Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 23, 2011 ~ Day 195
Why Not? Anything Is Possible

Stuck at home this morning with two healthy kids bouncing off of the walls and one exhausted, coughing kid on the couch I suddenly realized I felt like cooking.

Maybe this is some ancestral, inherited trait.

Whenever I was sick as a kid, my mother cooked for me. She made homemade chicken soup with onions and vegetables, pancakes, toast with tea - anything she could manage to entice me to eat.

The old adage "Feed a cold, Starve a fever" didn't hold much weight with my mother. "Eat!" was her loving mantra - or rather, "Try to eat AND drink something if you can, sweetheart."

For this reason, or perhaps just because I haven't cooked anything fancy for a while and I didn't want to sink into a worried funk over my sick son, I pulled out all of our recipe books and started looking through recipes with my children.

"What sounds tasty to you?" I asked my son. "What do you think you may want to eat later?"

"Ummmmmmmm.... chicken. And pasta."

yelled his big brother.

I smiled. "Let's find the perfect dish. The only thing is, we need to make it gluten free."

"So you can eat it too, Mommy?"

"That's right."

We were scanning through a book called Barefoot Contessa At Home, which despite the images of royalty in bare feet is actually a cookbook with some darn good recipes... when my son saw a photo of a Chicken Piccata.

"OOOH!" he smiled weakly. "Chicken with lemons! I want that one."

Scanning the recipe I realized that it would be very easy to adapt to a gluten free diet - simply switch out the regular flour and seasoned bread crumbs for gluten free alternatives.

"Great. We even have the bread crumbs already!" I agreed.

"Can we have noodles too, Mommy?"

"Of course," I nodded - but deep down, I wondered how I would make this request possible without just boiling up a pot of normal wheat fettuccine. "Pasta sounds really good."

Which is how it came about that I spent a goodly part of today searching for a gluten free pasta without rice flour... nearly impossible to do.

I went gluten free in 2007, embracing the lifestyle with gusto and a strict adherence to the diet. It actually seemed pretty easy, given that many companies now make a rice-based alternative for any gluten containing goodie you might want. Cinnamon rolls, breads, pie crust, bagels, doughnuts, pizza - all of them can be found in a gluten free rice-based form at any local health food store. Many of these new spins on the old foods actually taste great too.

What I didn't know back then, which I'm a lot more aware of now - is that if you eat ANY food too much (like, for every meal - 3 meals a day - for 3 years) you can develop an allergy to it that you never had before.

So when I started getting really weird physiological reactions in 2010 any time I ate rice or a product made with rice, it didn't occur to me that the rice could be the problem. After all, wasn't rice supposed to be the most non-allergenic of all grains?

A few months later I saw an allergist to try to get to the root of my rashes, itching, burning sensations and stomach aches after eating meals. They ran skin patch test for about fifty different items, including common allergens like shrimp, peanuts, strawberries, etc.

To my surprise, two things showed up higher than all the rest for a "real" allergy... although I turned out to be allergic to about 9 substances. The biggies though, were soy (which I had always suspected) and rice. "Rice?!? Really?"

It turned out that living gluten free without rice was a lot more complicated than just living gluten free. Since soy, rice and flax had all been banished from my diet by the allergist - along with their apparently nearly-as-allergenic counterparts nuts and seeds (alas, my almond butter!) finding a decent loaf of bread or package of pasta suddenly became near-impossible.

Over the last year though, I've made do and gotten to know other grains and starches pretty well... quinoa, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, tapioca, arrowroot, corn and gluten-free oats.

None of them are as easy to work with as wheat or rice, but so far I'm managing.

Which brings us back to tonight's dinner.

"Can we have pasta too, mommy?" has become a challenge... almost a trick question.

My typical answer is "Yes," and my general attitude is to simply cook up a vat of regular wheat spaghetti, tortellini, ravioli or what-have-you for my husband and kids and just not eat a grain myself on those evenings.

Tonight though, when my son asked for pasta - some part of me whispered,

"Oh, that sounds delicious. I'd love to."

The challenge had been thrown, and I decided to conquer it. To own it.

Start with the experts, I decided - so I went to the source my husband calls my "oracle"...

