Wednesday, January 20, 2016

English muffins masquerading as Australian toaster biscuits.

Once upon a time, Oroweat produced and sold a product called Australian Toaster Biscuits, and they were fucking delicious. They were light and airy, yet dense and squishy at the same time, and essentially melted in your mouth, even, and especially, after toasting them. Top them with butter and jam and life was good, man.

However, at some point, in a fit of apparent insanity, they stopped making them. What the everliving fuck, Oroweat? You also used to make very decent breads that are now essentially all nearly tasteless and sliced so ridiculously thin, they turn to hard, crunchy wafers long before they're even properly toasted. For shame, Oroweat. FOR SHAME.

The other day I got a wild hair up my ass to find a copycat recipe and try them myself. Many references I found online compared them to crumpets. Now, clearly an American bread company is less likely to care about making an authentic Australian recipe, and hell, perhaps nothing akin to their product ever even existed in Australian cuisine. What I do know, though, is that Australian toaster biscuits ARE NOT CRUMPETS. Don't get me wrong--I love me some crumpets. And they're definitely on my list of things to try at home, with all those little tunnels for the butter and jam to hide in, and the juxtaposition of the crispy edging and squishy, buttery, jammy interior. Mmmhmmm. But if I wanted to make crumpets, I would just make crumpets, people. What I want is some godsdamn toaster biscuits. SHEESH.

So I eventually landed on this one and gave them a go. The verdict? SO FUCKING DELICIOUS. However? NOT FUCKING TOASTER BISCUITS. LIKE, AT ALL. And I've made the recipe three times now and the dough has never turned out thin enough to even need the baking rings she has you make, so, yeah. I'm pretty good at following recipes, but something doesn't translate with this one.

The good news? These are actually AMAZING English muffins! Who knew?! And seeing as we're big fans of English muffins around here and they were also on my list of things to try at home, I think of this recipe as a total win. Especially because the wee folk LOVE them. Like, so much. Like, King Toad Agooga will eat three of them toasted with butter in one sitting much. And they're perfect and super tasty toasted and used for little sandwiches. Hell, they're even delicious just eaten as is. And the measurements and method are easy to remember, too, which is something I always appreciate, not liking to have to refer to recipes all the time.

Let's do this, then, shall we?

1 cup warm water (110F)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons oil (mild-tasting, I like grapeseed)
3/4 cup warm milk (110F)

Dissolve sugar and yeast in water and set aside to activate for 10min. Whisk flour and salt together, then add oil, milk, and yeast water, mixing with a hand-mixer till smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and set somewhere warm to rise for an hour.

Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium-low heat and sprinkle fairly generously with corn meal. Give the dough a stir to deflate it a bit, then, working in batches, scoop out 1/4 cup at a time and drop into skillet. Cook for 10min, then flip and cook for another 8min. Add more corn meal between batches. Cool on wire rack at least 10min before slicing.

Makes roughly a baker's dozen and I have no idea how long they'll stay fresh because we've literally never had any last longer than the next day. I'm guessing they'll stay pretty tasty for at least a few days in an airtight container. Pre-slicing and freezing would also work well.


-My sister Auntie Fancy once recommended years ago using the oven with the light on as a good place to let dough rise and I still use this method, the light helping to achieve just the right ambient temperature.

-The second time I made them, I subbed 1 cup whole wheat flour and although they didn't rise nearly as much, they were also delicious.

-Definitely aim for the lower end of medium-low, as they need to cook long and low and will brown too quickly if set too high. Aim for even lower if using whole wheat flour.

-Since this is a yeast dough, it'll be airy and bubbly and tricky to scoop. I use my opposite finger as I'm scooping to help squish the dough into the measuring cup to make sure I'm getting the proper amount, and then wipe the excess off the sides/rim before scooping it all back out into the skillet with said finger.

And I always love being surprised while making new recipes, especially when it comes to a method I had never before considered, like how English muffins end up toasty on top and bottom but not around the sides. I literally never considered the fact that they aren't baked in an oven, they're toasted on a hot surface. Mind blown.

