Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Rhythm of Change

Sometimes the food journeys are interior ones. I’ve been thinking, lately, about being gluten free for the rest of my life. This June 1 is the second anniversary of my change in diet—eliminating wheat, rye, barley and other gluten grains, and foods containing those grains—and, ultimately, my change of lifestyle. If I maintain my health, I can probably live another 30 years or so. With medical advances, there may come a day when we can take a pill and munch on a donut. I’m not holding my breath.

My diabetes (I think of these conditions as companions, as opposed to diseases!) is in pretty good control. Again living with these conditions and becoming healthier is my main goal.

Living with chronic conditions involves planning ahead. Last Tuesday night Ed and I attended an event for his professional association. It was their annual spring social, a wine tasting, with hors d’oeuvres. I asked him to get me the menu beforehand. Then I called the caterer, explained that I was gluten-intolerant and asked what would be possible. I called a bit late, so did not expect much. However, they said “no problem” just give the host my name when I arrived. I was given a lovely plate of gluten free “tastes” that went very well with the wine tastes. I brought some gluten free crackers: this is the brand I favor There was cheese plate for the table so I had my share. I also took a little container of roasted pecans to nibble during the “stand and chat” part of the event. Then I got very caught up in a couple of wonderful conversations and did not even miss the “cracker spoons with brie and pesto”—which were very cute to look at, nonetheless!

What is important, I think is finding a rhythm of change. This is taken from the closing paragraph of an essay I wrote for this class: Change usually happens slowly. .. Change takes thought: what can I do to eliminate unhealthy foods or actions in my life, and how can I still find pleasure in what remains? Change comes in stages: take away one thing, add another, adjust the seasoning, take a break and try again. Change is often painful, and at the very least it is challenging. And I can work through the pain and the challenges because I’ve learned that I am strong and resourceful. And, in the end, change is its own reward. I am healthier today for the changes I have made.

What about you? Do you have companion conditions? This blog is very willing to go beyond diabetes and celiac. Please share your changes with the rest of us…we learn from each other as we walk the road!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sicily in Seattle

In the spring of 2006 we traveled to Sicily—that big island at the “toe” of the Italian “boot”. We landed in Palermo, spent a few days exploring the city on foot and then rented a car to drive around the island. We stayed in a couple of places with kitchens and did quite a few room picnics for dinner. The food was fascinating. Somewhere along the way we saw a travel poster that said, “Invade Sicily—everyone else has!” Phoenicians, Moors, Persians, Greeks, Romans--Ancient and Holy—have all tried to rule this island kingdom; and everyone brought their own idea of cuisine. Add in today’s immigrants from Asia and India and today’s Sicilian cuisine is indeed unique!

The island still has farms, olive groves, vineyards and, of course, a big fishing industry. Everywhere we ate, fish and shellfish were always on the menu. I could quite have quite happily subsisted on fresh sardines (called that because they were originally imported from a nearby island: Sardinia) with salads, pasta or bread and the lovely local olive oils.

Sicily has more ruins of Greek temples than does Greece. Just outside the city of Agrigento there is a large historic site where you walk down broad alleys with temples in a variety of states: from piles of rubble to some almost “whole”. You may have seen pictures of these temples—shining white against a cloudless blue sky. At the height of their use they were not white, but heavily painted and gilded to honor the gods and goddesses they housed.

All of this walking built up an appetite, so we went off to find lunch. Capriccio Di Mare (I think something like “Sea Breeze”) had been recommended and turned out to be excellent. We were seated in a beautifully painted room with a view of the sea and big windows that caught a cool and refreshing breeze. For the first course—the pasta course—Ed chose spaghetti with crayfish and “scrimps”. We found this interesting word on several Italian menus. There are no words with the “sh” sound in Italian, so I think inexperienced translators don’t believe that combination really exists! The sauce on this dish was very simple: olive oil, butter, lemon, garlic and parsley.

When we get home from trips we often search my journals for dishes we can recreate for friends. And this one has become a “standard”. Since crayfish are not a local delicacy, we substituted Dungeness crabmeat and used small Canadian or Oregon shrimp. Meyer lemons, when available, improve the flavor without altering the character of the dish. We use a light hand with the garlic and are careful not to overcook it—pale gold is the color you are looking for. Take it out of the pan before it turns darker as it will then become bitter.

Oh, oh, no more spaghetti-o….for this glutenless cook, anyway. Recently I tried a variation: garlic in the oil/butter and when golden, dash in ½ cup white wine. Reduce to a thickened state, stir in lemon zest, juice of about ½ a Meyer lemon, ¼ cup parsley and the shellfish. And just serve it like that. The guests had fresh bread to sop up the sauce; I had some gluten free toast.

