Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The case against "aquafaba" (Or, in defense of bean broth).

I realize the title of this post may ruffle some feathers, so let’s get one thing straight: I have nothing against this ingredient - on the contrary, I’ve been using it regularly for a few years now. (If you’re still wondering what this so-called “aquafaba” is, don’t worry, I’m about to fill you in.) And if you know and love this stuff, hear me out - I love it too, but there are a few issues I just can’t overlook...about its name. It’s been quietly bothering me since I first encountered it, and now that some commercial products are starting to use the ingredient, I just have to speak up. 

First off, just to make sure we’re all on the same page here: I’m talking about a certain egg substitution trick that’s been making waves in the last three or so years. It works fantastically in many situations, in fact, often much better and more versatile than other popular subs like flax gel, fruit puree, tofu, or packaged egg replacer. Most importantly, unlike these other egg subs, it creates a stable foam. And chances are, you already have it in your pantry! If you’re already in the loop, you know where this is headed. But if not, get ready...this is going to sound pretty weird. Are you ready? OK, here we go: It’s the liquid from boiled or canned beans. Yep, that soupy stuff you usually pour down the drain. I’m serious! The chemical/molecular reasons why it works are very different from what goes on in an actual egg (I’ll get to this later), but the end results have a surprising number of similarities. When I first read about this back in 2015 I was immediately excited - what a neat way of exploring the properties of food! 

Now, here’s where the controversy comes in: This discovery is attributed to certain individuals in the vegan baking community, and these same people dubbed the ingredient “aquafaba,” cobbled-together Latin for “bean water.” Again, I’m very fond of the ingredient, and find it extremely useful - in fact, in some GF formulas, I find the results to be superior to using actual eggs (I’ll get to that later too). But first, let’s address the terminology. I’m not a fan of that name. Commonly, the immediate response to hearing it is “aqua-what??” Newcomers to free-from diets are already overwhelmed by the long list of unfamiliar inventory. There’s no need to add to that by making up new words for things that we’re already well acquainted with. Just call it what it is: bean broth. That may still take a tiny bit of explaining, but it’s a descriptive and matter-of-fact term that avoids making it sound weird or “alternative.” 

But wait, shouldn’t the people who discovered it have the right to name it what they want?, you may be asking. Which brings me to my next point: I’m not on board with the origin story either. As a matter of fact, we already know that bean broth actually has been deliberately used as an ingredient for centuries. In medieval Europe, where animal foods were intermittently restricted by the Catholic calendar, water from boiling legumes was commonly used to enrich soups in place of meat broth on non-meat days. So we know for a fact people noticed its consistency was useful. That’s an example that’s actually documented - many more everyday uses of humble ingredients likely went unrecorded! This knowledge wasn’t lost in the middle ages, by the way: for instance, the 1982 cookbook Bean Cuisine (where it is referred to as bean stock) suggests using it to add body and flavor to casseroles and soups. 

The people who are given credit for “discovering aquafaba” might have been the first ones to notice that the liquid from canned beans is just the right concentration that it can be subbed for eggs by weight - and that is indeed a highly significant discovery, don’t get me wrong. But considering beans have been boiled in kitchens everywhere for hundreds and hundreds of years, I would honestly be surprised if no one ever considered its potential until 2014. I mean, have you ever watched a pot of beans cooking, when the foam starts to rise and maybe even boils over? That stuff fluffs up like a bubble bath! I can't really fathom that in all the time humans have been cooking legumes, there hasn't been at least one person who's noticed that foam and thought, ‘hey, maybe I could use that property,’ just as people noticed it could be used to thicken. Additionally, on an academic level, the foam-stabilizing properties of legume arabinogalactans have been noted in research papers (specifically, papers focusing on the microstructure of idli and other fermented foods) going back to the 1970s - so we also know the foaming properties were indeed previously recognized as useful in baking applications long before this decade.

So, there’s my rant. Check back soon for part 2, where I’ll show you the science of how and why to use this ingredient for gluten-free baking!

Bean broth whipped for icing.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Happy celiac awareness month!

