Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Millet - will the drama never end

Millet. It's at all the natural food stores that I haunt out of necessity now. I have seen references to it as an 'alternative grain to wheat' in a number of places. Foodie sites everywhere talk about the nutty aroma, the taste, how easy it is to make. So of course I bought a little bag of millet. It looks rather nice - pale yellow, small and spherical, and the smell is appetizing. It really is kind of nutty.

How hard can it be to cook, I thought. It's a grain, right? Grains aren't that hard to cook. I used to cook rice all the time. I can do this.


Perhaps millet is a fine friend to gourmet cooks, or to vegetarians with more experience in the cooking of grains. For those like me - the cooking challenged - figuring out how to cook millet has turned into something of a quest.

First came the cookbook search. I have three shelves of cookbooks on a bookcase. Not that I could tell you why - really, I'm not much of a cook. I probably haven't used half of the books. I just like to have them, I suppose. Perhaps in case I need a recipe, my computer is broken, the web suddenly implodes, and life as we know it ceases except for electric powered stoves.

Like I said, I'm not sure why I have this many. But it didn't help. The only ones that mentioned millet had them cooked in conjunction with other foods we couldn't have. So then I went to the web, and instantly found entry after entry talking about millet.

First Attempt: Using a 2:1 water to millet ratio, I cooked the millet in a pot just liked I'd cook rice, with the lid on and the millet soaking up every last drop of water.
Results: Flop. The darn stuff was still crunchy inside!

Second Attempt: After more research, I found a little tidbit that seemed to address my problem. Millet, it turns out, does much better if it is dry pan fried - until it pops - before you start the 'boiling in water' part. And they do mean pop. I put my millet in a dry pan, turned up the heat, and it literally started making this popping noise. Then I used the same 2:1 ratio of water to millet and tried again.
Results: Flop #2. I forgot to put the lid on while it cooked. It was better, however. Not as crunchy. I managed to salvage it by using it in a broth later where it cooked for another 15 minutes or so. Turned out quite nicely that way, actually.

Third Attempt: 2:1 ratio of water to millet, pan fried ahead of time, remembered the lid, finally!
Results: Come on, you can guess, right? Flop #3. STILL crunchy in the middle, argh.

Fourth Attempt: Did yet more research, and found out that all this time, I'd had a little page from my Dietician that mentioned cooking grains, millet among them. And in her directions, the water to millet ration was 3:1. I thought that must be it. I'd just been using 1 cup too little water! So I did it all again...except I started this attempt after 4 hours of sleep, so forgot to pan fry it.
Results: Yes, another Flop. #4. Or rather, a flop as far as I'm concerned. It wasn't crunchy, though; it was mush. Thicker than malt-o-meal, but less thick than oatmeal. Still, utter and complete mush. This isn't something you can use as a substitute for rice in a meal. For those who are looking for an interesting oatmeal substitute, however? Here's how to make this version:

Millet Porridge

1. Put 3 cups water and 1 cup whole grain millet into a pot with a lid.
2. Bring the water to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer, cover, and simmer until all water is absorbed, about 40 minutes (at 3,000 feet above sea level).

The main drawback is the time it takes to cooks. However, the taste and smell really are a bit nutty, but pleasant. The texture is rather nice - soft, but with a little rice-like texture in small places throughout the mush. It looks like something you might be able to pour into a small bread pan and then cool and slice up later. Maybe serve it up reheated and under a tomato sauce like polenta? I'll try it and get back to you all when I try that.

Meanwhile, I am still on my quest to actually make millet that I can use like rice. Not too mushy, and not too crunchy, please, whatever cooking gods are listening. The moment that happens, that's my victory dance of the day.

If you are like me, where changes in your family's diet feel overwhelming and frustrating, it can be hard to make it through the day sometimes. I've been trying to remind myself of my small victories during the day. My victory dance.

Today's Victory Dance was NOT CHEATING.

My body has calmed down somewhat in the last few weeks, and now I can have foods that do not make my throat swell up. They will, however, give me stomach pains, intestinal yuckitude, and honestly, make me angry.

It sounds weird, but I swear this happens. I will wake up the morning after a 'bad' food in a foul mood and angry at every tiny little inconvenience all day long, possibly into the next day, and then suddenly I'm fine again. Even so, the urge to cheat on my diet is so very hard to resist, sometimes.

I may not emotionally care about the foods I can't have, yet, but I still crave them sometimes. I eat the same foods nearly every day with almost no variation, because I still don't have that many I can eat. So when I see tempting food around me, it's hard to resist the possibility of trying just a teeny, tiny bite. Not gluten - that I refuse to cheat on. But everything else? Much harder to ignore. Right now, everywhere we look there is holiday food: on tv, at friends' houses, in supermarkets. Every darn place. And my self-control has been hit hard.

So I've cheated. I admit it.

A piece of fudge, a small bowl of popcorn...and boy did I regret it almost before the taste left my tongue. I felt like smacking myself. I know this will happen. Why couldn't I have just sucked it up and stayed on my diet? It makes me feel like a failure, and an idiot, and then the next day when I'm super-grump-mom to my kids, I feel even worse, because I know it didn't have to be that way, if I'd only been a little stronger willed.

On top of that, if I react, then that delays when I can next try a new food, which means I don't get to add variety to my diet as quickly, which is why I was so weak in the first place: lack of variety. And I have to be a good example to the kids, who are on diets themselves. All good reasons not to cheat, but I still find it a struggle when faced with good food around me that smells great and that I used to be able to pick up and eat without a thought.

Today, though, in the face of fudge and gluten free pasta and candy and cookies and buckwheat pancakes...I DID NOT CHEAT.

That's my victory for the day. And it means that tomorrow, not only will I not be sick, or angry with my family, but I will get to try a new food, too. And while I miss the tastes, it's wonderful to feel proud of an accomplishment with food, rather than sad about a loss.

I'm hoping that the elk I get to try tomorrow will be completely worth the effort. But I know my family is.

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