Tag Archives: gluten-free

A Recipe for a Simple Weeknight Meal (or, More Likely, Disaster)

There’s nothing like a simple weeknight meal. Now, I don’t mean peanut butter (or sunbutter) straight out of the jar with a handful of potato chips, or peanut butter spread onto gluten-free bread with potato chips on the side, or even leftovers.

tired girl on kitchen floor with coffee maker

This girl should’ve made coffee before starting on her simple meal.
Photo © Evil Erin | Flickr

I’m talking about those gorgeous complete meals that come together in such a snap you feel like you must have cheated to get there. Everyone’s happy, no one’s hungry, and you have time left in the evening to, say, write a blog post.

I’m not the only one who loves these meals. Cookbooks are devoted to them; moms and dads sing their praises; and especially after Thanksgiving, I bet many of you in the US plan to fall back on them for a while.

But, although I believe these perfect meals exist, the formula eludes me. My “quick” meal ideas usually turn into inefficient, lengthy, messy, multiple-pot culinary odysseys. They taste good, but they take forever.

Since I got positive feedback the last time I shared a recipe, I thought I’d share this one with you, too. Your suggestions and criticisms are, as always, welcome. Maybe, with your help, I’ll manage to complete a meal in 30 minutes…someday.


A Simple Weeknight Meal

Yields: 1 dinner, with leftovers (if you weren’t so hungry by the time you finished that you ate it all), and 1 big mess

Prep time: 30 minutes to 4 hours, not counting time spent gathering inspiration on Pinterest (this section of recipes is always BS anyway)

Cook time: varies by recipe and other variables (including but not limited to evenness of pan heating, stove and oven hot spots, vegetable sizes, and altitude of your house), whose effects recipes rarely address and always underestimate

Ingredients

1 to 3 exhausted but ambitious cooks (see Notes)
1 recipe you’ve never tried before and plan to heavily adapt
1 to 2 additional recipes from which you’d like to draw inspiration (optional but highly recommended)
1 or more dietary restriction (again, optional but recommended—see Notes)
Optional garnishes: poor knife skills, inadequately stocked kitchen, multiple other things you intended to achieve that evening, and a low stress threshold

If this is you at the thought of cooking something, you're probably ready. Photo © Brittney Bush Bollay | Flickr

If this is you at the thought of cooking something, you’re probably ready.
Photo © Brittney Bush Bollay | Flickr

Directions

  1. Prep half of the ingredients and leave the rest to peel, chop, slice, etc., later, when you’ll be too distracted trying to stop the onions on the stove from burning to do either bit properly.
  2. Forget to preheat the oven, bring water to boil, or press the tofu until much, much later.
  3. Realize that you’re missing one or more ingredients. Don’t panic; instead, begin a lengthy debate over what in your cupboards might work as a substitute, with recourse to Google as necessary. If consensus cannot be reached, draw straws to decide who will “run out” to the store for the ingredient. Or give up and eat popcorn, since it’s not like you’ve done much yet anyway.
  4. Assuming you’re forging on with the meal, take a few minutes to select some appropriate musical accompaniment.
  5. Next you’ll want to at least scrape the crud off of the cast-iron skillet that has been sitting on the stove since your last simple weeknight meal, unless the flavor profile was similar, in which case forget it.
  6. Start those onions sizzling while you check your bookmarks and open tabs for a side dish idea. Should one appear, start prepping ingredients for that, ideally before finishing what remains for the original recipe.
  7. Text the person who has gone off to the store to request a few more missing ingredients for the new recipe.
  8. Start adding water to the onions because they are seriously going to catch on fire and you can’t believe you haven’t finished mincing the garlic yet.
  9. Accept an incoming phone call and let the onions “brown” a little longer while you chat and attempt to cut up vegetables with the phone wedged against your shoulder.
  10. Jump guiltily when you hear your fellow cook at the door and tell the person on the other end that you’re right in the middle of cooking and really can’t talk. Pretend you only just picked up.
  11. If you are trying to prepare a gluten-free (or allergy-free, or vegan, or what-have-you) meal, inspect the package labels of the new ingredients and ask the buyer if he/she is sure this brand is safe. Regardless of the response, check the manufacturer’s website yourself (with sneakiness to taste).
  12. Fend off any lingering impulse to just eat popcorn. Although you may not have accomplished much, per se, you’re in too far to turn back now.
  13. Set your jaw in a grim line and turn your attention to prepping and cooking in earnest. Bicker as desired.
  14. Begin checking the clock and moaning about how late it has gotten and how this ALWAYS HAPPENS. Repeat until every shred of patience and good will has been used up.
  15. Let the assembled dish bake/reduce/thicken just as long as you can—invariably less than the specified time because you’ll be too starving to care about taste or texture. Throw some plates on the table and serve immediately. (Optional: waste several seconds deciding between plates and bowls.)
  16. Enjoy while you can! Soon enough, you’ll be doing it again. But better. (Optimism will keep in an airtight container indefinitely and is even better the next day.)

