A note to a gluten-free friend

Several dear friends, including my mum, have embarked on this quasi-Paleo low[er] carbohydrate way of eating over the past two months. We're each encountering various benefits--lost weight, reduced joint pain, diminished asthma, improved energy, all kinds of compliments from others. And we're all having some difficulties in negotiating cravings.

I have continued to abstain from all grains and to eat meat at least every few days, but I had a two glasses of fresh pressed vegetable juices last week and ate at Cafe Gratitude where I suspect a fair amount agave nectar is lurking in even the savory dishes.

Another thing I've noticed is resistance to thinking about what to eat so much of the time. I was habituated to the level of awareness required to remain successfully gluten-free, but now I'm half-assedly tracking carbohydrate intake. This week I became preoccupied with omega fatty acid ratios and suddenly nuts became potentially problematic.

This is getting crazy I decided.

And it is boring.

I decided to stop reading and just eat for a bit.

A Joyful Celiac I almost photographed yesterday's three egg omelet with shiitakes, chevré, shallots and tomato, with rainbow chard and garlic sauteed in bacon fat on the side for A Joyful Celiac but nutritious as it all was, I just wasn't excited enough about it.

Here are my notes to A.B. after we commiserated yesterday. 'I just want to eat popcorn!' I complained, 'And I'm never making another coconut flour pancake. They just wind up being egg-y and not like pancakes.'

A.B., 'I just want gluten-free toast. But that's grain.'


Home made coconut flour chicken nuggets.

I seem not drawn to bring birds home--too technical, too many bones and moving parts--but maybe on our dream date we could make this.


I'm going to trying to use more spices and added flavors. I bought pesto at Rainbow today (made with only olive oil--not padded with damaging cheap safflower or sunflower or corn oils sneaking in and more ever--I only just realized that most of my favorite restaurant food--Dosa, for example--is made probably with bad PUFA--sad.). I usually make my own Za'atar though it never tastes as good as store-bought for some reason. Today I found a mix that's from a Palestinian women's collective in Gaza--so that seemed like a good idea. I wonder if it would work as steak rub. Usually I just mix it in olive oil and spread it thickly on toast. But that was back in the years of gluten-free toast. Now maybe I put it on steak as sauce, or on seed crackers.


As long as I'm not so drawn to meat I'm going to try to eat smoked salmon, like lox, almost daily. This has been my (expensive) vision for being energetic through Rohatsu when I'll want a fierce protein source I can eat easily and without cooking. Also The Fatted Calf just opened a Hayes Valley store and they have home-made non-glutened beef jerky from grass-fed Marin Sun Ranch cow-people. (Sadly Prather Ranch puts wheaty soy sauce in theirs so I am so happy that the Fatted Calf is here now.)


Lots of vegetables--yummy ones. With mushrooms. Yum. Using egg in soup like hot and sour soup where it's kind of disguised and functions like noodles. Kelp, too.


Going to try to dial back my carb intake. I think that it has been creeping up and that might be contributing to my cravings. I went back to cow yogurt because Rainbow was out of goat's milk yogurt for a week. Work has been rough sometimes and I was tired and I was eating more then a medicinal level of chocolate too. I suspect that hormones are also playing a large role in this.


Going to finally buy Nourishing Traditions for inspiration, and reread key chapters in Good Calories Bad Calories to remind myself why I am doing this at all. When all else fails and the hand is reaching for the maple syrup, popcorn, toast, or the mind is imagining Gracias Madre's gorgeous starch-laden, blood-sugar escalating rice and beans with mushrooms and greens, I recite to myself, 'Glycation! Glycation! Glycation! Dementia, arthritis, depression, diabetes. Do you want to walk happily to your grave on your birth-knees or wind up with expensive after-market joints at the risk of infection? (And worse, Johnson&Johnson just recalled a bunch of artificial hips! And they'll only pay for the surgery to replace them--not the actual total cost in case of complications or addition hospitalization as a result!) Glycation! Inflammation. Nothing tastes as good as being ambulatory and cognitively intact when you're ninety. Here, go eat some butter.' Sometimes reading people's stories on the internet helps.


