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Gluten Free Indian Sweet Potato Stew

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I’ll just go ahead and be honest and say that I usually just refer to this recipe as gluten-free curry, but I was a bit worried about being somewhat accurate when referring to foods that are not of North American origin. Curry has always been a mystery to me; is it simply any dish containing curry powder? What is the criteria for something to be considered curry? My knowledge of international cuisine is extremely limited and all I know is that I LOVE Indian food. SO I decided to simply to call this Indian Stew. And this is the part where you foodies all stop rolling your eyes at me.

I’ve made this tons of times. The only ingredients you really need are coconut milk, chicken/vegetable stock or water, and Indian spices. This creates the base and you can add whatever other ingredients your heart desires. It’s a great recipe to clean up the fridge and you can essential toss in any veggies or protein you have on hand.

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I used sweet potatoes this time around, but you could also use potatoes, or a mix of both, or any other root vegetable really. I used about 5 large ones and chopped them up into medium sized chunks. I added them to my pot and added a can of coconut milk and an equal part of chicken stock. In this case you want to make sure the chicken (or vegetable) stock you use is gluten free. You could use water as well. What you basically want to do is dilute the coconut milk so it’s not quite so thick. You can play around with the proportions though depending on whether you want this to be more soup-y or stew-y.

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Then add whichever other vegetables you like, but two of my favorites for this recipe are corn and peas. I dumped in about a cup and a half of frozen corn and about a cup and a half of chopped fresh sugar snap peas. I also like to use peppers and mushrooms, but had none on hand.

Now for the spices. I don’t measure my spices, or anything else for that matter, but I can tell you that I used a very generous amount. I used equal parts curry powder and indian masala. I’ve used recipes in the past that called for a tablespoon or so of curry powder, and honestly that amount is so small I can barely taste it. Indian spices are so delicious that I really want to be able to taste them when I use them. Here’s before I added the spices:

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And After:

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You can start with less however and work your way up.

Then all you need to do is stir, turn the stove on to medium-high heat and wait for the sweet potato to soften, about 15 minutes or so. Stir occasionally.

In the past I’ve added pieces of chicken and stew meat to this recipe, and both were delicious. So to summarize:

Ingredients:

4-5 sweet potatoes

1 can coconut milk

1 can chicken stock

1 1/2 cups corn

1 1/2 cups shelled peas or snap peas

indian masala and curry powder to taste

Directions:

Toss everything in a pot and cook on medium-high heat for 15-20 minutes or until sweet potatoes are soft.

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As simple as that!

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Accidental Glutenings

For those of you who have read my first posts about my journey into celiac-discovery, you’ll remember the renewed energy I found when I went gluten-free and basically ate nothing but whole foods at the start of this year. That was obviously amazing for someone who had been exhausted for months. However, despite staying on a gluten-free diet and not ever once cheating (except for accidental glutenings and restaurants who’ve apparently never heard of cross-contamination), I’ve noticed a thin veil of fatigue slowly creeping in for the past several weeks/months. Not nearly as bad as before going gluten-free, but bad enough for me to take notice and realize something isn’t quite right.

I wondered if it had anything to do with my low iron levels, but I recently went back for my follow up blood test and my iron is back in tip top shape. That made me consider other potential intolerances, but I hadn’t cut out anything but gluten at the beginning of the year and had never had any issues. The only difference really was that I had slowly incorporated gluten-free packaged foods throughout the year.

I began to worry about having some kind of intolerance to sugar, as packaged foods, whilst being gluten-free, tend to have a lot of sugar. This was worrisome because I have a big sweet-tooth. Not as bad now that I try to eat whole foods as much as possible, but I thought that would be devastating if I couldn’t eat sugar any more. Much like gluten, there’s sugar in everything. Like, everything. But in my gut (no pun intended) I still felt that the culprit, in some way, was gluten. It was sneaking in somehow. I knew the symptoms and to me, this felt too much like a glutening.

