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An Open Letter to my Chef Friends – Make me food I can eat

An Open Request to my Chef Friends-

Celiac Disease is not a fake made up thing. And some good science has proven that gluten-intolerance is not a made up thing either.

Although there is a certain faddishness to gluten intolerance, those with the disorder know that it’s real, it’s painful, and as with people with Celiac disease, it causes inconvenience and challenges.
I have more than a couple of friends who are chefs, cook for living and more. And there are lots of people who are going gluten free for a million faddish reasons. This is where the two worlds collide. And why I get so pissed off about this story continuing with a headline that is misleading.

Over the last few years, a study out of Monash University in Australia has been touted as having disproved the existence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS. It’s been picked up by multiple reputable news outlets. However, a read of the overview shows that the results were inconclusive. A percentage of the participants had symptoms after a re-challenge, but medical tests did not provide anything quantifiable. The title, “No effects of gluten in patients with self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity after dietary reduction of fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates.” If I read that and didn’t continue on, I would ass-u-me that gluten intolerance is made up. Although I am not a professional journalist, a quick search for more studies, with many running as long as fifteen years prove that NCGS is real, it shows up in two forms with medical testing, but the cause is still unknown. A simple five minute internet search was all it took to learn it’s been proven to be real.

So here’s what the scientists who study this stuff have concluded.
1. NCGS seems to affect people who have other food allergies.
2. It can appear later in life, like any other allergy.
3. Many people with endocrine problems, like diabetes and thyroid disease are more prone to developing the sensitivity
4. The allergy form of NCGS seems to come from wheat and not gluten.
5. The older people get, the more opportunity to develop NCGS.

Four out of five of those conclusions fit me; number 4 is an unknown. However, I can drink beer that is not made with wheat and don’t experience ill effects.

I have NCGS. I would love to make it go away, head to an Italian restaurant and pig out on creamy Alfredo and crusty garlic bread. I would love to make pizza like I used to with a luscious homemade crust. I would love to go to a restaurant and not freak out because of cross-contact with my salad, no croutons, because it’s the only thing on the menu that looks safe. Because if I did any of those things, I would spend the next three days curled in a fetal position in excruciating pain.

NCGS has two scientific markers; one is something similar to Celiac Disease, but not celiac. Some people have a genetic predisposition to the disease, but don’t develop it to the extreme level. Next, are people more like me, a reaction more in line with an allergy. This includes abdominal pain, oral blisters, bloating, nausea, headaches, and in the extreme, vomiting, and anaphylaxis. If there has been cross-contact or some other exposure, I know within an hour or two, because the blisters will start to pop up in my mouth.

There are a few myths associated with going gluten free, and many more statements that are being studied, but lack enough conclusive evidence to prove one way or another that going gluten free is helpful. It may not help you lose weight. In fact the opposite may occur. There is no conclusive evidence that it helps with depression, anxiety, autism, irritable bowel syndrome (see the Monash study), or several other fill-in-the-blank diseases. The reality is that NCGS and Celiac Disease only affects a maximum of 6% of the population. And not everyone who has it knows it. The other 94% of the world is safe, and will probably never have another problem.

Not My Dad’s White Bread

I love that I can go to my favorite sub shop, order for a gluten free sandwich, and the sandwich maker immediately cleans the station, washes hands, gets a clean knife and cutting board. I can go to a couple of local burger restaurants and get gluten free French fries and my burger on a gluten free bun. I can call Dominoes and have a gluten free pizza delivered! One funny moment was when I ordered tacos off the gluten free menu, the server told me I would have to be served corn tortillas, AND NOT FLOUR. I and my millions of companions are not asking for a lot.

Okay, I’m not asking for a lot. Some of my chef friends own bakeries. I would not ask any of them to go out of their way to add gluten free to their repertoire. We who suffer, skip the baked goods, buy from safe sources, or make our own.

This next part is for my chef friends who have to deal with whiny me when I come to your restaurant. You know what a crazy food nerd I am. You know that I don’t like to whine, and I don’t like asking for special favors.

Until now.

I am asking for two things of my chef friends.
1. Please check sources of what you’re reading and verify the information. Just because doesn’t mean it’s true. Ask me; I have sources.
2. Think about adding something other than salad for those of us with food allergies. I don’t mind that my order takes a little longer because you made the effort to isolate a station to make my food. Make a sauce for the chicken with cream instead of flour. Ask me; I have recipes.

Gluten-free food has become a huge money-maker in the food processing industry. Grocery stores are filled with gluten free labels. The restaurant industry has an opportunity for the same growth. I know my friends are talented enough to do this. And I know they are smart enough to do it.  I’m just asking for food I can eat.