When/if the oven is fixed, it'll be easier for me. Roasted mushrooms with bacon, kale chips, roasted cauliflower, coconut flour biscuits.


Gary Taubes tells it to you

Don't feel like reading 500 meticulously argued and footnoted pages this week, but curious about some of the assertions in my previous post?

Here's Gary Taubes himself, in all his academic aquiline elegance, telling you the basics in an hour and a half.

Steakatarianism, Part I

All my thinking about food has changed since my last post in August.

Over the past six weeks I have cut out grains and sweeteners completely and now track my carbohydrate intake. I began eating meat after twenty-two years of vegetarianism punctuated with a few years of veganism and the very occasional medicinal fish.

How did everything become different? First I noticed I had been hungry for months, maybe longer. It became apparent I was eating more and more eggs and cheese and feeling distractedly hungry even as I was washing the dishes directly after a large meal. I was snacking so much I was typing clinical notes at work with one hand, the other hand ferrying nuts or crackers. I started having dreams of drinking blood and tracking and killing antelope and elk. During my waking hours I fantasized about eating steak though steak hadn't passed my lips in more than twenty years. I was concerned that my weight was creeping up for the first time.

I wasn't sure what to do about any of this and then I happened on an archive piece on the benefits of working standing up. I am one of the lucky and I am employed with a flagship state university. After developing intense hip pain that left me sitting for five months on an old copy of the Physicians' Desk Reference, I was fitted with a supportive Steelcase chair and a sexy adjustable height desk that allows me to stand or sit at the touch a button. I went looking for more information about the physiological impact of standing for hours and happened on Mark's Daily Apple. The tenor of the site was a bit self-promotional for this New Englander--you will never see a photograph of my abs on A Joyful Celiac--but after I got through the piece on working standing, I began reading about Mark's take on eating.

I found an entire world of people who have decided that gluten is poison and wheat is not fit for human consumption.

For a month now I have been sifting through Paleo, Primal, and low carb blogs learning about grass-finished beef, how to order bison flesh in the mail, and why the glycemic index is nonsense. I have learned a whole new vernacular in which formerly innocent unadulterated foodstuffs are outright dismissed as neolithic. Adherents scuffle over whether nightshades are paleo or if sweet potatoes are edible. There are innumerable forums where beginners petition for sources of grass-fed dairy products and coconut flour. And everywhere gluten is denigrated as neolithic poison, as bad as high-fructose corn syrup. The Paleos slander the Primals and everyone hates Atkins, Inc. not so much for the low carb message but for flogging processed low-carb non-food.

The famed Melissa McEwen illuminates the territories with an elegant Venn diagram.

Science journalist Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet & Health, has become my public health hero and geek celebrity crush. Here's the New York Times article that started him researching the pseudo-scence that resulted in the high-carb low-fat dietary recommendations that led to the astronomical increase in diseases of civilization and suffering of so many people I love. Overweight, diabetes, arthritis, dementia, and depression can all be traced back to the endocrine changes induced by the chronically elevated blood-sugars incited by carbohydrates.

Thus, my eating has changed drastically. (You just don't do anything half-way do you? observed an old friend when I explained I'd just eaten a lamb for dinner.) I got rid of all my grains and beans. I eat organic, free-range animals and Alaskan salmon almost daily. I bought a glucose meter and an iPod app, and I track my blood sugar levels. I aim to keep my blood glucose under 100 mg/dl to the damaging effects of glycation. I track carbohydrate intake more loosely with the intent to keep the daily carb intake under seventy grams. This allows for some fruit and dairy, but most of my food is dark leafy greens, nuts and the flesh of others.

After several weeks of this here's what I have noticed:

I am no longer cold all the time. I thought this was simply part of being me, apparently it was part of spiking my blood sugar and/or avoiding flesh foods.

Almost immediately I lost four pounds. It was water that flushed out when I reduced my carbohydrate intake. Without that fluid cluttering my tissues, I suddenly have all sorts of visible muscles.

