Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dear Food Diary...

Dear Food Diary,

I am proud to report that today marks Day 7 of Gluten–Free living for Carly and me. Not a speck of wheat has touched our lips: no wayward crust off a trimmed PB&J, no nibble off the edge of a lone McNugget, no cookie, no cupcake, no cream puff…no way.

Why gluten-free? Well, we’re not quite sure. To be honest, it seemed like the trendy thing to do and we both wanted some sort of framework to help thwart our inborn gravitational pull toward anything toasted and slathered with a cube of butter. Perhaps cutting out wheat would be the first step toward some sort of self-discipline come feeding time at the zoo.

Well my dear diary, I am not so pleased to report that our results have been less than glowing. After one week of deli sandwich deprivation, our cheeks are not rosier, our teeth do not shine with the brilliance of a thousand suns, our skinny jeans remain too skinny and if Miss Frizzle and her Magic School Bus took a field trip through our lower intestines, she’d travel a windy path still fraught with just as many road hazards as before.

Were our expectations too high? Perhaps. But you know what I’m guessing? I’m guessing that our lack of promised physical, spiritual and emotional transformation has something to do with the fact that both of us have found every wheat-free way to crush our carbohydrate cravings.

Oatmeal is a proven cholesterol-fighter, is it not? Dark chocolate…how else would we get our anti-oxidants? Frozen yogurt…Doc says we gotta get that calcium.

Of course, we might have overlooked the fact that our oatmeal is generally topped with brown sugar and cream, we buy our dark chocolate in Trader Joe's "pound-plus" bars ,and nonfat, soft-serve, frozen yogurt has become a daily obsession, slathered with scoops of crushed Heath Bar, Gummi worms and hot fudge.

Oh, dear food diary…do you think we may have missed the point?

None-the-less, we've been having a little bit of fun with it anyway…trying to cheat the system by creating tasty concoctions sure to fool even the most discerning of palates. Recipe resources are plentiful: the Internet, cookbooks, the lady next to me in line at the grocery store…all of a sudden, it’s a gluten-free world!

It’s funny. You know when you get a puppy, then, like magic, it seems that everyone you know has a puppy too? I remember, that’s how it was when I was pregnant; never noticed all those full-bellied girls before then low and behold, I join the club and I feel like I’m, living in the land of Oompa-Loompas. This past week it seems that everyone from the mailman to the goalie on Carly’s field hockey team considers wheat to be the devil’s grain.

But, back to our adventures in baking…

A few days ago, I finally got to Good Earth in search of a few wacky ingredients I would need to make a zucchini bread recipe I found on the Internet. Why not? Gotta use up that giant mutant zucchini from our garden. The recipe suggested peeling it in stripes which I thought was cool-looking if nothing else.

Perusing the aisles, somewhere between the seaweed snacks and the soy milk, I found the baking section.  “Let’s see…sorghum flour? Check. Tapioca flour? Check. Xanthan gum…seriously? Sounds like something you would use to remove rust from a marine propeller. By golly there it is! Check.”

Thirty nine dollars and eighty-eight cents later, I had everything I needed to make that loaf of bread. It better be good.

Guess what…it was delicious! I even had some left over supplies so Carly whipped up a dozen vanilla cupcakes for a gluten-free gal pal who turns “Sweet Sixteen” today. She found this recipe on the same site noted below.

I must admit, they were yummy too! We had our doubts as the batter was weirdly gummy but when the timer buzzed, we eagerly pulled those funny-looking little cakes steaming hot out of the oven and waived one around for a few minutes until it was cool enough to slather with homemade butter cream before sending it down our deprived gullets. So what that it was 11 pm at night and we were eating cupcakes…they’re gluten-free!

Here’s the recipe for the zucchini bread if you ever feel the need to hop on the wheat-free love train. Me and Carly? Not sure how long we’ll be along for the ride but at least we’re having a few laughs along the rails and learning some new stuff while we’re at it.

First grate the zucchini, squeeze it with a paper towel until it is as dry as you can get it, then set it aside.

Cream the wet ingredients, mix the dry in a separate bowl, then add them to the wet. Mix into this battter the zucchini and the walnuts (say "yes" to Omega-3s).

Spread into an oiled loaf pan into which you have previously placed a sheet of parchment like this.

And, voila...gluten-free goodness: sweet and moist with a crisp but tender crust!

After all of this baking, maybe next week we’ll go Atkins…bring on the bacon!

Gluten-Free Zucchini Bread

Cream together:
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
Add in:
  • 2 egg whites
  • ¼ cup coconut milk
  • 1 tps lemon juice
  • 1 tps lemon zest
Stir together in a separate bowl then add to wet ingredients:
  • 1 cup sorghum flour
  • ½ cup tapioca flour
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¾ tsp xanthan gum
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
Stir in to the batter:
  • 1 rounded cup fresh grated zucchini (really squish out as much moisture as you can using paper towels then fluff with a fork to measure)
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

Adapted from recipe found at

Friday, September 2, 2011

Grandpa "Cheese"

I've been thinking a lot about my grandpa lately...which is a little odd since we really never met.