So there you have it! These do take some prep time, but since my wee Hobbits prefer many breakfasts, I like to start the dough first thing and then cook them a little later in the morning for second or third breakfast.

Then we snack on them all day.

Because why not?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Making sense of my messy mind.

Okay, fuck it. Let's talk about my new mental health diagnosis. It'll be a gas. I promise.

I started therapy for depression when I was 11, and was eventually diagnosed with clinical depression (also known as major depression or major depressive disorder), leading eventually to hospitalization and a short but fairly horrible go with an early antidepressant. A diagnosis and experience like that becomes part of your identity going forward, especially, I think, when experienced so young. But apart from the diagnosis and whatever coping skills I clearly learned during my months of therapy and weeks of hospitalization, I don't remember much about it (which may be a coping mechanism in and of itself). And I certainly never thought to track down my records or any other info relating to that time in my life--that is, until I found myself dealing with postpartum depression while also fully realizing the implications of being a parent now and having potentially passed some of my mental health issues on to my children. However, it's been 25 years (holy fuck) since all that went down and there is essentially zero reason to believe my records even exist anymore--not to mention the fact that the hospital I was a patient in closed within a decade of my stay. I would love nothing more than to be able to delve into my childhood mind, but alas. 

Beginning therapy last summer, I didn't expect any sort of new diagnosis, as clinical depression is, you know, plenty to deal with. But it turns out there has been something else going on in my mind that, in reality, has and continues to affect my behaviour and inner dialogue and sense of self far more, I think, than depression. And who knows if it was diagnosed as well all those years ago, but it is extraordinarily clear now that I have been dealing with this other mental shadow my entire life, and its effects have morphed in bizarre ways over the years. 

The diagnosis? Oppositional defiant disorder, or ODD. And let's please just take a moment to appreciate the fact that I have been professionally diagnosed as ODD, shall we? I mean, right? So great. 

Okay, so what is this special brand of ODD? It's generally an adolescent diagnosis focusing on a child or teen's issues with authority and the behaviour that comes with it. Clearly essentially all young people go through a period of questioning authority, and many adults, of course, retain that badge their whole lives. But ODD is something different than the basic stick-it-to-the-man attitude held by some, and is often a more common issue of highly intelligent folk, as the focus becomes one of defying those you believe hold misplaced authority. And the defiant bit is important, as there's very much an active element to the disorder.

I want to stop here and toss something out that, in all honesty, makes me uncomfortable, as there is no way to discuss my mental health issues without referring to it. I am a highly intelligent, and consequently highly creative, person, and I am forcing myself to come to terms with being able to say that and not feel like I sound like an utterly arrogant bastard. The creative bit I hadn't ever really considered until recently (this shocked my therapist), but I've clearly known about the intelligent factor my whole life. So even though I've been conditioned by society to not flaunt my intelligence in general (us smart kids learn that lesson early--less bullying that way), I'm beginning to learn how it's affected my mental health over the years, and how important a factor it's been in me becoming, well, me. So I will be referring to my intelligence during my discussions of my mental health out of necessity, not because I really (want to admit I) am an utterly arrogant bastard.

Glad we got that settled.

So, why was I given a typically adolescent diagnosis at 35? Well, because the shit's insidious and long-lasting for some of us apparently. After just a couple sessions with my therapist, I had a revelation that I become stressed and fussy and often downright paralyzed in the face of expectations, regardless of size or import. And this is really the crux of my ODD because this issue with expectations has ginormous consequences in terms of my life path thus far, as well as just my basic interactions with people and the world around me. And it was bringing this idea up that made my therapist reach for the DSM-5 for a diagnosis that day. 

A mental health diagnosis is not always a panacea or even particularly helpful to a patient in a practical way. However, this one blew my fucking mind, and honestly, continues to, as it touches on the core of who I am and how I self-identify. There's so much there, it's hard to know where to start, and is why I've hesitated to write about it before now. I'm sure there will be followup posts, but for now, we'll just dive in somewhere and see where it takes us.

