Confessions of a (chronically ill) graduate student

Today, I nearly cried.

Today someone offered to go grocery shopping for me.

She prodded me to give her a list of what I could and could not eat. She helped figure out what I needed. She didn’t care that in a few days I should be well enough to shop on my own – the important thing was making sure I had food I could eat now.

I am so blessed.

I am so ill, or am recovering from some test or procedure, etc., so much of the time that I would think no one would bother at all. I frequently feel that I’m a burden. Chronically ill = chronically needy. Why should anyone keep caring? But yet they do. And in such a way — the gentle ping of a text, “going to the store, need anything?” – the positive FB message “how about some…?” – the slightly more forceful call of “ok, so how about just what you need now? Have you eaten? What do you have planned for dinner?” —  that it makes me feel like I’m not some burden or good-deed prize for the day. She cares. So do many others in my life.

I am so blessed.

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Elimination Diet Pancakes and Sausage

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Every week when I was young, we would travel an hour down the coast to visit my grandparents. We’d burst into their quiet cul-de-sac and race through a front garden fragrant with roses, dahlias, poppies, and dozens of other flowers I couldn’t name. And then after hugs and kisses and the requisite sibling fight over the morning comics, we would demand “Grandma’s breakfast.”

I couldn’t eat all of it now. Looking back, it seems like there must have been enough food piled on that wooden table to feed Paul Bunyan. When she went all out – which was actually fairly often – there was scrambled eggs and pancakes and sausages and hash browns and bowls of fresh fruit and juice. There was every sort of topping you could put on pancakes, to my young imagination – fresh fruit, jam, sugar, “lalaberry” syrup even, from a type of blackberry. Then there was sometimes sauteed vegetables, toast, or bits of cheese, if you were still somehow hungry.

It wasn’t McDonald’s type of hash browns either, frozen into a cake and deep-fat fried. No. Anything that was frozen or canned had usually been painstakingly processed by my grandmother. The vegetables usually came from the garden. The oranges for juice had been picked by my grandfather that morning. Both my mom and my grandmother make their own bread, and slices were lopped off a loaf willy-nilly and smeared with homemade jam. I grew up eating (mostly!) healthy, and I never even knew it. All I knew was that it was delicious.

When I had to start the elimination diet, I realized I’d eaten turkey sausage growing up more often than I had eaten pork. I’d eaten it my grandmother’s kitchen table, cooked in one of those heavy pans that were aged well, fried in some sort of oil that was poured from hand-thrown pottery jars and usually had been redeemed from previous cooking. Ok, so I wouldn’t recreate all of the recipe. I would use canola and a graduate student’s warped Ikea frying pan instead.

Next problem was the pancakes. I’ve tried gluten-free pancakes a few times. The first batch tasted ok, if you like fried hummus with maple syrup for breakfast. I really didn’t, and besides it wasn’t processed-sugar free, so it wouldn’t work for an elimination diet. I wanted something that was fairly fast and easy too, which meant avoiding mixing special flours or waiting for the batter to set. I’ve modified a recipe from one on the Bob’s Red Mill site. It is for fluffy pancakes, but the amounts of baking powder and baking soda seemed a little excessive even for that. Fortunately, I was subbing out the eggs for a 1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce. I was a little generous with that part. It still isn’t a sweet recipe, and the dough was thick. I added more milk, and I dare say it can stand more. I also added a swirl of honey, which helped mute the sort of aluminum tang I always get from backing soda/powder heavy recipes and improve the sweetness. The batter can be spooned out, and then formed in the pan into the right “pancake” shape. I flattened them a little in the pan too. They were moist, soft, and still rather fluffy – I think you can easily reduce the baking powder and / or add in some more liquid sweetener without harm, although I’m not an experienced enough baker to tell. In the same vein of “I’m awful at this but I would put laundry money on it” I think that this batter will hold up well to adding things like blueberries, lemon zest, spices, vanilla extract, etc.

I ate 4 before realizing that I didn’t need to finish the entire batch by myself in 5 minutes. It only makes about 7 pancakes, although I can personally attest to the fact that they are quite  filling.

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This horrible picture is all I have because I was busy eating them. Yes. They are really that good.

Turkey Sausage

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound ground lean turkey
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
  • about 1/3 tsp garlic powder or to taste (I’m fond of garlic, so beware here).
  • canola or other neutral oil, for frying.

Instructions:

Take thawed (if using frozen) turkey meat and put into bowl. Add all ingredients. Using fork or hands, mix thoroughly. Form into even balls. (1/2 lb makes about 6 small patties.) Heat oil in frying pan. Smush balls with hand or, in a more safety-conscious method, simply flatten a bit with a spatula. Add patties to oil. Cook over medium heat until done.

