A wheat-free Christmas

IMG_20151210_084218466I have decided that I can’t eat Betsy’s delicious Christmas cookies anymore.

I’ve always passed on the Elna’s Tarts that so many family members love, because of their heavy doses of butter, sugar and flour. I’ve said “No thanks” to the pecan crescents and the cutout sugar cookies. I’ve restricted my Christmas consumption to the butter-free gingerbread men, but this year I’m giving them up, too.

My system just doesn’t process wheat flour very well.  I had a diagnosis of celiac disease when I was a boy, but I never paid it much attention as an adult. Eating a banana a day seemed to ward off stomach aches.

IMG_20151209_142721834But this year I decided to cut back on my wheat intake, and in this post I described how I found a recipe for buckwheat granola (which is very good). I also made “improvised bars,” in which I threw together some walnuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, oil, honey, applesauce and spelt flour and put it in the oven to see what would happen. It was OK, but crumbly. I added an egg and more spelt flour and the bars turned out better.

Today I went back to the Internet looking for wheat-free cookie recipes, but most of them call for esoteric stuff I don’t have, like almond flour or rice flour. Then I found these excellent concoctions, which are shown in the photo at the top of this post:


1 cup peanut butter

3/4 cup brown sugar (I used only 1/2 cup)

1/2 t baking soda

1/4 t salt

1 egg

1 t vanilla

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

What could be simpler? I just mashed the ingredients together, and spooned the dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. I baked them for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Betsy said they are sensational. They taste a little like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Betsy makes a wonderful Christmas bread every year, with nuts and apricots. I’m going to try to excuse myself from partaking of it this Christmas.

I’ve been making low-wheat sourdough bread for a few months, using millet, buckwheat, spelt and soy flour. I’ve restricted the wheat flour content to a quarter to a half of the total. But today I’m experimenting with making three loaves that are almost wheat-free (the only wheat flour is a half cup in the sourdough starter). I added some cornmeal to the mix and used lots of spelt flour.

The dough is rising as I’m writing this, so I can’t tell you how it turned out. But that’s part of the fun of veering off from what recipes call for; you never know what you’re going to get.

As for those Elna’s Tarts, I’m sure that none of them will be going to waste.

For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick overview of 150 past posts in 13 categories, including simple living, frugality, cooking, gardening, living without and climate change. You can also click on “Index” above and find all the posts in any category.







Instant recipes

I used to look in cookbooks for a recipe and then see if I had the necessary ingredients. Now I’ve reversed the process and see what ingredients I want to use and then look on the Internet for a recipe that includes them.

Computers have upended cooking as much as they have transformed reading. I still have my favorite recipes, such as tomato soup from “Laurel’s Kitchen,” but increasingly I’m using the Internet to find new ones based on what’s available. The cookbooks sit on the shelf.

Last week I decided to make some curried bean soup as a dinner main-dish. I had a quart of precooked black beans, two cups of bean stock (which would overpower my usual tomato or pea soups) and two quarts of stock created by draining the liquid from pumpkin puree. I also had some tomatoes and celery that had been picked weeks ago.

bean soupSo I went to Google and typed in “soup,” “bean,” “celery,” “tomatoes,” and “curry.” Bingo! There’s a recipe for Three-Bean Curried Tomato Soup.

I like to improvise while cooking, to riff on recipes, and this new technique for finding them still provides that opportunity. I didn’t have any cooked garbanzo beans (which I don’t much like anyway) but I had twice as many black beans as the recipe called for. No problem!

When I grabbed the curry powder jar, I found it was empty. So I went back to the computer and googled “curry powder ingredients” and found that there are lots of recipes for curry powder. Who knew? I chose one with cumin, coriander, turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and cayenne. It worked fine.

The soup recipe called forcardamom. Whoops, we’re out of it. We had all the other spices, even ground fennel, but no cardamom. Who cares? The soup turned out great anyway.

I also used the Internet to discover Vanilla Buckwheat Granola (using walnuts instead of almonds), which in my new low-gluten diet has replaced the oat granola recipe from the “La Leche League Cookbook.” I’ve also mined the Internet for recipes for Banana Applesauce Cake, Applesauce Muffins, Pumpkin Pudding and Celery Soup.

By the way, the word “recipe” derives from the Latin word for “take” and was originally used by physicians at the top of prescriptions starting in the 1580s. (This use survives in the pharmacists’ notation “Rx.”) “Recipe” was first used for instructions for preparing food in 1743. I learned that from the Internet, too.

For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick overview of more than 140 past posts in 13 categories, including frugality, simple living, cooking, gardening, living without and climate change. Or click on “Index” at top to read all the posts in a particular category.









Wheat’s the difference?

IMG_20150902_145143102Yesterday I made granola using buckwheat, quinoa and millet instead of oats and wheat germ. Today I’ll  make bread with wheat comprising less than half of the dry ingredients.

