Thursday, June 24, 2010

Some Dreams Die Hard

I think it's ironic - or possibly just a little cracked - that at the point in time when I can eat less than 10 ingredients, I am more interested in cooking than I've ever been in my life. Before this, if I watched a cooking show, I would 'mmm' and 'ahhh' and 'oh, that looks good.' But it was all with the knowledge that there was no way in the world that the dish was going to be made in my kitchen.

It was going to take work, and practice, and skills I didn't have. Not to mention ingredients it would take me a couple hours to shop around and collect.

I don't feel that way anymore. ALL our food takes work now, and practice, and it doesn't matter what skills I don't have. If I want my family to eat, I'd better suck it up and start cooking. It'd be nice if I could come up with something palatable, but nutritious will do as I work my way there. And as for ingredients?

Oh man, do I have ingredients now. I have ingredients out the yin-yang. Yacon syrup, powdered maple, sorghum flour, potato starch, chia seeds, Amchur powder, veggies and fruits and meats and spices. If we can eat it, I likely have it. Or know where to get it, now.

So watching chefs cooking on TV, or reading recipes on gluten free blogs (there are so many good ones, it's hard to choose from!), I am utterly absorbed. I think about what we could make, what would taste good, what would be eaten by the kids. It's actually rather exciting, in a kind of desperate-for-good-food sort of way. I feel this jittery energy to actually cook, to see the kids and my hubby enjoy the food with smiles instead of tentative bites to make sure it's actually edible. I like it. Weird, but true. I'm enjoying this part of things, if not so much when it's the end of the day and I'm tired. And the dishes are left over. Still, more than I would have thought.

But lately, I've had to face a certain reality of our diet that's been, frankly, a bit sad. Baking is going to be the hardest dang thing EVER for our family. I keep reading how easy it is, once you get used to the new ingredients and play with them a bit.

Gluten Free Girl (another Shauna, curiously enough) has some amazing GF recipes for baked goods, and I read over them and drool. Especially her chocolate chip cookies. These look TO DIE FOR. Seriously, you should check them out if you can. They sound amazing. Her recipes and others from so many of the guys and gals who have been baking this way for years sound simply wonderful. And not too difficult, if you're willing to work a little for it. I get so excited when I see one of these and always think to myself that maybe we can do it, with a little substitution.

And then I read the recipes and my hopes just crash and burn. We may, someday, be able to figure it out. But right now, the substitutions are going to be so crazy's going to be a long, long while before I get even close, and I don't know if it'll ever happen. I hate that this dream keeps getting shot down just when it starts to stand up and take shape.

Take the above cookies, for example. Seriously, they look sooooo good. I start reading through the list of ingredients, and the rest of the recipe goes something like this:

Okay, flours and starches we can have. Awesome! We can TOTALLY make this cookie!

Baking powder? No, that's still good. I've got that covered by now. We've chucked our cornstarch baking powder and replaced it with one that has potato starch, instead. Which...I can't use, considering I react to BOTH, but maybe cream of tartar and baking soda might work for me someday. And this is just for the family right now anyway, so...we can still do this. This is doable.

Butter. Well, this one is tougher. We're a no dairy family again right now, so that's out. And no dairy substitutes that I've found are free from corn. Maybe a vegan shortening made from palm oil? Is that contaminated with anything bad for us? Coconut oil? Something? Okay, trickier, but I think we can still do this.

Sugar. Avoiding that one as well, argh. But hey, we could use agave syrup, as soon as I can figure out how to substitute it and see how it works. Or honey, as long as we make sure we don't get one that's corn syrup contaminated. Or...well, we could substitute that, right? Yes, yes, I can still see this cookie in my head. We will find a way!

Eggs. Crud, always with the eggs. No way, no how, and substitution A has gluten, substitution B has corn...we still haven't found anything our family can use for eggs except pureed fruit or maybe mashed tofu, and frankly, that hasn't turned out so well, to date. The recipe is looking more and more like a distant dream. But still, I persevere, because I WANT THAT DARN COOKIE! Really. Did you look at it? It was awesome looking!

Vanilla extract. No problem. No, really, I can make this. Take a pretty tasteless alcohol that isn't derived from corn or gluten, add vanilla bean, let sit for a few weeks, and there you go, vanilla extract (a lot of people use potato vodka, I understand. Or brandy. Or methods like this.). It'll take some planning, but the vanilla still won't do me in!

Dagoba chocodrops - Uh, this one might be harder. The company doesn't list the chocolate drops on their website anymore, but still, they make chocolate, right? It could be chopped up, but researching the ingredients will, again, be a bit of a challenge. Googling the ingredients was a total fail. I'll be going to the store, jotting down ingredients, and calling the company with a pinch of hope that I can figure out if it's safe for us. Or I can buy cacao nibs and figure out a way to make a dairy free chocolate from scratch. I am determined that this will work, darn it!


Still, I have gotten to the end of the list. It is daunting, and frustrating, but maybe, just maybe, I can do this. And then I go back over the ingredients and realize I've missed one. The crucial one. The one that always gets us becuase it's odd and strange and finding a substitution has been a pain in the petutie: Xanthan gum.

Yes, it's supposed to be so processed that there's no corn left in it. But as we've discovered, my body doesn't read labels. The tests for corn detect 50ppm or more. My body seems to react to less than that, and we're a bit worried that the kids do too, when we start having many foods with these trace amounts. So no Xanthan gum for us. I have NO IDEA what to substitute for this. I had to hunt it down, and the answers are often things we can't have, or I really need to research to see what it can do, and I haven't managed it once, yet.

Although it's surprising how many there are: Chia seed Flour (, Guar Gum, Gum Arabic, Locust Bean Gum (carob gum), Gum Tragacanth, Carrageenan. However, many of these pose allergy issues. Some have potential corn contamination, carob is a legume, some of the gums are potential allergens. It's going to take a lot of research to make sure they are safe.

Although as a novice chef, I wonder about other thickeners and gummy-type substances, too, and what use they'd be. Pectin? Gelatin? Various starches? Kudzu root? I have no idea what the gluten free status and allergen status of these are, most of the time. Pectin tends to have corn contamination issues. Gelatin is bad for us unless they can tell us what animal it came from, since we have trouble with some of them. The starches are sometimes contaminated. The kudzu root...well, I have no idea, even though I actually have some of this stuff, just never used it!

It is at this moment that my dream of baking typically fades, crushed under the weight of research and the hours of future experimentation needed, all just to get something that may or may not be edible in the end. I try to keep up hope - seriously, I do try - but considering how much of a challenge it is just to make the simplest dish, where every broth is made from scratch? The extra challenges of baking right now seem far, far out of reach.

Someday, I am going to try it, when we have recipes that I can make blindfolded and I have quarts and quarts of homemade sauces to thaw out and use, whenever I wish. For now, though, I think that I will take all thoughts of baking and put them in a small jar with a heart on it, way in the back shelf, and think of them fondly every once in a while. Perhaps try a homemade pancake or two, maybe even a biscuit.

But the cookies...the reality is going to be a while in coming, even if the Dream lives on, every time I see another recipe that we 'might' be able to use.

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