Notes

Adages bedarned, this method works best with more than one cook in the kitchen; two cooks can inspire each other to greater and more absurd heights of complexity, and having a partner will lend to each the sense of security that the total prep time will be halved. Three is most likely the upper limit, beyond which point differing tastes and colliding elbows create the danger that no meal will result at all. In a pinch, a single cook will do, particularly if said cook is a fan of Top Chef and/or plans to post about the meal on a blog.

A food processor is not recommended. Let’s not baby ourselves.

Speaking of which…I myself do not have children, and therefore cannot vouch for them as an ingredient in this recipe. However, if you do add them to the mix, I suggest including such optional steps as teaching younguns to chop carrots (after starting the onions, mind) and taking breaks to nag older ones to do their homework and/or set the table.

If you eat meat, you may find it more difficult to stretch out the preparation process quite as interminably as I do. If you find yourself taking less than an hour to put together your meals, I strongly recommend vegetarianism.

Does this sound more or less like your own recipe for a simple weeknight meal, or have you mastered the formula? Share your tips and suggestions for actual simple meals in the comments.

I shared this on Vegetarian Mamma‘s Gluten-Free Fridays.

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The ABCeliac of It: Why Children’s Books Matter, and Are Secretly All About Celiac Disease

Since the moment I heard it existed, I’ve meant to visit the New York Public Library’s exhibit “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.” Finally, on Sunday, Sprue Jr. and I found ourselves nearby while seeing our friend Jimena off on the bus back to DC, so in we went.

photo (31)On our way, we stopped in to the Winter Village at Bryant Park to look at knickknacks and watch the first of the season’s skaters wobble ’round the rink. We couldn’t resist stopping at a stand prominently displaying the phrases “gluten free” and “we bake it fresh daily”—music to our freezing-over celiac ears—and selling pão de queijo, a Brazilian cheese and yucca bread. (Another one of those “even better than the rolls you went in search of” naturally gluten-free foods.)

We tasted eight different delicious buns (they’re small!), among which my favorites were the pesto & goat cheese, chocolate chip, and pizza. If you’re nearby, I recommend you check it out, although I goofed on asking my normal questions about cross-contamination (taking it on faith, since the pão was the only thing being sold), so I suggest you do better due diligence than I did. For what it’s worth, I felt fine.

Now, to the exhibit. The library is beautiful; if you’ll be in New York around the holidays, you could get a wonderful afternoon out of the Winter Village plus the library, which is free to the public and as good as any museum (less crowded, too). We passed through another exhibit on games and plan to return soon for one on AIDS activism. There are murals and old books everywhere, and I didn’t spot a single typo in the descriptive placards (unlike at some otherwise awesome museums…cough MSI Chicago cough).

Because it was Sunday, the library closed at 5, when we were only halfway through the exhibit because we’d both been distracted by sitting down with some of our favorite books. I was struck, as usual, by all the hidden gluten-free plot lines waiting to be unearthed.

Take Madeline, for example.

Cheerful little Madeline is the smallest, bravest, and all-around coolest kid among all the girls who reside in that old house in Paris that was covered with vines. But one night, after a long day of adventures trotting about the city in two straight lines…

madelineLook at that cause and effect! First Madeline eats bread, then she wakes up, crying, in terrible pain. Of course, the devoted Miss Clavel rushes her to the hospital, where a well-meaning doctor promptly removes little Madeline’s little appendix. Afterwards, Madeline seems good as new, but I can’t help but wonder if they got it right. (You know doctors.)

photo (33)

Celiac disease is, after all, often mistaken for appendicitis (with this study showing that appendix-removal surgeries are superhigh in undiagnosed celiac patients compared to healthy controls—the very low “P” value, my scientist sister explained, indicates the result is significant). Madeline’s small stature is also suspect. And I looked closely at her hospital food and didn’t notice a bit of bread on her tray. Maybe that’s why she perked up.

