All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour

It's hard to believe it's been nearly a month since I quit eating wheat. Honestly, it has been a lot easier than I imagined—in large part because I researched what my baking options were in advance and stocked up on a great selection of gluten-free flours to get me started.

You know I can't possibly give up baking in the name of my health.

I know there are plenty of gluten-free all-purpose flours available, but I've heard mixed reviews about most. I knew if I was going to make going wheat-free work, I needed to find not just an okay alternative to wheat flour but a great alternative. So, mostly, I've been relying on the advice of experts, like Gluten-Free Girl and a few others.

So far since I ditched wheat I've made all the things I'd normally make—chicken and dumplings, pancakes, snickerdoodles, peanut butter cookies, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, flourless chocolate cake, pizza crust (multiple recipes—you know I have to have my pizza), all sorts of muffins. And I've yet to find anything I didn't like or wouldn't make again, in part because I've been so selective of the gf recipes I'm willing to try.

One thing that's really helped me in my new baking endeavors is a recipe for all-purpose flour from Gluten-Free Girl. I mixed up a big container of it and used it to make all sorts of cookies and as a thickening agent in recipes on occasion. I'm about out, in fact, so I need to make up another batch. I really do think a good gluten-free AP flour recipes may be the key to my survival.

Here's what my recipe of the moment includes:
  • 200 grams superfine brown rice flour
  • 150 grams sorghum flour
  • 50 grams potato flour
  • 250 grams sweet rice flour
  • 150 grams potato starch
  • 100 grams arrowroot powder
  • 100 grams cornstarch
Wait! Stop! Come back! Please don't freak out by the huge list of items that you don't have in your kitchen and the fact everything above is written in grams.

That stressed me out a bit, too. So, yeah, it's a big list. But once you get the hang of working by weight rather than volume, it only takes a few minutes to measure things out and toss them in a container. This lovely little scale I bought makes the process a breeze.

If you live in an area with a decent health foods/natural foods/whatever store, you can probably find all these ingredients locally. Naturally L-Town doesn't have a big demand for these things (yet), so I ordered mine online from Vitacost (free shipping—yay!). I stocked up on the flours I thought I'd use the most, including what's listed above plus a few others. I'll probably place another order again before too long, but my initial order is lasting me quite a while given how frequently I bake.

If you're still a bit alarmed about the idea of mixing your own AP flour, check out this Gluten-Free Girl blog post on the topic. It even includes a video to show you how easy it is. And it includes a list of all the options, because you can even make your own special, personalized gluten-free all-purpose flour combo. All you do is follow the recommended ratios she explains in the post.

Come on, give it a try ...

Or, if you're a wheat-eater, just stick to what you know. No peer pressure here. But expect to try some delicious wheat-free baked goods if you come to visit me.


Being Home

For a week and a half, we packed up the necessities in our house (which, I've discovered, is more than a carload of things when you have a little one, a dog, and a kitchen full of food items you need) and moved over to Conservative Mom and Dad's house.

They were headed out on vacation and asked if we'd help dog and house sit. So, rather than have two big labs underfoot in our own small ranch house, we moved into their much larger ranch house.

It was ... chaotic, to say the least.

At least once a day Conservative Hubby or I or both would have to stop by our house to pick up something we forgot. Collar stays and suits for him. Flax seed and coconut and chocolate chips (very important) for me. Extra pajamas for Little Man. A brush for Butter. You get the idea. (By the end of our stay, I think we'd moved pretty much our entire house down the street.)

On mornings when I woke up early, I'd have to try to get ready and get both dogs out and fed without having them notice when the newspaper delivery person stopped by, because then they'd go beserk and everyone in the house would be up.

I won't even tell you about the many things we have to move around or hide once Little Man discovered them—even though Conservative Mom baby-proofed their house more than ours before we moved over there.

There were pluses though—like the nice, clean new shower instead of ours with the grout that makes me angry every time I step in. Having a front door with a knob that actually works. The treadmill and the elliptical in the basement, which saved me from making the trek to the gym after Little Man went to bed. The spacious kitchen (even though I could never find what I was looking for because I hadn't put everything in the cupboard myself). The newspapers on the doorstep every morning for me to read with my coffee.

Still, at the end of our time there, we were definitely ready to move back to our house, flaws and all. We were all happy to sleep in our own beds and to have all the necessities of daily life at our disposal.

Adventures in new places (even if they're right down the street) are fun.

But there's no place like home.


Chicken and Dumplings

Remember a while ago when I talked about my comfort food-making spree?

Well, along with meatloaf and mashed potatoes and quinoa and cheese, I made chicken and dumplings. (Apparently, comfort foods must be a combination of two key ingredients connected by a conjunction. ... Sorry, word nerd.)

