Category Archives: cooking

Meals ThisWeek: Low FODMAPs

I have a new doctor who recommended a pretty radical diet to fix me. It involves avoiding several categories of foods that can cause problems in some people. It’s a bit like glorified lactose intolerance (lactose is one of the groups). The other groups involve fructose, polymers of fructose, galactose, and polyols (sugar alcohols).

More information:

 Right now I’m on the elimination phase of the diet, which means basically eating nothing on the disallowed foods list. So far this week I’ve had:

  • Salmon with GF tamari and lemon, quinoa, and raw carrots
  • Beef with lemon and GF tamari, raw carrots, spinach, and rice with lime, green onions, and cilantro
  • GF corn pasta with tomato, basil, and Parmesan
  • Omelet made with lactose-free milk, spinach, red bell peppers, and cabot extra sharp cheddar — had this twice! 
  • Rice cake with almond butter
  • Half a banana
  • Handful of blueberries
  • Glutino pretzels
  • GF lemon squares — I made them before I went to the doctor, but they are actually low FODMAP so I ate them while I was trying to figure out what to do with myself on Tuesday
  • Homemade chicken broth (only chicken!) with rice noodles
  • Chick-fil-a fries (and now I feel horrible, so maybe that didn’t work)
  • Okay, I admit, I licked cherry, but that shouldn’t be enough to hurt me

So far one of the problems I have is remembering I can eat rice and potatoes, and another is to make sure I have enough carbs that I don’t get low blood sugar and end up with a horrible headache. I’m also worried about calcium. And a bit worried about the “challenge” phase, where you introduce the problem foods in order to try to provoke a bad reaction and find out your tolerance for the different groups. That sound decidedly unpleasant.

I mostly have felt better, though, and it’s nice to have an idea of how to attack the problem. I always suspected many of the foods on the bad list, but I never would have blamed mushrooms or apples. Also, since it’s about a tolerance threshold, I would always try a food and it would be fine, but I imagine once I added it and other foods, it would go over the threshold, make me sick, and I would be confused which food did it. There was never a pattern, because I didn’t know the categories to check.

Brushing my teeth with baking soda (to avoid polyols) is not thrilling me.

Wish me luck!

Back From Alabama!

We had a great visit with family there. I swear, it was like going to summer camp (Nature walks! Fishing! Archery! Caving!) but with air conditioning, fridges, and showers (yay!). It was neat that the kids and I had just read Little House In the Big Woods the week before we went. It gave them a different point of view, both for the trip and for the book!

The Girl got to show off her baking and decorating skills with grandma, making cake pops and cookies and things. Great grandma taught my husband how to gut a fish. The baby ate the fish and begged for more.

I have a bunch of pictures to post, over the next week or so. And I lost 7 pounds!

Thanks to my wonderous in-laws for the use of the “Tiny House” as the baby called it. It was a really wonderful, wonderful trip. And as my husband said, I don’t think we’ll ever get tired of telling The Story of the Time We Took Great Grandma Down Into The Cave And Back Up Again.

Today we tried to let the mantis out again. She started to look comfortable out in the sun and the breeze, but she took the first opportunity she had to jump on my husband’s back and beg for a ride back inside, so she may just be a domesticated mantis now. (Yes, she’s back in the kitchen.)

The overturned plastic cups made great mini-greenhouses for some of the plants in the garden. I managed to save a few of the sick looking romanesco, kale, and mizuna with them. Today I replaced a few dead collards, a dead kale, a missing fennel, and thinned out where I accidentally dropped half a package of bok choi.

Tangram French Toast

For math, one resource we use is the Living Math web site. Instead of using standard math textbooks, it introduces math concepts through living books — story books and history books and books that play with math. Even better, it is organized chronologically and has the ability to be synchronized with our history spine (well, spines — I’m coordinating Story of the World and History Odyssey together). Each living math lesson goes along with four chapters or so of history.

It has a lot of fun activities and great lists of picture books and activity books. We’ve practiced body counting, used an abacus, and made quipus and counting sticks.

Recently, part of the lesson involved reading the story Three Pigs, One Wolf, and Seven Magic Shapes which introduces tangrams. I used our paper cutter to make each kid their own set of magic shapes in their favorite color out of card stock so they could replicate the pictures in the book.

A house!

A day or two later, the kids wanted french toast for lunch, so I made tons of it. I always ask them how they want it cut. When I was little, I learned my letters by having my mom cut them into my toast. I’ve done the same with my kids (I cannot explain how very hard the letter S is) and they even ask for snails, dinosaurs, and other crazy shapes. That day, they asked for the magic shapes. After cutting three sets of shapes in card stock, I had enough practice to actually do a pretty good job in french toast, if I do say so myself!

