Thursday, October 11, 2007

Even more things about me

The Thrilling conclusion...
5.  I used to live a 20 minute bike ride from campus, and loved to ride my bike.   For years I rode to work all through the year, regardless of the temperature.  I don't like to ride in the snow or the rain, but I could ride until the temperature dropped below 15 °F.   There is something about riding in the cold that made me feel alive.  Now, I live a 20 minute drive from work, though when there are other people on the road it takes me 40-60 minutes.   I haven't yet found a place in my schedule to get the exercise I used to get on my way to work.  I used to swim, regularly but I sprained my elbow and had to stop.   I haven't tried it in over a year, but I constantly mean to start again.  Maybe Tuesday.


6.  I don't like Taco salad, but I do like Tacos.  I occasionally like pickles, but only by themselves.   I always have to pull the pickles out of hamburgers and sandwiches.  I've never eaten lobster.  The few times I've had the opportunity I have declined.   If I really love it I'd just be developing a taste for something that I can't afford.  If I don't love it, I'd be disappointed after everyone telling me how wonderful Lobster tastes.   I'd rather live not being hooked on or disappointed by Lobster.


7.  I'm over 30, and I've never voted.  As a Canadian, I can't vote in the U.S., and I've always been in the U.S. during Canadian elections.  Because Canadian elections are conducted so quickly, I have always missed the chance to register for an absentee ballot.   Home Town is having an election this month, but I haven't yet lived here long enough to vote.


8.  My favourite novel is War and Peace.  Once I got past the first third, and had figured out who the important characters are, I started to really care about them.   The whole point of the book is how to be happy.  Everyone has a different idea of what leads to happiness, and each finds that what they thought would lead them there does not.   The question that lingers over every page is whether they will figure life out before it ends.  The thing that I love is that the book is so long that Tolstoy has time to fully develop everybody's thought process, and show why they try what they do, and why it works or doesn't work.   Anything shorter wouldn't be able to accomplish what Tolstoy is trying to do here.  It's glorious.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Things about me.

As you may know, I recently wrote, defending and deposited a doctoral dissertation.  Then I loaded up my home, sold the house and moved to another country.   Then I started a new job.  This didn't leave a lot of time for keeping up with blogs that I otherwise enjoy.  I have a bloglines account that keeps track of new postings for me, and I recently had the chance to go look at some of what I had missed over the last part of the summer.  One thing I missed was the "8 random facts about me" meme that a number of bloggers participated in.  Of course then, I missed the invitation from By the Bay to tell you 8 things about myself.   Having just moved herself, By The Bay will either understand my tardiness and know that I didn't quit reading her blog, or she'll wonder what all the whining is about.  Anyway, b etter late than never, so here I am. 


In any other forum, not eating gluten would be a random fact, but I don't think it counts here.


1.  I am by training a medicinal organic chemist; for my Ph.D. I designed and synthesized potential drugs for imaging breast cancer.   One of the tenets of both chemistry and the biology that chemistry interacts with is that structure (chemical and biological) leads to function (chemical reactivity, biological response).   I think that this has really affected how I approach baking.  I tend to be less interested in following a recipe than understanding what each ingredient is doing.   If I don't know what something does, I don't want to put it in my food.  One result of this is that I don't post recipes as often as many (all other?) food bloggers, because I don't feel like the recipes themselves are that important, unless you have exactly the same taste as I do.

Some people don't want anything in their food that they can't pronounce.  I can say [insert IUPC name here] but I still don't want it in my food.


2.  The picture I use for my online persona is not really a picture of me.   It is my kitchen gnome.  His name is Gourmand, the Gastrognome.  That is a pun that I end up explaining to a discouragingly high number of people.   Gourmand now lives at my office because Riley doesn't appreciate his contribution to the aesthetics of our home.


3.  That brings up another random fact about me that I occasionally wish was more apparent.   The proper pronoun for me is He, not She.  I suppose that people may get confused because my spouse, Riley, has a masculine name, and ElwoodCity isn't a name at all.   Also, I bake, which is traditionally women's work.  When our two-year old daughter Hildr was younger, Riley used to call her "girly".  For a time she started to worry that by calling her girly, Hildr would end up feeling forced into a stereotypical gender role.  Then she realized that if Hildr ended up feeling "girly" she might think that that meant she was supposed to use mow the lawn and use the power tools like her Mom, instead of baking like her Dad, so that's probably OK.


4.  OK, those aren't exactly random.  Here's a random fact: I don't use Shampoo.   I have curly hair, and curly hair is usually much drier than straight hair.  When I use shampoo, my hair gets frizzy, especially since I moved back to Home Town.  This isn't to say that I don't wash my hair; I simply use conditioner to wash it with.  When I don't wash my hair, it does get oil.   I've been washing my hair this way since before I stopped eating gluten, and have had much less trouble with it than when I used shampoo.


I think that I talk too much, so I will only tell you four things about myself today, and give you the rest later in the week.   I know.  The suspense is killing you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Muffin Mix

I realized the other day that it had been since classes started since I had posted anything.  Time sure does fly.   I love my new job, and feel like most days I do a pretty good job of it.  Yesterday I had 35 students staring at me blankly as I tried to explain how increasing the number of contributing resonance structures can actually lower the acidity of a proton.   I want them to realize when they are confused about a concept; if it intuitively makes sense whenever I am talking, they will think they know it when really they don't.   However, I don't want to be the one confusing them.  Yesterday I felt like I accidently stepped over the line a bit.


Sunday morning we needed a snack to take to church with us, so I decided to make muffins.  As I was getting out the mixing bowl, Riley asked me if I was sure I wanted to do that, because we needed to start out the door in an hour.   By the time she had finished the question I had all my dry ingredients in the bowl, and just needed to add oil and water.  From start to finish, I had muffins baked in 25 minutes.   I have finally, after a year of needing to get to it, figured out a basic muffin mix.  I wish I had pictures for you, but our camera went belly up a few weeks before the move.


25 minute Muffins


2 ¾ cups dry muffin mix

2/3 cup vegetable oil

1 1/4cup water


Mix, and Bake, 20 minutes at 350 degrees F.


So, what is in the mix? .


4 cups Sorghum Flour

2 cups Tapioca Starch

1 ½ cups Rice Flour

½ Cup Amaranth Flour (You may substitute more rice flour, I suppose)

1 ½ cups Sugar

8 tsp Baking Powder

6 tsp Xanthan Gum

4 tsp Salt

3 Tbsp Soy Powder


The Soy Powder is so that I don't have to include eggs with the wet ingredients.  For someone with a soy sensitivity, feel free to leave it out, add two eggs and reduce the amount of water when you want get ready to bake.  


I'm still thinking about the problem of egg sensitivity AND soy sensitivity, but haven't come up with anything yet.   The problem is that both eggs and soy have high concentrations of an emulsifier called lecithin, which is structurally similar to soap in some ways but tastes a lot better.  Lecithin is a great emulsifier, meaning that it holds the oil and the water together in one phase, like fat free Italian dressing, instead of allowing them to separate like normal dressing does.   One question I need to find the answer to, I suppose is whether someone with egg and soy sensitivity can use purified lecithin, or if it is the lecithin itself that is a problem.  Has anyone who can't eat soy tried purified Soy Lecithin in baking?


