On Gluten-Free Holidays

The holidays can be particularly challenging for people with special dietary needs. It can seem as if 'tis the season of social gatherings focused on food you can't eat!

How to find graceful ways with the many well-intentioned people who want to share the delicious spread? How to go to a party without feeling left-out, neurotic, or just plain hungry?

But it's made with organic whole wheat--you can eat that right? It's organic!

Gluten? Oh you're, like, vegan? This pie/brownie/crepe/cookie/cake is vegan!

There's only a little wheat in the crust.

That's a wheat allergy right--this is wheat free!

The best defense is a good offense. In the coming weeks I'll try to post some ideas for easy elegant yummies you can bring to festive gatherings so that there's always something you can eat.

My own plan for the next two social events in my life: I'll bring a quinoa, pecan, baby spinach, and pomegranate salad to the annual holiday party with my work team next Friday.

For Thanksgiving with my housemates, I'll make some kind of kale side dish and a baked apple dessert (stuff the baked apples with minced dates, nuts and I'm not sure what else) with coconut or vanilla ice cream. They're making GF mashed potatoes. I bought lots of mushrooms at the farmer's market so I think I'll make some kind of croquettes with mushroom sauce.

If you're not already hungry, it's always easier to say no to foods with questionable ingredients. Eat something before you arrive. When faced with a delectable dish of unknown provenance or cheese that's likely already contaminated by crumbs, I ask myself, would I rather eat this or ride my bike tomorrow? Would I prefer to be able to work tomorrow or to taste this food? The knowledge that I have a good bar of dark chocolate in my bag and a glorious cheese at home, helps me step away from unsafe temptations.

Guest entry from Arizona

After locating and cooking the most perfect aubergine, Jennifer Lowe writes from her academic exile in Tempe, AZ. Jen is a celiac sympathizer who made this gorgeous gluten-free stir-fry last night. I was taken with the beauty of J.'s wooden bowl and spoon. Note the gaze of black feline companion Pyewacket.

Farmer's market cipollini onions, white eggplant and turnip slices (sauteed until the sugar comes out/caramelizes), plus snow pea shoots from the Vietnamese market on, of course, red quinoa and brown short-grain rice.

No need for tamari or even sea salt or sesame seeds--so good just by itself that it was hard to leave leftovers for P.

Behold how Pye also is interested; but mostly in the wooden bowl/cedar spoon, which for some reason smells good to her.

Plus, for no reason, a funny thing that was on/in the trunk of our rental car this summer in Philly/NY.


Question of the Day: Quinoa!

A friend from long ago and far away writes to me on Facebook. She's not celiac but is raising a vegetarian family and is interested in recipes with quinoa.

I have to confess I am not too good with actual recipes. I have tendencies or patterns of combining foods, textures and flavors, so I'll share some of those.

I love quinoa. It tastes good, cooks fast, and seems to be more nutritionally dense than other grains.

I buy three different colors of quinoa -pale, red, and black- mostly for visual variety though I think they taste slightly different from each other.

I cook quinoa, sometimes using two or three different colors, in my rice cooker.

Sometimes I'll cook brown rice and quinoa or amaranth and quinoa together.

*Cook quinoa with brown sushi rice, make into patties with hijiki and minced ginger. In blender, puree almond butter and frozen mango chunks for a sauce to put on top, garnish with minced green onions.

*Toss cooked quinoa with chives, toasted pine nuts, and chevre. Maybe a tiny bit of truffle oil at the end.

*Sauté cooked quinoa with cashews, kale, and shiitake mushrooms.

*Bake cremini or white mushrooms: stuff with quinoa & oyster mushrooms and little spritz of wheat-free tamari. Make tahini lemon black pepper sauce to drizzle on top.

*Make quinoa salad with chopped pears, chives, balsamic vinegar, and chopped walnuts.

Smart Treats are yummy

I first discovered Smart Treats at Whole Foods four years ago when I was in graduate school in Western Massachusetts. I introduced them to a sweet-tooth Beloved then.

Day before yesterday a precious box arrived from Smart Treat. That Beloved sent our house a gift containing nearly every yummy in the treat range. The macaroons and peanut butter cups are especially delicious.

