Weaning Ourselves from Wheat

It’s kind of nice to divert your attention from stress-producing to smile-producing events, and our family has been doing a good job of this recently. From watching basketball finals (way to go, Dubs! You’re amazing, Steph! Be sure to try our Lamb Kheema in a Hurry Curry recipe!) to an amazing taco tour in Mexico City (let us know if you want to go on it and our daughter, Sara, will send you the info) to playing soccer in support of charitable causes (way to go, Travis!), the kids and grandkids have been having fun. Andy has been having fun too, studying – and talking a lot about – nutria and other “weird” species. Read all about that in today’s Andy’s Corner. It’s hysterical…definitely a contender for Best Blog of the Year! 🙂 My “fun” has been a little less exciting. I’ve been obsessing over wheat.

Playing soccer at the gorgeous Brooklyn Bridge Park – in support of PlaySoccer2Give and the Homeless World Cup Foundation

More about my kind of fun: it’s reading and researching about food – and then trying out recipes – at least when I’m not out in the garden having fun by using my pickaxe and lopper to dig up and cut back everything – often in the most brutal manner. Just getting my aggressions out so I can smile more 🙂 🙂 :). I’ve found that pounding on a piece of chicken for our chicken-fried-chicken (recipe to come) also releases pent-up frustration and brings a relaxed smile.

And now more about wheat. I’m always on the look-out for tasty and easy recipes, but I have to admit that when I see a recipe that begins “GLUTEN FREE,” I quickly pass on it. But a few recent news articles that caught my attention made me realize that gluten-free foods might be what’s up and coming! And not just for the gluten intolerant.

Wheat being harvested in Colorado. According to our Weld County farmer, this year the wind and drought caused him to lose his dry land wheat crop.

Though Kansas produces the most wheat in the U.S., Colorado (aka “the Homeland”) is among the top 10 wheat-producing states. On a global scale, China is the largest wheat-producer, with India a distant second. Even more relevant to today’s news, Russia and Ukraine provide 30% of the world’s wheat. Check out this WaPo article.

But it’s not only the supply issue. It’s also that wheat and corn and rice crops could be severely impacted by climate change. Even if you’re not worried about the supply issue and the resultant rapidly-rising costs, you might worry about how your health is impacted by a wheat-loaded diet. And you should.

We know that wheat (except for buckwheat) contains gluten. And, yes, some of us have gluten intolerance (here’s an enlightening article from Harvard about the “ifs, ands or buts” about gluten and gluten intolerance). It’s the gluten that’s needed for those moderate to highly-processed foods which the experts are screaming “BAD FOR YOU!!!!!” Are you ready to give up your morning croissant? Your BLT toasted white-bread sandwich for lunch? Your beef and bean burrito for dinner? What about that bourbon-filled flour-heavy 86-Proof Chocolate Cake? And – geeeeeez OMG NOOOOO! – maybe even your noodles and pasta?

Actually, I’m more concerned about the lack of fiber in the heavily-refined white flour. Returning once more to the Homeland and the HomeCity university, Colorado State University, researchers there note that dietary fiber has a number of health benefits — it prevents constipation, lowers blood cholesterol and might help you lose weight. Woohoo! I’m INTO fiber.

So I got to thinking about what sounds sweet and yummy that doesn’t have flour in it – and maybe even has some fiber benefits.

We’ve already posted some d-lish wheat-free desserts: Sweet Potato Pone, Halvah, Huguenot Torte, Almond Crackle Cookies, and Brown Butter Mochiko Muffins. If you want wheat-free AND high fiber, look for desserts like the pone with its sweet potatoes, and the halvah with its tahini, and the cookies with their almonds.

There’s a cute little deli in downtown Sonoma run by a creative Italian chef, Andrea Marino. It’s called Salumeria Ovello. We were lucky enough to taste – or should I say inhale – his Brutti ma Buoni cookies when a friend served them recently. If you don’t know Italian – that names means “ugly but good.” And, yes, they’re wheatless (or that obligatory description: gluten-free). The hazelnuts add fiber. Replicating them was not easy, but I finally found a simple recipe for these yummy-but-ugly cookies to share. And the real plus? They don’t even have butter, so you’ve saved the planet that way too. A little less greenhouse gas production!

Another sweet choice for a wheat-less, dairy-free, fiber-filled dessert is Chocolate Coconut Macaroons, and I’ve included a recipe for them too. You can up the ante with the chocolate by adding chocolate chips in addition to the cocoa powder, but I prefer the cookies sans chips.

