Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gluten-Free Pizza Crust...Gluten What??

Lately, in addition to living a sugar-free life, I have also tried to reduce the amount of wheat and gluten in my diet. What the heck is gluten? Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye.  (Sometimes oats are contaminated with gluten as well because they are processed in the same plants as wheat so people with gluten-free diets avoid them, even though oats in and of themselves are gluten-free.)  For some people, gluten can cause a sensitivity or allery that can express itself in many ways, including digestive issues (gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, acid reflux), headaches, inability to concentrate (brain fog), skin rashes, fatigue, and so on.  A full-out gluten allergy is called celiac disease and it is a very serious condition that requires medical attention and a diet completely restriced of gluten in any form.  Celiac disease is just like any other food allergy and can be life-threatening depending on the severity.  For those like me who don't have a serious condition like celiac disease, gluten intolerance can cause minor digestive discomfort and occasional skin rashes.  For that reason, I just simply prefer to avoid wheat as much as possible.

Sometimes people hear that they can't eat wheat-based products on a gluten-free diet and they think that they have NOTHING good left to eat.  No bread, no pasta, no Thanksgiving stuffing, no down-home comfort food.  What!  Give that up?  Are you crazy??!  Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth!  There are many, many other grains that you can eat, some of which may sound familiar and some of which may sound new to you but are "ancient grains" that have been eaten for centuries.  Best of all, most of them can be found in the natural foods section of your local neighborhood grocery store (or at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods), such as:  amaranth, arrowroot, beans, buckwheat (kasha), chickpeas (garbanzo beans), corn, millet, potato, quinoa, rice, soy, tapioca (cassava), and teff.  Notice that corn, rice, and potatoes are listed among these grains! I told you not to worry. There are comfort foods galore! 

Although they may sound unfamiliar to you, challenge yourself and give some of these ancient grains a try.  For example, pasta made from quinoa, rice, or corn can be delicious.  In fact, quinoa, brown rice, and fresh corn (especially in the summer) are staples of my diet.  When I am in the mood to bake, I have found some alternative sources of grains and seeds that are gluten-free, and tasty.  Some of my favorites are flaxseed meal, almond flour, and cornmeal.  Bob's Red Mill makes a number of gluten-free flours that you can find at your grocery store with other gluten-free foods.

Yesterday, I was craving pizza so I tried out a new gluten-free pizza crust recipe using Bob's Red Mill Flaxseed Meal.  (It also happens to be low carb, good for those following Atkins or the South Beach Diet.)  Having never baked with flaxseed meal before I wondered whether it would be flavorless or hard or otherwise inedible, but it was actually quite flavorful and delicious.  Even my husband thought so!


1 1/2 c flaxseed meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon sugar substitute (I used stevia - 1 Tbl)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 whole eggs
1/2 c water

Preheat oven to 425.  Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.  Add wet ingredients and mix until well-blended.  Let mixture sit for 5 minutes to thicken.  Put a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet and use a knife or rubber spatula to spread out crust in a rectangle to about 1/2 inch thickness.  Bake 13-15 minutes or until cooked through.  (I baked for only 13 minutes because I knew I was going to add ingredients later on in the day and bake it again.  If you want to make the pizza all at once, bake the crust as suggested above, take out of the oven, add your toppings, and put it right back in and bake until the cheese melts.)  Let cool.  Cut into 8 squares.

A few hours later, I added the toppings to one square of crust...Spread a little olive oil on the crust.  Add a tablespoon or two of pesto and 1/2 fresh roma tomato (heat fresh tomato for 30 seconds in the microwave first to soften and then drain liquid).  Sprinke mozzarella cheese on top.  Bake at 425 until cheese melts, browns a bit, and bubbles.  So, so good!

What I love about this recipe is that you can freeze the excess squares of crust. I put the extra pieces of crust in a freezer-safe container with layers of parchment paper between them and popped them in the freezer for later use.

With a small amount of effort, you can find that a whole new world of grains and flours are just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed, and they are all waiting for you in your local grocery store.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Like a Box of Chocolates

It’s a new year. Time to reflect on the old year and ring in the new. Time pack the holidays away and start planning for the year ahead. Time to set goals, get organized, clean out my closets, and get a clear head. Time to start anew. It’s time to assess the past, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and change direction if needed.

It’s funny because growing up I always thought that changing direction would somehow make me appear inconsistent, unpredictable, and unstable. I valued consistency and reliability. Consistency equaled credibility and that equaled your reputation, right? After all, how could you be perceived as reliable and consistent when you were always changing directions?

My friends in high school always joked that I was “fickle” when it came to boys, because I always found someone new to interest me. I wasn’t a “high school sweetheart” kind of gal, but I found that starting my sophomore year of college I became a serial monogamist and dated guys for a year at a time. I valued that stability and consistency when it came to men, and, fortunately, I still do.

When it comes to hair, however, that is surely not the case! I have changed my hair cut and color a zillion times over the years. From very short and platinum blonde right after law school to shoulder-length and darker brown when I got married. From bangs to no bangs. Highlights to lowlights. Blonde to reddish to dirty-dishwasher brown. I recently heard that the average woman changes her hairstyles over 100 times in her lifetime. I certainly can believe that, based on my personal experience alone! I am always changing it up. I have always blamed my need for hairdo “variety” on my Gemini nature. There are two sides to me, and I seem to vacillate between the two. For the most part, I have felt that frequent cut-and-colors keep my life – or at least my hair – interesting and current. Not to mention, unlike some women who have had the same hairstyle (or a variation thereof) for the past 10 years, I have never found a hairstyle that is timeless for me. I have wondered at times, though, if my constantly-changing look has ever impacted my credibility or reliability or consistency. Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get! One of my close friends recently told me that she admired the fact that I had the courage to change my hairstyle so often. Courage, I wish! It is purely a result of dissatisfaction with my current ‘do, and the need to find a new one. Pronto.

As you can see, over the years, I have struggled with a need to change and a need to be consistent. My personal need for variety balanced against being reliable, familiar, and comforting for others. The older I get, the more I realize that I need to embrace the desire to change myself, to grow and evolve, and to not be afraid of appearing inconsistent.

Oprah often quotes Maya Angelou’s insightful observation that “when you know better, you do better”. Not only are you free to change, but you SHOULD change because it means you have experienced something, learned from it, and you are applying your newly-found knowledge to what lies before you. As we women well know, much to our dismay, certain parts of our bodies change physically as we age – we get wrinkles, sun spots, and saggy butts, grey hair, glasses, and droopy boobs. So, if that is the case, why can’t the rest of us change, too, based on the knowledge we have gained?

I am one of those people who like to start off a new year with new goals, a clear head, and an organized basement. Somehow having an orderly home translates to an orderly mind. When the cobwebs in my closets are cleaned out, so are the cobwebs of my mind. It sounds funny, but it is true for me. I am not into “resolutions”, but I am into order. I find myself feeling that I need to regroup to become a bit more grounded and a bit more clear with my intentions. If there is any time to do it, this is the time of year to fully embrace change, and I am trying to do that as much as I can.