Maybe it's that we were just in Tahoe and I think of him every time we drive by the old King's Beach bar he built with his own hands in the 30's. That's him chopping down the trees...

And here is the finished product! Over the last 80 years it's lived through many incarnations and today, us young folk know the spot as Caliente.

Maybe it's that my Mom just had a birthday and each year I am reminded that, that day many years ago, he welcomed his third baby girl into this world while, sadly, he watched his wife leave it forever.

Here is my beautiful Grandma Alice with her first two girls, my aunts. When Grandma Alice passed in childbirth, her sister Josephine (we called her Grandma Finy) would leave all she knew back home, come to America and raise Mom as her own (and that, my friends, is another story)...

Maybe it's that I heard on the news that the old building in Alameda that housed their dairy and soda fountain in the 20's and 30's is being restored and, under layers of siding and stucco, they found a faded sign touting their State Fair-award-winning cream.

Maybe it's that everyone in the family called the old Swiss dairyman "Grandpa Cheese" and sometimes the thought of that just makes me smile.

Growing up in my family, you probably wouldn’t have found it odd to have a Grandpa named “Cheese.”

Every morning, his daughter (we called her Mom) served our toast with a slab of butter as thick as a deck of cards. "Special" occasions, from Arbor Day to Hanukkah, were frequent, and always warranted a free pass to top anything with a Matterhorn of whipped cream.

The freezer was always jammed with at least four flavors of ice cream and when we’d unwrap the mystery square of waxed paper in our lunchboxes, we’d often find a hunk of Swiss cheese partially covered by an afterthought of two thin slices of Roman Meal wheat bread posing as a sandwich.

French Brie, Danish Blue, Irish Cheddar, Greek Feta…Mom did not discriminate. A United Nations of cheese products always filled our fridge, hurriedly wrapped in a waif-like sheet of Saran and crammed into one of three dedicated drawers like dairy delegates waiting their turn to represent the motherland.

Why would we not have a Grandpa named “Cheese?” He was a huge part of our lives.  He had everything to do with who we are today. But, the funny thing is, us kids never really knew him. We were just babies when he died...

Grandpa Cheese was born in 1889 in the Kanton of Uri Switzerland. His given name was Ambros Furrer and he thrived as a young man along with his brothers and sisters in his mountain home along with the other real-life mountain-dwelling, cow-herding, lederhosen wearing dairymen. Here is the mountaintop village where he was raised, complete with cow.

Here's the way up...

And here are my cousins who operate the this day...yikes! That's Mom in the black jacket visiting them a few years back.

This is where they live. Come on...does it get more Swiss?

There he met the beautiful and adventuresome Elisabetha (she came to be known as Alice in the new country). They married in 1922, set out to America on their honeymoon...and never looked back.

Doesn't this photo taken on the deck of their honeymoon cruise ship remind you of a scene from The Titanic? A little spooky, I think, until you peer through the mist and notice the sweet smile on my grandmother's face and the proud posture of her loving groom. 

Two little girls soon made a family of four.Together, they settled in Alameda and opened a creamery on Webster Street. Along with making and delivering milk, cream and cheese, word has it that their soda fountain was the place to meet! Grandma ran the business, Grandpa worked the dairy and my aunts were the coolest cats in town.

Even though my mom was never a part of their lives together, I like to think about those days and imagine that somehow they are a part of ours.

So, by now, you've probably figured out that my thoughts and feelings usually manifest themselves eventually into something edible. I've been wanting to experiment with making cheese for a long time, and given my recent need to get in touch with my milkmaid roots, I thought it would be fun to finally make it happen. I got my hands on the ingredients, dug up a recipe on the Internet, and dove in without a whole lot of forethought. Mom stopped by so I handed her the Flip camera and we documented our journey through curds and whey.

I'm pretty sure that the laughs we had along the way were more delicious than the actual end result but, for our first try, I'd have to say that the cheese wasn't half bad. We're looking forward to our next go at it, with modifications, but know that "Grandpa Cheese" would have been proud to see two generations up to their elbows in the family business.

So, here's my thought for the day...take a minute to think lovingly about the ones who came before us...the ones who came from so far away, some by choice, and some by need, to make a better life for themselves and their families. Dig out Auntie Nora's old Irish soda bread recipe or the closely guarded formula for Uncle Guido's famous Bolognese and fill your home with the tastes and smells that bind families across generations.

Bon Appetit, Buon Appetito and Guten Appetit!