Using soy powder or soy flour instead of egg works fairly well in most things that I've baked.  It's really only since we moved that I've been able to experiment with soy in Gluten free baking because Hildegard, for whom I did some baking, couldn't handle soy.   1 ½ tsp soy with some extra water, like a Tbsp or so, is a pretty good egg substitute in muffins and cakes, but it doesn't work as well in bread and works horribly with waffles.   It may be the lack of cholesterol, I don't know, but they stick something awful in the waffle iron.  It may be that if I added extra oil to compensate, it would go better.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Moved-in round-up.

Time to start blooging regularly again.  I have mostly-completed moving my fanily from the Midwestern United States to Western Canada to take a Faculty Postiion at Home Town College (HTC), Canada, where, incidentally, I did not attend school.  Aside from the customs and immigration issues that were both more complicated and easier than expected, moving to another country entails a lot of adjustment, diet-wise.
It turns out that basing your entire food system around one grain doesn't work very well if you move to a place where no one else eats that food.  You'll have a hard time continuing to eat Putine everyday if you move to Texas, for example.  In my case, I discovered that Canada has, in general, not discovered the joys of baking with sorghum flour.  At the very least, I expected to find Soem small bags of Bob's Red Mill Sorghum flour at some of the more snobbish grocery stores.  But no, it was nowhere to be seen.  Since the last time I bought Jowar flour from the Indian Grocery, it smelled like wheat flour, I have been hesitant to go that route.  I finally make it to a hippy foods-type store on the west side of the city and found that they sell bulk sorghum flour for a pretty decent price.  I have ordered a 25 kilo bag of it, which they tell me should come in next week.
The interesting thing about this sorghum flour is that it appears to NOT be the sweet white sorghum that Bob's Red Mill and Twin Valley Mills Uses.  They couldn't tell me what kind it was, or where it came from except the assure me that it was a Canadian Source, and not from China.  Instead of a pale amber, this type is more reddish.  It is curious that in the mid-west I had amber soghum flour and purple millet flour, and here I have amber millet flour and red sorghum flour.  Wikipedia lists over 30 varieties of sorghum, so who knows.  This kind tastes a little more bitter than what I am used to, but it bakes the same, otherwise.
The other big news is that Canada has other types of rice pasta than I have ever seen before.  Obviously, the U.S. wouldn't have had President's Choice , but a third company, Rizopia, is in competition with Tinkyada.  I've tried them both, and they appear to be similar to Tinkyada, with the main advantage being that they are both cheaper.  I've been stocking up on Rizopia products since they went on sale, 4/$5 for the past two weeks.  That is simply unheard of with Tinkyada, which I have NEVER seen go on sale.
So I think we're set, food wise.  With the bulk Sorghum, the sale on noodles, with the 2.99/gallon Soy Milk, being Gluten and Dairy Free here shouldn't be so tough.  The last thing I need to find but haven't has been the Maestro's favourite Cheerios knock-off, the Apple-Cinnamon Perky-O's.  I saw a box at the other hippy food-type store, but it was approximately ONE MILLION DOLLARS, so I didn't buy it.
I have something to say about Egg Substitutes (bad news, sorry) and a book review that I hope to get to this week.  We'll see how it goes.  Classes start on Tuesday, and I jost got my office and a teimporary computer on Friday.  That's another post, though.

Friday, August 24, 2007

I'm still alive

I know that it appears that I have retired, disappeared or become trapped at the border.  In fact, I am simply taking a while to get everything set up in my new home/workplace, and have classes that start in just over a week.
We arrived in Canada with mostly minor annoyances only.  The main problem was not in getting Riley, my American wife, accross the border; the big problem was the car.  With defending, revising and depositing a dissertation, packing and loading the truck, and cleaning and selling the house, the ONE thing that was seriously neglected was the procedure for exporting a car from the U.S. and importing it into Canada.  We got through the border; the car did not.
My Mom ended up driving to the border and pick us up.  You'd think that a Ph.D. in his early 30s wouldn't need his mom to come get him anymore, but I think there are some things you just never grow out of.
Anyway, we're here in Home Town, and getting settled in.  I have found most of the gluten and casein free things we need.  I'll have to go into some more detail on that soon.  Not all the products we used in the States are readily available here, and there are some new things to try.  I think I have a 50+ lb bag of sorghum coming to me soon, but I'm not sure.
I think I really love my job.  I don't have an office yet, which is another good story, but the situation here is a lot more fluid than I had realized.  In fact, I need to log off in a couple of minutes to go sit in on a job interview.  Things are fluid around me, but I am expected to be permenant, so the real question is what do I want to make of myself here.  I haven't fully figured that out yet, to be perfectly honest, so it will be an interesting first few years.
Time to go.  I have more to say, but I thought I should say something today.  It's the post that's never started, as takes longest to finish, as the old Gaffer used to say.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Gluten Addiction?

It's probably been a couple of weeks now, but Kate asked a question about the potential for becoming addicted to gluten.  I mean, I think that many of us wish we could eat a juicy doughnut every once and a while, but Kate seemed to think that there is something more to it for some people.   Are some people Jonesin' for a doughnut for more reasons than that they smell good around 4:00?  I've read up on it while taking a break from getting ready for my dissertation defense and now that I've finished, it seems like a good time to share what I found.


First off, we know the incomplete digestion of gliadin produces peptide fragments that are also known as exorphins.  Where that name comes from, I don't know.  As I understand it, an exorphin will have comparable action but opposite effects to an endorphin.  They interact with the opioid receptors, the mu, kappa and delta receptors, which are located predominantly in the central nervous system (CNS) as well as in the digestive tract.


These are the same receptors that are involved with opium and its purified components morphine and codeine, as well as heroin, which is a semi-synthetic derivative of morphine.  Mu receptors generally are responsible for the analgesic effects, respiratory depressant, pupil constriction, euphoric and physical dependence properties.   Kappa receptors also affect analgesia, as well as sedation, physical dependences and dysphoria, possibly by inhibiting mu receptors.  Delta receptor action is poorly understood, at least when the book I was looking at was written.


An interesting side note that I hadn't been aware of before is the fact that the opioid receptors in the CNS become habituated, whereas the receptors in the digestive tract do not.   The consequence of this is that to get the same high, an addict needs to take more drug than they used to, but as they do so the effect of the drug on the gut becomes more and more extreme.   When you realized that morphine has been used to relieve diarrhea, it makes me think that perhaps they might need to be taking Alli to balance out the effects.