I first grew fond of chicken and dumplings as a little girl, when my grandma made this dish for dinner one night. I don't remember a lot of the details about the chicken and dumplings I ate back then, honestly. I just remember that I loved the light, fluffy biscuits floating on top of the stew.

So I was excited to come across this recipe, because it's quick and easy and hearty. I've made it twice since I found it and will undoubtedly make it again.

This version calls for gluten-free Bisquick (it's one of many swell gluten-free recipes from the Betty Crocker website), but you could just as easily make it with regular Bisquick, I'm sure, although you might want to follow a slightly different dumpling recipe than this one if you do that.

What You Need

For the Stew
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups cut-up cooked chicken
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons cornstarch

For the Dumplings
3/4 cup Bisquick Gluten-Free mix
1/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (or, if you're like me, this time of year you'll just add a few shakes of the dried stuff instead)

What You Do

1. In a 3-quart saucepan, heat chicken broth, chicken, vegetables, salt, and pepper to boiling. In a small bowl, mix 1 cup milk and the cornstarch with a wire whisk until smooth; stir into chicken mixture. Heat just to boiling.
2. In a small bowl, stir dumpling ingredients with fork until blended.
3. Gently drop dough by 8 rounded spoonfuls onto boiling chicken mixture.
4. Cook uncovered over low heat 10 minutes. Cover and cook 15 minutes longer.



Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day!

We don't get too into celebrating Feb. 14 around here, simply because Conservative Hubby insists it's a manufactured holiday created solely to sell greeting cards, candy, and overpriced roses. (And, as much as I hate to admit he's right, he's kind of right.)

Plus Conservative Hubby is so darn romantic every day, we don't really need a special occasion to show one another we care.  (Hahahaha ... I am so funny sometimes.)

But in all seriousness, last night my boys took me out for a nice (not romantic) dinner. And I gave Conservative Hubby a box of chocolate covered strawberries. And tonight, if I'm really lucky, I'll get to watch the season premiere of Swamp People.

What more could a girl ask for?



Ditching Wheat

For breakfast, I love a fresh, fluffy biscuit or a nice, crumbly muffin. If you stop by here very often at all, you already know that I'll take a cookie with my coffee or for an afternoon snack with my tea any day. Few things make me swoon like a flaky pie crust. And a warm, crusty slice of bread with dinner? Don't even get me started.

And yet, about two weeks ago, after a pizza and breadsticks binge, I gave up wheat.


Because a few years ago, when I had surgery to remove a giant cyst from my ovary (which also resulted in the removal of my ovary, too), I learned that the cause of that darn cyst was endometriosis.

To make a long story short, once the cyst was gone, I was pain free for a while. But a few months later, all sorts of symptoms that I soon found out were related to endometriosis started cropping up. Then, I got pregnant, and for my entire pregnancy and most of the time I was nursing Little Man, I was once again symptom-free.

But now, in the past few months, my symptoms have come back full force. I'm not going to bore you with an explanation of endometriosis or the many symptoms it causes, but if you're so inclined, you can learn the basics.

Please note: I don't tell you this to make you worry about me or feel sorry for me or anything of the sort. Endometriosis is a chronic illness that affects a lot more women than you might realize. In fact, odds are you know more than one woman who has it, although it's not the sort of illness most women talk about openly. (Which is actually something I'm hoping to help change, by the way.)

Fortunately, although there is no cure for endo, there are a variety of ways to manage it. And one of the natural ways many women are able to keep symptoms somewhat in check is through diet.

Guess what's at the top of the list of foods to avoid if you have endo? Yep, you guessed it.


I'm not going into all the details on why here, but needless to say there is quite a bit of evidence—scientific and anecdotal—that for many women with endometriosis, eliminating wheat from their diet has a positive effect.

I'm not interested in trying the different drug therapies that are out there for endo, because most of them are only somewhat effective and come with some nasty side effects. (Uh, no thanks on the excess facial hair or starting menopause at age 30—although I know these treatments are very necessary for some women.) And I'm hoping to avoid having surgery again, although laparoscopy is often a woman's best chance at obtaining relief from endo.

So that leaves natural treatments, one of which is diet.

Perhaps giving up wheat will help. It's too early to really know for sure. Maybe it won't. But either way, it's worth a try.

I can tell you that if it doesn't seem to make a difference, I'll be back on the wheat train. I don't think wheat is something to deprive yourself of unless you have a medical reason to do so. An increasing number of people are hopping on the gluten-free bandwagon just because they've heard it makes you feel better or because celebrities do it. That's crazy. Sure, everyone should probably eat wheat in more moderation than most Americans do (the same with pretty much everything Americans eat). But to cut it out completely just because it's trendy is nuts—and it may even have unintended health implications.