"gluten free pasta no rice"
"gluten free noodles without rice"
"pasta no wheat no rice"

weren't getting the job done, so finally I came up with "gluten free egg noodles" and suddenly, we were in business. Apparently there is a kosher brand that makes egg pasta with potatoes, not rice. "Manischewitz?" I laughed. "I thought that was wine or something!"

However, there were no local retailers that showed this particular gluten free product - so I decided to call a local authority on the matter.

"Whole Foods Market, may I help you?"

"Um yes, I'm searching for...."
and I gave the guy my schpeal about the pasta.

"We don't carry that particular product at this time of year, I'm sorry."

"Oh, well could you recommend anywhere local that might?"

"Actually yes, why don't you try (BIG BOX CHAIN STORE). They have an enormous Kosher section."

"Really? Great, thanks!"

A short while later, thanks to the graciousness of my husband who agreed to work from home and keep an eye on our little son while I got his two healthy (energetic) siblings out of the house, three of the five of us were on our merry way to the big chain store.

Our adventure there was somewhat lame and simultaneously nondescript. Suffice to say, they DO have a great Kosher section AND they did *not* carry the product I was searching for. Every single one of the many, many Manshewitz products on the shelf contained wheat.

Oh well!

The writing on the wall had become clear and fairly easy to read, even for my five year old son.

"Why don't you just make the pasta, Mommy?" he asked. "You're a good cooker. You can do it."

"I appreciate you saying that, hon."
I tried to recall the ingredients I'd seen listed on the one recipe for gluten free egg noodles I'd seen on Google.

"Tapioca, potato, corn, xanthan gum..."

"What Mommy?"

"Nothing. Ok. Let's do it!"

We stopped at a local store carrying those kinds of flour on our way home. "Hmmmm...." I mused to my kids. "It would have cost us less than $5 to buy a package of noodles to cook; but getting these flours and starches is going to run us about $25."

"You want noodles, don't you Mom?"

"Good point."

$25 worth of fancy Bob's Red Mill products later, we were on our way home - ready to make the best darn homemade gluten free egg noodles the World had ever seen. At least, that's what I told my kids.

"We're going to make the best darn homemade gluten free egg noodles the World has ever seen!"
I announced cheerfully.

* * * * * *

Two hours later, I'd rolled out the dough from the gluten free recipe and begun to slice thin ribbons of pasta into equal lengths.

"Wow hon," my husband nodded approvingly. "That actually looks pretty good." (He's not a big fan of breads and desserts that don't contain wheat.)

"We'll see..." I put a large pot of salted water on to boil.

* * * * * *

In the end - and I'm being totally honest here, because why not? - my homemade pasta from that recipe did not turn out well at all.

The noodles were too thick. Their consistency was too chewy. They had no basic flavor.

"Um... they're almost like dumplings!" my husband noted. "This dough would really be okay for fried dumplings!"

"Yeah, I see what you mean,"
I agreed.

"More pasta, Mommy!" yelled the two year old - but she was the only one... and she's addicted to carbs.

"Probably not my finest hour in the kitchen,"
I smiled, "but they definitely have potential. I'll have to work with the recipe for a while to get it right."

"You should,"
my husband supported.

And that was that.

The thing I really loved about this experience though - the part that struck me powerfully before we cooked the dough, when I was just rolling it out and slicing ribbons from it with a sharp knife - was the feeling that ANYTHING is possible.

I've learned this so many times over the last few years - and I just love this life lesson / feeling that I get every time it's proven again.

Anything is possible!

So what if I'm allergic to the ingredients in most basic foods. I CAN figure out a way to eat - and eat well! - with patience and persistence. There is always a way. My days of lasagne and pie are NOT over :-)

In life no matter how challenging your situation - there is usually always someone else out there who has either traveled the same road as you, and can give meaningful advice; or, someone walking your path simultaneously... offering comfort and companionship.

Just like the person who wrote that recipe on Google - the one we tried tonight, the one that wasn't too great. Wherever he or she is out there, the inventor of our dinner pasta ~ they've probably already regrouped and found a totally new way to make the original recipe better.

And if not, I can do it myself - and share the results with others like me!

I love it.

They say "Where there is a will, there's a way." I not only believe this, I've lived it. I know so many people who are living it right now.

And let me tell you,

The view from the top of Anything-Is-Possible ~ even the view of dinner ~ is pretty awesome.

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