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!