Gluten-free, dairy-free, fiber-filled Brutti ma Buoni cookies
Gluten-free, dairy-free, fiber-filled Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

Brutti ma Buoni - Ugly But Good Cookies

Adapted from Food & Wine

  • 1 1/2 c hazelnuts (8 oz)
  • 1 1/2 c confectioners sugar (aka powdered sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt (less if using any other kind)
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten (better yet – 2 small egg whites, lightly beaten; 1 just barely adds enough liquid)
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread the hazelnuts on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 12 minutes, until the nuts are fragrant and the skins blister. Transfer the hazelnuts to a kitchen towel and let cool, then rub them together to remove their skins.

In a food processor, blend the hazelnuts with the confectioners sugar and salt until finely chopped (don’t over blend; you don’t want hazelnut flour!). Mix in the beaten egg white and vanilla.

Line the baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon tablespoon-size mounds of the hazelnut dough onto the prepared baking sheet 1 inch apart.

Bake the cookies in the center of the oven for about 13 minutes. They will be very lightly browned. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet before serving.

Cookies will keep for several days in an airtight container – or can be frozen.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

  • Servings: about 24 small cookies
  • Print

If chocolate is your thing, you can stir in 1/2 c of semisweet chocolate chips before baking, but we think the cookies are plenty chocolatey as is.

  • 2 1/4 c shredded, unsweetened coconut (take note: unsweetened!)
  • 2/3 c sugar
  • 1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted through a wire strainer
  • 1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 egg whites, lightly beaten

Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Stir together the coconut, sugar, sifted cocoa power and salt; mix the vanilla into the egg whites and then stir that into the coconut mixture.

Using a tablespoon, scoop out and form round cookie balls (if your hands are ever-so-slightly damp, the dough won’t stick).  Place the balls about 1″ apart on the cookie sheets.  The cookies will not spread, so don’t worry about that.  

Bake for 20 minutes.  Don’t be concerned if the cookies seem a little soft when you take them out of the oven; they will set up as they cool.  After cooling on the pan for 5 minutes, transfer to a wire rack to completely cool.

The macaroons will keep in an air-tight container for several days and will freeze well.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

Let’s Eat Grandma

Fortunately, my two grandsons, Silas and Moss, have not rallied behind “Let’s Eat Grandma.” In fact, when I texted them about their reaction, their responses were quick – and negative. Thank goodness!

HA! Bet you didn’t know that Let’s Eat Grandma is a (very) young recording duo from Britain, who just recently released their third – and acclaimed – album, Two Ribbons.

FYI – They’ll be in NYC at Webster Hall Nov, 4, Denver at The Bluebird on Nov. 14, and SF at The Independent Nov. 22.

Obviously, other than relief at Silas’s and Moss’s reaction to Let’s Eat Grandma, I was curious why on earth those British kids chose that name for their recording group. Turns out everyone – except me, perhaps – knows it’s a little bit of punctuation humor:

Ahhhhhh, yes, the importance of commas. I’ll bet you remember hearing this story…

An English professor wrote the words, “Woman without her man is nothing” on the blackboard and directed his (or her!) students to punctuate it correctly.

The male students wrote: “Woman, without her man, is nothing.”

The women wrote: “Woman: Without her, man is nothing.”

And then there’s this…

Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, aka Let’s Eat Grandma, are in their early 20’s. Bonnie Raitt, Dolly Parton, Tom Paxton, and Willie Nelson, who are 72, 76, 84, and 89 respectively, also have albums which have been or will be released this year. Tony Bennett, who is 95, released an album with Lady Gaga last year.

If you want to see Bob Dylan, who just turned 81, he’ll be performing in Oakland at the Fox Theater June 9th and 10th.

Andy – in today’s Andy’s Corner – isn’t interested in Tom Paxton, but he is interested in something else “born” in 1937. And it’s even food related – but do we really want to revisit a food dish popular 85 years ago?

It seems that “out with the old and in with the new” has been replaced with “in with both the new AND the pretty-damn old” (could this relate to politics too? I won’t go there).

I may not be a fan of either the very young or the pretty-damn old when it comes to entertainment – or politics – but I do try to be open-minded. I listened to some of Let’s Eat Grandma’s songs and, since I couldn’t understand their words, I looked up the lyrics. If you read some of the poetry from my new favorite poet, Ada Limón, in our last blog, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the comparison. Admittedly, song lyrics don’t claim to be poetry – but you must recall that Bob Dylan received the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature for his lyrics.