I’ll Never Buy Jell-O Again

Well, maybe I will. Or maybe not. All I know if I had sick kids, and those kids have a favorite juice. Passionfruit juice. And that juice was on sale! Yes!
And I have a child who doesn’t like to eat much. When she’s sick, she eats even less. So I decided to try to protein up her juice.
I found some packets of plain gelatin in the pantry from when I tried a gf bread recipe that required it. Instead, I just used it to make homemade gelatin.
It was so easy. Sprinkle 4 packets (one box) of gelatin over 1 cup of juice while you bring another 3 cups of juice to a boil. Then mix and put in a 13 X 9 pan and cool in the fridge for 3 hours.
Then I cut it up with stars cookie cutters, because food is more fun when it’s a shape.

Canning Beets and Playing Science

All sorts of everyday things become science, if you play with it. And really, that’s how people (including kids) get comfortable with it. It just happens all the time when you feel like it. Most people can happily correct a grammar mistake or a misspelling. But do you play math? Or science? For fun?

The kids’ grandmother often comes over in the middle of the week to cook with us. Sometimes we make marmalade or jam and the extra hands make it easier. We made 25 pounds of chili this week so there’s plenty to freeze. The kids get to practice using knives and measuring things, and we get lots of tasty food.

Last week we pickled beets. You have to boil the beets for a while to
get them soft, and you end up with cups and cups of beet-stained water.

It reminded me of when we boiled red cabbage to get the juice, which is a great indicator for pH. (That is, the juice changes color depending on whether it is mixed with an acid or base.) So, I sent the kids off to play with some pipettes, test tubes, vinegar, and baking soda.

Here is a picture of me showing the kids how it’s done. (Back long, long ago, your mom was a scientist…)

They had fun making their little volcanoes explode, and we got talk talk about what acids and bases are. We discussed the chemical structure and tested all sorts of liquids around the house to determine if they are acids or bases.

Some examples are lemon juice, Formula 409, dish soap, and mustard. I also showed them that turmeric is a good indicator, it just takes about 15 minutes for the color change to show up.

Then, while we were waiting for the beets to process, we used the beet juice and our acids and bases to make pretty designs on paper and paper towels. Suddenly it’s art time!We also tried dying an egg, and talked about the history of dyes.

So, spontaneously, a project about food became science, art, and social studies. It already contained math, since you need to do a lot of measuring and timing of things. Then we went outside and played in the snow.

(Thank you, Anne Kearns, for the great photos! :D)

The next week we went to Mount Vernon (or Mount Vermin as the 5 year
old called it) and the 8 year old bought a souvenir quill and ink well.
We made ink out of coffee grounds, tea, and also tried the beet juice
left over from the week before. It made pretty good ink, though it ended
up fading from the gorgeous magenta to a boring brown color.

GF Peanut Butter Bars

Last year I was inspired by The Gluten Free Ratio Rally (#gfreerally on Twitter), which is a monthly blogging carnival in which people create gluten free recipes just based on the ideal flour:fat:liquid:egg ratio as stated in Ruhlman’s book Ratio. The idea that gluten free baking is something that is understandable instead of some arcane set of rules that make no sense is very exciting for me.
Anyway, I’m slowly trying to invent my own recipes or convert our old family recipes to something I can eat. I want to avoid or reduce rice flour and starches as well, plus use some nutritious grains such as teff. I really love sorghum, and tend to use it a lot.
I made this recipe quick and messy with a random mix of flour and it turned out pretty well, but I wanted to make it again and improve it based on what I’ve learned about gluten free baking. And I did. The first batch suffered some that gritty sort of crumbly texture gluten free baking often has. The second one has no such trouble! It has a nice soft, lovely crumb, thanks to a full tsp of xanthan gum, sweet rice flour, and double the eggs. I’ve done it! I’ve improved a recipe!

It’s absolutely science, but you get to eat it.

Gluten Free Peanut Butter Bars

This recipe makes 16 brownie-sized squares and comes together quickly with very few dishes, so it’s nice to whip up in a hurry.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup lt. brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter (chunky or smooth)
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
55 grams sweet rice flour
55 grams tapioca starch
100 grams sorghum flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
(optional) A handful or two of chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Melt butter (on stove or micromave) and remove from heat.
3. Add sugar and peanut butter and mix.
4. Blend in egg, milk, and vanilla.
5. Stir in dry ingredients until just mixed. *
6. (optional) Fold in chocolate chips.
7. Spread in a 9x9x2 square pan. (Sprinkle more chocolate chips on top if you want).
8. Bake for 25 mins or until you can insert a toothpick and remove it clean.
9. Let cool 5 mins, then cut and serve warm or let cool.