As you may have heard, we're now a week in to Celiac Awareness Month! By this point, you've probably seen a lot of posts using this awareness to urge people to get tested and get their family tested, as the disease has a strong genetic link and is present in almost 1% of the population (in case you didn't know that - I do still run into plenty of people who believe it's "super rare" based on outdated info)! 

But what if you've already done those things? Or what if persuading family members to get tested is easier said than done? What if all the awareness-raising suggestions you see just feel too big for you right now? 

So, I decided to come up with three smaller, more approachable things YOU can do for celiac awareness this month:

1. Make your community more accessible for celiacs by educating others about how to reduce cross-contamination. This can be as simple as suggesting to your local food co-op about organizing bulk bins so the rice and beans are very far away from gluten items (I've done this, and it worked!!) or politely asking detailed questions about preparation when you go to local restaurants.

2. Lead by example: I don't know if you've had this experience, but I've encountered many people over the years who acknowledge they may have some degree of sensitivity, yet avoid getting tested because they think they'd have to give up everything good. Yikes! Few things are more frustrating than someone saying "I'd rather be sick than give up bread' - especially when you know that being celiac doesn't mean giving up bread at all (as you can tell from a look through my site)! So, maybe this month share some good GF food with someone who could be helped by seeing that living GF doesn't have to be difficult or mean missing out.

3. Build community by meeting and supporting fellow celiacs. For most people, the single most difficult part of a restricted diet is feeling left out and standing out when you don't want to - making friends with other food-sensitive people is a great way to help prevent that for you and someone else! Find some people who you can go out to restaurants with, swap recipe tips with, or even have potlucks with and all feel normal together. 


A great opportunity to do that third one is coming up in less than a month for those of us in NC: the Triad Gluten & Allergen Free Wellness Event will be held on Saturday, the 2nd of June, at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds. (Yes I know that's no longer May, but it's pretty close...) I will be there giving a talk on GF breadmaking. Hope to meet some of you there! I also have 4 tickets to give away - please leave a comment with your name if you would like a ticket or 2!

P.S. I have a really really exciting announcement coming up in the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Reflections and resolutions

As of a few days after Christmas, it’s now ten years that I’ve been gluten-free. That’s well over a third of my life! I had fully intended to mark the occasion with not one, but two new recipes that were not only seasonable and festive, but also of the traditionally-French persuasion that has been an inspiration for my baking since the beginning. But (as life has tended to do these last weeks-months-years), life got in the way of being able to fine-tune these recipes in a timely manner (really, there are only so many failed bûches de noël one can stand to make before deciding that whatever comes out of the oven this time will be the holiday dessert, no matter how it looks!) - and so, by the time Christmas came and went (so quickly!) both of these recipes were still in something of a rough-draft stage: pretty enough to photograph, plenty good enough to eat, but not quite polished enough to post. 
Bûche de noël
Buckwheat pain d'épices
Funnily, that says a lot about how far we - the gluten-free community - have come in these ten years: back then, anything reasonably edible and presentable was cause for celebration and sharing the recipe would be a matter of course. Now, we have the luxury (perhaps even a little bit of a duty?) of being perfectionistic, because we’ve collectively proven that things made of buckwheat and beans and chestnut and millet and potato and rice and sorghum can and should be every bit as good and as real as those made from wheat and rye. And so I give you pictures for now, because while these things were good, I know they can be better. It didn’t happen in time for Christmas, but it will happen. The bar for victory is higher, and that’s a good thing. 


So, this New Year’s Day, I propose a resolution for the celiac/GF community: going forward, let’s remove phrases like “too good to be gluten-free” from our vocabulary. Clearly, if we’re saying that about something, it’s good and it is gluten-free. There was a time when that may have been surprising. Now, though, we have more than enough examples of beautiful and delicious breads, cookies, pastry, and cakes to show that this phrase has lost its relevance. Is it harder, does it take longer to fine-tune a recipe? Maybe. Is there still a lot of bad GF food out there? Yes, of course. Will baking disasters and terrible recipe attempts still happen? Oh yeah. But it’s easy for us to forget, with the larger learning curve we face with our flours, that those disasters and disappointments happen to wheat-bakers, too. And yet, still we all seem to keep being surprised when something is good even now that "too good" seems to have become more of the norm than the exception. So, GF bakers and GF eaters: this year, let’s resolve to stop perpetuating the stereotype. Here’s to a year of baking and eating and sharing things that are exactly good enough to be gluten-free, and getting even better all the time. 
Good bread. Gluten free.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

2017 Greensboro GFAF Event

The second Greensboro GFAF Wellness Event just happened a couple weeks ago. I was hoping to get this post up before Thanksgiving due to the many tasty things that would be useful for the holiday, but I spent that week feeling awful with a cold - hopefully you'll still find this report helpful for other upcoming gatherings of the season!

