into a small, poorly lit, waiting area with threadbear dirty carpet.  Someone really should have planned that better.

    We worried about sleeping on the train.  The seats were large and leaned back quite far, but it still is tough sleeping sitting up.  Leila packed us a whole bag of food and another suitcase with three pillows and three large blankets so we were set. Aleah schmooshed herself against me and quickly fell asleep( or asphyxiated  - she was pressed so tightly against me).  The man sitting next to Emily felt uncomfortable with her leaning against him and asked me if I would switch with her.  I put her next to Aleah, but she didn't want Aleah to touch her.  That didn't work.  Aleah and I went to the lounge car and slept there.  The conductor woke us up a couple of times, but didn't make us go back to our seats till morning and we all were able to lay down and sleep.

    The best part of the trip was the diversity of passengers: Amish, Mennonite, Brethren, Hipsters, Hispanics, Black, White, Indian, and Muslim. I had a couple of long discussions with the Amish families travelling.  There was a little Amish girl that was Aleah's age and they played together some, but she mostly spoke Dutch and little English.  It was a hoot to hear from two brothers' plans to increase production of furniture and hopes to be able to sell their chairs in China.  We discussed corn prices and my job and the difficulties of raising kids in the world, but not of the world.  I am fascinated with the balance of modern and traditional lifestyle from the different Amish and Mennonite groups.  I feel like I have to make some of those same tradeoffs now, even though I have most of the modern conveniences.

    I will put some more pictures up of the rest our trip later.  It is getting late and I have to go to work tomorrow.  Too bad I can't have a vacation from my vacation before going back to the everyday troubles.