Biologically, these receptors are activated or deactivated by drugs but they are designed to function in response to chemicals that are made in the body rather than chemicals made in a poppy or a chemistry lab.   These endogenous ligands are called endorphins.  They are responsible runners high, where a person gains a boost of energy, mental acuity and relief from pain.   It isn't clear exactly how this works, because inhibition of runners high using opioid receptor antagonists does not produce the opposite of these effects.   Exorphins on the other hand DO cause the opposite effect of a runner's high: loss of energy, loss of mental acuity and the onset of pain.  That sounds like a pretty complete explanation of what I feel when I ingest gluten, I'd say.


This is where the speculation and anecdotal evidence begins.  I have found that my sensitivity to gluten has increased, rather than decreased as I have been on a gluten free diet.   That is, I now get terrible headaches when I eat gluten that I didn't notice having continually before.  My speculation is that a similar habituation process can occur with gluten that occurs with heroin.   When I ate gluten all the time, I needed more to get the same effect.  The difference is that heroin makes you feel good and gluten makes me feel bad.   Now that I am off gluten, I have become de-habituated, if that is a word, and am more sensitive.


Second, if gluten peptides are interacting with the same receptors that heroin does, is it unreasonable to assume that for some people they can be habit forming in a similar way.   I have often heard that heroin is relatively easy, though extremely messy, to get off of.  The withdrawal symptoms are painful and messy, but they end and then the former addict can go on with life.   However, approximately 25% of heroin addicts are never free of the craving, and must continue methadone treatment indefinitely. 


We do know that aside from the usual withdrawal symptoms, there is something called protracted abstinence syndrome that can last up to six months.   It includes depression, abnormal response to stressful situations, drug hunger, decreased self-esteem, anxiety and other psychological disturbances.   My book says "Long-term opioid craving might result from a pre-existing or an opioid-induced hypofunction of the endogenous endorphin system.  Therefore, to rehabilitate these addicts and keep them in a functional state, low levels of opioid may be necessary."   Could there be an "opioid induced hypofunction of the endorphin system" that causes a person to crave gluten forever?  I haven't found any research on it in the scientific literature, but it makes sense.  


It may be protracted abstinence syndrome that persists for up to six months, and you are giving in and having a slice of Poppa John's pizza within that time frame, thus re-entering the craving cycle, whereas if you just refrained a little longer, you could break out.  It may be that there is a persistent physical dependence similar to addiction.  Or, it may simply the case that no one sells a good gluten free donut.   Someone should do some fMRI studies on this, I think.  That isn't my bailiwick, though.


(Information taken from "A Primer of Drug Action" by Robert M. Julien, M.D. Ph.D. 1995.)



Dr? Dr!

I'm done.  My defense went pretty smoothly, actually.  I am now semi-officially Dr ElwoodCity, Ph.D.  Of course, this makes my opinion on flour blends SO much more relevant than it was last week.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Gluten-Free, Quick and Easy

I started blogging last summer after discovering that eating gluten-free would help my son, the Maestro. The Maestro has Sensory Integration Disorder, and avoiding gluten and casein has made a huge difference for him. It turns out that I am gluten intolerant too, and feel so much better since avoiding gluten. We all know that going gluten free can be a very intimidating process. Many of the rules of baking get reversed, if not completely thrown out, when you get rid of gluten. I had a lot of question that I couldn’t find the answers to. I thought that if I couldn’t find the answers, probably there were a lot of other people who were having the same problem I had and I needed to share what I had found. Recently I was given a copy of Carol Fenster’s new book, “Gluten-Free, Quick and Easy”. In many ways this is the book I had been looking for, but couldn’t find.

One of my biggest initial frustrations was the huge number of flour mixes that people recommend, and the variety of GF flours that behave completely different from each other. What would I like? What would I need? I have found too many lists that described the most common types of rice flour and omitted grains gaining in popularity. This book has the most complete list of gluten free flours that I have seen in one place, with a good description of the flavours and properties of each. It describes new flours fewer people have had experience with, such as Montina flour and Salba, as well as the most common flours such as rice or Garfava. There is also a smaller list of important staples in a gluten-free pantry that you need to make the recipes in the book, to eliminate the guesswork in getting started.

Another thing we were glad to see was what we call a “mega-cooking” plan. Before eliminating gluten, Riley was excited about making mixes for baking, and making multiple batches of dishes for freezing. Without all-purpose flour, all the air went out of that balloon for us. I have always wanted to do the math and make a big bucket of muffin mix. And waffle mix. And bread mix. And cake mix. The last six months, when my baking had developed to the point that I had the basic recipe that I wanted for scale-up, I have had job applications, interview trips and a dissertation to write instead of working on mixes. Later this week I have my defense, and I suppose I have become the target audience of a quick and easy cookbook. Now Carol Fenster has done the math for me, and there are mix recipes that she uses for her quick breads, her yeast breads and cakes. Carol also includes a plan for purposeful left-overs, called “planned-overs”. There is a month-long sample recipe plan for producing planned-overs and what recipes to use them in. Also, each section has a list of recipes that fit together using planned-overs.

Each recipe calls for ingredients that are naturally gluten-free, but there are also a number of ingredients that may or may not be gluten-free, depending on the brand you choose. For each of these, there are suggestions of common brands that are gluten free, such as tamari soy sauce (Eden, San-J,Hy-VeeI) or Oriental 5-Spice Powder (Durkee, Tone’s, Spice Island).

So far, I have made the bread machine yeast bread recipe, some Swedish meatballs, and a basic pie crust. I have always had better luck baking bread in a bread machine than I have had using an oven, but I have never considered that the pan I am using might be the difference-maker. Apparently it is. I have always had a hard time knowing if bread is done, but I learned that the interior temperature needs to be 200-205 °F. Jabbing my meat thermometer into a loaf of bread isn’t my first choice, but it sure beats having a loaf collapse because it isn’t done on the inside. Perhaps someday I will be able to know when a loaf is done based on the sound when I thump it, but until then a small hole is a small price to pay.

I have talked about my pie crust before, and wished that I had a pie crust recipe that was more malleable. I liked the flavour of my sorghum/tapioca crust, but it cracked whenever I tried to move it. Carol Fenster’s solution is to use some sweet rice flour to make a softer, more pliable dough. The Maestro and I made pumpkin tarts this weekend, and they turned out great.

So is this book perfect? No, but it is amazingly close. I think I will continue to use my basic flour recipe for most things, though the pie crust was easier to work with than anything I have come up with. I have to disagree with the explanation on the gluten-free status of oats. The problem with oats is NOT exclusively cross-contamination. A friend of mine who is a plant physiologist has run assays on different strains of oats, grown from seed and never processed with wheat. Some strains have gluten-like proteins that cause an antibody response and some do not. I am pretty sure he has never published this, so a thorough search of the primary literature is not going to reveal the difference. Anyone who decides to grow their own oats needs to keep the strain of oats in mind.