Anyhow, random soap box again. I keep jumping up on those darn things.

For now, my goal is to make going wheat-free as easy as possible. I'm not going to be nuts about it. If I slip up a few times, it's not the end of the world. I'm going to be as low-maintenance about it as I can—skipping the items that contain wheat when eating out or at someone else's house, but not freaking out if I have to eat something with wheat on rare occasions. (Trust me, if you've seen me in need of a snack, you will understand that eating something with a bit of wheat is preferable to a hungry Julie.) I don't have celiac disease, in which case any exposure to wheat can be incredibly harmful. So a little wheat here and there, if absolutely necessary, won't be the end of the world.

Fortunately, it's a lot easier to skip wheat than it was even a few years ago when I first starting investigating natural endo treatments. (At that point, the thought of actually giving up wheat never even crossed my mind because I didn't see how I'd survive!) Now, there are fabulous blogs and books devoted to making incredibly delicious gluten-free meals and even baked goods to rival those with gluten. There are also some pretty darn good gluten-free breads, snacks, cereals, you name it available at many grocery stores.

I knew all of this well before my no-wheat diet began two weeks ago, because over the past few months an increasing number of gluten-free recipes and products have been sneaking into our house anyway. That's because there's a chance Little Man has a sensitivity to wheat, too.

I know, I know. Now you think I really am nuts. It's OK. This one is a bit more of a stretch. It isn't really grounded in any research or trials, like ditching wheat for endo is.

The thing with Little Man is totally different. You see, around the time he started eating solid foods beyond his introductory all-fruit or veggie purees, he developed one cold after another—and every single on turned into a sinus infection that required at least one, sometimes two, rounds of antibiotics. Within a week of clearing up one sinus infection, his runny nose would be back, and we'd start the cycle all over again.

I started to do some research, talked to some other moms, and heard of other kids that had similar issues. Eventually, in a few cases, it turned out wheat was a culprit. I was desperate for anything that would prevent our almost-monthly trips to the doctor's office and the pharmacy, so we took Little Man off wheat to see if it would help.

Since the wheat was finally out of Little Man's system, he hasn't had a sinus infection. Not a single one. He's had a few colds (but who hasn't this winter?). None of his recent colds has turned into a sinus infection like every single one used to.

Is wheat the culprit? Who knows for sure. It could be an environmental allergy or a seasonal allergy that's the problem. Kids can't really be tested for allergies until they're three (I guess their bodies don't really respond to the tests until around then), so it's going to be quite some time before we know for sure. But as long as he keeps doing well sans wheat, I'm not going to mess with what's working.

And so now, after I'm pretty sure no one is actually still reading, I get to the point of this long, rambling post. Which is this: I'm probably going to be trying all sorts of gluten-free recipes in the near future. And I'll probably post them here. But I promise not to turn this into a gluten-free cooking and baking blog. I promise to post lots of things you wheat-eating people will still like.

And if I do post gluten-free recipes? It will be because they're just plain good. And because they've gotten the ultimate endorsement from Conservative Hubby: either he liked them enough to eat them knowing they were gluten-free, or they were good enough he never realized they were gluten-free in the first place.

That's how you know a recipe really is fit for the masses, or at least a couple of loyal blog readers!

(I also promise not to really post about endo on this site at all, or only very rarely. I'll save all that info for my fellow endo sufferers over at this blog, which is a work in progress but the beginning of a bigger project I'm actually pretty excited about. I'm not expecting most of you will read it, but if you have endo or know someone who does, perhaps you'll be interested in checking it out.)


Quinoa & Cheese

When I say "comfort food," what do you think of? Mashed potatoes and meatloaf? Chicken and dumplings? Homemade macaroni and cheese?

Well, that's what I think of. And apparently I've been in a comfort food kind of mood lately, because we had all three of those things in the past week. Only the macaroni and cheese didn't actually involve macaroni. Instead, it was with quinoa.

In case you're not familiar, here's the scoop on quinoa. It's actually a seed, but people often treat it like a whole grain. It cooks pretty easily, has a great texture, is gluten- and cholesterol-free, and offers 9 essential amino acids (hello, protein!). Plus it provides a nice alternative to rice or pasta.

It looks much prettier when you see a scoop of it on a plate. But guess who forgot to take photos of that? Fortunately, you can see the lovelier version when you visit the recipe here. (One note: I used fresh spinach rather than frozen, since that's what I had. And I went light on the spinach so it wasn't too "green" for you-know-who.)

Plus, I served it with a rosemary dijon pork loin. Having meat is incredibly important if you're going to make you-know-who try a new dish.

