Category Archives: Health

Practical Gourmet, Company’s Coming: Gluten-Free Baking, by Ted Wolff

Practical Gourmet, Company's Coming: Gluten-Free Baking
The book that has inspired me: Gluten-Free Baking

I love this book. I was directed to a restricted diet by my doctor. The saddest day was the day I surrendered bread to health. I missed baked goods and much of what I could find in terms of gluten-free treats was limited. I was perusing cookbooks, looking for a gift for someone else, when I stumbled upon the Practical Gourmet Company’s Coming Gluten-Free Baking cookbook by Ted Wolff.

From the first recipe to the last, Mr. Wolff presents a delightful array of treats and fundamentals (if you, like me, consider toast to be a part of the perfect breakfast). My favourite, so far, has to be the English Muffins. I have yet to get a perfect batch but even my flawed efforts have been more than edible, they’ve been delicious.

Going Gluten-Free

There is an ongoing discussion about the relative benefits of adopting a gluten-free diet, particularly if you do not have any medical need for doing so. I came to gluten-free on the advice of my doctor. Even then, I procrastinated, at least at first.

For me, gluten-free is part of the FODMAP diet. FODMAP organizes foods by how they affect IBS and other digestive diseases. My food became restricted just over a year ago.

Gluten-Free French loaves
two gluten-free bread loaves

We started with buying commercial gluten-free baked goods. We found the results spotty, at best; we also found that gluten-free didn’t always work out in terms of taste and texture. Things seemed bleak.

I came upon mixes for some gluten-free baked goods. Again the quality was erratic. We found a couple of good mixes and stuck with those. I felt restricted, but I felt more comfortable. The food I was eating was a better quality. My guts settled down. I stopped losing weight. I’ve actually put nearly 5 kilos back on.

When I found the cookbook, Gluten-Free Baking, at my local bookstore, I stood there for nearly half an hour and I read it, rapt. I haven’t done a lot of baking over my life and I enjoy baking. The recipes were slightly daunting as the ingredient lists seemed longer and more complex than anything I’d done to date. I bought the book and it’s been the best purchase I’ve made in a long while.

Array of new ingredients for gluten-free baking
Suddenly, my pantry is filled!

Gluten-Free Baking – the Cookbook

The Gluten-Free Baking cookbook is part of the Practical Gourmet’s Company’s Coming series. The book has also benefited from the Canada Book Fund provided by the Government of Canada. The author, Ted Wolff, is an award-winning entrepreneur who loves to take gluten-free products to the public. This man loves gluten-free and he’s made it possible for me to love gluten-free, as well.

The book not only contains excellent recipes but it presents them in a brilliant format. Each recipe occupies a two-page spread. The ingredients and starting instructions generally occupy a single page, but there are recipes that require the second page. There are notes and asides on some pages, providing hints that can be applied to almost any recipe.

wire-o binding

The covers are resilient and include a deep flap (on the front cover) and a narrower flap (on the back cover). These work well for marking pages in the cookbook, even when it is closed.

The wire-o binding allows the book to be opened as a two-page spread or folded open to present the single page you need.

The pages are clean and simple in presentation. The paper is perfect for the kitchen with enough coating to protect them from mess but not so glossy you can’t read.

The book is well organized. The front matter includes a discussion of some of the ingredients, particularly those that people may have trouble finding or other reasons for needing a substitution. The description includes substitutions and the changes needed to make the recipe work.

I found this section useful as it gave me a grocery list and allowed me to compare the ingredients to my FODMAP restrictions. Because peas and honey are not part of the core FODMAP diet, I decided to try the recipes without them. Substitutions are offered for the pea fibres, protein, and starch.

The book starts with three basic recipes for flour. Each recipe is divided into two sections. The first section describes the base flour and starch mixture proportions. Rather than dictating a quantity for the result, the recipes are written as parts or proportions.

You can leave the mixture as the core ingredients and tailor it at baking time or you can tailor the mixture and label it for use in recipes for Breads, Muffins, Cookies, or Cakes.

The tailoring ingredients are listed below the basic list of flours and starches. These ingredients will vary depending on the type of baking you’re planning. These ingredients include baking powder, baking soda, whey powder, and xanthan gum.

Basic White is a good, generic white flour that you’ll find used in many of the recipes. The second Basic Recipe is for a Self-rising White blend. This blend is excellent used in quick recipes. The third Basic Recipe is Basic Brown; this is a whole grain flour with a richer texture and flavour profile.

After this, the book moves into the recipes organized by sections. The sections are marked, on the physical book, with coloured tabs. This makes it easy to navigate.

The index is short but complete and easy to use. The table of contents is even briefer and the index is the better way to find a particular recipe.

The only thing missing is a conversion chart. If you are, for example, replacing Pea starch with Potato, Tapioca, and Corn starches, you need to divide the Pea starch amount by 3. I found a conversion chart and taped it to the inside of the front cover. It reminds me, quickly, that 1/4 cup of Pea starch is replaced by 4 teaspoons each of Potato, Tapioca, and Corn starches.

I’ve experimented with several sections of the cookbook. Here are some section-by-section highlights.

From the Breads and Buns Section: French Bread

French bread loaf
French bread loaf

The French bread recipe produces a loaf that is tasty both as bread and as toast. It lasts much longer as a source for toast; the texture changes as the loaf dries out.

This is the first recipe in which I used the Dough Enhancer that the cookbook includes in the introductory material. I’ve added honey, as well, to improve the lifespan of the texture.

The recipes are easy to follow. I had no trouble producing fluffy French loaves from the first batch.