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The Evolution of Beef Stroganoff

Family and our food history are important to me

Beef stroganoff is a recipe that has been around since the mid-19th century, and is classically a beef dish served with a sour cream sauce.  And the evolution of beef stroganoff is well documented around the world.  For my family, it may very well have originated in Russia, and been brought over by my family in 1922.  My grandmother and her siblings were orphans of the revolution, and came to America, poor and alone.  I can imagine that beef may have been substituted for another ingredient, either mushrooms or additional vegetables, or it was a very special meal reserved for special occasions.  In either case, it’s a recipe that has stuck with my family for close to 100 years!

It was one of my favorite meals when I was a kid

My mother’s version of the recipe was a quick, cheap meal to feed her brood of five children.  And it wasn’t called stroganoff.  It was hamburger gravy.  In Iowa during the mid-sixties, ground beef was the go to meat.  It was cheap, easy to work with, and good protein for large families like ours.  My mother’s version didn’t include sour cream.  Mom’s hamburger gravy was very simple, very quick, and very hearty.  And  it was one of my favorite meals when I was a kid.  It  was, ground beef, in a milk gravy sauce, with onions, lots of black pepper and served over mashed potatoes.  Sort of like SOS, but with fresh beef instead of dried beef.

In 1968 Better Homes and Gardens released the Casserole Cookbook.  We got a copy of the ninth printing in 1973 and we started to use it frequently.  I still have that copy, and pages are stained, and the Hamburger Stroganoff recipe still has a torn piece of paper marking the page.  It was a very simple recipe with canned condensed soup, ground beef and sour cream.  Other Stroganoff recipes include canned mushrooms.  Let’s just say that the rubbery mushrooms were usually left out.  I didn’t like mushrooms and didn’t even bother to substitute them with anything else.

Beef Strognoff With Zucchini Noodle

Over many years, this tasty recipe morphed from the originals from the Casserole book to my personal version.  I put the mushrooms back in, added extra sour cream, and made a simple creamy sauce that’s gluten free.  Instead of noodles, I use sauteed zucchini or summer squash.  It’s still one of my favorite meals, and using the squash instead of noodles gives me the veggies lacking in the original recipes.  It’s a win-win for me and the family.

Family and our food history are important to me.  It was rare that we had any fancy meals, but everything was cooked with care and our health and happiness in mind.  I admit to having been a very picky eater, and I’m still picky about the food I cook.  We always do the best we can with our food and our time together.  I’ve been blessed to teach some things to the next generation, and hopefully, they will pass this amazing food legacy on to their kids.  My granddaughter is already enjoying helping in the kitchen and cooking her play food on imaginary stoves.  This apple has not fallen far from the family tree!  Someday, she can make her mark on this classic family recipe.

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More about Evolutionary Eats

Something came across my line of sight today.  A company with a very similar name is now providing a service that was never in my list of tasks; however I think the concept is interesting.  It prompted me and really gave a kick in the backside to better define the goals.

Evolutionary Eats is for people who want to learn how to be personally responsible for what they eat. My goal is to teach you how to shop for your food, or how to hire someone to do it for you. It’s to teach you how to plan meals, teach your kids to eat better food, and make good choices when they are out of sight. It is not about judgement, accountability or anything else. We are personally responsible for what we consume, in all aspects of our lives, and how we choose to view ourselves, in every situation.

On Facebook, many of my friends post photos and links to recipes.   That is part of the beauty of social media.  As a food person, I am constantly working on recipes, concepts for recipes, photo shoots, and then putting it all together in a consumable form. To be honest, most of the time I glance at the recipes and photos, and then move on. And to be very honest, I do all of it myself.  On occasion, a friend will check out something I am doing, but really it’s all me.  One person with some basic technical knowledge, slapping together something that is almost cohesive and coherent.

I listen to podcasts by  Srinivas Rao, instigator of Unmistakable Creative.  Recently, I got a big nudge.  I realized my readers need some drama, a great back story of how this came about, and why I feel so compelled to continue. The interview was with Donald Miller, author and business man.  There is a long back story, and why I know  that I am on the path God intended.  There are probably only a few people who know the whole story.   For a long time, I was a victim, and I played the role, even after I had the power to be free of it.

All of this ties to food.  Food has made me evolve, transform, so much of myself. It was always the background for what was going on in my life and in my small, limited view of the world.  Food is healing, not only for our bodies but for our souls as well.  God showed us this early on in Judeo-Christian history.  This morning for my daily reading was Leviticus 6:1-6, regarding the daily burnt offering.  It reminded me to “to keep the fires burning”; never let it go out. And to make that daily communion with God.

When I tell snippets of my story to people, they are amazed.  I believe it’s the rea-20150219_115404son it has taken so long for me to get to this point.  At one point I resovled to not tell this, because it didn’t seem to have any bearing on the goals, and I didn’t want to hurt those involved.  But now, it seems the story is important to tell.

More to come; it is about the food.