Generally, I gauge whether a recipe is fit for the general public and not just wacky-me consumption by you-know-who's (aka Conservative Hubby's) reaction. The night I made quinoa and cheese, he said, "This is kind of weird." But he said it as he was scooping up seconds.

And when we ate leftovers the next night, I figured he'd pass on the reheated dish. But instead, that's all he wanted for a side.

I liked it, Little Man liked it, and I guess that means Conservative Hubby liked it too. So take that for what you will.


The BSV Hair Treatment

Remember that time I tried an at-home avocado hair treatment and it yielded ... um ... less-than-stellar results?

It's OK, I forgot it too, which I why I approached another make-at-home hair recipe without an ounce of trepidation last week.

I did it for a couple of reasons.

One, with my current employment status and the expense of having a human garbage disposal er ... I mean, an adorable, hungry son that won't stop growing ... I am looking for ways to save cash.

Two, I've written before about my quest to use less toxic beauty products. Many shampoos and conditioners have chemicals in them that have been linked to cancer and reproductive and developmental issues. Blech.

Even the "natural" or organic hair care options aren't always stupendous when it comes to their ratings in the Skin Deep cosmetics database. And most of those natural shampoos and conditioners I've tried are incredibly expensive and don't always leave your hair feeling or looking all that stellar.

So when I came across a grist blog post on washing your hair with baking soda and rinsing it with apple cider vinegar (hence the title BSV hair treatment)—and the girl who wrote tried it out gave it rave reviews—I decided to try it myself.

I followed her directions to a T, mixing a tablespoon of baking soda with a bit of water to make a paste in one cup and about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with a tablespoon of water in another cup.

Then I took my little cups in the shower with me. I started by massaging the baking soda into my scalp really well, then rinsed. Then I poured the apple cider vinegar through my hair. Because I'd read the warnings about making sure you rinse well so you don't smell like vinegar, I rinsed and rinsed and rinsed a bit more. (I must have rinsed enough, as I did not, in fact, smell like salad dressing all day. At least that I could tell.)

The moment when I set about combing my hair post-shower was the ultimate test, as my locks are usually a bit on the tangly side after I use most natural shampoos and conditioners.

After my BSV treatment, my tresses weren't any more tangly than before—and they were perhaps even a bit less so.

I didn't see the miraculous difference in my hair the Grist blogger raved about. But my hair combed, dried, and styled pretty much the same as it always does.

That, as tame as it sounds, is a ringing endorsement. You know why? Because it means I don't have to spend a zillion dollars on natural hair products, because baking soda and apple cider vinegar yield the same results.

The only downside—and the reason I haven't used the treatment more frequently—is that it's a bit of a pain to prep the ingredients before each shower. And sometimes I forget all about it until after I step in the shower, at which point it's too late to hop out and mix a shampoo and conditioner cocktail.

Luckily, I just came across an Ask Umbra video (also on grist) that gives you the ratios for making up an entire bottle of the baking soda shampoo and another of the vinegar conditioner. I have a bunch of partially used shampoos and conditioners in the bathroom closet I'll probably never touch again, so I think I'll empty them out and use the bottles for this precise purpose.

Now you go give it a try and tell me what you think.


Baked Oatmeal Casserole

I love oatmeal.

I love regular oatmeal with brown sugar. I love oats with nuts and fresh berries or dried cranberries and a touch of honey. I love fancy, schmancy oatmeal combos, like baked pumpkin steel cut oatmeal.

I love cookies with oatmeal (particularly homemade Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookies, in which the ground oats are a super-special secret ingredient, as well as these loaded oatmeal cookies). Not long ago, I discovered I also love no-bake energy balls which, naturally, contain oatmeal, too.

So it should come as no surprise that I have a whole list of must-make recipes that include oatmeal. One, which I tried a few weekends ago, is a baked oatmeal casserole.

I knew I'd love it because it has a lot of my favorite things in it: chocolate, bananas, raspberries, cinnamon, walnuts. And oats! (Of course.)

The result was so rich I almost felt guilty eating it for breakfast. Almost.

I ate it for days afterward, too, so it was a good thing I liked it.

(Conservative Hubby, on the other hand, wasn't a fan, but then again after I made him eat a piece he told me he hates oatmeal. I don't understand how you can hate oatmeal. It's delicious. But, alas, lesson learned on that one.)

I think next time I make this, I'll use fewer chocolate chips. And maybe try adding a bit more fruit. And a bit less sugar.


No, my blog wasn't just taken over by an alien from another planet posing as me. I really did just say I'd reduce the amount of chocolate and sugar. Don't worry. I'm feeling OK. It's just sometimes I like my breakfast a little healthier.

Unless, of course, there are Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookies available to eat with my coffee. Or sugar cookies. Or snickerdoodles.

(See? It's still me!)