(Side note: this will be a few minutes at most a side; I always thought that the almost charred exterior was “the good bit” growing up. Perhaps, like eating a lot of things that were good for me that I thought my older relatives loved (and so of course I imitated by loving too), but learned much later they hated, this was just good-natured manipulation by grandparents into eating what was in front of me regardless of whether it was nicely done or burnt to a cinder. It works.)

Pancakes

  • 1 1/3 cups, more or less, King Arthur Measure-for-Measure gluten-free flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp normal table salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • about 3/4 cup almond milk (or whatever dairy substitute you’re using)
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • swirl (about 1 tbsp or more!) honey or other sweetener
  • EarthBalance for cooking

Instructions:

Combine all dry ingredients (and if adding cinnamon or other dry add-ins, I’d throw these in now as well) in a bowl. Mix well. In separate dish (I used the measuring cup I put the milk in) beat together the applesauce, almond milk, EVOO, and honey or other sweetener. Slowly add the liquid to the dry ingredients, beating well. Dough will be thick.Spoon onto hot skillet and cook at medium or medium low heat. To make a slightly flatter pancake, gently flatten once before flipping (makes it easier to flip too, of course). Otherwise these will be nice tall foundations for mounds of “butter” and floods of syrup. Watch closely. These will be too thick to really “bubble” at the edges the way I think classic pancakes do, so it’s easy to overcook. Makes about 7 pancakes.

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Elimination Diet Raspberry-Maple Cream of Rice

DSC_0070.JPGI hadn’t eaten much Cream of Rice cereal since I was very young. More precisely, I don’t remember having any since the times when I would taste-test of my younger siblings cereal before/during feeding them, back when they were adorable little tykes with big eyes and fat fingers. Now they are fiercely strong, intelligent, and charming adults, so you see it was a time-warping moment to find the little red Cream of Rice box on the shelf of the local store.

My version is far different from the milky mush I remember. I made a serving with the package amounts, using boiling water and a little extra sea salt. I topped with frozen raspberries (fresh would be better, but the ones in the store looked horrendous). The cereal is more than hot enough to melt the raspberries, and I like a bit of a cool blast when I’m impatiently devouring my boiling hot breakfast and searing my taste buds into oblivion. A quick drizzle of maple syrup, and it’s done. 5 minutes to a nice hot breakfast. I’m a fan! Especially since Cream of Rice holds heat well, and I get to play with capturing steam on camera. 🙂

One warning: Raspberries are high histamine.

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Fair Warning – Confessions of a (chronically ill) graduate student

If I have to explain ONE MORE TIME to a graduate student why Wikipedia is not a reliable source, I’m going to change all of the information about the offered seminar topics this term.

Why yes, Joseph Haydn did invent the bubble bath! I wonder where you got that interesting tidbit of biography from…

🙂

Early Blooms

20170313_181119After a week of balmy weather, we were hit with a cold spell and late snows. I couldn’t take my nice camera out – at this point the “snow” was still that blend of frozen diamonds, glittery chips, and zinging pellets known as “wintry mix.” Too much wind and wet to risk the bigger gear.20170313_181137

I’m also re-adapting to using my bigger, heavier gear myself. Like the poor blooms, I’ve had an occasionally  irksome winter with unpredictable health gullies and mountains. One fallout from this health storm is my apparent inability to hold still while taking a picture and/or to focus the stupid thing. If I stand too long, my body’s automatic “we’re vertical now, folks!” system starts to fail. My heart rate soars and then tanks, my vision blurs, and I’m usually to into my work to notice the focus gradually slipping away from me. The muscle fatigue and pain is immediate and harder to ignore, but the result is the same. A jittery, messy, mucky picture. Anyone out there have any tips? I shoot with a Nikon D5000.

 

Loaded Friday Night Burger, Elimination Version

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Your standard loaded burger has all sorts of things not allowed on an elimination diet: beef, eggs, corn, gluten, soy, dairy… Fortunately, substitutions are available. And they’re delicious.

My burger was brought to you by Trader Joe’s, a mecca for cheap(er) healthy food options. I used turkey burgers instead of a beef patty, switched out the hamburger bun for the Food4Life Rice Bread (gluten-free alone usually still has eggs, dairy, and corn), and decided to skip the vegan cheese this time. Tomato is high-histamine, but I cracked – I adore tomato. However, instead of the sugar-loaded ketchup I have in my fridge, I used a mix of hummus and artichoke antipasto. Be careful buying hummus – some major brands like Sabra use soybean oil. Mine is pale red because I picked roasted red pepper; it worked well the other flavors and gave some needed moisture to the bread and turkey patty. Mustard is usually without allergens, and I could use the cheap stuff already in my fridge. Other than that, lettuce, onions and mushrooms cooked in EarthBalance Vegan butter, plenty of salt, pepper, and garlic, and hefty slices of pickle. I opted to have my burger open-face. It was all ready too large for my mouth!