Overall, this book is a great resource for anyone starting on the gluten free lifestyle. I wish I had had it a long time ago. At the same time, someone with more GF experience can still learn a lot from it. The Maestro, who is now four, is already planning what kind of pie he wants to make with our new favourite pie crust.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Done (at least this stage)

I have finished, printed and handed my dissertation to my committee.  After printing and before handing it out, I found one important typo.  Any bets on who in my committee finds it in the next week?
Now the focus switches to preparing a presentation for my defense next week and moving out of my lab.  I also have a few things still to take care of in regards to moving out of my house, though Riley is doing a monster job of most of that.  Now I should have more time to help.
No food news today, though I did get quite a kick out of learning more about the latest news from Glaxo-Smith-Kline, where some of my former class-mates work.  Their new weight loss drug Alli (pronounced Ally) has some, shall we call them "interesting" <s>side effects</s> treatment effects.  For a nervous laugh, check out this site, and visit the "How does it work" section, especially the part on treatment effects.  I'm not sure any weight loss plan that includes bringing an extra pair of pants to work is for me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Some links I missed yesterday

There were a couple of links I wanted to pass on. 
Karen has a website that seems like a perfect corellary to mine.  I tend to focus on how to bake gluten free, though I have lately strayed to a more scientific discussion.  Karen writes about what to eat when you aren't baking.  Gluten Free Food Reviews takes all the guesswork out of the GF aisle.  Take a look.
A different Karen, Karen Morgan, has a dessert fetish.  Any dessert you want will eventually pop up at  The Art of Gluten Free Cooking.  She earns my love with her frequent inclusion of sorghum flour, and the artwork.
The abstract writing yesterday went smoothly after my lab-mate pointed out that my committee isn't really going to read it anyway.  As of yesterday I had 90 pages, and over 24,000 words.  Final edit today!

Monday, July 16, 2007

A few random bits

Kate asked me a question about addiction to gluten.  That is a great question, and deserves a great answer.  I have been working on it a bit, and have come up with some information and some speculation.  Stayed tuned for more.
I regret that I wasn't able to come up with a recipe for the Cooking for Karina post at Gluten Free by the Bay.  That is a great idea, and when I get settled in our new place (still a long way off) I plan on working on a post about egg replacers.  Karina, I hope that you found some good recipes.
I have been working on finishing off small bits of random flours that would otherwise be confiscated as I cross the border, and had some good bread using 3 cups 1:1 sorghum/rice flour, with 1/2 cup of Teff as an accent flour.  Some of you might remember that my bread machine died recently, but oven-baking is going well since I figured out to bake it for what seems like too long.  It doesn't freeze well, though, so I look forward to getting a new bread machine soon.  That will also be after the move.
Congratulations, Shauna and the Chef!  May you always have good eats.
The last thing we need for Riley's application for Canadian residency came in the mail today!  And there was much rejoicing in the land.
Well, I should get back to the disseration writing.  I think my abstract is now too long, and I need to cut it down, but I don't have everything that I want to say in it yet.  The hardest part of science writing is the abstract, and I have to have everything done by wednesday.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Revolution Health and Gluten Sensitivity

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from Cindy, at, inviting me to take part in conference call interview with representatives of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.  The most common response I got from friends here to this news was a somewhat confused "But, you don't have celiac disease."  That is true.  My thinking on the issue was that if one is going to eat gluten free, the distinction is going to become a little fuzzy sometimes.   If you are a gluten-free blogger, there feels like a difference between not having celiac disease and being a non-celiac.  It's more like not being Tiger Woods.   I'm not Tiger, but I'm not Tiger in a different way than Not-Tiger, the one who won the U.S. open last week is not Tiger.  I'm not sure if that makes any sense to anyone but me.   Anyway, here was a chance to talk to a real, live Gastroenterologist, and a Spokesperson for the NFCA.  Why not?


No reason other than the fact that I have felt terribly behind on writing my doctoral dissertation, that is.   I have a mostly complete draft that people are editing for me, so I have some time now to actually write a post about this issue, finally.  The audio of the call can be found here.  I wish it could be downloaded, but I haven't been able to do more than stream it.  


The Doctor was Dr. Jay DiMarino, Director of the Gastroenterology Training Program and Director of The Digestive Disease Institute at Thomas Jefferson University and University Hospital, Philadelphia, PA. Several other bloggers were invited to play too.  Shauna James was there, as well as Rachel, Gina, Diane, Sloan, and Jackie Collins, who is RevolutionHealth's resident Gastrogirl.


I had three questions that I really wanted answers to.  First was where we Non-Celiacs fit into the gluten free world.   I'm a little sensitive to this recently, as some of my more recent posts show.  If you ask google about gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance, you get websites that will tell you that there are many people who are sensitive to gluten and may actually have celiac disease.   It is like my gluten sensitivity is merely and undiagnosed or sub-clinical form of celiac disease.  Is that all I am, then?   This then relates to my second question, which was the rates of false negatives with the diagnostic tests, and the factors that influence the incidence of false negatives.


Sloan beat me to the question of sensitivity vs. celiac disease.  To paraphrase a little bit, Dr. DiMarino said that essentially, celiac disease is an allergy.   It is an immune response, like Hay Fever is an immune response.  The difference being, of course, that Hay Fever makes your nose run and your eyes itch while celiac disease rips your intestines apart. Gluten sensitivity or intolerance is more similar to eating a not-ripe apple.   There is nothing wrong with eating apples, but under-ripe ones just didn't agree with you.


I have to say that I didn't really like the analogy.  I understand what he was trying to say, that eating gluten is leads to an unpleasant response but that there is no built-in immune response.   Feeling sick after eating a green apple suggests that someone needs to man up a bit, or at least not eat green apples on an empty stomach.  They are too acidic, and too crisp.   I've eaten green apples, and never had the headaches and fogginess that gluten gives me.  This is a little more fundamental than a little excess acid making my tummy hurt.


He did mention the issue of prolamines, and seemed to leave it to me to explain.  So, I will.  Proteins are chains of amino acids, of which there are 20 different kinds.  These chains fold into balls, or twist into coils.   Gluten proteins are abnormally high in proline, an amino acid that is different from the others in that the nitrogen in the amino part is part of a ring.  Because of this, when you unwind the coil or untangle the ball of protein, the section with proline doesn't straighten out the same as all the rest.   So you get amino acid chains like rope with an occasional kink in it.  For some of us, Dr DiMarino seemed to suggest, the proline kinks interrupt the enzymes trying to digest the protein, and we end up with short sections of indigestible protein called prolamines floating around in the gut.  


So what do these proline rich peptides do?  Well, if they get into the blood stream and travel to the brain, they fit into opioid receptors.   If you inject them into rats, you get rats that behave as if they are autistic.  This connection is the basis for the GFCF diet many autistic kids are on.   I'm neither a rat nor an autistic child, so what do they do to me?  Well, they give me a headache, for one thing, and make my head a little foggy.   They don't bother my tummy, though. Dr DiMarino is the first person I have heard call them prolamines.  I have seen them some places referred to as exorphins, like the opposite of the endorphins (the pain killers the body produces when we get excited about something).