It’s all good!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Plane Fare, Part II

My husband and I have a two-out-of –three challenge with metabolic syndrome. This is the condition—characterized by insulin resistance, high blood pressure (hypertension) and a superabundance of abdominal fat--that can, if left unchecked, lead to heart disease, stroke and early death. We would like to avoid that. We have plans…

So, I have the insulin resistance part, but my blood pressure is picture perfect. His blood pressure is in the red zone, but he never shows a blip on the blood glucose tests. We both work religiously on the abdominal fat issue. I get in regular exercise, but have to fight off the cookie monster on a daily basis (though, since becoming gluten intolerant, it is more of a high end chocolate and potato chip monster!) Ed travels frequently for business. He walks as much a possible—sometimes as much as ten miles a day—on these trips (we both wear pedometers and aim for 10K steps a day—about 5 miles).

Eating restaurant meals and pre-selected buffet and banquet food are the most difficult part of Ed’s “travel dance”. It is a given that these foods are high in salt and they are usually higher in fat than is healthy for anyone, let alone anyone trying to manage weight. It is also hard to order salad in a nice restaurant when everyone around you is having big chunks of meat and French fries!

Here are some ideas we have been developing. Ed takes breakfast and lunch with him for his first travel day. Before leaving, he checks out the city he will be in for a “good” market likely to have healthier food alternatives: Whole Foods, Wild Oats or other “natural” food oriented markets, and maps the location in relation to his hotel. Depending on his flight times, he can usually go out “hunting and gathering” shortly upon arrival. When possible we look for residence or extended stay hotels that have working kitchens. The next option is a room with a refrigerator and microwave. And if there is neither, there is at least an ice machine. Ed carries his travel food in an insulated bag, along with two small lidded storage dishes. Pack those with ice and put with sandwich meat and cheese into the bag and, voila, refrigeration.

Head over to the bakery and pick up a loaf of good, whole grain bread and some of those condiment packets from the deli counter and the Earl of Sandwich would be thrilled. But we do not live by sandwiches alone! Veggies from the salad bar fill out the meal. This combination goes for breakfast, lunch, dinner—whenever he does not have “socially mandated” meals to attend.

Since I have the gluten intolerance issue, when I am along on trips where room picnics are on the plan, we often go for a salad from the salad bar and cheese or meat from the deli counter or shrimp or even crab from the fish counter—those “fancier” stores have some pretty elegant options. Ed gets bread; I get potato chips. Add your favorite beverage and maybe a bit of fruit or a little chocolate and voila, a meal to rival at least the mid-range restaurants in taste and at a fraction of the cost and calories.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Plane Fare, Part I

We took our first trip to Europe in 1979. We sat in the very back of the plane and ate whatever was put down before us. In those far off days, you received more-or-less real food on little trays. Not top of the line, but we were headed for Paris and a meal at the Michelin three star rated Lasserre. (They have dropped a star in the ensuing 31 years, but still look pretty good! ) We dined with a group of food professionals and it was truly a joyful eating experience of a lifetime.

In 1983 we were off to Paris for the second time, celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary. By now Ed had accumulated enough frequent flyer miles from business travel that we could upgrade to first class. As we were waiting for the rest of the plane to board, the flight attendants came around offering water, juice and California sparkling wine (never call that “Champagne”—no matter how good it is, true Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France.) After we leveled off for the night flight, the food service began. A very nice cart was wheeled down the wide aisle. We were offered smoked salmon and caviar and the real Champagne in real Champagne flutes (tall narrow glasses). At this point, I raised my glass to Ed, smiled sweetly and said, “You can fly on business just as much as you like…as long as I get to fly first class every now and then!”

I love to travel. And while I love first class, I can be happy in the “back of the bus”. However, food on airlines has changed (understatement here!) and while international first class is still pretty good, and domestic first class is still more-or-less real food, coach food is now a collection of junk food—some claiming to be “healthy” junk food : are those salty pita chips really any healthier than potato chips?
And you have to pay for it. Almost all of the “packages” have gluten, too much sodium and too many carbohydrates. I tend to avoid eating foods that I could not reproduce at home and/or with ingredients I cannot pronounce.

So I pack a lunch. I do treat myself well: gluten free crackers and a high quality pate or thin slices of homemade meatloaf is one of my favorites. For return trips I find a good grocery store and get good cheese (not too smelly, out of kindness to fellow passengers!) I’ve also packed chunks or slices of chicken; slices of ham and that ancient travel standby: hard boiled eggs. I take lots of veggies or a kind of Greek salad: tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and celery. A little fruit and chocolate is a good simple dessert. Depending on time of day, and whether or not I’m driving after we land, I might have a glass of wine. For early flights I take my favorite teabags and just ask for hot water.