Lyrics from “Chocolate Sludge Cake,” released in 2016 by Let’s Eat Grandma:

It’s time to bake a cake
I’m gonna make a carrot cake
No, I’m gonna make an apple cake
No, I’m gonna make a coffee cake (eugh!)
No, I’m gonna make a chocolate cake, a chocolate ca-a-a-a-a-ake
Ca-chocolate ca-a-a-a-a-ake
Ca-chocolate ca-a-a-a-a-ake

Lyrics from “Eat Shiitake Mushrooms,” released 2016 by Let’s Eat Grandma

Shiitake mushroom, how do you grow?
Enchant me with your glow
You were covered in stone, but you made it now

With those lines in mind, recipes for today’s blog are a gimme. We already have a super-favorite recipe which features shiitake mushrooms (Grace Young’s Longevity Noodles) and we’ve already done a number of chocolate cake recipes (Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake is extra-special for everyday snacking and as a simple dessert for a casual dinner party). But you can’t have too many recipes for either shiitakes or chocolate cake, so we’ve got another one of both to tempt your taste buds. Yum.

Shiitake Pancetta Pasta

Shiitake Pancetta Pasta

  • 2 T butter – divided
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3-5 oz pancetta, chopped  (I used Columbus Diced Pancetta in a 5 oz pkg, which is easy to find)
  • 3/4 lb shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced into 1/4″ slices
  • 2 T sage chopped leaves (about 6 leaves will do it)
  • 3 small cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large carrot, minced
  • 1/2 c cream
  • salt (about 1/4 tsp)
  • pepper (about 1/4 tsp)
  • 1/4 c parsley, finely chopped
  • 8 oz (or more) fettuccine, cooked according to package directions, drained, and mixed with 1 T butter

Heat 1 T butter and the olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat.  Add pancetta and saute for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the mushrooms, sage leaves, garlic, and carrot.  Saute 4-6 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.  Add the cream and salt and pepper and saute another 2 minutes of so, stirring.

Gently combine the warm fettuccine with the mushroom sauce; sprinkle with parsley, and serve.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

Pepitas and Chocolate Cake/Torte

Pepitas and Chocolate Cake/Torte

Rick Bayless calls this a cake, but we call it a torte.  Whatever…it’s addictively delicious. Adapted from Rick Bayless

  • 8 T butter (4 oz – 1 stick), softened – plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 3/4 c pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds), toasted and salted – divided into 1 1/4 c and 1/2 c
  • 1 c plus 2 T sugar – divided like that
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 c flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking power
  • 1 T tequila
  • 1/2 c (3 oz) Mexican chocolate (Taza is the brand we use)
  • powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch cake pan, then line the bottom with a round of parchment paper cut to fit the bottom and slather it with more butter (about a tablespoon). Sprinkle 1/2 c of the pumpkin seeds in an even layer on the bottom of the pan, then sprinkle with 2 T of the sugar. Set aside.

Measure the remaining 1 1/4 c of the pumpkin seeds and 1 c sugar into a food processor. Pulse the machine until the seeds are ground. Add the eggs and the butter and pulse until everything is incorporated. Add the flour, baking powder and tequila and pulse again, just until everything is combined.

Chop the chocolate into pea-sized pieces and add it to the batter. Pulse until the chocolate is mixed in. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Let the cake cool for ten minutes, then invert it onto a wire rack and remove the parchment paper.  To be fancy – sprinkle the cake with a little powdered sugar before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.


I Like the Lady Horses Best

We’ve been pretty focused on dogs lately here at BigLittleMeals. But a couple of things got me off of dogs and (back) to horses (there’s nothing quite like being on the back – bareback, of course – of a horse). While I’m back to horses, Andy in Andy’s Corner is back to Sociology – AND horses. How clever!

First, I saw this article in The Atlantic about the evolution and domestication of horses. According to the author, “They say dogs are man’s best friend, but horses could also claim that title.” It’s a fascinating analysis of horse history and puts dogs and horses – as our helpers and pals – in more of a perspective. For example, did you know that dogs were domesticated 15,000 years ago – and horses weren’t domesticated until almost 10,000 years later?

Then came Mother’s Day and I got a call from my son, Travis, offering to bet on the Kentucky Derby for me in lieu of Mother’s Day flowers! Now I’m not a horse-racing fan, but the decision was simple. Who wants flowers…at least inside and in a vase and from a florist (my apologies to all of you flower-loving mamas out there. To each her own.)?

Rich Strike – the very long shot Derby winner for 2022

You know Andy and I have a ton of fun doing these blogs. We can jump all over the place and there’s no teacher or professor or editor – except ourselves – to tell us that our writing sucks. So I’d like to share the next sequence of events that resulted in this blog so you know just how random our reading and research is.