Of course, whether Madeline felt better because she lost her appendix or because she went gluten-free, the story would end the same: all the other girls want to be her. That little trendsetter.

Then there’s In the Night Kitchen.

This book, by Maurice Sendak, explores the adventure of one little boy through a wild dreamscape in which gigantic chefs try to use him as milk in their “morning cake.” The illustrations are surreal and somewhat disturbing, verging on nightmarish—made even more so by my new perspective on the idea of being plopped into a huge bowl of batter. That’s one glutening I’m not sure I’d want to wake up from.

Click for a closer look at poor little Mickey sinking into the cake, but kindly ignore my “I’m still freezing even though I’m indoors” attire. New York got cold.

Click for a closer look at poor little Mickey sinking into the cake, but kindly ignore my “I’m still freezing even though I’m indoors” attire. New York got cold.

Bakers, please note: I’m not the milk, and the milk’s not me—I’m Molly. So take your enormous bags of flour and stay out of my dreams.

I also sat in a Phantom Tollbooth–style car, watched Alice grow till her head hit the ceiling, and paged through CorduroyThe Stinky Cheese Man, and other tales that still matter to me as much as they ever have. I won’t turn all of them into celiac stories, but I’ll leave you with one more:

That’s Harold and the Purple Crayon, of course.

photo (34)

With his crayon, Harold shows us what we should be doing every single day: creating around ourselves the world we’d like to see.

Do you, for example, want to see a more gluten-free world? What about a peaceful world, a happy world, a just world? Regardless, take a page out of Harold’s book, and get out there and make it. If just one children’s book inspires just one child or adult to change just one part of their world, I’d say that children’s books matter indeed.

What’s your favorite children’s book? Did you have any fun gluten-free adventures this past weekend? And when’s the last time you pulled out a crayon and started drawing?

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Have yourself a non-awkward little gluten-free Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas

Holidays are beautiful. They’re a chance for people to come together, set aside their everyday concerns, celebrate the passage of time, stuff themselves silly, and play a lot of board games (at least, that’s what I like to do at the holidays). They’re full of traditions, generosity, outpourings of love, and other great stuff.

But they can also be awkward. Even if you love and get along with the folks with whom you celebrate—as I do—there’s plenty of room for a little holiday tension. Stuff like:

  • Your date to the office party ditches you to hang out with your coworkers.
  • The dinner conversation turns to your future offspring’s religion.
  • The traditional pudding the vegetarians just ate turns out to contain suet.
  • Your entire extended family finds out you’ll be prepping for a colonoscopy the following week.

No, I’m not speaking from personal experience.

Pretty cool! Till you learn what's in it. Photo © Steve Johnson | Flickr

Pretty cool! Till you learn what’s in it.
Photo © Steve Johnson | Flickr

Food restrictions make holidays more awkward. It’s hard to confidently strike the balance between ensuring enough of your needs are met that you don’t pass out in the buffet line (and maybe even have fun), and not making those needs the focal point of everyone’s attention for the whole party. The perfect balancing point differs depending on who you are, who you’re spending your holiday with, and how you celebrate it. I can’t tell you where yours is, and, more’s the pity, you can’t tell me where mine is. We all just have to struggle our way through it, fingers crossed and awkwardness accepted.

But to tell the truth, I don’t feel too nervous about my first-ever gluten-free Thanksgiving and Christmas (and first-and-only-ever Thanksgivukkah*—GF or not, I don’t think any of us will live to see the next one).

That’s because, for one thing, it’s not my first family get-together since celiac disease (this was), or my first holiday season with “dietary issues.” For a couple, I’ve been vegetarian; for one miserable Thanksgiving, I considered myself “severely fructose intolerant” (to the point of eating almost nothing but meat, potatoes, rice, and spinach); and last December, well before my celiac tests, I found myself asking, “Can we sub in buckwheat groats for a low-FODMAP option?”

It’s also because I have an understanding family, and because I’ve started discussing the holidays with them already. Now, I know I said that I can’t show you your perfect balance point, but if I could offer you one piece of advice, it’s this: start looking for it early.

NFCA gluten-free holiday tip of the day

The NFCA is posting a daily tip, like this one from ME, throughout the holiday season. They can all be found here.
Image © National Foundation for Celiac Awareness

This is advice I need to learn to take, myself. I’m prone to putting off conversations that I anticipate will be awkward. It’s a bad habit, because inevitably, the putting-off makes the conversation more awkward when it finally happens. If you’ve ever waited until the last possible second to break up with someone, or fess up to a mistake you made, or ask for a day off, I’m sure you know what I mean.