So that is the difference between gluten sensitivity and clinically diagnosed celiac disease.   It doesn't define the difference between sensitivity sub-clinical celiac disease, however.  That begins to relate to my second question, about testing.   I will leave that to another post, though.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Last night just before going to bed, I hit stop on my bread machine and took the loaf out to cool.  Then I hit stop, so that the machine wouldn't keep beeping at me as it finished its cool cycle.  For those of you scoring at home, that is two hits on the stop button, which doubles as the start button.
Sooooo, it went through a second bake cycle while empty, and melted a huge hole in the top window.  No more bread machine.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Irony of Science and Celiac Disease

My blog posts don't usually get a lot of comments.  Many posts don't get any comments at all, so when I get a handful of comments on one post, I start to think that I have hit a resonant note with people.  Well, either that or that I have had the same post at the top of my blog for almost a month.  That DOES tend to allow more time for people to comment on it.  Anyway, my last post on the misunderstood nature of an undiagnosed celiac, or undiagnosed anything, has prompted more shouts of "Amen, Brother!" than anything I have written in the past year.
As I write this, I am taking a break from writing experimental details for my doctoral dissertation, which I defend in July.  Soon I will become Dr. ElwoodCity, and move to Home Town and join the Faculty of Science and Technology at Home Town College.  For the past several years I have been working on the development of smarter imaging agents for the diagnosis of breast cancer.  I mention this so you can see my comments in the context of someone who is clearly not "anti-science".
This is going to be a long post, because this is a big topic.
The thing is, there a limitations on diagnostic medicine, and those limitations contribute to the number of people who are undiagnosed for celiac disease.  This is not in itself a problem.  The problem is that far too many people don't understand what those limitations are, and so fail to even see them.  If you don't see any limitations for diagnostic medicine, you are also going to be blind to the limits of what Scientists and Doctors to know about your health.  Whatever they say must be both accurate and precise.
This was my main complaint with Kate Murphy's article.  It implied over and over that if you have a positive test, you should be on a gluten free diet, because the test determines whether you have celiac disease.  If you have a negative test, the only reason you would go gluten free is because you are buying into the newest fad diet.  I'm sorry, but that just reveals who doesn't know what about science, and it isn't good.
The main thing that science tries to accomplish is the removal of uncontrolled variables.  We figure out everything that may be affecting the outcome, and change them one at a time, keeping the others constant.  That way we can say how each factor influences the outcome.  In my field, that isn't more complicated than figuring out how you want to change a recipe.  Cooks optimize recipes much the same way I optimize a chemical reaction.  It is pretty simple when all the variables are things you control, like ingredients and temperatures.  In the human body, it is just a tad bit more complicated.
The genetic differences in human populations, as well as lifestyle choices, will occasionally make the result of any diagnostic test worthless for one individual.  This is why science preaches against relying on anecdotal evidence.  Think for example if we were trying to decide upon a new set of dietary recommendations, and someone asked you what you ate in order to feel healthy?  Would your answers be applicable at all to the people who live next door?  To the majority of the population?  No, because the people who frequent this blog have a completely different set of variables controlling how they interact with food than the majority of the population.  Diagnostic tests are designed for the majority, not the individual.
The solution to this is to decide upon an acceptable threshold for false positives and false negatives.  You take a population, divide them into groups of yes and no, responders and non-responders, and you give them the new test.  Then you decide how to interpret the results so that the most people with a yes result are found, without including too many people from the no group.  The result is that a certain number of people who should be yes are missed - a false negative.  Some people who should be no are included in the yes group - a false positive.  Every test has false positives and false negatives.
The current method of predicting response to hormone therapy for breast cancer patients has only a 5% false negative rate.  That is really good.  It has a false positive rate of 60%, though, meaning that if the test predicts that you will respond to hormone therapy, you have only a slightly better than 50/50 chance that you actually will.  This is why I have a research topic.  Shouldn't there be a way to improve that?
So here is the question - What is the false negative rate tests for celiac disease?  Does anyone know?  The gold standard test is endoscopy, which implies that the blood tests, while good, have either higher false negatives or higher false positives.  To figure it out, we need to take a population and divide it into people who have celiac disease and people who don't, then perform endoscopies on all of them to see how the endoscopy results correlate with who has celiac disease, and who doesn't.  Now, aside from the fact that that is a complicated study that no one cares enough to do, how are you going to do the initial division into groups?  How are you going to select celiacs from "normal" people to have something to correlate your data to?
The only way I can think of is to put people on a gluten free diet, and see who feels better and who doesn't.  Wait a minute... I think I've heard that somewhere before...
Oh yeah! It was in an article in the New York Times, by Kate Murphy.  "The final proof is reversal of symptoms on a gluten-free diet."  Thanks, Kate, for helping us know how we can know definitively whether we should be on a gluten free diet or not.  The irony of the whole situation is that the people who claim authority for the diagnostic tests because they come from "science" understand the process less well, and is less scientific, than someone who just stopped eating wheat, barley, rye and oats (sometimes) to see if they would feel better.
So here's to you, undiagnosed celiac scientists!
(And this doesn't even address the issue of medical doctors, and their ability to think outside the box.  That could be another whole post on its own, but I need to get back to work.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Letter to Kate Murphy

A few months ago, you contacted me for an interview for an article you were writing about gluten sensitivity.  I just read your article.  I have to say, I rather suspect that has we talked you would have portrayed me in the demographic of "crazy people who stop eating gluten even though they haven't had a real doctor tell them they should."  As such, I'm not that sorry I missed you.
I felt that your article was not a fair representation of people who have legitimate reasons to avoid gluten.  Sure, diagnosed Celiacs meet your approval, but the rest of us must be crazy, obviously.  I would point out the fallacies in your article, but you know them already.  Otherwise, you wouldn't say things like:
"The final proof is reversal of symptoms on a gluten-free diet." "Though no test for celiac disease is definitive..."
"celiac disease has been difficult to identify, especially because its symptoms vary widely"
The final impression I am left with is that you have absolute trust in doctors to know what is best for you, and a distrust of anyone who pays attention to how they feel.  If that is the case, I hope you have some really good Doctors, Kate.  I've taught chemistry to too many pre-med students to share your confidence.
Elwood City

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

MultiGrain Bread

I have been eating the most wonderful bread lately. Several months ago Riley brought home a bread maker, and reminded me that we had a Sorghum flour bread machine recipe. This has become our standard bread recipe, but recently I have been doing some modifications that I wanted to tell you about.

First off, as I mentioned in my GF on a budget post, I have been using white rice flour instead of brown. It has been working just fine. Then I wrote a post on flours, and realized that I had been neglecting Millet flour just because the bag I had was purple. When I first started baking wheat bread years ago, Riley wanted me to make Great Harvest Multi-grain bread, and the recipe I worked out had Millet seeds in it. It was time to try putting more Millet back into my life. Sorry I have no pictures for you. It's either post this way, or no blogging.

The other day I hadn't had time to heat up my lunch before running down to the corner to wait for a ride. I got hungry waiting, so I pulled out the bread I had been intending to toast and ate it dry and plain. Oh, it was so good! When was the last time you ate plain day old bread and enjoyed it? If you don't know, you really ought to try this.