  1. After Travis placed my $10 bet on Epicenter (yup – way cheaper than flowers!), I started wondering if I should have bet on a filly.
  2. There were no fillies in the Derby this year to bet on – so I researched whether a filly had ever won the Kentucky Derby.
  3. The last (of only 3 fillies) to win the Derby was Winning Colors back in 1988 – 34 years ago!
1988: Winning Colors (a filly) besting Forty-Niner (ironic!) in the Derby
  1. Why don’t fillies win – or even enter?
  2. The answer to the above question is somewhat complicated. Fillies mature later than stallions, so a 3-year-old filly isn’t as strong as a 3-year-old male, and only 3-year-olds run in the Derby. Plus, there’s the “stud” thing. A winner stallion has the potential to bring in way more money as a stud than a mare does as a producer of a foal/year. Finally, the Derby instituted a point system back in 2013 that helps out European and Japanese bred stallions but does nothing to help fillies.

Stay with me here; it’s getting more random 🙂

  1. A week or so ago I skimmed an article in the NYTimes about a 46-year-old poet by the name of Ada Limón and happened to see that she grew up in Glen Ellen (our current home town) and Sonoma – and she lives now in Kentucky. So I read some of her poetry. My favorite? About fillies – and girls. It’s great.
  1. How perfect can this all be…except this is a food/life blog, and I’ve got to factor in food.
  2. I can’t possibly do horse meat – but why?
  3. Why don’t we eat horse meat, at least here in the U.S.? Mr. Beat – who is a YouTube-ing high school teacher in Kansas – has a video about that.

Since I can’t enthusiastically include a recipe for horse meat – or dog – or even cat meat – we’ve got a recipe for a variation on the go-to cocktail while watching horse-racing: the Mint Julep! We’ve even got a Mock Mint Julep recipe. But might I suggest that you enjoy it while you watch next year’s Kentucky Oaks, NOT the Kentucky Derby. It’s a race specifically for 3-year-old fillies. I’ll bet you’ll like “the lady horse swagger.”

My horse Besties, hanging out in the back acreage of our Ft Collins, CO, home in the late 1950’s. Patches – a black and white, pinto, part draft-horse, unregistered gelding, and Fleet – a palomino, purebred, registered Quarter Horse mare. To be perfectly honest, I loved them both equally.

A last minute footnote: Depending upon your feelings about racehorses, you’ll be happy – or sad – to learn that UC Davis has just decided to replace their “elite” racehorse mascot with…ta-da!…a cow. 🙂

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The Rag-Tag Award

We started our blog 5 years ago, and each year thereafter – on that May anniversary – we have presented The Raggedy Awards. It’s been a festive occasion, with Andy determining what awards I should get and my determining what, if any, awards Andy should get 🙂

But nothing can go on forever. So this year our awards have been changed. Andy and I have joined forces (can you believe that!?) and are presenting just one REALLY BIG award. And it’s the Rag-Tag award.

I’ll let Andy take it from here:

This year’s REALLY BIG Rag-Tag Award goes to our REALLY SHORT dog – WynnSome. Wynn has been a huge presence in our lives this last year, and we hold her in high regard (despite her low profile).

She’s a real charmer. Whenever she’s with us in public she creates a stir. She loves people and almost everyone who crosses her path falls for her charm with comments about how cute she is and about her pretty brindle coat. 

Then comes the inevitable question:  what kind of dog is she?

While the AKC says “The Cardigan Welsh Corgi is a masterpiece of the breeder’s art”  her appearance has “Rag-Tag” written all over it.  I often have wondered if this breed was designed by a committee. But to provide some concrete proof that Wynn qualifies for the BigLittleMeals 2022 Rag-Tag Award I am offering my very short DOGumentary entitled “The Rag-Tag Corgi.

So here’s to Cardigan Welsh Corgis – and to our Winner, Wynn!

Though Andy’s “dogumentary” focuses on Wynn’s appearance, her demeanor is a little rag-tag too…as in “not very respectable.” She barks when she shouldn’t bark, steals things she shouldn’t have (like a pork chop off the kitchen counter), and gives you a “f*** you” look when you ask her to do something she doesn’t care to do. Which makes me think about The Lincoln Highway, which I just finished reading. It would be hard to find a more rag-tag group of kids than Emmett, Wooly, Duchess, and Billy in Amor Towles’ 2021 novel. Though I didn’t love the book as much as I loved A Gentleman in Moscow, it was still a fun – if long – read. And those 4 boys are all such rascals, and, as the WaPo review put it, they’re a really motley crew. Wynn would be their perfect dog.