Now up until now, for me finding food that were gluten-free generally meant looking at the ingredients on the package. And, of course, if something says it’s processed in a facility that also processes gluten, I stay away from said item like the plague. But what about packaged foods that have no gluten in the ingredient list, and have no warning about where they’re processed? Those must be safe, right?

Wrong, apparently.

During an overnight shift, as I was heating up my lunch in the microwave, I noticed a basket of chocolate bars that some coworkers were selling as a fundraiser. Amongst them, what had become my favorite in recent months: Reese’s peanut butter cups. I had checked the label several times, but on a whim I whipped out my phone and googled “are reese’s cups gluten free”.

Imagine my surprise when the first result said clearly “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are not gluten free.” Looking back I’m fairly certain my jaw literally dropped. And I recalled an evening, weeks earlier, when I had found individually wrapped cups at the grocery store for a ridiculously cheap price, and I had eaten a ridiculous amount. Like, not 4. Not 7. Not even 10. More. Let’s just leave it at that.

Suffice to say, my mind began to race. I had assumed I was very sensitive to gluten and cross-contamination, but this was eye-opening. Apparently, they were tons of packaged items out there sneaking around with their hidden gluten. It was no wonder I was getting symptoms again. Just because a packaged food was not made with gluten ingredients did not mean it was celiac-safe due to cross-contamination happening in facilities and restaurants. I could no longer assume things were gluten-free. I had to be sure.

From then on, aside from whole foods such as fresh fruits, veggies and meats, I made sure everything I ate was certified gluten free, or I did research or called the company. And to my relief, the fatigue disappeared once more. I was once again cleared to eat sugar, thank goodness.

That was until the beginning of this week, when I got glutened. I was shocked, I had been so vigilant! On our way to the movies one evening, as I got in the car and buckled up, I suddenly felt that nagging ache in my left shoulder, a sure sign of gluten for me. I mentally went through what I had eaten that day; no gluten I could think of.

I didn’t think much more of it until the next morning when I woke up and the joint pain was much worse; worst that it had ever been even before I went gluten-free. And then I remembered: the yogurt cup.

At work the preceding day I had grabbed and Oikos Greek Yogurt cup as part of my lunch. I should’ve researched it thoroughly to make sure it was safe, but I slipped into my old habit of simply reading the label. It’s yogurt, I told myself. Surely there isn’t gluten in yogurt.

Except, as mentioned earlier, gluten is in everything. Envelope glue, cooking spray, lunch meat, medication, communion wafers, beer, you name it. EVERYTHING. I went to my trusty friend google and found the following information:

Dannon yogurt. Dannon offers a huge variety of flavors and styles of yogurt. Unfortunately, the company does not consider its products to be gluten-free, since “the natural system for stabilizing flavor might contain ingredients derived from gluten sources.” The same statement applies to Oikos Greek yogurt, since it’s made by Dannon.

(http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/GlutenFreeSnacks/a/Gluten-Free-Yogurt.htm)

Huh. Well that explained it.

It basically ended up being a reminder that I have to be very, annoyingly careful about what I eat, just like a lot of you out there. Oh well, we’re all in this together, and eventually, labeling will keep getting better and hopefully these accidental glutenings while become a thing of the past. Until then, remain vigilant my friends!

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Gluten Free Tabbouleh

So lately when I’ve been going outside to water my few plants and herb garden (all in pots on my balcony as I live in an apartment), I’ve been noticing that my Italian Parsley plant has been getting a little out of control. This is surprising because I am a horrible gardener; in fact, I had to replant most of my vegetables this year because 1) I put them outside to early and they froze and 2) I’m really bad at this whole “watering” thing. Gardening is one of those things I wish I was good at; I would love to have my balcony be completely filled with delicious produce but as I’ve said, I’m just not good at it, and I just don’t like doing it. I hate weeding, I hate having my hands buried in soil. Etc.