2 eggs
1 2/3 cup water
3 T oil
2 tsp vinegar
1 1/2 cup sorghum flour
1 1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup Millet flour
2 1/2 tsp Xanthan gum
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 T sugar
2 1/4 tsp yeast
2 Tbsp Millet seeds

(The recipe as I originally made it omits the Millet seeds and flour, and calls for 2 cups sorghum flour instead of 1 1/2.)

Mix the wet things, mix the dry things, and then mix them together in your bread machine. If you don't have a bread machine, try it anyway in the oven and let me know how it goes.

One key I have come to appreciate it making sure the dough is mixed enough. My machine doesn't have a GF bread cycle, so if I don't turn it off, it gets half risen and starts mixing again. As a consequence, I always let the dough mix and then turn it off until I am ready to start the Bake cycle. In the past, I let it get fully mixed, but didn't let it mix until the dough was smooth. You really want smooth dough to get the best bread texture.

Friday, April 20, 2007


In my recent post about flour types I mentioned -- somewhat tongue-in-cheek -- that I had never tried Teff because no one had ever given me any.  A generous reader decided to change that, and used's wishlist to send me both some Teff flour and some Clear Jel.  I haven't had the chance yet to experiment with the Jel, but I have made a couple of things with Teff that I wanted to report on.
Part of the challenge here is that while I am a chemist, I am not a food or flavorings chemist.  Part of what that means is that I don't know the standard vocabulary for describing taste.  Odorant and Flavouring Chemists tend to have defined words like Musky, Fresh, and Green that mean specific things.  I haven't been initiated into that world, but likely neither have any of you, so I guess we are even.  My point is, I described both amaranth and buckwheat as tasting bitter and they obviously don't taste the same.  Teff and whole wheat don't taste the same either, but they share a certain je ne sais quoi that I don't have the vocabulary to describe.  In the future if I want something to have a more whole grain type flavour, Teff seems like the flour I would want to include.
The day after the Teff arrived, The Maestro decided he wanted pancakes.  I decided to try my standard pancake recipe with 1/3 Teff flour in place of my standard sorghum/tapioca mix.  Upon mixing, the batter was dark -- almost like a chocolate shake.  The difference in taste, compared to my previous pancakes, remided me most of the difference between using all-purpose wheat flour or whole wheat.  Teff isn't bitter, or nutty (a sometimes too-common flavour word).  The word that comes to mind is dusky, like twilight.  I don't know if that will have any resonance with you or not, but I haven't been able to come up with a better word.  They seemed like a wholesome whole wheat GF pancake.  Really good.
Yesterday we needed some muffins, and I didn't have a lot of time to scout out ingredients.  So, I ended up making chocolate chip muffins and I again used 1/3 Teff in place of some of my usual sorghum/tapioca/rice mixture.  They didn't turn out bad, but they didn't turn out as well as the pancakes.  You might think, based on my description of the pancakes, that there might be something somewhat incongruent about chocolate chips and a whole-wheat-y Teff muffin.  You would be right.  Chocolate Chip muffins are a dessert type treat.  Whole Wheat muffins are more of a wholesome solid breakfast item, so the combination wasn't so well matched.  I think Raisins or some other fruit would go better.
I'm not sure if I would ever use more than 50% Teff flour in something.  You might decide to do that you would like more Teff.  I think that too much Teff would give a dark, almost dusty flavour.  It certainly wouldn't be like using too much amaranth, though.  The effect on texture seems similar to using sorghum, so again, I don't see anything prohibitive of using more Teff than I have yet.  It just has a dusky basal flavour, so I think it needs something with higher fresh flavour notes to balance it out.  But I'm not a flavourings chemist, and I might just be making that up.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Re: Flours

One problem I have found in following Gluten Free recipes is that I like my baked goods to taste the way I think they should, and not necessarily the way someone else thinks they should. I wanted to be able to develop my own recipes rather than sifting through the thousands of muffin recipes on the internets trying to find one that I liked. To develop recipes, you need to know what you are working with, and I didn't. I've learned a bunch about flours since then.

When taking up Gluten-Free baking, you probably need a starch, and you definitely need a flour or two. With so many kinds to choose from, I felt like I needed to know what each was good for. Otherwise I would just be following a list someone else gave me. That is OK, as long as THAT person knew why they were using the flours they were using. It took me a long while to be convinced that anyone else knew what they were doing, either. My conclusion is that some do know, and some don't. Do I know what I am talking about? Some, and some not. Here is what I have learned about GF flours, mostly from trying the out to see what they did.

First off, there are three main divisions among gluten free flours. There are the grain flours, which are really divided into rice flours and all the other grains, and bean flours. For years, rice flours were all that celiacs could use, and sometimes I think they get included in recipes for historical reasons. On the other hand, they are often give good structure. The other grains are much newer to the scene, and are often a good addition. The bean flours are soft and nutritious, so they give you baked goods that have both of those qualities. They also taste like beans, so watch out when you use them.

The Rice Flours

White Rice -- Thanks to Chang's Oriental Market, this is the cheapest flour I have found. Put it with some Tapioca Starch, and you can save some yourself some coin. Of course, you have to spend that coin on some supplementa vitamins, but there you go. White rice flour is made from rice that has had the nutrient rich bran removed prior to grinding, and it is essentially filler. I haven't done a nutrient comparison on rice flours, so I can't extensively comment on the damage that does. I do know that you might end up with beriberi if you just eat white rice.

Aside from cost, the main advantage of using white rice flour is that it acts kind of like the rebar that you find in concrete. Rice is a hard flour, and is good at holding things up – not holding it together, you need binding agents for that. If your muffin or whatever is too soft and baking it longer doesn't help, add more rice flour. If you use too much rice flour, though, what you end up with has a texture that screams "Gluten Free!"

The other advantage rice has is that it doesn't add any flavour. Depending on the circumstance this can be a real negative, but it doesn't take too many slices of bread that taste like beans before you think that being tasteless can have its place.

Brown Rice – This is better for you, and provides even better structure than white rice flour. When I get my grinder, I'm switching back. I use 1/3 rice flour in my muffins, for sturdiness.

Sweet Rice – Also called Glutinous Rice flour (Note the i instead of the e in there). I think they call it that because it comes from sticky rice. I haven't baked much with Sweet Rice flour, because my impression is that it doesn't hold things up as well as I am counting on my rice flour to do. It does work really well at making gravy, though.

The Other Grains

Sorghum – If you don't know yet the advantages of sorghum flour, you must not actually be reading my blog. It has a good mild flavour. It is a good colour. It is good for you. It is soft, so you don't get that "Gluten Free!" texture that rice flour gives you. I've also seen sorghum flour help a little old lady cross a busy street with her groceries.

As a sorghum muffin ages, it doesn't really go stale unless you have too much corn starch in it, but the flavour does change over a few days. I think that there is some enzymatic process that breaks down some protein or other that is activated by baking. I do like to keep my muffins in the freezer, not to keep them from going stale, but to keep the flavour from evolving into something more bitter.