Interestingly enough, Trader Joe’s potato chips are also completely elimination-diet friendly. Potatoes, sunflower oil, and salt. It might not work if grease is a trigger, because these chips are lovely crisp, greasy, salty flakes. I know this is starting to sound like an ad for Trader Joe’s, but it is rather marvelous to be able to walk in, pick up food, cook it, and stuff your face with junk food on a Friday night, just as if I wasn’t sick, wasn’t on a special diet, and wasn’t allergic to water.  🙂

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I topped off my extravagant splurge of junk food with a banana watermelon smoothie. No, not my normal choice, but while hunting in the icy (and painfully tall) shelves of my freezer for the turkey burgers, some frozen watermelon fell out, along with most of my ice cubes. I had one dying banana to deal with before the weekend’s taking-out-o-the-trash and shopping run. I put an entire banana, about 1 1/2 cups of frozen watermelon, 4 lonely melting ice cubes, and about 2/3 of a cup of almond milk in the blender. Cool deliciousness. DSC_0041

Since this is mostly assembly work, it’s doable even for a questionable “chef” like myself. Hamburgers and chips are one of those basic meals that never make it onto a meal plan or list of recipes, but this is proof-positive that you can have unhealthy, enjoyable, and still allowable food on the Elimination Diet. As for my progress as a cook… well…  the onions and mushrooms were only a little black on only one side. I am pleased to report this time, although it was still a tad overdone, I did not burn the turkey burger. As a matter of fact, it was all … delicious.

I feel positively spoiled. 🙂

 

Elimination Diet Blueberry Muffin Boulders

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Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups gluten-free flour (I used King Arthur 1-1).
  • about 1/4 cup gluten free rolled oats (optional, and probably best to skip, although I didn’t taste them at all)
  • 12 packets of stevia + 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon (or more!)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 1/2 cups “milk” (I used unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries (I used frozen, and I think fresh might work better, besides probably tasting better)

Instructions:

  • preheat oven to 375 (I’d really do 400 next time, particularly if you trust your oven. Which I do not.)
  • combine dry ingredients and mix well
  • make a well and add in liquid ingredients, stirring until incorporated
  • add blueberries
  • spoon generously into muffin tins well lined with paper (and consider spraying with oil as well, if you want to eat them the second day without paper – these stick more than the norm)
  • bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out acceptably clean. 😉

 

Periodically, you just get the overwhelming desire to be… normal. All right, I wrote it. The dreaded N word. The academic in me cheerfully (and unhelpfully) says “unpack that!” The practical and nearly tour-guide side reminds me that whatever normal is, I’m not likely to be it, now or in the future, so move on past this display, please. The financial side of me says “but you can’t afford to be normal!” My mouth, though, simply demands blueberry muffins.

Making blueberry muffins seemed like an easier thing to address than most of the rest of the above, even with IFM diet requirements, so I tackled that one first.

There are plenty of recipes out there for gluten free muffins. There are some for dairy-free. There’s a couple that are sugarless. In the end, the one I decided to try was a variant of a recipe I found here: http://thebigmansworld.com/2017/03/12/fat-free-flourless-blueberry-muffins-sugar-free-vegan-gluten-free/. But instead of using ground oats flour, I’d be using a 1-1 King Arthur flour, which had been great before for breading chicken and thickening sauces. I also had to change out the processed granulated sugar for another sweetener, and decided to use some stevia packets. I checked out conversion tables and tried to calculate and then ended up doing a mix of 12 packets of stevia and a 1/4 cup maple syrup. That last was because, as the stevia drifted up in clouds of fine dust, I discovered I actually don’t like the taste of stevia. Not in my mouth, not in my nose, not in muffins, nor on my clothes! I had a few oats in the bottom of the canister and thought that might be nice in the texture, since these things looked more like cupcakes than muffins to me. Not to mention, it might just get me enough counter space to finish the muffins, so in a handful of rolled gluten-free oats went. Finally, I thought that my oven was perhaps a little variable and I should try cooking at 375 instead of the recommended 400.

Dough prepared, added frozen blueberries, sampled again. Pretty tasty, although the stevia was an oddly bitter/sweet note. Ok. Time to spoon the mix into the muffin tins. I had way more dough than my 12 muffin tins could hold. Probably enough for 18, especially if I hadn’t sampled. I loaded the containers and told myself if my energy allowed, I’d make another batch as soon as these came out! Yes!