There were a few new-to-me local food makers at the event. One of my favorite finds was these preserves and salsas from Yo Momma's Style (shown below). 

Another good local product I got to try for the first time is Simple Kneads bread (top left in large collage below) - it's exciting to see a GF whole-grain, gum-free, "real bread" sourdough available in the store! 


This is just a selection of some of the vendors at the event:
Pictured from top left: Simple Kneads sourdough; A Garnet Rose body butters and soaps; seasonal and infused honeys from Justin Case Bee Products; Italian olive oil and vinegars from Batistini Farms; elderberry and elderflower products from Norm's Farms; focaccia bread made using Mina's mix; Whole Foods pecan pie; grain-free granolas from PaleoLove, including some that is also nut-free.

My favorite part of these events (that's not so easy to photograph) is getting to meet people - I got to have some really interesting conversations about things like the food system, allergy accommodations in public schools, the current state of gluten-free beer, and a few different perspectives on navigating a gluten-free diet in the pre-internet age. (I am always interested to hear about people's unique experiences with living gluten-free!) 

And, at the end of the day I found plenty of neat treats in my Blogger Bag: a delicious cookie dough brownie from JP's Pastry, lovely peppermint shea butter soap from A Garnet Rose, locally-made mineral makeup from Pure and Light, beeswax lip balm from Justin Case Bee Products, grain-free granola from PaleoLove, cookies from Anne's, the latest issue of Simply Gluten-Free Magazine, a couple bags of Swerve (erythritol), a jar of Wowbutter soy butter, and some merch from Tito's Vodka. A big thank you to all sponsors and vendors!

As always, all these opinions and statements are completely my own; as an event blogger I received the above items provided by vendors and sponsors, but I was not otherwise compensated and I was not obligated to write about or feature any specific product(s) or vendor(s).
  

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Gluten-Free Montreal

I recently returned from a trip to Montreal (on my honeymoon, woohoo! Now you know one of the reasons I’ve been so busy lately!!) and the food I found there really deserves a post. 

I plan on resuming a more normal schedule of recipes with some food-science posts sprinkled in soon, but first I just have to share some stuff about the past few weeks. I’ll cover the trip first because Montreal turned out to be a fantastic city to visit as a celiac and I want to spread the word! Montreal has enough totally-GF bakeries, restaurants, and cafes that I was able to go the whole trip without ever having to ask questions/explain my needs - and there are still plenty of options I didn’t make it to yet, nor make any repeat visits! Here are the highlights of what we ate:

This was my first encounter with a Real Croissant, gluten-free (and also dairy-free, for that matter, as the entire bakery is - though I wouldn’t have guessed from the taste). What I mean by a Real Croissant is this: it’s true viennoiserie, meaning multiple separate flaky tender layers. Oh, and the chocolate croissant was still slightly warm from the oven, making it even more indulgent. 


I don’t know how they made this. Just look at the twists and turns and layers in that pastry case. Prior to walking into the bakery, I did not know it was possible. The flavor was very good as well (this was a pretty consistent feature of almost all the baked goods I ate on the trip: none of the odd off-flavors that GF baking can sometimes have; just bread flavors). 
I was so amazed by these pastries that I got a couple to eat for breakfast the next morning; unfortunately, they aren’t nearly as tasty the next day, and while reheating helps, it’s still not nearly as good as fresh. (Next time I’ll just have to make some repeat visits!)

Le Marquis
We found ourselves at Le Marquis essentially by accident. It was our last day and after finding the creperie (below) was closed, we were just about to trek over to L’Artisan again but Jon quickly looked online first just in case there was possibly anywhere else closer I could get something to eat...turns out there was yet another GF bakery in walking distance! The bakery cases contain an array of beautiful pastries, sweet and savory pies/tarts, and cookies. (It appears that earlier in the day they also sell sandwiches, but all were gone by the time we arrived.) 