I had a lot of expectations placed on me starting at a very young age, and not in a harsh, disciplinarian way, but they were expectations nonetheless. And honestly, I was already defying expectations in utero, seeing as I was four days shy of being a month late. I held my head up immediately in the hospital, sat at three months, crawled at four months, and walked at seven months. I was without question the smartest kid in every class, in all subjects, and was one of the very best at everything I did, whether dance, gymnastics, singing, theatre, sports, instruments, you name it. And on top of it all, I was ridiculously mature for my age, gregarious, funny, confident, pretty, etc., etc. 

I was THAT kid. And I was expected to do great things. Except I didn't. Starting at age nine, which also happens to be the age I started my period (I was already developing breasts by age seven), fulfilling the expectations of the doting, loving, excited adults around me lost its luster apparently. Again, I was defying expectations off the bat, but it began taking a different track at that point, and instead of simply not caring if I was meeting expectations, I began getting off on the act of purposely choosing to act in a way contrary to what was expected of me. My 4th grade teacher was on the committee developing new GATE (gifted and talented education) curriculum for the district, and to keep me, the classic highly intelligent yet bored student, engaged in school, she asked and received permission from my parents to test out new lesson plans on me. In addition, a small group of us from class would get to meet separately with a parent or teacher's aid weekly to work on our current GATE curriculum. One of the other GATE students was a boy who lived down the street from me, and his mom often oversaw our GATE work. I remember vividly walking home from the bus stop with him one day and having him sheepishly admit that his mom didn't like me, something I had already gleaned, always having been a good reader of people. Why didn't she like me? Because I didn't do my work. It bored me and I didn't see the point, so I didn't do it. And she couldn't stand me for it. 

Was I upset by this information? Fuck no. I LOVED it. I felt fucking fantastic. I couldn't give a shit about being liked by someone's mom, and got off on the fact that I could elicit such strong emotions from an adult just by simply not doing what was expected of me. And there began the beginning of the end of my promising educational career. You would expect someone as bright and talented as me to go far in the world of education and careers, right? Perfect, then I'm not gonna. I'm gonna eek by, not do any of my homework yet ace every test, end up on independent study in junior high, skip 8th grade entirely, barely make it through my freshman year, and finish up high school at a small, alternative high school--and that was accomplished only barely. Then off to college because that's what you do apparently, only to drop far more classes than I ever finished, most dropped at the end of the semester, too, after kicking ass and placing myself at the top of the class from day one. Even though I love learning, the bullshit hoops you're forced to go through to prove you know something in school is something I find incredibly obnoxious. And even though deep down inside, I hated letting my professors down (at least the ones I liked and respected), part of me got off on being privately told by more than one professor that I was one of the best students they had ever had and they hated seeing me give up at the end of the semester, when the expectations really came down to the wire. I literally had professors beg me to just give them something, anything they could log and grade me on so I didn't end up with yet another unfinished class. 

But, you know, meh. That's not who I am, you see. I like to keep people guessing. I'm rarely if ever into the latest trend, and often am not into it simply because it's the latest trend. Oh, everyone's doing that? Well, I'm not gonna. Imma have a sandwich. I like dichotomies. I like being the unexpected. I like going against the grain, even if the only person it really negatively affects is myself. Because here's the thing about ODD that really fucking sucks: The common thread is defining yourself not by what you are, but by what you're not. And that, friends, is the epitome of self-sabotage. Because who are you saying no to in that instance? Who are you really defying?

The answer? Yourself. Most decisions come to be made in the negative, not informed necessarily by what you want, but by what you don't want. Your whole sense of self and identity becomes informed by a reaction to and pushback of what other people are and do and like and think, and especially what they expect of you. And although the process can lead you to really great, out of the norm things, it's an existence full of nots and don'ts and aren'ts. 

And it's criminally, hurtfully self-defeating.