I put them in. I cooked for 20 and checked. The dough stuck so firmly to the bamboo skewer that it pulled the muffin, little paper cup and all, half out of the tin. I abandoned before the oven heat overcame me (hot ovens yes, but through those together with a slightly wonky body that can respond awkwardly to heat, plus bending over, and it suddenly became more chancy than I wanted). I tried again at 25… then at 30… then at 35, at which point (I think), I decided that enough was enough and they were done. Fortunately, they really were.

Unfortunately, the longer, slower cook time, different sugar, and oats meant that mine were in no way, under no light, fluffy yellow mounds dotted becomingly with berries. Was it the oats? The lack of sugar? A different flour? The frozen berries? You got me. The outside was fairly… firm. The inside, however, was great, especially slathered with melted “butter” – or  Earth Balance’s buttery-ish vegan spread. It’s not exactly a win. Still, to tell the truth, these things turned out better than the last batch of muffins I attempted. That’s not saying all that much, though, since the apple-pecan muffins with streusel topping had about the density of dwarf stars.

They don’t keep that well, which in my kitchen means that the muffins had, through some sort of instant petrification process scientists can only guess at, turned completely into small boulders by the afternoon of day 2. Or at least that was the fate of those I hadn’t pawned off on friends, in an attempt to get rid of them and gain some sort of insight into why mine weren’t perfectly uniform sunshine with freckles of blueberry. (This beguiling whisper of “try some” is in fact the battle cry of all amateur cooks, I’m now convinced). I didn’t have it in me to make the rest of the dough that night, or even the next morning. In the end I had a few spoonfuls (having helpfully left myself the spoon in the bowl) and ended up tossing the bit that was left over. I’m sorry, but I honestly can’t tell you that if you refrigerate this dough and make it in the morning (when the urge for hot fresh muffins is usually the strongest, seconded only by every other minute of the day), it will work. Or if it does in fact make 18 muffins, which would be my guess, provided you wouldn’t rather have it raw for breakfast.

And they did -temporarily at least! – satisfy my craving for blueberry muffins. 🙂

 

 

Elimination Diet Peach Maple Oatmeal

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup gluten-free oats (I used quick 1 minute Quaker Oats)
  • 1 3/4 cup boiling water
  • dash of salt
  • 1/2 cup frozen peaches
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • maple syrup to taste (I used Kirkland’s organic)

Instructions:

Put boiling water and salt in pan. Return to boil. Add peaches and oats. Boil for about 2 minutes, until peaches are slightly soft. Add cinnamon. When cool, swirl in maple syrup. It’s that simple. 🙂

 

By now, I think I have established that I am not a Good Cook. I’m not even a Passable Cook. I fall more into the Destroyer-of-Quick-Breads and Burner-of-Water category. For some reason – a masochist pleasure, a stubborn will, or just genuine hunger – I continue to try to innovate in my kitchen.

Now that I’m on an elimination diet (no, not a “diet” for weight loss, I’ve got plenty of that and to spare – this is one of those medically necessary “diets” instead), experimenting has gotten harder and, conversely, more important. I can’t rely on eggs on toast for breakfast anymore, because that has about 3 things I can’t eat – dairy, eggs, and wheat.

Not to worry! The Institute of Functional Medicine puts out a very handy recipe guide. Unfortunately, for me most of the recipes are simply too complicated for everyday use, or use foods I’m allergic to, or use ingredients I’m not likely to have in the neighborhood grocery store. I’m luck to get broccoli that doesn’t fall over sideways in a resigned slump when you pick it up from the shelf. The recipe book also only has food for a week. A very varied week, to be sure, but I’ve been on this diet for over a month and will be on it for about another two, give or take, while we continue to figure out my particular allergens.

I’m on that gift from the administrative deities, spring break. I have a chance to play in the kitchen just a little bit more. Beware, gentle readers, and only continue if you have a strong stomach.

 

Spring Break

Underclassmen: Finally! *Goes and parties for whole week, preferably on a beach.*

Upperclassmen: Finally! *Intends to write papers, instead parties for 90% of week and finishes papers in mad sprint on the weekend*

Graduate students: Finally. *Desperately writes papers for 75% of the week*

Graduate fellows: Final…zzzzz. *Goes home and sleeps for 80% of the week, and frantically grades and writes a dissertation chapter for the last 20%.*

Teachers: FINALLY! *Goes home and must take nap before changing out of teaching clothes and removing glitter from hair.*

Professors: FINALLY. *Is in sweats by 4:00 pm on Thursday, numbly sipping wine and staring at an upcoming publication, 4 classes’ of grading, 3 articles for review, 2 committees, and grant proposal with a sort of remote panic fizzing gently in the back of the throat.*