Even more inexplicable is the fact that both my parents are very good gardeners, especially my mama. I’m sure she will eventually devise some way to live outdoor in her rose bushes. Maybe the green thumb gene just ended at their generation and that’s it, no more. Either that or it’s recessive, because I certainly don’t have it.

So anyway, back to my parsley problem. Or not so much a problem, really, more of a what on earth am I going to do with ten cups of parsley? To my knowledge they were obsessed with using it as garnish back in the 90s. As usual, I turned to the Internet for culinary inspiration.

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I literally typed into google: “gluten free parsley recipe”. I didn’t want a recipe that just called for a tablespoon of chopped up parsley at the end, or a sprig of it in a salad, I wanted a recipe that would really utilize and bring out the flavor of a large amount of parsley.

I clicked on one of the very first search results that happened to be a Youtube video. It was gluten free Tabbouleh recipe by some guy who is apparently a “darn good cook”. I figured I’d take his word for it. The video can be found here for those who are interested. (Again, this is one of those recipes that I don’t follow exactly, so the recipe in the video and the one found here have a few slight differences.)

Now I’ve never made Tabbouleh, never tried it before, not even completely sure how to pronounce it. But I watched the video and not only did it seem very easy to make, I had most of the ingredients on hand.

I started by first making the quinoa, a cup and a half of it. I believe Tabbouleh traditionally calls for bulgur wheat but because we’re making this gluten free I used quinoa. I love quinoa, but it’s one of those foods that I’ll make over and over for every meal until I retire it to the cupboard for a little while. This was one of those times where I hadn’t had any in weeks, so it made me that much more excited about making this recipe.

Once the quinoa was done I transferred it to a large mixing bowl and spread it out as per the video’s instructions to help it cool faster. It’s important to add the other ingredients to the quinoa only when it’s cooled because otherwise it could effect the flavors of the parsley.

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As the quinoa was cooling, I got to work on chopping the parsley. I’m not sure exactly how much I used, probably a cup or two.Chop it up as finely as you can, you don’t want parsley leaves stuck in your teeth. The original recipe, and I think Tabbouleh is general, traditionally uses mint as well, I decided not to use any for two reasons. Firstly, I didn’t have any on hand, and secondly, I’m not a huge fan of mint in savory dishes. I’m more of a mint and chocolate kind of person. That being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to trying Tabbouleh made with mint or anything, and if I had some in my herb garden I probably would’ve thrown some in, but I wasn’t about to rush of to the store just to get some.

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The video uses sweet onion, but I had recently purchased a nice red onion at the market so I decided to use that. I’m also a big fan of red onion used raw.

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As a dressing I just guestimated amounts of olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt, as well as a few sprigs of chopped up green onion. Mix everything together and there you have it, gluten free Tabbouleh!

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As I mentioned before, I’d never had Tabbouleh and hadn’t used much fresh parsley before in my life so I didn’t really know what to expect from this recipe. I was very pleasantly surprised! This salad is delicious and light, perfect for summer. You can use it as a side dish, or you can just eat a giant bowl of it which I’m sure I will do at some point soon. With it being so easy to make, it’s definitely going into regular rotation. So here’s the recipe, summarized: (as always, these measurements are rough estimates)

1 1/2 cups quinoa

1-2 cups freshly chopped parsley

1/4 cup chopped red onion

Dressing:

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

juice from one large lemon

a few sprigs of green onion

tablespoon of salt

And now I leave you with a song about Tabbouleh:

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Radish and Pea Salad

So now that all that chit chat about why I can’t eat gluten is done with, we can get to more interesting things. Like delicious food!

As I mentioned briefly before, I love to cook. Usually I can look into my fridge and just make something up. Jeff always asks, “How do you come up with this stuff?” and the truth is I don’t know. I just look at food, and recipes fall from the sky and into my brain. It probably has something to do with years of watching nothing but Food Network on TV. I still curse the fact that that channel is not available on basic cable because I am poor.