I don't get shaking grumpy hungry the way I used to. I can go seven or more hours at work without eating or getting hungry. And then I don't become incapacitated, it just occurs to me to eat.

When I experimentally ate three slices of the vaunted Grindstone Bread--whole grain millet and quinoa with apparently low carbohydrate count--slathered in blood-glucose damping butter and cheddar--my blood sugar shot up sixty mg/dl to 153 and took more than four hours to drop below 100. This morning my fasting blood glucose was ten mg/dl above normal. This tells me that it's likely the ultra healthy no-processed sweets, whole GF grain diet with many leafies that I used to eat--that I suggested you could eat--probably had my sugar spiking over 150 several times a day and averaging over 120 most of my waking hours. (Gary Taubes and cardiologist Dr. William Davis explain why blood glucose readings over 120 are dangerous and lead to heart disease, weight gain and insulin resistance.)

I stopped adding salt to my food per Paleo instruction and soon after found myself dangerously near fainting whenever I stood up. Salt does bump up blood pressure slightly and it seems that when I salt my food I don't have to put my head between my knees when I get up.

I always floss now. It is intense and intimate to eat the body of another. Paleo, Primal, perhaps, low carb certainly, but the idea of sleeping with someone's flesh in my teeth is simply barbaric. (Also, good oral hygiene reduces chronic inflammation and chronic inflammation creates disease and death.)

I continue to offer my own experience with the hope that it may be helpful to others who navigating life with celiac disease. However, I am not sure what will happen to the Joyful Celiac, because now my writing seems less focused on supporting those newly living with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, and more oriented towards my own experience of adapting to an even more radical diet. I don't think I can write about joy and food without acknowledging the importance of lowering carbohydrate intake for lasting health.

Whatever happens, I will be posting the recipe for coconut flour pancakes with almond butter.


Return to Joy: Today's lunch

A dear friend and esteemed food blogger had me to tea and wonderful nibbles last week. We talked about abundant eating gluten-free in a pastry-shop world and she generously gave A Joyful Celiac mention.

A Joyful Celiac is an offering to people with celiac disease, gluten-intolerance, and those who simple want to reduce their gluten intake. I post sporadically and I respond to questions about living and eating joyfully celiac disease.

Above, a thrown together lunch of several colors. Vintage tomatoes sauteed with lacinated kale & sprinkled with chevré, Cultured's Lemon Garlic Dill Live Kraut and most of an avocado.


Simple yet sumptuous

Last night I made lentil soup. In order to include some fat, I sprinkled goat's cheese on it after I took the picture.

I know everyone knows how to make lentil soup. I'm just reminding you that it's so easy and delicious. If you live where I do, the evenings are getting foggy and windy. Perfect soup weather.

Here's my basic recipe.

1 cup lentils, washed and examined for stones
1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped
About a thumb's worth of minced garlic (If your thumb is bigger than mine then clearly you need more garlic.)
A carrot, sliced into rounds
One rib celery (But who has one rib of celery? I usually leave out the celery)
Can of crushed tomatoes, including the tomato water
A few handfuls of chopped kale or mixed braising greens
A bunch of herbs (This soup had dried rosemary, thyme, sage, and tarragon, tied up in a cheesecloth, later to be removed and composted.)
Splash of olive oil
Salt & pepper
5 cups of water
If you eat dairy, garnish with some kind of fabulous cheese--asiago, real parmesan, or chevré.

Take your heavy bottom soup pot and heat your olive oil up a bit over medium-low flame.

Throw in the chopped onion for about five minutes and stir it around occasionally.

Add your minced garlic and your carrot rounds and celery for about five minutes, stirring about sometimes.

Now put in the tomato, your cheesecloth herb ball and some salt. Let it all cook for about ten more minutes.

Toss in your lentils and five cups of water and bring to a gentle boil for a moment, then put the lid on.

Simmer for about forty minutes, or until your lentil are cooked but not falling apart.