Being food-obsessed as I am, I happened to bookmark a page toward the end of the book where Duchess describes the meal he prepares for Emmett, Wooly, Billy, and Sally. Lo and behold, Towles discusses that recipe in an interview and comments that it’s actually a favorite of the Towles family. It’s now also a favorite of our family!

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An Infinitesimal Speck

It took the soundtrack for a recent TV series to make me understand what a seemingly infinitesimal speck we are in the universe.

Should I blame my parents for sheltering me? After all, you’ll recall that my dad is the one who didn’t allow me to take high school biology (WHY I wasn’t allowed remains a pressing question, never to be answered) – and my mother forced me to take high school Home Economics so I could learn to iron a man’s shirt – and cook – and probably be a stay-at-home housewife.

My parents didn’t realize I was tougher than I looked.

Or maybe I should blame Colorado College, my alma mater. Didn’t they want their liberal arts students to be well-rounded and knowledgeable about the world…and beyond?

Whoever is to blame (obviously, I don’t want to blame myself), the fact is that I know nothing NOTHING about the universe – or even about the Milky Way Galaxy.

As seen from space: the earth is the bright speck (beside Andy’s arrow).

Carl Sagan wrote: “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Sagan also was sure that the spacecrafts Pioneer 10 and 11, launched in 1972 and 1973, had the following plaque – so that any alien finding it would know who we are and where we’re located.

The plaque aboard Pioneer 10 and 11.

Maybe that all helps explain why the “Galaxy Song” from 1983’s The Meaning of Life by Monty Python absolutely blows my mind. Maybe it blows my mind because I didn’t take biology so I didn’t know that’s how sex and birth happen – and I’ll add an “R” rating to this video, just in case. :). But mostly I’m just overwhelmed at those numbers. “Our galaxy is one of millions of billions” and “our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars” and “it’s a hundred thousand light years side by side” (I estimate that’s about 620,000,000,000,000,000 miles; correct me if I’m wrong). Coming right after Easter and Passover, it’s tricky to fit that into religion – as we know it and preach it – don’t you think? Coincidentally, religion is a topic in today’s Andy’s Corner – but on a more utilitarian and down-to-earth level.  Think “Manna from Heaven.”

You’ll love the Python video – just be sure to read all of the lyrics. They’re impressive…and funny.

Released in 1983

Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown,
And things seem hard or tough,
And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft,

And you feel that you’ve had quite eno-o-o-o-o-ough,

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at 900 miles an hour.
It’s orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
The sun that is the source of all our power.
Now the sun, and you and me, and all the stars that we can see,
Are moving at a million miles a day,
In the outer spiral arm, at 40,000 miles an hour,
Of a galaxy we call the Milky Way.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars;
It’s a hundred thousand light-years side to side;
It bulges in the middle sixteen thousand light-years thick,
But out by us it’s just three thousand light-years wide.
We’re thirty thousand light-years from Galactic Central Point,
We go ’round every two hundred million years;
And our galaxy itself is one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.

Our universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding,
In all of the directions it can whiz;
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute and that’s the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth;
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space,
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth!

Songwriters: Eric Idle / John Du Prez

What made me think of Eric Idle’s song after almost 40 years? Well, Andy and I have watched all of the episodes of the TV series Better Things, and the beginning of the final season uses the song as the backdrop to Sam Fox, the mother, as she begins a new day. Sam has reached middle age and is feeling a little unmoored.

Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox. I’ll bet she taught HER daughters about the universe; we’re sure she tried to teach them about sex.

On top of that, Sara, our daughter, who has reached middle age and is feeling a little unmoored, sent me this quote, flying around the internet (with no apparent author). And voila. This blog was born.

Python’s The Meaning of Life concludes with the Lady Presenter being given the envelope containing the answer to What Is the Meaning of Life. And what is the answer? “Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

We’ve got you covered! If you want to be nice to people, have them over. We all need to get out. And then serve up a fat-free and delicious slice of homemade Angel Food Cake with some lightly-sugared, fat-free strawberries or chunks of mango. Talk about books you’ve read. Might I suggest Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (which is on my list to read)? And then take a walk (if in Glen Ellen, we recommend the Sonoma Regional Park or the Jack London State Historic Park).

We’re sure you’re already trying to live in peace and harmony. Or as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently expressed it – inspired by “the better angels of our nature.”

Remember – every peaceful, harmonious fraction of a dot counts.

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