Even if you’ve done this a million times and are totally comfortable both with your food restrictions and with the folks who will be carving your turkey, it’s still worth checking in with them now. Think about it: If you wait to discuss bringing a special dish until your host has already drawn up the oven schedule for the side dishes, they’re not going to feel very grateful. And Christmas Eve is not the time to heave a sigh and wish that someone had adapted that family sugar cookie recipe. Even if you’re not a planner, now is definitely the time.

Have the awkward conversations now, so you can enjoy yourself later. And if things still get awkward, remember that, after all, holidays aren’t really about the food. They’re about the board games.

Christmas Scrabble game

Bingo.
Photo © Mart | Flickr

Have you started preparing for the holidays? Are you hosting or guesting? And if you’ve been through this wonderful, awkward season of joy with food restrictions before, will you be doing anything differently this year?

*My family is as gentile as they come, but we’ve always celebrated Hanukkah. Why not? Mom likes lighting candles, Dad likes making latkes, and we all like playing dreidel. When it comes to holidays, I say gimel.

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Discovering “new worlds” of gluten-free

Embarrassing story time. You know the rhyme, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”? Well, I used to think it went, “In 141892…” Yup. That halcyon year 141892.

I have no idea what first put this wildly inaccurate detail into my head, but I suppose I felt the line scanned better that way. Even though I learned and relearned about Columbus every year through at least seventh grade, I managed to persist in the error until I was…well…too old. I just never gave it much thought.

Christopher Columbus statue

Boldly going where tons of people have gone before

Though it was dumb of me, it’s sort of appropriate, given that blithely perpetuated errors are the stuff of the education American kids receive about Christopher Columbus.

We learn he discovered America, but people already lived there and other sailors before him had stumbled on its shores. Plus, Columbus himself never admitted to discovering a “new” continent. He just called it India. Many of us also learned that Columbus was the first to suggest the world was round, when in fact educated folks of his time already knew it was. And he stands accused of many other things left out of the standard elementary school curriculum. When you really examine the Columbus story, there’s much that isn’t right.

Still, anyone who gives you a day off is a little bit of a hero. So in honor of Columbus Day—and rethinking things we’ve never thought through—here’s a list of a few discoveries I made while in search of something else entirely.

Went looking for onion rings and instead I found…bhaji

Bhaji are onion or vegetable fritters coated in my favorite ingredient ever—chickpea flour. You can fry or bake them, then dip in cucumber-mint-yogurt raita. You’ll forget you were ever looking for onion rings.

Went looking for cornbread and instead I found…arepas and pupusas

Folks who only ever order tacos are missing out on a whole world of corn patties. Some of the biggest producers of corn masa—such as Maseca—are now certified gluten-free, so you can enjoy safely (except perhaps where your arteries are concerned).

Went looking for “barley” and instead I found…buckwheat

You can buy whole buckwheat groats in bulk and make them into stir-fries, burgers, breakfast cereal, risotto, and deep-fried risotto balls (which I can attest are amazing). Buckwheat is so not just for crepes. Speaking of which…

Went looking for crepes and instead I found…dosas

Though you’ll have to hunt a bit to find the right ingredients to make these at home, dosas should usually be gluten-free (with the exception of cross-contamination). If you like crepes, Indian food, potatoes, and enormous portion sizes (and who doesn’t?), you’ll love these.

Went looking for pizza and instead I found…socca

You know about my love of socca already, but I had to include it, since it’s my greatest discovery of all time.

Have you tried any of these? Which do you like best?

I was not the first to discover these foods; people across the country and around the world kindly posted the recipes online, and others have eaten them for many years before I was around to Google them. I “discovered” these naturally gluten-free, not-meant-to-imitate-anything meals while intending to find something else.

The foods on this list aren’t what I originally went looking for—maybe just on the same latitude—but I’m glad I found them, and I look forward to charting ever-new terrain on my gluten-free journey.

Desserts, for example. When it comes to gluten-free flour blends, thar be dragons. When I quit skirting the shores (and clutching my King Arthur Flour mixes), I’m sure I’ll find all kinds of things I never intended to look for. Doing so may never get a holiday named for me, or a rhyme for kids to mess up when they recite it in 141892, but it’ll sure be fun.

Did you ever have silly misconceptions like my futuristic-Columbus invention? What naturally gluten-free foods have you discovered when you went searching for recipes for something else?

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