* For weighing flours, I usually tare the scale with a paper plate
on it and measure it all in one big pile. In this case 55 grams sweet
rice flour, then add tapioca starch until it reads 110 grams, and add
sorghum to 210 grams. The wheat flour equivalent is 1 1/2 cups. (The conversion is easy — each cup of wheat flour weighs approximately 140 grams, so replace with an equal weight of gf flours, making sure to use about 25% starch.) On top I add the xanthan gum, baking soda, and salt so I can pre-mix them together a little.

Things I like: Gluten Free, Rice Free Banana Bread

I had a few old bananas laying around the other day, and no one in the house will eat a banana once it’s gone grown. If it has some spots, my husband will eat it, but I prefer mine a little green on top. Once they go all brown, the taste is just weird. But old brown bananas are perfect in banana bread! So, I did a quick search at Gluten Free Girl and the Chef for a recipe for banana bread. I tend to love their recipes and I’m always looking for a recipe that uses teff, one of my new favorite grains.
The first time I made it with the kids, we used homemade fat free yogurt instead of full fat yogurt and we skipped the crystallized ginger, and it turned out great! What a wonderful way to use up bananas! I really enjoy recipes that use interesting flours like sorghum and nutrient-packed, flavorful grains like teff (it’s a complete protein!) instead of so much rice flour. Even the kids and my husband loved it and ate the whole thing within hours.
A few days later we had even more brown bananas so I decided to make two more loaves. I substituted the homemade yogurt again, and decided to try crystallized ginger (without chocolate) in one, and just chocolate chips in the other. I also used coconut oil instead of butter to make it lactose free and milk fat free. Once again, it was eaten up in record time, though The Boy did not like the non-chocolate chip version.
Oh, and the baby refused them all. I have no idea why.
Above, you’ll see the first loaf posing with my new hand-held mixer (thanks mom!). For recipes as quick and easy as this one, it seems pointless to drag out the big Kitchen Aid mixer. A lot of quick bread recipes such as this one, brownies, pancakes, and the peanut butter bars I’ll be posting soon, actually don’t even want to be mixed up all that much, making a hand mixer ideal.

Gluten Free Fractal Cookies

 It’s math. It’s baking. It’s gluten free, egg free, and soy free! It’s homeschooling, unschooling, and really quite tasty. It has chocolate and chemistry! It’s just the most perfect activity ever.

Inspired by Evil Mad Scientist,  who we met a few years ago at the SF Area Maker Faire (and enjoyed their bristle bots quite a lot too), we decided to tackle them. I’d put it off, since I wasn’t so confident in my gluten free baking. But the Gluten Free ratio rally fixed that!

First, we used the master recipe for 1-2-3 shortbread cookies (that’s 1 sugar : 2 fat : 3 flour) from Ratio, using GF ingredients:

1-2-3 Cookies

  • 100 g sugar (we used white, but you could mix with brown or honey for other flavors and textures)
  • 200 g butter (we used salted)
  • 300 g flour — I used 50g tapioca flour, 50 g corn starch, and 200 g rice flour
  • a tiny amount of xanthan gun (to avoid my donut disaster)
  • a dash of vanilla (double strength, from Penzeys)
  • HALF the dough also gets enough chocolate powder to make it nice and brown (also from Penzeys)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

We kept putting the dough in and out of the freezer to help it not get too squishy, but if it was in there too long it got brittle and hard to roll. So…. yeah, this was challenging!

Anyway, you break the vanilla dough into 8 equal parts and roll into snakes. Break the chocolate dough into similarly sized pieces and roll into similarly sized snakes. Then, make the snakes all square.

Then, build the first pattern, with the 8 vanilla pieces arrange around the chocolate in a square shape — imagine a phone dial pad, where 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9 are vanilla, and 5 is chocolate. Cut a few squares from this roll.

Next, cut the remaining log into 8 equal pieces, roll out, and make square snakes trying to keep the pattern the same! Sort of the way they make hard candy with shapes in it… Arrange those 8 around a new chocolate snake. Cut more cookies, this time with a big chocolate square, and many tiny squares with a chocolate dot in them.

Repeat until you can’t stand it. 🙂 Bake them all for 15-20 minutes. Enjoy while thinking about the recently departed Benoit Mandelbrot and consider growing some romanesco in his memory.

It’s just a great sensory activity that involves plenty of weighing and measuring, fine motor skills, and abstract math concepts that works for kids (and adults!) of just about any age.

Edited: Removed “dairy free” because, well, it has butter. You could use shortening or lard or any other solidish fat. Next time I’ll try cutting in a little cream cheese, I think.

Experiment: Can you make Gluten Free Donuts Without Xanthan Gum?

Objective: To attempt to make donuts without xanthan gum. It’s part of my attempt to understand gluten free baking chemistry, using Ratio and other handy cookbooks.

Hypothesis: It should work, since the hot oil should help gelatinize the starch and help hold it together.