I went here for packaging:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Cookie

I went back through my travel journals to find out when I began “inventing” The Cookie. And it was on the trip to Yellowstone in 1998. While I was paying attention to my carb levels, to manage my blood glucose, I was not yet diagnosed as being gluten intolerant. An early version of the recipe that I found in my file used white and whole wheat flours, along with rolled oats. It was basically an oatmeal raisin bar, but I cut the amount of sugar and butter, used applesauce for the lost fat, and was pretty careful with the amount of raisins. I have never had a problem with nuts—and love them, and walnuts and almonds are good for diabetics who don’t have allergies—so there were plenty of walnuts. A big batch of these kept me satisfied for our week on the road. They were “Aunty Katy’s Special Cookies” so the children of the families we were traveling with had to eat their own mothers’ makings!

Over the next few years The Cookie evolved. As I learned more about the benefits of fiber in managing blood sugars, I added flax meal. Not flax seeds. Whole flax seeds are not digestible by humans—so all that noise about their health benefits is, well, just noise. And there is some argument about the omega-3 oil benefits obtained if the meal is cooked. Since I’m getting plenty of omega-3s in my diet, I don’t worry about that and just go for the powerful fiber boost flax meal gives my baked goods.

The mashd pumpkin, squash or sweet potato adds fiber and contributes softness. Agave nectar adds a bit of moisture and softness. I find honey is a bit too much glucose, but half molasses and half agave are great for a ginger cookie variation. Using peanut oil (or other vegetable oil) also contributed to softness, especially with the challenges of gluten free baking.

Variety is essential in my cooking life. I rarely create a recipe that does not grow a plethora of variations: change the fruit; change the nuts; change the sweet taste; change the spices. The Cookie has a basic formula; then the imagination takes over. So herewith, I present the basic recipe. Let me know when you come up with your favorite version/s!


Note: I only have sketchy nutritional information for these. I am learning to use the software that will give more detail and will post on that soon. In the meantime, know these are “safe” for celiac and have about 19 carbs per cookie with 4 grams of fiber.

½ c coconut flour
½ c sorghum flour
½ c flax meal
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt

¼ c dried fruit, cut into small pieces
OR ½ c fresh fruit, cut into small pieces (i.e. apples, or pears; blueberries can be left whole)
½ cup chopped nuts (optional

½ c mashed pumpkin, squash or sweet potato

¼ cup melted butter (or vegetable oil)
¼ cup agave nectar OR honey OR maple syrup
1 c buttermilk (or coconut or almond “milk”)

Mix fruit and nuts into dry ingrediants
Mix mashed fruit with fat, sweetening and milk option

A bit more sorghum flour, or a bit of water may be needed to get a good texture
for forming the dough into balls about 1 ½ * inch in diameter.** Place on parchment paper lined baking sheet; flatten slightly with wet fingers, then sprinkle with a little coarse sugar.

Bake at 350º about 10 minutes. Watch carefully as they go from “done”--dry looking and golden on the bottom--to “burned” very quickly.

Best if stored in the freezer.

*This makes the size cookie I eat for my morning carbs…for a “dessert cookie” you might want to make them ½ that size.

**May be better if chilled for 6 hours to overnight. They are a bit harder to form, but I have a small scoop that works well. I think the chilling may “blend” the flavors a bit better

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Vegetables for Breakfast

One of the first things to know about me and food and chronic conditions—after the type 2 diabetes and celiac—is that I am an omnivore who goes heavy on vegetables! I love vegetables. All kinds. And I eat them three times a day. I have to limit fruit intake—and I also love fruit—because of the higher glycemic index. So fruit is a treat; vegetables are essential!

Here is where I go if I need to know where a food falls in the glycemic index: This is an Australian website and has lots of good information that, from what I know after working with dieticians, seems pretty sound.

I start my day with vegetables: yes, I eat vegetables for breakfast. The rational is this: you eat mushrooms or spinach in omelets; or peppers and onions in a frittata; or, if you are of the British persuasion, grilled mushrooms and tomatoes along with your bacon and eggs. Generally, though, when vegetables are part of breakfast, they act more like a condiment, a garnish or a flavoring agent. I found that eating protein and carbohydrates did not work very well for me for breakfast. By mid-morning I was craving more carbs, and then grazing…and we all know where that leads. And it was in my travels that I made the discovery that a full serving of vegetables, along with about two ounces of protein (two eggs, ½ cup cottage cheese, or a small serving of meat or fish) gave me a fresh start to the day.

