Wednesday, June 21, 2006 Review

Here is an example of an incorrect use of xanthan gum, found on Factual or not, I can't say. I've had xanthan gum dust on my hands, when my hands got wet. I can't even imagine having a spoonful in my mouth.

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful: Really thick stuff, May 8, 2006

viktor_57 "viktor_57" (Fairview, Your Favorite State, USA) - See all my reviewsMy kid was upset when I got him an improvised Harry Potter broom for Christmas--O.K., it wasn't an officially licensed product, but since magic brooms are imaginary anyway, any stick with a bunch of straw at one end is as good as any other. But no--apparently a Corn Lobby Broom wasn't good enough for him. Anyway, he wouldn't talk to me for a month, which was good at first, but then got really annoying. For my kid's birthday I decided to get him something really special, so I got him this bag of xanthan gum. I even wrapped it up real nice with wrapping paper and ribbon. My kid opened his present and couldn't figure out what it was. "It's xanthan gum," I told him, "It's gum from outer space. From the planet Xanthan." My kid was busy staring at the label. "No it's not," he slowly replied, and then he began to read, "'Xanthan is made from the outer layer of a tiny, inactive bacterium called Xanthomonas campestris..." "From the planet Xanthan!" I interrupted. Since when did my kid learn to read? I grabbed the bag and opened it. "Here," I stuck a spoon into the white powder, "Try some. It's really good." My kid picked up the spoon and smelled the white powder. "Go on," I said, "you'll really like it!" He hesitated, and then stuck his tongue into the powder. I was starting to get impatient, so I grabbed the spoon from him, "Give it to me, you big chicken," and then I swallowed the powder. The stuff dissolved into a thick, slimy paste in my mouth, but I smiled as I chewed it, "Mmmmm... this is the tastiest xanthan gum in the whole universe!" My kid looked at me as if I were lying. "If you like it so much, then you can have it," he said. "Fine," I replied, "it's too good for you anyway." I figured a little reverse psychology would do the trick. My kid's expression didn't change. "Can I go now?" he asked. "Yeah, fine, get out here," I said. Now I'm stuck with half a pound of xanthan gum and I don't know anyone with wheat allergies or celiac disease I can give this stuff to. Stupid kid.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Xanthan Gum in Pancakes

The intended purpose of this blog, when not distracted by the crazy things I let the Maestro do, is to share the process I am going through to bake Gluten and Casein-free. I mentioned that the Maestro has auditory-defensiveness, but I didn't say that he has a number of sensory issues, all related under the term Sensory-Integration Dysfunction (DSI), which is associated with, but distinct from ASD. With the Maestro, it appears to be related to diet, and going Gluten- and Casein-free has really helped.

Baking Gluten-free, as anyone who has tried it knows, not a simple thing. Complicated flour mixes abound, as well as the issue to what to use to give your food the gluten stretch. The answer to the last one is solved fairly well by a substance called xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is a complex carbohydrate isolated from bacterial cultures that forms a bi-molecular anti-parallel double helix. This gives your food some springiness, the same as gluten. I have collected a number of recipes that I like, that call for a specific amount of xanthan gum.
But what if you can’t find a recipe? I am trying to develop a pancake recipe based on Jowar flour, starting from the wheat flour recipe. One question I have long had, and haven’t found an answer to anywhere is how to decide how much xanthan gum to use. Sure, I’ve found guidelines, like 1 tsp/cup flour for breads, etc. but are pancakes a cake? If you want to adapt your recipe, you need to understand the effect that too much or too little xanthan gum will have both on the batter, and on the finished product.

Too little xanthan gum makes things crumbly. But how do you recognize too much? Carbohydrates have a lot of hydroxyl groups, which form hydrogen bonds to water. This results in carbohydrates being both hydroscopic, meaning they absorb water, and hygroscopic, meaning they pull water out of the air. This is why you are supposed to store xanthan gum in a closed container in a dry place. In your batter, part of the liquid you add will be absorbed by the xanthan gum. Proteins, like gluten, absorb some water, but to a much lesser extent than carbohydrates do. This is the reason that gluten-free recipes typically require more liquid than wheat-based recipes. If your batter is too thick, you might have too much xanthan gum, or you might need to add more water.

Whether you decide to water or reduce the xanthan gum depends on how the final product turns out. This morning, I added too much xanthan gum, and had to add a TONNE of water to get the consistency right. Because they had complex carbohydrate holding on to all this extra water, they never dried out in the middle, regardless of how long I cooked them. Riley described them as “eggy”. To me, they just never seemed done. Neither the Maestro nor Hildr would eat more than two bites. To get the final product to have a drier texture that is more cake-like, I need to reduce the bound water, by reducing the xanthan gum.

I’ll let you know when I get a winner Jowar pancake recipe.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Turning 30

Thoughts on turning 30, which I did recently.

A quote from Garrison Keillor, courtesy of Slate Magazine: "I think that past the age of thirty there is no obligation to be clever at all," he once told the Paris Review. "Cleverness is a burden after that. You are supposed to settle down and be a good person, raise your children, and be good to your friends, which you may not have been back when you were clever."