Method: Use a gluten-free recipe without the xanthan gum. (Okay, I didn’t plan this very well and cobbled something together from two recipes….)

Results: As soon as the batter hit the oil, it split into many tiny droplets that looked a lot like rice crispies (or, more specifically, Spaetzle).

Conclusion: No. No, you cannot omit the xanthan gum. It needs it to hold the batter together long enough to cook.

I attempted adding xanthan gum to to batter at this point, and it did hold together while it cooked, but the failed batter had used up much of the oil and there wasn’t enough to cook the dough. (And the xanthan gum wasn’t mixed in all that well.)

My Whole World Is Changed


The day this book came, it promised to change my world. To expand my horizons. To let me finally understand baking and invent my own recipes, just as I’d always wanted. It’s like design patterns, but for baking!

There was just one problem — I had just gone gluten free.

So for two years, this book sat on my shelf, brutally mocking me. It was like seeing the holy grail, and watching it slip away from my grasp.


Going gluten free was hard for me in a lot of ways. A lot of my favorite foods contain gluten. I was getting really into baking my own breads for the kids. Baking was sort of an essential part of the whole Home Is Possible experience — eating authentic, homemade recipes instead of mass produced junk. It was especially rough when I was pregnant with gestational diabetes and I couldn’t fall back on lite bread sandwiches or cheese and crackers. Piles of rice and rice noodles were right out.

Over time, I learned which gluten-free mixes I liked better. More companies started making their own gluten free versions of things — Bisquick and even Betty Crocker. But I really did not like using them. I never used the gluten versions. I didn’t use them even when I was a kid. Every summer as a teenager, I worked my way through the pastry cookbooks. The week I discovered pate a choux was especially tasty. Baking is like all the chemistry and biology labs I did in school, only instead of threatening me with acid burns and cancer, I got to eat the result! Box mixes were better than no bread or cookies at all, but it was a big step backwards from where I wanted to be.

I was mostly happy with the Gluten Free Baking Classics book, making decent scones and pancakes. But it required a lot of starches and rice and seemed devoid of any nutritional value, or even much taste. I wished I could bake with more interesting grains, like amaranth or teff. I could search for recipes on the internet, but it was like finding a needle in a haystack to find recipes I was really interested in — I’m picky. I don’t like cranberries, or sunflower seeds, or various other things people are always putting in gluten free foods. Or recipes would be gluten free, dairy free, egg free, and soy free… which is great if that’s what you need, but I wanted something more like what I made as a kid.

So, two nights ago, I discovered something amazing: The Gluten Free Ratio Rally.

Apparently, Ratio works for gluten free flours too. In fact, it works perfectly — the gluten free flours have a different density than wheat. That’s why you can’t just interchange them. I read the recipes for hours, hardly daring to believe it could be true. I could understand the secret of gluten free baking! And not just that, but apparently xanthan gum isn’t even really required for most of it!

I could hardly wait to try it myself. But it was midnight. And I didn’t have enough flour. But mostly the flour thing, I think.

So I let the kids help me, choosing which recipe to use (sponge cake), and weighing the flours and cracking the eggs. They even chose to color the glaze we put on top (isn’t it wonderfully ridiculous!)

The baking was forever. I tried a bit before it even cooled. I glzed it before it was cooled. Heck, we ate it before it even cooled, because I had to know if it could possibly be true!

The Boy wanted seconds. That is all the data required to know it was a resounding success.

It’s moist on the inside with a delightful little crumb. The edges are a little chewy like a great pound cake gets (and like box mixes never do). It tastes… like cake. Like the birthday cake my mom always made when we were kids. I can imagine adding all sorts of things to this cake. Nutmeg or cinnamon. A citrus glaze. Chocolate. Layers. The possibilities are endless. Just like I always wanted.

Even better — I now have the tools to convert my favorite old recipes, such as the families treasured Christmas cookies. It’s traditional! 

Home Is Possible’s First Gluten Free Ratio Cake
1:1:1:1 ratio, just like pound cake

8 oz eggs (4, plus a yolk if they are small)
8 oz sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbs lime juice (the recipe called for lemon, but we didn’t have one)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder (the recipe said 2 tsp, but optional. We added 1 to make sure it rose enough)
3 oz sorghum flour
2.5 oz brown rice flour
1.5 oz tapioca starch
1 oz potato starch
8 oz melted, cooled butter

Preheat oven to 350F
Whisk eggs, sugar, salt, lime juice, and vanilla until eggs are 3 times original size (a few minutes).
Fold in dry ingredients, gently.
Fold in melted butter.
Pour into 9″ round cake pan and bake 30-45 minutes.

We iced it was confectioners sugar mixed with water until it was just the right consistency and added a little food coloring. (I was so excited, I forgot to add vanilla!)