And so, here I encountered my second Real Croissant, and was amazed yet again. If anything, this one had more layers and the soft inside was even more tender, much like croissants I remember. However, the flavor of this one had some noticeable egginess and was also sweeter - this isn’t a bad thing, but it does make it different from the flavor of wheat croissants, so overall I think I slightly preferred the flavor of the ones at L’Artisan while I preferred the texture of these. Both are very good!

We stopped in here for coffee and a snack, but after sampling some bread, I left with a bag of mini white rolls: I don’t frequently buy GF bread but this was the first bakery I visited in Montreal, and - not yet knowing how many delightful bakeries would be available in the city - I figured it would be good to have some bread on hand. Well! I did not realize at the time just how impressive this bread would turn out to be!

I just had to take a video to get the point across:


It’s fluffy. It’s soft. It’s bouncy and chewy - chewier than any other (non-homemade) GF bread I’ve had at room temp. And...it stays that way...for a week. Again, I don’t know how they did this

The ingredients list reveals no special secrets - it looks much like many store-bought GF breads I’ve eaten in the past, yet is somehow far better in texture and taste. According to their site, the bakery was founded by a couple of food science grads, so I suspect there may be something special about the mixing and/or baking process...I will perhaps have to think on this possibility and do some experimentation. One quibble/word of warning: this bakery lacked the “normal artisanal bakery” feel of the others - owing in large part to the fact that almost everything was individually wrapped - but I think this is for the reason of being able to separate allergens.

OK, let’s talk prices. As if the excellent quality weren’t enough, most of these bakery foods are also priced very reasonably - much more so than comparable “specialty” items in the USA. At L’Artisan for instance, a generously-sized baguette is $3.50, and they have a lunch special of a sandwich (falafel, tuna, chicken, or roasted vegetables), a coffee, and a dessert/pastry all for $10. Croissants at both L’Artisan and Le Marquis were (if I recall correctly) $2.50 and $2.95, respectively, for the plain ones, a little more for the fancy kind. (US readers, keep in mind this is Canadian dollars - converted to American money, it’s slightly less still!) The bread at Baked2Go was $7something for a bag of 6 long rolls - perhaps a little pricier, but still pretty reasonable, considering the quality and the shelf life.

We were at Jean-Talon intending to just get produce for dinner - I certainly wasn’t expecting a delicious hot lunch to be part of the trip. I had initially not even noticed this place when it came up in my search results because usually a crêperie is unsafe for me due to cross-contamination. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I realized all the crepes were gluten-free! 


The owner explained they only use buckwheat, rice, and chickpea flours for the batter and to thicken sauces. I got one with mushrooms, cheese, ham, and bechamel sauce; Jon’s had ham, cheese, apples, and maple syrup. Both were wonderful. We wanted to come back later in the week to sample some more of the many varieties on the menu, but for some reason they were not open. Hopefully next time!

Bonus photo: Farmer's market loveliness.
The name Zero8 refers to the fact that the restaurant excludes 8 major allergens (gluten grains, milk, eggs, peanuts, nuts, sesame, fish/seafood, soy). Let me assure you, though: despite the lack of all these ingredients, the food is the furthest thing from austere, with an enticing menu featuring plenty of variety. Between the two of us, we tried the duck confit (amazing!), wild game burger, and thick-cut fries with house-smoked duck and gravy (not truly poutine per se due to the whole no-dairy thing, but still tasty). 


In short, Montreal has really got it right when it comes to making a celiac feel normal: No matter the part of town, I was never more than a brief metro ride away from being able to go in somewhere cozy, sit down, and get a pastry and coffee, a sandwich, or some other kind of meal or treat like a civilized person, and the food is all good enough, varied enough, and reasonably-priced enough that your non-GF companions will not mind at all to join you. And really, when it comes to food, what more could I want? 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

GFAF Event coming up in Greensboro NC!