Even though I was diagnosed with celiac as an infant, and ate a banana every day to counteract the effect of wheat on my stomach, I thought the gluten-free movement was something of a fad. After all, I enjoyed good health, a doctor told me I don’t have celiac after all, and I didn’t have any severe symptoms from eating wheat.

Now I’ve decided to alter my diet to minimize the consumption of wheat and oats.

Earlier this year, I stopped eating pasta and pie. I cut the wheat content of the bread I make in half by substituting cooked buckwheat groats (kasha) and millet, plus soy and spelt flour.  I stopped buying supermarket bread (with wheat gluten a major ingredient on the label) and substituted sourdough bread from Whole Foods.

Two things convinced me to take the next step. First, I met dietitian (and celiac survivor) Melinda Dennis, and checked out her website, deletethewheat.com. Then, I picked up “Wheat Belly Cookbook” by Dr. William Davis, who maintains that the wheat we eat today has been engineered so much that it scarcely resembles the wheat we knew 50 years ago. He claims that wheat is now addictive and can cause joint pain, headaches, depression, insomnia and dementia and obesity.

Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but I thought it was prudent to try cutting back further on wheat and oats and see if I noticed a difference. I noticed some stomach discomfort after eating my homemade granola with lunch, and thought that was a good place to try something different.

IMG_20150902_143635925I found this recipe online for Vanilla Buckwheat Granola.

2 cups uncooked buckwheat groats (kasha)

1/4 cup uncooked millet

1/2 cup quinoa

1 cup crushed almonds (I substituted walnuts)

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

I combined all those ingredients and then put them in a pan and heated slightly:

1/4 cup applesauce

3 Tablespoons Olive oil

3 Tablespoons honey

2 teaspoons vanilla

IMG_20150902_153555554I combined the heated wet ingredients with the dry ones, spread the granola out on a big pan (photo above), and cooked it for 30 minutes at 355 degrees. Next time I’ll stir it after 15 minutes to keep the granola on the side of the pan from burning.

Betsy took a mouthful and said, “It tastes like bird food.” Well, she doesn’t seem to have a wheat sensitivity. I thought it wasn’t bad. I’m combining it with decreasing amounts of my last batch of oat/wheat germ granola to ease the transition.

Improvisation can work well for soup and salad, but rarely for baked goods. But I couldn’t find any recipe online for certain ingredients I wanted to use, so I made it up as I went along. Here’s what I came up with:


1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup crushed walnuts

1/2 cup raisins

2 Tablespoons canola oil

2 Tablespoons honey

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

2 Tablespoons applesauce

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup spelt flour

I laid the mixture out in an oiled square pan, using a rubber spatula dipped in water to compress it (photo at top). I cooked it for 30 minutes at 355 degrees in the same oven as the granola.

It wasn’t half bad. It was more crumbly than I would like, so next time I’ll add an egg, more water, and a little more spelt flour. I may try it as cookies instead of bars.

Wheat is grown on more land area than any other crop in the world. But more and more people believe that the increased yield from new strains isn’t worth the health compromises. I’m going to see what happens when I delete the wheat.

For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick overview of more than 130 past posts in 13 categories, including simple living, frugality, gardening, living without and climate change.




Real man eats quiche

IMG_20150824_170707476How did a simple egg-and-cheese pie become a symbol of insufficient manliness?

It started in 1982, a time when many men were becoming confused about their identities as women were shaking up gender stereotypes. A wag named Bruce Feirstein wrote a book called “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” that satirized traditional masculinity and sold 1.6 million copies. It inspired sequels like “Real Women Don’t Pump Gas,” “Real Dogs Don’t Eat Leftovers,” and “Real Kids Don’t Say Please.”

I was already making quiche by then. It seemed a simple way to make a tasty, non-meat main dish, much easier than the souffles I made in my twenties. The one challenging part of making a quiche is the crust, and last week I found a way to simplify that.

Making a crust with flour, butter and water is messy and hard to get right. So instead, I took two cups of cooked brown rice and mixed it with one egg and a quarter cup of grated cheddar cheese. I pressed this mixture into a large quiche pan and baked it for six minutes at 450 degrees. (If using a pie pan, reduce everything by about a third.)

The rest is a snap. I sauteed 2 cups of broccoli and four scallions, but you could use any vegetable. I put 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese over the cooled rice crust, then the broccoli and scallions. I mixed three eggs with a cup and a half of milk and poured it on. I baked it at 375 degrees for 50 minutes, until the middle was set. Quiches like to sit for a while before eating, and on hot days can be eaten cold.