It has been week of sweets for me--starting up in Mendocino--see Red Bananas Foster below. I notice that having a large amount of novel sweet things to eat increases my overall consumption of food. When I have a stack of identical 85% cacao chocolate bars in the cupboard I nibble occasionally eating about three squares a day, treating chocolate as a medicinal pleasure. A plethora of new and exotic sweets is very seductive by comparison.

Yesterday's lunch

In the tiffin:

Raw lacinated (dinosaur) kale strips
Dark baby greens (Fifth Crow Farm, Soquel)
Red quinoa
Hemp seeds
One diced heirloom tomato (Serenity Farms, Carmel)
Pink salt from Utah
Raw Cultured Sea Kraut (Brand name is Cultured they're in Berkeley and Rainbow & Whole Foods sell it)
Two chopped dates
Raw tahini drizzled over top

Celiac Heaven found in Mendocino

The Stanford Inn by the Sea in Mendocino, Mendocino is a pricey treat but was fantastic value for money for me last week. I spent two nights in Room 205. The room was incredibly clean and featured a working fireplace which I used in the evenings. The deck had a lovely view of gardens trees and sea, and the hotel is home to many creatures including cats, horses and llamas. This was all very fine but the gluten free menu offerings in the stellar restaurant were truly fantastic. A sumptuous gluten-free breakfast comes with the room. After my first meal in the restaurant all the staff remembered that I was gluten-free and brought me gluten free extras and goodies. I could hear a cry go up in the kitchen, GLUTEN FREE! GLUTEN FREE!

The Inn has extensive gardens on the grounds and grows the vegetables and fruits prepared at the restaurant. It was glorious safe eating all trimmed with edible flowers.

What I ate:

Sunday Night

Heirloom Tomato Salad
Grilled watermelon atop spinach and basil chiffanade and heirloom tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette

Glazed Tofu and Croquettes
Tamari maple glazed tofu cutlets and baked hijiki seaweed - potato croquettes accompanied by steamed cauliflower and carrot-ginger coconut cream sauce

Live Peach Cobbler
Fresh summer cinnamon spiced peaches blended with dates an finished with a walnut-date crumble

Monday Morning

Stanford Ranchero
Two corn tortillas with black beans, your choice of tofu or braised tempeh, with or without vegan cheese, topped with our chipotle sauce and salsa cruda. Served with russet and sweet potato hash browns (I had this with eggs instead of tofu.)

Monday Dinner

Amuse Bouche was a chickpea paté with herbed flax crackers. Also an avocado lime purée.

Sushi Plate
Three pieces: Hand rolled nori with seasoned tofu, daikon radish, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, sushi rice and almond butter. Sesame roasted bell pepper nigiri. Grilled trumpet royale sushi. Served with wasabi, pickled ginger and Nama Shoyu dipping sauce. (Without my prompting, the server stated the kitchen would swap wheat-free tamari for Nama Shoyu.)

WIld Mushroom Crepe
Local chanterelles sautéed over a puttanesca sauce with deep green greens. (Minus the crepe.)

Red Bananas Foster
Strawberry, Cashew-Vanilla, Coconut-Chocolate ice cream atop red bananas caramelized with Flor de Cana Rum and brown sugar.

Above, Tuesday morning breakfast: The signature brunch entree created with grilled citrus polenta covered with fresh garden greens sauteed in Stanford braising and served with creamy cashew sauce. Note that southwest corner of polenta and a nasturtium petal were nibbled before the Joyful Celiac remembered to document breakfast.

I also photographed Monday night dinner, but I abstained from flashing other diners with my camera and the pictures are dark and fail to capture the food's presentation and appeal. Below, the dining room at dinner time.

I met five felines on the property. Only this one consented to be photographed. She was extremely affectionate and soft. And lucky. As a stray she was welcomed into a vegetarian hotel which was already home to a large posse of four-legged rescued beings of many species.

The dawn view from the porch of my room.

The Big River from the outrigger canoe I rented from Catch a Canoe & Bicycles, too! which is on the edge of the Stanford Inn property.

While I've sailed and rowed, I had never canoed before. The handbuilt solo outrigger was light, stable and responsive. Though I'd been warned it was unlikely, I did get to watch a family of river otters playing in the shallows near the mouth of the river. I didn't want to startle them so there are no pictures.