Okay, wow, there is so, so much more I want to (and will eventually) say on this topic, as there are several more ways in which it has seriously affected my life and especially my interactions with others. 

But we'll stop here for today. Because perhaps this didn't turn out as gassy as I promised, eh?

I'll work on that for next time. 

But don't expect too much.      

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Low-FODMAP cooking hacks.

I could really get used to these rainy mornings. Especially when I get to write. Writing and rain just go together, don't they? (I'm fighting the urge to insert some sort of "write as rain" pun here...wait, did I just lose?) Add in some Joshua Tree, coffee, and a little pit ball of love cuddled next to me, and it's like something out of dream. Ahhhhhhhhhh...

You know what's not like something out of a dream, though? Cooking sans onions and garlic. That resides squarely in nightmare territory, friends. I mean, seriously, right? They're basically their own food group to cooks and finding out they're potentially one of the culprits of IBS was really fucking depressing. Not to mention the fact that they're hidden in many of my go-to snacks (I'm looking at you, various delicious Triscuit varieties like Rosemary and Olive Oil and Dill and Sea Salt), and condiments (damn you, Worcestershire and Stubb's Original BBQ Sauce).

But you know what? I love a fucking challenge--especially in the kitchen. So I turned, of course, to the wisdom of the interwebs and have discovered some fabulous workarounds. So much so, that, if I'm being completely honest here...wait for it...I find myself not really missing garlic and onions. I know, I know. What the fuck did I just say, right? This coming from the woman who thinks more is always better when it comes to both onions and garlic. And I'm not even talking about sissy caramelized onions, which I actually don't even really care for. I'm talking raw, baby. I will eat ALL the raw onions. I literally cannot get enough. And oh, that recipe calls for one clove of garlic? Let's add five and call it good. This is the way I'm used to cooking and eating, so when I say challenge, I really mean it.

The first product I happened upon as a substitute for both onions AND garlic is a Persian spice called asafoetida powder, and I cannot sing its praises enough. For reals. The root word there is "fetid," and yes, it is ridiculously strong (the guy at the shop The Barbarian stopped by to pick some up for me made him swear he'd emphatically warn me how strong it is) and doesn't necessarily smell great upon first sniff. However, I am continually amazed and impressed how well it adds that ubiquitous pungent flavour at the heart of both onions and garlic. I now use it in basically everything savoury, from my homemade condiments (because that's what you're left with when eating low-FODMAP) like pasta sauce and salad dressing, to things like meatloaf and casseroles, and sprinkled with various other herbs and spices on things like roasted chicken and vegetables. Hell, I even make my damn garlic bread with it now. It's that amazing and versatile and, above all, delicious. Hard to find, however. It's most often used in Indian cooking, so if you have a local Indian/Pakistani market, that may be your best bet. Or online, of course. Our local shop is a franchise of a larger company, who also sell online, and I am very happy with their quality.

Another substitute that has become a regular in my kitchen is freeze dried chives, as chives are okay on a low-FODMAP diet (the green portion of scallion is also acceptable, but I'm lazy and find myself not really using them because chopping). I use these from Litehouse that I just get from Safeway (in the produce section with the fresh herbs) and they fucking rock. I put them in everything. They're especially delicious in breakfast potatoes. Mmmmmmmm...breakfast potatoes... And damn handy, as they don't need to be refrigerated, but can be tossed in water and rehydrated if you're looking for fresh chives, or just poured from the bottles into whatever you're cooking. Done and done.

I was stumped as to how to replace my beloved Worcestershire in meat-based things like meatloaf, burgers, and cottage pie (fun fact: shepherds herd sheep, not cows, so unless you're using mutton, you're making cottage pie, not shepherd's pie--you're welcome), as well as dressings and sauces, until I looked into it and realized its umami flavour is really at the heart of what it imparts to food. A good substitute, then, is soy sauce or tamari (I use tamari, not for its GF property, but because I like the flavour better). Combine it with some asafoetida powder and you're really winning.