Millet – The only millet flour I have used is Finger Millet flour, from the Indian Store. It's purple. I am sure that there are other kinds of millet flour available, but I haven't really looked. The millet that I use as a couscous substitute isn't purple, for example. When I get a flour mill, I will try that out. I suspect that it might have some of the same advantages sorghum does, but I kind of dead-ended with the color purple.

T'eff – I have never tried teff. I don't have a good source that doesn't cost 5 x as much as other flours.

Update 4/20/2007: A reader sent me some Teff, which I now know that I like. Adding 1/3 Teff seems to make things taste more whole grain-y, like using wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour. I wonder if using too much would be too much, if you will, but you might consider trying it. A more detailed story can be found here.

Amaranth – Like teff, amaranth is expensive. Unlike teff, someone gave me some once so I could try it. Amaranth is quite bitter and nasty tasting, but in a good way. Think lemon zest or tonic water, and you get the idea. You wouldn't want to use more than ¼ amaranth flour in anything and even that might be too much. In the right amount, it can really add depth of flavour. I like it. I also like Tonic water, so some people think I'm crazy.

Another advantage to using amaranth is that it seems to bind things together, like Xanthan gum or Kudzu does. I don't know how it does this, but if you use some amaranth, you can leave the Xanthan out without everything crumbling to dust.

BuckWheat – Like amaranth, buckwheat flour can be quite bitter, but some people like it is small doses. I would sometimes make buckwheat pancakes with ¼ buckwheat to all-purpose flour, back in the old days. If you use too much buckwheat, the batter is kind of gluey and hard to work with. I wonder now if has the same kind of binding activity that amaranth has. This is something to check out.

Oats – I have seen links to GF oats that didn't cost too much. I remember them being about $2.50/lb, which isn't bad. They were just $20/lb to ship here. The deal is that some strains of oats have gluten-like proteins, and some strains don't. Sheltie Girl uses oats all the time, so she would be the one to ask about its properties instead of me.

Bean Flours

My experience with bean flours is generally that they make your bread taste like beans. They are soft, and give a good texture. The first loaf I ever made that actually rose had garfava flour in it, but the kids didn't like it. The beany flavour fades somewhat with baking, so you really want to avoid under-cooking things. Just keep in mind that it won't ever go completely away.

People who like bean flours tout its high protein content as so much better than rice flour

Garfava – This is a trade name, like Kleenex or Xerox. If you get if from another company, it is called Garbanzo/Fava, or Chickpea/Fava, because it is a 1:1 mix of the two flours. It makes a good soft bread in one of the Gluten Free Gourmet's flour mixes, but it still tastes like beans.

Chickpea – This was how I learned that Chickpea/Fava doesn't mean chickpea or Fava. I made a cake with just chickpea flour, and it didn't go well at all.

Soy Flour – My little sister says that every chocolate chip cookie ought to have soy flour in it, for the nutty taste. Hildegard can't eat very much soy, so I haven't spent more time experimenting without soy flour than I have with it.

Soy Powder – Sometimes it is tough to distinguish soy flour from soy powder, because the terminology isn't standardized. The essential difference, as I understand it is that soy flour is ground soy beans. Soy powder is made from ground, cooked and dried soybeans. The pre-cooking really reduces the beany flavour. Whenever I am looking at a recipe that calls for soy flour, I use soy powder instead.

Update 4/20/2007

Lentil Flour – I found some of this in my freezer the other day. I don't remember how it tasted at all.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


One of the things that I had to confront when I started baking gluten free was the issue of starch. Almost every recipe calls for at least one starch, sometimes more than one. All starches are not created equal, or are they? What makes potato starch good for one recipe when this other recipe calls for tapioca? What is the author trying to accomplish when they use all three? These are questions that I had to have answers for.

First, a note on the difference between starch and flour. Flour is what you get when you take a seed and grind it up. It has all the parts of the seed, each torn into little pieces. Starch is only the carbohydrate component. Starches are long chains of sugars linked together in a way that humans can digest them, unlike cellulose, which is sugars hooked together in a way that some bacteria can digest. The difference has to do with the orientation of the linking bond in relation to the sugar ring, and I'll leave it at that for now.

There are two main ways a polymer chain can be put together: branched (amylopectin) and unbranched (amylose). Amylose is the starch that causes things to go stale. As a baked item cools, the starches settle down into a solid or semi-solid form. This is why you should wait for your bread to cool before you eat it, so you can cut it without mashing the hot starches that are still somewhat liquid. Because it doesn't have the branches on the polymer chain, amylose gets REALLY solid, and actually forms crystals with water sequestered in the middle. This causes bread to feel dry, and crumble apart when you try to eat it. This also explains how you can un-stale bread in the microwave. Re-heating causes the water to shake its way out of the amylose crystals, and turns things soft again.

One way in which starches differ is the percentage of stale-inducing amylose. Wheat starch has 26-31 %. I assume that it depends on the strain you are using. Among the big three GF starches, corn is highest (28%), then potato (23%), and tapioca last (17%). Since I switched to tapioca starch, I have had much less problem with things going stale.

Starches also differ in the temperature they start to gel or go soft, how much they swell when they absorb water, and how much water they absorb. I was only able to find a comparison on water absorption between wheat starch and potato starch. Wheat binds 89.1% its weight in water, and potato starch binds 102% its own weight. I don't know about corn starch or tapioca, but I assume they are much less, based on baking results. When I went through a phase when I baked everything with potato starch, everything I made was really moist.

Starches also have varying levels of purity. In the Bette Hagman Library, Tapioca Starch is listed as 99% carbohydrate, with corn and potato much lower. I don't have the numbers with me. Less purity will lead to more flavor, which you may or may not want.

That is starch in general, as I understand it. Specifically, there are a few more things to say about each starch.

Potato Starch -- Potato retains the most moisture after baking. I have found that I have to use less of it compared to other starches and reduce the amount of xanthan gum I use by half. Otherwise, things end up soggy. 3:1 sorghum/potato starch instead of 2:1 as with corn or tapioca. Potato starch also seems to be the most flavourful, which may be what you are looking for in some cases. It makes things a little more savoury, I shall say.

Corn Starch -- I'll give it this - it is widely available and cheap. Other than that, I haven't found anything to recommend its use. It causes things to stale the fastest. It has what Riley calls "that corn starch flavor". It is sometimes included on lists of common allergens. It often gets left off also, so I don't know about that; I'm not an allergist. But, it does give my son a rash on his bum. My personal feeling is that we only use corn starch out of habit. It is left over from the days when rice flour and corn starch were the only things available for gluten free baking.

Tapioca Starch -- Ah, the king of starch. With the lowest percentage amylose, and the highest percentage carbohydrate content, tapioca wins on both the severity of staling, and the clarity of flavour. It is also the cheapest, thanks the Chang's Oriental Market. Unless I am looking for a baked good that reminds me a little of stew, tapioca is the starch of choise. I typically use it in a sorghum/tapioca ratio of 2:1.