Remove from heat, free the herb ball, salt and pepper to your preference and stir in your chopped kale or greens.

Put in a bowl and garnish if you wish.

Store the rest in glass and eat over brown rice in the future.

One pot makes approximately five servings.



Dear Ms. W,

I am wondering about powders that you mix into drinks to make them fortified (and hopefully, their drinker fortified as well). I look at the packets and containers in the health food store and am kind of appalled—lots of them have evaporated cane juice and also many other ingredients I cannot pronounce or identify. There are quite a few that claim to be gluten-free and these seem to have the most healthful i.e. least manufactured i.e. most food-like attributes. Are there any you can recommend? Preferably that do not turn one's smoothie bright green?

Love, your faithful reader, etc.

Dear Faithful,

It is appalling! I too am frustrated by the near-universal sweetening and chemicalizing of the American food supply.

Of course the makers of powders have a good reason to add 'evaporated cane juice' and 'organic fructose' (that's corporate organic code for sugar) to their elixirs--their powders usually taste awful without sugaring .

That said, I have limited experience with fortifying powders. I have used the powders that one can add to smoothies.

Is this what you mean, Faithful? Or are you thinking more along the lines of (fructose-sweetened) Emergen-C?

I have used two different supplement powders in the past six years and drank Emergen-C very occasionally.

Both of them resulted in a vibrant green smoothies, unless I used a cup or more of blueberries.

The powder I have used the most is Ultimate Meal. It's got a comprehensive ingredient list that prompted a beloved to remark that it's globalization in a can. There are no unpronounceable mystery ingredients.

To me, Ultimate Meal tastes green and chalky even when prepared exactly as directed. (And the Ultimate Meal people are very directive.) I prefer it with a cup of blueberries. The website is quite emphatic about the product and their beliefs regarding human nutrition, and while I find this off-putting, they seem to be offering a high quality product.

Personally, I shy away from powders these days. They were a helpful nutritional short-cuts during darker days when I wasn't eating solid food, let alone complete meals.

Nowadays, if I want a smoothie, a high-speed blender allows me to purée many nutritious ingredients together.

For example, I might put in a base of fruits, including frozen berries, and then add hemp seeds, raw cacoa nibs and bee pollen. I've put walnuts and kale in with blueberries. Enough berries will obscure the taste of crumbled seaweeds as well.

If you're seeking high quality nutrient fortified convenience, I would go with the Ultimate Meal. Know that like most organically grown value-added unsweetened foodstuffs, it has a hefty ultimate price tag.

The price of inadequate nutrition, fatigue, irritability and potential loss of bone-density is higher in my book, though. So if you're not finding that you're eating fruits and vegetables several times a day and/or not consuming the amount of calories you need to maintain a healthy weight, high-quality nutrition powder blended with fruits and/or vegetables could be a good option--and if you add enough blueberries your smoothie will be bright blue! Perhaps you'll find blue more palatable.

Also, speaking of imbibable nutrient dense foods, I've become a fan of goat's milk kefir in the last month. While it's more expensive than cultured cow's milk, it's much richer so I find I drink less of it per week and enjoy it more.

Note to celiacs: Emergen-C now states that none of their products contain gluten.


Thanks to Gluten-Free Kathy for a nice cup of herbal tea

Tonight I am reveling in cabin-sitting on Mount Tam's southern big toe.

I made dinner (a bowl of sautéed shiitakes, braised greens, red quinoa with chevré) using a borrowed never-been-glutened cast-iron omelet skillet and pristine bamboo cutting board.

In a bag of safe foods left by the friend who'd provided the equipment, I found Yogi Tea packets. As I have mentioned in a previous post herbal teas can contain all sorts of things--including barley malt.

So I went to the internets to see if I could drink Sweet Thai Delight. Yogi Tea has a lush website but I could not find any allergy or ingredient sourcing information.

Quickly I found that Gluten-Free Kathy had already written to Yogi Tea and blogged the company's response.

Thus I had a lovely evening cup of herbal tea while enjoying Gluten-Free Kathy's wonderful blog.