All that being said, sometimes I fall into a rut of always buying the same ingredients and then always making the same or very similar things (When I first got a Costco membership a while back I bought asparagus and mushrooms every single time I went there for probably six months). When I feel enough is enough, I tend to look for inspiration elsewhere. Occasionally I buy too much of one ingredient and then am at a loss for what to make (like the time I bought two massive bags of carrots, also at Costco). So I turn to the Internet.

Tangent: sometimes after I’ve been eating, say, apples for a few weeks I understandably really get tired of them. This makes me wonder how they managed back in the day before grocery stores. I mean back when everyone pretty much grew their own food and that’s pretty much what they had to live on for the year. Even if you had a really kick-ass harvest of tomatoes one year, something tells me come spring time the following year you were probably so sick of seeing them that that’s probably how they came up with La Tomatina. Although I could be wrong about that. And even if you traded goods with your neighbor, chances are he wasn’t growing something exotic like bananas and watermelon out in the Canadian wilderness. I guess we’ve just been spoiled in a way with having such a variety of food at our fingertips.

End Tangent.

So the point of all this is that the recipe I’m about to share is one I found on Ezra’s blog Teaching Cancer to Cry (actual post with recipe here). It’s a really easy and simple recipe that features peas and radishes. I already had a little bag of radishes sitting in my fridge when I first read it, and so when I went to my local Stirling market and saw that they were selling snap peas, I decided to get some and try it out.Image

So I’m not big on measurements and such, so here’s an ‘approximate’ recipe, if you will. (I didn’t make quite the exact vinaigrette as on the original blog where I found this, simply because I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand, so you have two options to try basically.)

All you have to do is basically chop up your radishes (a cup or so) and snap peas (a cup or two) into thin slivers. Or you can chop them into chunks or dice them or whatever else you want, but I really enjoyed the texture of little slices. And just to be clear, snap peas are the ones that you can eat shell and all… Shell peas have to be taken out of the pod. This would probably be just as good with shelled peas too though.

Throw everything into a bowl and for dressing I used some olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper, and some fresh chopped dill from my herb garden. Herb gardens are the best, by the way. If you don’t already have one, you should get one.

And that’s pretty much it! Toss it all together and let it sit for a little bit before serving if you have the patience. Easy, summery, simple and yummy. Enjoy!

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Figuring It Out (Part 2)

After a few months of being gluten-free and feeling completely awesome, I noticed something weird was happening. If I ran my other fingers over them, I could feel a small indent going horizontally across the nail bed. This is weird, I thought.

I began googling nail problems, and was relieved (and surprised) to find out that I apparently did not have some kind of nail cancer. Now, I’m no doctor, but sometimes I like to pretend that I am, so I diagnosed myself with Beau’s Nails. You can google it to see pictures. My nails weren’t as bad as the pictures on there, but I noticed it as it was just starting out. On my googling-fest I also realized that my nails also looked quite a bit like Terry’s Nails, which you can also look up, but is basically a dark arc near the end of the year. My nails have had this arc since at least some time in High school, and I’m 23, so it’s been a while. Both these afflictions can be caused by liver disease and lots of other scary things that I’m pretty sure I don’t have, but they can also be caused my malnutrition. Celiac can cause malnutrition, because when the intestinal villi becomes inflamed due to gluten ingestion, it prevents essential nutrients and minerals from because absorbed, thus malabsorption and malnutriton.

Up until now I hadn’t returned to see my doctor concerning possible celiac disease because I had learned that the blood test that is used to test for celiac will come back negative if you are not eating gluten (this is because the test looks for the antibodies created by your immune system when it comes in contact with gluten; no gluten, no antibodies!). So in order for me to have this performed with accurate results, I would have to go back on gluten for a few weeks. However, if I felt sick for days after a single meal of gluten, there was no way I was going to go back and eat gluten for weeks. And besides, even if I went through all that trouble and was officially diagnosed with celiac, what would be the benefit of all that? I would simply go back to my gluten free diet. Which I was already doing anyway. But all that being said, the idea that I was having some kind of malnutriton problem worried me enough to go back and see him. I thought maybe the internet was wrong and there was some kind of other test he could perform to diagnose me.