We were staying at a very high end hotel in London (on my husband’s blessed expense account!) and there was just about everything imaginable served on the breakfast buffet. The kitchen seemed bent on providing food for every culture that came through the door. And I discovered that other people of other cultures eat vegetables for breakfast: there were pickled vegetables for the Asians; fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and very sweet onions for the Nordic contingent. There were grilled eggplant and peppers and mushrooms—to put in omelets, but I just put them on my plate. Lean protein was supplied in the form of Scottish smoked salmon and lovely ham as well as eggs. (And all this was before I knew I was celiac, so I added a couple of thin slices of toast and—salute to the French—a pain chocolate.)

When I eat my “grain” carbs varies. If we are traveling and I know I’m going to be walking—sometimes as much as five miles before I’ll be eating again—I have a serving of gluten free crackers or “safe” oatmeal with my vegetables and protein. If we are staying in a place with a kitchen--as we do increasingly, now, when we travel--I make a point of preparing enough of the carbs we have with dinner: rice, buckwheat, quinoa, potatoes or corn and saving a serving to heat up for breakfast. Sometimes my vegetables are leftovers, too, or something fresh for the morning.
I really feel we cannot eat too many vegetables! (Well, if you eat a lot of carrots, your skin might turn a bit orange—but it has to be a lot of carrots!) A serving of most diabetes-friendly, non-starchy vegetables is a half cup. Here is the American Heart Association’s guide to serving sizes:

Find it hard to imagine eating vegetables for breakfast? Here are a weeks worth of my favorite combos: boiled eggs with broccoli or asparagus; or a kind of salsa: tomatoes, cucumbers and a little chopped sweet onion on scrambled eggs. Ham and carrots; lean roast beef with celery and radishes; turkey sausage (we’ll discuss fat in a later posting!) and sautéed or roasted peppers and onions. Try chicken and green beans with a little sesame oil, rice vinegar and tamari for an Asian flavor; slices of pork roast with carmelized cauliflower, ginger and green onions.

Some of these may seem like a lot of work for the morning, but remember that I often use leftovers from dinner to give my breakfast vegetables a head start.

Monday, April 12, 2010

As I begin, I think this blog wants to be part travel memoir and part advice column and part suggestion box and I definitely want to hear from the rest of you—those of you living—really living—with chronic medical conditions. I want to share ideas and experiences about traveling with love and two chronic food-related illnesses. I’m personally most interested in the food related challenges that come with travel. I will include menus and recipes from time to time. There may be some restaurant suggestions or travel tips and photos and maybe even some artwork when I can figure out that step.

In 1995 I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes—a disease that some now consider to be at epidemic proportions. And in 2008 I was found to have a mild form of celiac disease. I have probably been gluten intolerant for most of my life. When I think back on incidents of childhood upset, the symptoms seem very similar. And the back and other joint pain I’ve struggled with since a teenager, just went away when I stopped eating anything with gluten. That was evidence enough for me, and except for a couple of “challenges” (more on that in a later post!) I’ve been happily gluten free for almost two years.

My diabetes stays in pretty good control with diet, exercise, good stress management, regular sleep and some help from pharmaceuticals and supplements. I do not take insulin.
I do not use the word “disease” for what goes on in my body. If it happens to be true that we are what we think, than identifying myself as “a diabetic” or “a celiac” makes it that much harder to just do what I have to do to live a life full of joy and peace—and to travel whenever I can!

When I met my wonderful husband, just over 37 years ago, our first conversation was all about travel. I was, at that moment in time, set for a stint in the Navy. I was in debt ($3500 in student loans—laughable now!) and had no career prospects. So, with a promise—in writing!—of training in photo journalism, I made plans to sail off and see the world. I had already planned my first leave: I would go to Ireland, home of my ancestors and the Book of Kells.

As things turned out, I did not go into the Navy, and married Ed, instead. Ireland was on the itinerary for our tenth wedding anniversary and that story will show up later! Still, we began as we meant to go on. In those early years of only two-weeks of vacation and fairly small paychecks, our travel was pretty close to home—up and down the Pacific Coast. We had friends in Vancouver, Canada, and family in the Bay Area in California. We became enamored of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and saved all year to do a marathon play weekend: six plays in three days, staying in a bed and breakfast a mile or so walk to the theatres, and grabbing meals with the thousands of other tourists and locals in the many restaurants and cafes around town. Those became better and better as time went on, but also more and more expensive. To help out with our budget, we began looking for places to stay with kitchens. We had fun planning simple menus (it was almost always hot weather, so lots of sandwiches and salads) and ate very well indeed.

Travel cooking does not have to be time-consuming or complicated; neither do you have to resort to cans of soup or chili and “ordinary” sandwiches. I have made my own pizza dough; prepared a very elegant meal with two burners and a toaster oven; and enjoyed local fare long before the local fare movement caught hold. Come back for the details!