But back to gender stereotypes. In 1982, Feirstein said, perhaps tongue in cheek, “We’ve become a nation of wimps. Pansies. Quiche eaters.” Real Men don’t eat tofu, pate or yogurt either, and don’t drink lite beer, he asserted. “Real Men do not relate to anything. They do not have meaningful dialogues,” he said.

I love cooking and gardening (and yogurt) but am inept with cars and computers. I like having “meaningful dialogues,” but I’m an un-handyman who married a woman who is good at fixing things around the house. I don’t feel less of a man when I have to ask my son an elementary question about computers; I just feel like a klutz.

Those stereotypes are persistent, though. Researchers at Northwestern University found in 2010 that in restaurants, men are more likely to order steak than quiche, while women are less inclined to conform to gender norms.

Still, a survey of 2,000 British women in 2013 found that they want their men to eat quiche and know how to make it — but also to know how to get rid of spiders.

For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick overview of more than 120 past posts in 13 categories, including simple living, frugality, gardening and climate change.











Acorn bread to the rescue

IMG_20150317_072659388_HDRMore than mighty oaks can grow from little acorns. Making delicious and nutritious food from acorns (such as this acorn bread; see recipe below) may help save the world!

Our ancestors gathered acorns from the oak forests in Europe, Asia, the Americas and North Africa.  In his foraging book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus,” Euell Gibbons  says that if we consider the whole sweep of human history, it’s likely that humans have “consumed many millions of tons more of acorns than we have of cereal grains,” Grains didn’t appear until the comparatively recent development of agriculture.

A few years ago, I set out to gather some acorns near my home and see if I could eat them.  I read that there are two kinds of oak trees. Red oaks have pointed tips on their leaves and bitter acorns, requiring lengthy leaching to make them palatable.  White oaks have leaves with rounded tips and much sweeter acorns.  I discovered that there are many enormous white oaks growing around town, and every couple years, the ground below them is covered with their acorns.

An established oak woodland can yield up to 6,000 pounds of acorns per acre.  Acorns are considered a perennial staple crop, a rich source of carbohydrates as well as protein, fat, trace minerals and vitamins (especially A and C). They are gluten free. If we are going to feed the explosively growing human population without polluting our atmosphere, depleting our soil and draining our aquifers, tree crops like acorns may hold the answer.

One fall I gathered a bagful of white oak acorns in a few minutes, leaving most of them behind for wildlife.  Acorns in hand, I needed to figure out how to turn them into a food we would eat.   First I put them  in a bucket of water. The acorns that floated I discarded outside for the squirrels and birds.

The next step in processing acorns is shelling them, which can be done one by one with a nutcracker or in larger batches with a hammer or stone pestle.  Even the nutmeats of these sweet white oak acorns need to be leached to remove bitter, water-soluble tannins.  I  poured boiling water over the nutmeats and discarded the water when it turned tea-colored.  It took a few changes of water before it came clear.  I ground the the nutmeats in a nut-grinder, ending up with small pieces suitable for baking in cookies.  I preserved them in the freezer until I was ready to use them.

IMG_20150317_072832079_HDRAnother year, I made acorn masa by placing the leached nutmeats in a blender, with water to cover, and pulverizing them.  Then I put the mash in a colander lined with a clean, wet, non-terry dish towel.  After the liquid had drained out, I gathered up the towel, squeezed a bit more liquid out, and spread the resulting mash on trays to dry completely in the dehydrator.  This acorn meal stored well on the pantry shelf.

I believe that there is hope for an abundant future through permaculture, sometimes called perennial regenerative agriculture. One type of permaculture, agroforestry, uses crop-bearing trees like oaks which stabilize soil, withstand drought and sequester carbon. But for this agricultural approach to win wide acceptance, we need to learn to love eating foods we never tried before.

So, picky eaters, here’s what I made with acorns:

IMG_20150317_072602691_HDRAcorn Yeast Bread

2 cups lukewarm water

1 Tablespoon yeast

1/4 cup cooking oil

1/4 cup honey

2 eggs

2 cups moist acorn masa or 1 1/2 cups dried acorn meal rehydrated with 1 1/2 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

at least 6 cups of  flour (I used half unbleached and half whole wheat)

Add the yeast to the water in a large bowl. Let stand until yeast softens.  Add the rest of the ingredients except the flour to the bowl and beat well. Mix in 4 to 5 cups flour and when it begins to cohere into a lump, turn it out onto a well floured surface.  Keep adding flour until the dough is kneadable (not too sticky). Knead for 10 minutes, adding just enough flour to keep it from sticking. Oil the bowl, cover with a dish towel and let it rise in a warm place (we place it on the mantle over the wood stove) until it doubles in size.  Punch down the dough, turn out on a lightly floured surface and divide in two.  Knead each lump lightly, then place in an oiled bread pan.  Let the loaves rise for another hour or so until they double in size, then place in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.  Knock the bread out of the pans and cool on a rack before slicing.