So I went in for my appointment and explained everything that had been going on and showed him my nails. When I asked to be tested for celiac, he asked, as expected, if I had already cut out gluten. I said yes and he confirmed that the test would come back negative. He also said, similar to my own thoughts, that the fact was, whether or not the test would come back positive or negative, I know I can’t tolerate gluten, so I might as well just stay on this diet since it seems to be working. Truth is, I have no trouble sticking to the diet. There’s a little bit of extra effort when it comes to reading labels and challenges when eating out, but I just feel so much better that it’s so worth it to me.

He informed me that the nail issues I was having were typically due to iron deficiency. He sent me for some blood tests and tested for a few other things that celiacs sometimes have trouble with like B12. My iron did turn out to be too low in the end, despite my diet containing a good amount of spinach, beans and meat, and he actually said that often when people are anemic they will automatically check for celiac. My low iron was probably not helped by the fact that I used to be a regular blood donor. He instructed me to take iron pills and then come back for another blood test after two months. If it comes back fine, then I can stop taking the pills, however if I plan to continue giving blood, I will probably have to stay on them. I should be going in for this blood test sometime this week, so we’ll have to wait and see!

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Figuring It Out (Part 1)

So I’ve been thinking about blogging for a little while. Should I, shouldn’t I? Being unable to eat gluten for the past 7 months has already been a journey full of ups and downs, so I thought why not document it in someway? It always helps me to read about other people’s experiences (whether it be celiac related or about how to clean a tub without chemicals) so I thought maybe this could eventually help other people as well.

As a starting point I thought I should probably tell the story of how I realized I was gluten intolerant. It ended up being kind of a long story, so it’ll be a two-parter. Get comfy, because even the first part is a bit of a novel:

In the past few years, I’ve become more and more health-conscious. For a while I focused more on the exercise aspect of it, first by running, then by doing random cardio and light weights at the gym, then by doing yoga at the gym, then by taking yoga classes outside the gym, then by lifting heavy weights. Last November when came time to renew my monthly gym membership, I happened to not so much as have two pennies to rub together (this is before they stopped producing pennies in Canada, mind you) so I figured I’d take a break, especially with the holidays coming up.

Around the same time I wasn’t feeling too well. Earlier in the fall work had been extremely busy and stressful, and that combined with with my regular rotation of days shifts and overnight shifts left me feeling burnt out. My work rotation is four shifts on and then you get five shifts off. All twelve-hour shifts, that is.

I assumed I must just not have recovered fully from the busy time and took a little extra rest when I needed it and started taking more naps. Try as I may, however, the exhaustion I was feeling would not go away. By December I was sleeping at least twelve hours every night and despite that still having a very hard time getting out of bed. I’d get up, around 10 or 11 in the morning (on my days off), have breakfast, get washed and maybe do a couple other things, but by early afternoon I just couldn’t force myself to stay awake any more. I’d lay on the couch or get back in bed and take an afternoon nap that lasted 2 to 3 hours. Wake up, still groggy, maybe eat something, keep myself busy until I would be right back to bed by 8 or 9 pm.

I had always loved my work rotation because, hello, five days off! But at this point I would literally sleep away all five of them. I wasn’t living anymore. What was the point of having five days off if you couldn’t enjoy them?

It got to the point that I started to realize that I wasn’t just still tired from having worked overnights. This wasn’t your average I-didn’t-sleep-enough-last-night kind of fatigue. It was crushing and consuming. I had been on this work rotation for months, and it had never taken me more than a day or so to recover from working nights. I had to take some kind of action.