The other condiment I desperately needed to find a replacement for was BBQ sauce because pulled pork (Costco has amazing pork shoulder at a ridiculously awesome price, so pulled pork, carnitas, country ribs, et al. are in regular rotation at our house). I tried a couple of recipes found on various IBS blogs, and at least one was downright horrid (seriously, question any recipe that calls for an entire CUP of red wine vinegar--and I fucking LOVE vinegar). But then I found this one and it's so damn good, I could easily see using it even if I didn't need a special sauce (giggle...).

Two other ingredients I find myself using a lot are maple syrup and spicy brown mustard. Maple syrup is a low-FODMAP sweetener (along with regular ol' sugar, believe it or not, but not honey and molasses, sadly) and as I am a very ginormous fan of maple syrup as it is, I happily use it in everything now. In addition to drowning things like pancakes, waffles, and French toast in it, I have used it in place of sugar 1:1 for years now (add it to your wet ingredients, naturally), and drizzle it over the wee folk's plain yogurt and plain oatmeal to keep their sugar intake down (there is an unconscionable amount of sugar in things like flavoured yogurts and oatmeal, especially those aimed at children, if you hadn't noticed). It's a staple in many of my dressings and sauces as well now, often along with spicy brown mustard, such as the grilling sauce I came up with over the summer (spicy brown mustard, tamari, and maple syrup), or my Asian dressing (grapeseed or avocado oil, toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, tamari, spicy brown mustard, maple syrup, lime juice, ginger, asafoetida, and whatever the hell else I happen to toss in that day).

Seriously, I dig me some mustard, so being able to at least still have that has really helped in this often crap endeavour. I had to come up with a substitute for my mom's very basic, yet gold standard (in my opinion), potato salad recipe over the summer because of the onions and ended up going in a totally different, delicious direction using red potatoes, hard boiled eggs, and chopped Bubbies pickles mixed with mayo, spicy brown mustard, asafoetida powder, and s/p. Potato salad without the crunch and tang of red onions is heresy in my book, so the chopped pickles were added in an attempt to make up for them and do so wonderfully. And seriously, if you're not eating Bubbies pickles, please do yourself a favour and remedy that, stat.

So, yeah. With a little ingenuity, eating a low-FODMAP diet does not have to equal full-blown hell. Just maybe quasi hell. Except, of course, for when I do things like use half-and-half in my mashed potatoes instead of milk, which I do now, without exception.

And you should, too.                  

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Stormy morn.

Just the way I like it.

We Californians have been teased for months about this apparent monster El NiƱo forming over the Pacific, and while it all sounded very promising, we've been so dry for so long, none of us were really getting our hopes up. But surprise! It's here! With a veritable conveyor belt of storms just waiting off the coast, according to one quoted NOAA meteorologist. And although it will lead to disastrous flooding and mudslides, no doubt, we'll fucking take it. Beggars can't be choosers and all that.

As for us, our new year is off to a mixed start, much like our holidays ended up. The Barbarian is out of town the bulk of this week (and next week...and the week after that...and the week after that), and the poor wee folk are sick...again. They do this back-to-back virus thing a lot, it seems. I always anticipate a secondary infection in the first one to come down with a fever so soon after being sick, but within a couple of days, the other is inevitably also running a fever and so we just assume it's yet another random virus. Yay, winter. I was so impressed shortly after we moved into the new house last May that they seemed to be so healthy for so long, then promptly realized the healthy spell was probably due to it being the summer months. Not surprisingly, then, as soon as the season began to turn, we were back to it. Oh, well. Immune systems of steel, right?