Phew! Boy does that take the pressure off!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Paint, Paint Everywhere But Not a Drop to Drink

June 17th: Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

When we moved to East-Central Illinois for graduate school, we wanted to buy a house. We knew that I would be in graduate school for a number of years. We wanted to havekids and a yard for them to run in. We also wanted to leave here with some money to put into a house when I get a real job. Paying rent in an apartment accomplishes approximately none of those goals, so we got a short term apartment, and found a house to buy by the end of my second semester. To put it charitably, we found a fixer-upper. I won't list all of the problems the house had, but when we started looking for someone to fix the roof, someone came to give us an estimate, looked at the living room and asked me when we were moving in. We'd lived there for two months, I think, by then.

The biggest hassle early on in the renovation process was getting carpet installed in the living room. It was quite a struggle. Over a two month span, tears were shed, store managers were threatened, hair was lost.
Eventually, we received a pale sand coloured, cut Berber, with multi-coloured flecks to help hide the eventual stains. Since we plan on leaving here someday, and making a good profit in the house, keeping the carpet nice is somewhat of a life-mission of Riley's. The Garage-Sale Scene is hopping here, and one of her best finds has been a twice-used Carpet Cleaner for $20.

Unfortunately, it seems like whenever we lend it to someone, we need it for some emergency. I think the last time, we lent it to my Home-Teaching Companion, and that night my three-year-old, the Maestro, got sick and threw up chocolate milk just inside the doorway to the living-room. Stuff like this happens. Riley lent it to a friend of hers who lives in the next town over. The friend ended up not using it, choosing to buy her own instead. She said she would return it Wednesday when she was in town, but she apparently forgot.

Thursday night, Riley put our one-year-old daughter, Hildr, to bed, and went out to do some errands. She was going to return some things off she had borrowed, drop off library books go to the hardware store to pick up paint and shoe-molding, and go to the grocery store. I certainly didn't expect her back before 11:00. The paint and shoe-molding are for our wreck-room, the poorly-converted garage that is the last stage in the multi-year process of making our house something Riley will let people see. She had just finished priming the walls, with what I thought was all of two gallons of primer.

The Maestro and I were in the wreck-room after she left. He had found the empty cans of primer, and placed them atop two 5 gallon food-storage buckets. He was giving a bongo concert, playing along with Great Big Sea. It was hot, because the air-conditioner hadn't been on in that room, so I asked The Maestro if he wanted to go in the house, where it was cooler. He thought that was a great idea, because he could play bongos along with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas DVD. "The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy" features the Steel Drums, and THE BONGOS!!! I took the food storage buckets, and he carried the empty paint cans. He told me that he was using his strong muscles to lift them. I said good for him.

We set up his bongos in the living room, in front of the computer, so he could watch the DVD. I was going to start cleaning the kitchen, but hadn't yet, when he came screaming past me yelling "I SPILLED!!!" I looked over and saw the empty paint can lying on its side, with probably 1/3 to 1/2 of a gallon oozing out, down the side of the drum stand bucket, and into our pale sand-coloured, cut Berber, with multi-coloured flecks in it to hide the eventual stains. I would say that "I saw, to my horror..." but horror doesn't begin to describe what was going on in the depths of my gut. I'm not sure how to describe how I felt. I don't think it was my life flashing before my eyes, at the thought of Riley coming home and seeing what I had helped The Maestro to do to our living room. I think it was more my death flashing before my eyes, at the thought of Riley coming home to see this.

So then The Maestro started to yell louder "Clean me!" and I realized that he has run and taken refuge in his favourite chair, the burgundy reclining Wing-back, and that he and now it are both covered in white odor and stain-blocking primer. As I hauled him, hopefully not dripping, down the hallway to put him in the tub, I remembered our carpet-cleaner was out of town, I don't have a car, and I am going to die. Then I thought of the nearest carpet-cleaner, which belongs to another of Riley's friends. I put The Maestro in the tub, turned on the water, and told him to wash himself off. I called and gave the friend the synopsis -- I have paint all over my living room, no car, no cleaner -- Can she help me. She agreed to deliver the cleaner to my house immediately, if I would come out and lift it out of the trunk.

I cleaned The Maestro off, mostly, and set him watching Bob the Builder, while I spread water around in a mostly vain effort to keep things from drying, until the carpet-cleaner arrived. A few things to keep in mind for what comes next: The Maestro likes watching Bob the Builder very much; It was probably his bed-time by now, which means his ability to adapt to change patiently was greatly diminished; The Maestro has auditory- defensiveness, which means that he doesn't cope well with loud things like vacuums and carpet-cleaners, especially when he is tired. So when I turned off his video, told him to go to his room, and turned on the loud machine, he reacted like you might expect a three-year-old to react. He stood in his doorway, screaming, and pounding on the wall with a drum-stick. This woke-up Hildr, who started screaming, which made three of us, and I couldn't do anything to calm any of us down until the paint stopped oozing into the carpet.

By the time Riley got home, I had the carpet cleaned, and the kids back to bed. I was laying, not quite in the fetal-position, on the floor, with my emotional stability wrung out to the last drop. She didn't kill me.

To sum up: I got the paint out of the carpet, where it spilled; off the piano, where it splashed; off the kitchen cabinet, where it dribbled when I put the still dripping empty paint can in the sink. The Wingback was completely ruined, and the area rug that was dribbled on on the way to the sink still needs to be shaved, and the clothes The Maestro and I were wearing will probably testify of this experience for the rest of their lives. The Maestro still likes to play the drums, Riley still loves me, and the Garage-Sale Scene, which is hopping here, provided us with another living room chair this morning.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Gourmand, the Gastro-gnome