I made an appointment to see my doctor sometime in mid-December and explained the situation to him. He sent me for blood and urine tests, but told me that he honestly didn’t think they would find anything; he thought I was just feeling this way because of overnight shifts.

I came back for a follow up appointment at the end of December and it turned out he was right. All my tests were fine. He pretty much left it at that and I left, feeling disappointed. I started contemplating what I could do next. If overnights were the problem, I would have to find a way to not work them anymore, which was much easier said than done. I was barely a year into a career in healthcare; people working in the field for much longer than me were still doing their share of overnights. I felt defeated.

The holidays were in full swing and, like most North Americans, my diet wasn’t looking all that great. At work there was an endless stream of junk food, and it looked pretty much the same at home and at family and friend’s. I was feeling horrible and bloated all the time and to make matters worst I could no longer get my go-to jeans up past my thighs and so, also like most North Americans, I decided that come New Year’s, I was going ultra-healthy.

Like, really healthy. Healthier than I had ever gone before. By that time I was hearing a lot about the whole gluten-free trend and decided, why not? We all know that loaves of white bread, pies and cakes aren’t that healthy to begin with, so why not go all the way and eliminate all gluten? I actually took the plunge a few days before New Year’s, around the 27th I think, to the chagrin of my boyfriend, Jeff. We still had days of pigging-out to do!

Nonetheless I hit the grocery store and bought a cartful of fruits, vegetables, meats and nuts as well as other naturally gluten-free foods. After a bit of research about juicing and blending, I also bought myself a Nutribullet and started making smoothies. Now I love cooking, and love being healthy, so January was awesome. I loved having delicious green smoothies in the morning and plates of veggies and meats in the evening.

I started feeling amazing. I couldn’t believe it. I had my five days off again! When I opened my eyes in the morning, I didn’t immediately want to shut them tightly again and sleep for another four hours. I was AWAKE, simply. Energized. I was myself again, if not better than before. I could put my jeans on again! So the tiredness and brain fog was just because of bad holiday eating, I thought. How silly of me not to have realized.

Then one Saturday night near the end of January, we decided to treat ourselves. (After partaking in the holiday feasts with me, Jeff had eaten healthily with me all through the month. He had no reason to eliminate gluten but he had no problems with joining me on this experiment, despite his love of sandwiches.) So we had a few drinks and ordered pizza and garlic fingers and ate all night. After nursing a mild hangover on Sunday, Monday arrived. Oh, Monday.

I slept for three days. The exact same crushing, exhausting fatigue and brain fog that had plagued me for months was back, worst than ever. A light bulb finally went off in my head: GLUTEN.

I began researching celiac online. I couldn’t believe all the symptoms that matched! This was it, I finally had an answer. I was beyond relieved. Celiac and gluten intolerances can be so difficult to diagnose because often the symptoms only appear days after having ingested celiac. So if you’re eating bread every day, everything overlaps and it becomes almost impossible to pinpoint which food is making you sick. Generally I find I have some bloating and a mild to moderate stomach ache an hour or two after I have gluten but the fatigue only comes a day or two after. For me personally, it seems that the neurological symptoms are much worst than the gastrointestinal ones. I know some people suffer from very severe diarrhea right after a meal of gluten; thankfully that isn’t the case with me. I learned that joint pain is also a symptom. I had recurring shoulder pain for years; nothing was wrong according to an x-ray and a bone scan. it wasn’t a very severe pain, more like an annoying ache that would come and go. This shoulder pain disappeared completely with the elimination of gluten and reappeared hours after I had some. This was all such a revelation for me!

My birthday this year was the last time I intentionally had gluten. My mom was making me spaghetti with her amazing homemade sauce and chocolate cake with boiled icing. I had just days prior come to the conclusion that gluten was the culprit but it seemed like too short a notice to get her to change the whole menu so I went and ate everything and enjoyed it. I ended up paying for it, of course, but that was it. My final farewell to gluten.