From the Loaves and Muffins Section: Lemon Cranberry Loaf

This is a wonderful recipe and has given me several delightful loaves. I’ve converted this recipe into an Orange Cranberry loaf and then into an Orange Pomegranate loaf! This loaf is a mouth-friendly fruit loaf. The texture is chewy without being gooey. The flavour is bright, particularly the orange-pomegranate version.

This loaf is relatively easy to make, it doesn’t rise and, as such, requires no proofing. I suggest that you use the dough improver and some honey in this recipe. The dough improver enhances the flavour, popping it out that extra bit and the honey helps preserve the moisture in the loaf.

Sadly no loaf has lasted long enough to be photographed.

From the Cakes and Brownie Section: Lemon Cake

A Marvellous Marble Cake
A Marvellous Marble Cake

You’ll have to trust me that the brownie and lemon cake recipes are easy and fun, as well as delicious to eat and share. Even my non-GF friends enjoy these treats. I made the lemon cake mix and the brownie mixture, then I blended them, in the pans, to make a 2-layer marble cake. Delicious!

I had to adjust the baking time, as the two recipes used different baking temperatures. Also, I added toffee chips to the brownie mix which changed many things about the cake! The bottom layer, where I put the brownie on the bottom, was crunchy from the melting toffee bits.

The toffee bits also made the cake denser than what the regular recipe produces.

From the Brunch and Biscuits Section: English Muffins

We love English muffins! For my birthday, this year, we started the day with salmon Eggs Benedict built on the English muffins from this recipe. This recipe produces English muffins that are toothy and delicious. They crack open nicely when pierced around the edge with a fork.

I did have some problems getting this recipe right because my tray is a six-bun tray and the recipe is for ten muffins. In my second round, I tried splitting the dough into two bakes. This technique needs some refinement.

Pain Management

I’ve been working on a project to do with pain management and mindfulness. It’s an arts & crafts sort of thing and it was presented as the final exercise in my pain management programme.

The pain management programme was a mindfulness, an awareness-based system of guided meditations and tools for self-examination. The idea was to look at your relationship with your pain and fine-tune the push-and-pull elements. What the ? That means that you look at a variety of places in our lives where pain, when you have chronic pain, comes to reside and get triggered. I should have just said this but I’m going to leave this as is to show you that it’s difficult to name stuff honestly, For example, eating; one week we had the exercise to eat consciously once and come back to class to share notes. It’s not compare notes, it’s to share notes. The class specifically requested we not “advise” each other but, rather, simply share our experiences.

That’s difficult to do, as well. Honesty is difficult for most of us. We’re not a particularly self-interrogatory species. We have gradually built up the ability to look at our own experiences without condemnation or other judgements. We have pictures in our heads, started before we had language, that describe our perceptions of the world and our place in it.

The project I’m working on is a maze. It came to me in the last days before the end of the course. I’d already dug out an old poem that echoed my relationship with my pain but this came to me with a doodle and an ‘x’. I turned it into a maze and now I’m turning the maze into a game. The pain maze has life hurdles in the dead ends; the game will have more decision points and I wish there was a way to make the board game such that you couldn’t tell you are heading for a dead-end. How many people play board games these days and how many of them would like one about making your way through life’s little dramas.

That’s what chronic pain can feel like: a drama that just keeps going without resolution or end. There are days I simply want it to stop, even if it means death; it’s exhausting. There are days I’m so frustrated that I can’t manage more than 4 hours of half-assed thinking and doing. The half-assed thinking is clearing up as my drug regimen becomes more tailored to my chemical soup factory (AKA my body). So, that straightens that out, clearly my body affects my mind and I might not be crazy to think that my mind is inside my body (but I still don’t believe that is 100% true).

Chronic pain keeps me in my body to a degree I’ve never experienced before. An unpleasant degree, as it would happen. I think ecstasy would become painful if maintained full on at all times. Our bodies are not built for ‘all out’ all the time. We’re over-burdened with fast, constant stressors, we city-dwelling, global-villager people. Becoming broken has given me an opportunity to step out of the rip tide and back onto the beach. Striving is becoming a thing of my past.

That puts me at odds with the dominate society where I live, but I’m happy in my eddy and growing more confident day by day.

Patience, The Virtue, And Me Without A Saint

Once upon a time.

Isn’t that how it all starts? Once upon a time, there was a woman who experienced a crisis. Yes. A crisis. Not of faith but of physique. Wait, don’t jump to conclusions because the story doesn’t start there, that’s somewhere near the middle. but it’s where we’re starting.

So, once upon a time there was a child who was born a ghost. The ghost child recognized its role as a sacrifice. The ghost child’s parents recognized their willingness to make the sacrifice in their hope for bounty in return for their gift. The parents could not decide how best to sacrifice their ghost child. One parent set to chewing on the ghost child’s body. One parent took the ghost child into the woods and left it there to be consumed by the beasts and insects until the last iota. Because the ghost child did not succumb to the efforts, the parents then treated the ghost child as a beloved living child. When their arms could not embrace the ghost child’s form, they turned their backs, they beat the ghost with holy water and holy men, and they wailed to their friends and neighbours that their child had forsaken them. The friends, the family, turned from the ghost child and left it to wander through the world untethered and unfettered.

The ghost child did not dissipate. After a long and lonely existence lived on the gruel of motherlessness, the ghost child put on the garb of a living person and took up a life.
Early and frequent success as a living person led the ghost child to believe that it was saved, reborn, or perhaps simply born.

Now…there was a woman, who had been a ghost child, who had been alive, and who had a crisis. Illness and its prescriptions wore away at her vitality but not her intensity. The urge that had wrapped a ghost in the living skin of a person had been fueled by an intensity, a stubbornness, a firmness and that strength stoked her collapse, just as it had driven her earlier transformation.