But we disassembled Yulemas (my preferred term for our blend of Solstice/Yule and Christmas) on the 2nd of January and that was huge for us. I normally wait weeks and weeks until the tree is brown and beyond pathetic and I'm fresh out of energy to even properly pack it all away. More than once, I've been tempted to just tip it over a huge box and shake. Maybe next year. For this year, we still have a few random strands of lights here and there (that I'm actually contemplating keeping in various places, as my cousin and sister always have twinkly lights decorating their houses year-round and I kind of like the effect--and am letting go of the misplaced idea that they're not my style, dammit) and a few things the wee folk had secreted away to various places and so were neglected in the main sweep. They'll probably stay out till next time, too. Not because I'd like to make them part of my year-round style, of course, but because this is me. Who knows, though. New year and all, eh? And the wee folk reeled in quite the haul this time, including some larger family heirloom pieces we were fortunate enough to be gifted, so in addition to the holidays being packed away, their room and the family room were cleaned, rearranged, and organized, and everything found a home. I can't tell you how good it feels to begin the year like this. Remind me I said this next January, would you?

Speaking of the new year, The Barbarian and I haven't technically made resolutions, per se, but we are starting the year with a dry January, meaning zero alcohol for the entirety of the month. We've done famously so far and I am very proud of us, especially The Barbarian, as it's much harder to stay sober when one's job is to schmooze. However, it's not like being housebound with sick children sans spouse makes it easy to stay sober either, so, you know. We're both winning. And honestly, it's not been that challenging, really. My poor system is beyond fucked from my laissez-faire attitude towards eating over the past month or two and it is begging for a break. So along with a dry month, I am back on the elimination phase of the low-FODMAP diet recommended for those suffering from IBS. The idea is that those with IBS can't properly digest certain starches and sugars, so they stay in the digestive track and ferment and become extra food for our gut microbes, whose colonies grow out of control, causing gas and bloating and pain and funky craps and all the rest of it. I did this over the summer last year and it made an enormous difference, but when it came to adding things back in one at a time to see what's really causing my issues, I got lazy and added some back in together and therefore don't have a super clear picture of which foods precisely can be labeled as culprits. I know gluten is okay and lactose and artificial sweeteners are not. I'm fairly certain beans and legumes are okay and onions and garlic are not, but again, this is where things got a bit muddled. So, I won't sadden you with a list of all the things I am currently not eating, but for those interested, you can read more about it here.

My therapist and I chatted this week about the new year and changes and all that, and when I told him I hadn't really set any resolutions, per se, he suggested, if I wanted, just finding one or two things that are important to me and will have a noticeable impact. It made me realize I had essentially already done that by deciding that I would write every day (which I have), and by also deciding I really like a clean(ish) house. The whole idea of your environment affecting your thoughts and emotions is so, so spot on for me, and I've been doing a bit better about keeping up with things the past few weeks and realize how much better it makes me feel. Just coming out of the bathroom after a shower and seeing a clean bedroom floor is huge (we'll get to making the bed daily It's so refreshing and motivating. And I remember once reading a mom's number one cleaning tip that blew my mind a bit and has totally stuck with me (not that I've put it into practice, of course, but at least it's in there somewhere). The tip was so simple--clean it right away. BOOM. Do you know what happens to Rice Krippies (my children's pronunciation) when they're left to dry, sticking to the side of a bowl? They essentially become cement and no tool known to man can pry or scrub them off (seriously, out of glue? Mash some Krippies with milk and craft away!). But do you know what happens when you rinse the bowl right away? THEY SLIDE RIGHT FUCKING OFF. Insanity, right? The wee folk are getting involved as well, remembering to bring their dishes to the sink after they eat and putting their dirty clothes in the hamper when they change (you know, like from last night's jams to tonight's jams before bed). And having a puppy (did I mention we have a puppy?) has been a huge motivating factor for keeping toys up off the floor because, you know, chewing.

Is my house perfectly clean? Fuck no. And it never will be, I'm sure. It's just not who we are. But there is certainly something to be said for some daily maintenance to preempt the paralyzing feeling that comes with being completely overwhelmed by housework. I literally don't know where to start when it gets bad and end up just...not. So, you know, fuck that. And model good habits for our children in the process? We'll take it.

So there you have it. A post for the new year because new year.

Hopefully it's not the only one.