Hey North Carolina friends, the 2017 Greensboro GFAF Event is coming up soon: Saturday, November 11th at Guilford Convention Center! I will be speaking about how and why to make your own gluten-free sourdough bread at 1:40 pm! And as always, there will be lots of good food to sample from local bakeries/restaurants as well as larger companies. 

I have 6 tickets to give away, so if you'd like to win a pair of tickets to attend, email me or leave a comment on this post - I just need your name. I will notify winners by November 5th. 

P.S. This is the final GFAF event for 2017, so if you're in the area, be sure to check it out!

Monday, 21 August 2017

GFAF Event recap: Raleigh 2017

Of all the GFAF events I’ve been a part of, I’m pretty sure this was the biggest and busiest! I’m going to do something a little different this time and focus mainly on new (...or at least new-to-me...) vendors and products from this event.  
Local/NC bakeries, restaurants, and other companies
My favorite find of the day was Neomonde, which has been around since long before I moved to the area (1977!) yet somehow I’ve never tried their food before. This is not a dedicated GF restaurant, but their mediterranean menu includes plenty of traditionally-GF options. Their hummus was so good that I gladly ate it by the spoonful (they were serving it up as a sort of savory parfait with the quinoa tabouli!), and the mjadarah - a rice and lentil dish with caramelized onions - was deliciously savory as well. I was very excited to learn there will soon be a new location in downtown Durham in addition to the original Raleigh restaurant! 
Neomonde's hummus: tasty AND pretty!
Some other local highlights:
Top rowAda’s Cupcakes, located in Garner, bakes treats that are all vegan/dairy- and egg-free in addition to being GF. I was really impressed by the chocolate strawberry cupcake I sampled (as well as the lemon poppyseed muffin, shown below).
Primal, Durham’s dedicated GF restaurant, had some really good pineapple upside-down cake muffins. (I really must check out their brunch sometime if these muffins are any indication!)
I have mentioned JP’s Pastry plenty of times, but this was the first time I’ve gotten to try their doughnuts - which were quite good, and also happen to be vegan.
Bottom row: A Garnet Rose Soap Co always has a lovely assortment of handmade soaps, lotions, etc.
Justin Case Bee Products, who I met last year in Greensboro, brought some new types of honey.
Patton’s Pride was sampling some catfish bites made with their GF breading mix.
National products
Whole Foods Bakehouse had some truly tasty layer cakes, cheesecake, and even cherry pie to sample. I had never seen some of these products before in my local stores, so I didn’t know about the fancy cakes - they told me any of these items can be ordered through any of their locations. 
Perfectly Free dairy-free coconut ice cream bites are a fun little treat and come in several flavors.
Lundberg, long known in the GF community as a producer of California-grown rice (and more recently quinoa!), had a variety of snacks made from these ingredients. 
Veggie Fries now has cauliflower and bean rings in addition to their fries and tots. I liked these.
Education
I also got to hear a very informative talk from Dr. Nicole DiNezza about the low FODMAP diet - specifically, why it’s often treating a symptom rather than the underlying cause of these food reactions and so may be more useful as a diagnostic rather than a good long-term solution. I think education like this is really important because I meet so many people who are living with a very restricted diet indefinitely, without being told that addressing underlying things such as issues with gut bacteria may eventually allow them to eat a much wider variety of foods.
Goodies
In my Blogger Bag I found all kinds of good stuff: a vegan lemon poppyseed muffin from Ada’s, a very pretty rose-shaped marbled soap from A Garnet Rose, a bottle of elderberry extract from Norm’s Farms, some bean- and nut-based mixes from Neat (the burger mix has now been reformulated to work without egg - when I get a chance to try it I will let you know how it goes!), beeswax lip balm from Justin Case, free pizza from Zpizza, Wowbutter soy butter, chips and snacks from Lundberg, Loma soy “tuna,” and a hot/cold pack from Verve (...useful after carrying all this around!) I also picked up some other samples from vendors, including a new flavor of Plentils (Thai Chili, yum!) and other snacks from Enjoy Life, Kind bars, Pamela’s, and Lundberg, to name a few. Thank you to all vendors and sponsors!
As always, all these opinions and statements are completely my own; as an event blogger I received the above items provided by vendors and sponsors, but I was not otherwise compensated and I was not obligated to write about or feature any specific product(s) or vendor(s).