I guess this is the point at which I should clear up a nomenclature issue I am sometimes asked. Tapioca starch and Tapioca flour are really the same thing. It comes from Cassava root, from which the starch is extracted. The starch solution can be dripped onto a hot plate to give tapioca pearls, or processed to give a fine powder. Since it isn't a ground seed, calling it flour is really a misnomer.

So, that is what I have learned about starch in the last year, and that is where I will leave it. If anyone knows something I have over looked, please let me know. And can no one come to the defence of corn starch with a rational explanation of its benefits over tapioca or potato, even in limited situations? I invite you to refute me.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Casein Free on a Budget

In a follow-up to the last post, here are my tips for eliminating dairy. A much shorter list, I know...

1. I don't go for purified Ghee, or 1005 pure hydrogenated vegetable oil. I use Fleishmann's Unsalted Margarine. Higher supply means lower cost.

2. Most importantly, I don't use milk. I don't substitute with soy milk, or rice milk, or Ensure powder. It seems like every recipe I see calls for milk of some kind. I just use water, and everything turns out fine.

That's it. Margarine from the Grocery Store, and Water.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Gluten Free on a Budget

In the past year, I've had to do a lot of thinking about how to bake gluten-free on a budget. Cooking gluten-free is one thing. You make a lot of vegetables and soups, and you use starch to thinken sauces instead of flour. With meat, you can be careful about what you sprinkle on and marinate with. But baking? There is really no way to avoid spending money on things you wouldn't otherwise buy. Some of the gluten-free flours can be pretty expensive, too. Then there are the recipes that call for four flours and three starches, plus some kind of binding agent. It can get complicated and expensive pretty fast if you aren't careful.

So here are the best tips I have come up with in the past year.

1. Pay your taxes. The cheapest way I know of to keep costs down when going gluten-free is to make enough money to pay taxes. Buying gluten-free flours and Pamela's Ultimate Baking mix can actually help you get your tax money back! The thing is, when you have a medical condition that requires you to spend money, that money is tax deductible, at least in the United States. (I assume there is a similar deal in Canada, but I guess I'll find that out next year.) All you need is a note from your Doctor and a list of what you bought. Then you compare the cost of what you are using to the cost of wheat flour, and you have your tax deduction. So, for brown rice flour that costs $3.49/lb when wheat flour is $0.79/lb, you get a $2.70/lb tax deduction. This works out well for people who pay taxes. Those of us in the starving student income bracket already get all our tax money back and no additional deduction is going to change how much money we have to spend on food. What else can we do to keep baking costs down?

2. Check your sources. I try to avoid natural foods stores whenever I can. The natural foods section in the grocery store near me charges more than $4/lb for tapioca starch. The Asian Grocery downtown charges $0.79/lb. They also sell white rice and sweet rice flour at the same price. They are all coming from Thailand where they don't process much wheat, so they are celiac-safe, even for really sensitive people. Check your cultural groceries to see if they have ingredients you could be getting cheaper. The Thai sources have been safe for us, but the Jowar flour from the Indian store had some cross-contamination.

3. Make good choices. Once you are getting the best price you can find, usually by going to an asian or Indian Grocery, you have to decide what flours you are going to bake with. I recently learned how to use brown rice flour to my advantage and I was consistently pleased with the results. Unfortunately, I can't consistently spend $3.49/lb on flour and bake enough muffins to keep the Maestro in snacks for pre-school. I had to make a compromise and switch to white rice flour. I'm not as happy with either the nutritional content or the texture of the muffins I end up with, but I'm not going as far into debt to bake them. I typically use a sorghum/tapioca mix, or a sorghum/tapioca/white rice mix in my baking. I'm pretty satisfied with the cost of the tapioca and sorghum, but I wish I had a cheaper source of brown rice flour.

4. Stick with the tried and true. There are lots of recipes that call for a wide variety of ingredients. I just don't make them. If there is a recipe that calls for Amaranth flour, potato starch, chick-pea flour, or something else I don't have, I just make something else. I can't afford to tie up capital in 15 different ingredients. Sometimes this requires more experimentation to come up with a version I am happy with, but I have felt pretty successful with the flour mixes I have settled on. If you want to settle on a pototo starch/chick-pea mix, be my guest. Just settle on it, and don't stray from that if you want to keep your costs down. Otherwise you'll end up with 3/4 of a bag of Millet flour (or something, or several somethings) you never use for anything else.

5. Decide what is worth spending more money on. Of the binding agents I have seen, xanthan gum is the most expensive. Guar gum seems to run about half the price, but you have to use four times as much because it isn't as effective. Kuzu Starch also works well and is less expensive than either xanthan or guar gum. It is not nearly as convenient to use, however. What is that worth to you? You have to decide.

6. Sometimes you have to spend money to save money. Brown rice is $0.99/lb where we live. If we had a grinder, we could make our own brown rice flour for much less that Arrowhead Mills sells it. At $2.50/lb savings, it would only take 40 lbs of flour to pay off a $100 mill. Luckily for me, the government has been saving some of my money for me (see item 1). When they give it back to me, one of the things we plan to do is get a good mill. Any suggestions on what model we should get? I know some of you have mills already.

There were a couple of posts about the economics of being gluten-free, and cooking in general, recently. Mike, at the Gluten Free Blog had this to say about budgets. Shauna had this to say about the economics of food.

Does anyone else have any good strategies for keeping costs down?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

GF Day

Today is the one year anniversary of the Maestro's blood test for Celiac Disease.  One year ago today, we fed him purposely fed him gluten for the last time, before taking him in for the test.  It later turned out to be negative, which gives us hope that someday he can have gluten again, but no time soon.
The reason for all of this is something called Sensory Integration Disfunction.  I've talked about this before here and here, and I won't go into it again today.  Sometimes I have felt like going Gluten and Casein free has completely "cured" him, but this past weekend seems to show otherwise.  Having me gone for a week and a half, then coming home, his pre-school teacher missing two days last week so that he had to combine with a class of strangers, the missed sleep arising from the switch to Daylight Savings Time, these things are possible factors that led to the Maestro having a TERRIBLE weekend.  Whatever it was, it wasn't pretty.  Biting, yelling, shoving, it was a real mess.  He hasn't been eating anything new that we know about.  I asked him if he had been sharing food at school and he told me that whenever anyone offers him food, he tells them that he doesn't eat wheat.
I started this blog as a vehicle to help myself figure out how to bake.  I think I have done that now.  What is this blog for, now?  How many people who read this come here looking for recipes?  Not too many, I think.  When my family loses my muffin recipe they come back to find it again, but other than that, you can find recipes for gluten free Rissoto easier on other gluten free foodie blogs, of which there are many.
So this is where I want to go from here.  Rather than recipes, which I'm not very good at anyway, I want to talk about processes.  I want to talk about ingredients.  I want to talk about how to bake, rather than what to bake.  What do you think?  Is that what you want to read here?  Any topics you want to read about, particularly?