Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lager Lowdown

Look who's hiding!
One of the common criticisms I often hear of gluten-free beer is that it doesn't taste like "real" beer. The continual quest of gluten-free brewers—using either gluten-free grains such as sorghum or barley stripped of its gluten—is to make a beer that tastes more like, well, beer.

But do gluten-free beers really taste all that different from their conventional counterparts? I wasn't so sure, which is why I organized a blind taste test. What would happen if you took a group of "regular" beer drinkers and served them 6 samples of beer all brewed in a similar style—one beer of which was gluten-free? Would the gluten-free beer really stand out as "different" from the rest of the lineup?

The results may surprise you.

For my experiment, I assembled a panel of six lager beers: Pabst Blue Ribbon, Budweiser, Brooklyn Lager, Yuengling Traditional Lager, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, and for the gluten-free option, Bard's.

I similarly rounded up 7 beer tasters, some men, some women, some experienced beer drinkers, some not, all of them gluten-eating (and thus, none of them gluten-free).

The "rules" were simple. I told them that they'd be tasting a flight of 6 beers all brewed in a similar style. An unspecified number of those beers—from none to all or somewhere in between—were gluten-free. For each beer, they should take tasting notes, commenting on the color, nose, taste, finish, and mouthfeel of the beers. For each beer, they should also answer "yes" or "no"—Do they think the beer is gluten-free? Finally, I asked them to rank the beers from most to least favorite.

Then I sat back and watched, and things got interesting.

Is the beer gluten-free?

On the question of whether or not they thought individual beers were gluten-free, only one beer—Sam Adams—escaped any votes. No one thought Sam was gluten-free. Every other beer received at least 2 votes for gluten-free status. And here's the real kicker: Bard's was not the highest vote getter!

More tasters (5 of 7) thought Yuengling was a gluten-free beer. Bard's ended up in a three-way tie with Budweiser and PBR ... 4 of 7 tasters thought each of those three beers were gluten-free.

This should immediately shatter the myth that gluten-free beer tastes "different" than conventional beer. Bard's clearly did not stand out as "other." It was surrounded by barley beers, and yet gluten-eating-and-drinking tasters voted just as frequently for barley beers as they did for Bard's when it came to guessing a beer's gluten-free status. In a sense, they couldn't tell the difference.

I suspect the results would have been equally interesting if I had phrased the question slightly differently, and instead said, "1 of the 6 beers you're tasting is gluten-free. Please guess which one you think it is." Based on the results of the Lager Lowdown, my best guess is that many of the tasters would have gotten it wrong. Score one for Bard's.

But how did the gluten-free beer rate?

As for where Bard's fell in the rankings from most to least favorite, the result was a split decision. Some tasters placed it in their bottom half, including one who ranked Bard's last, declaring it "only worth getting drunk on." On the other hand, another taster—who was quite surprised when I revealed the identities of the beer—rated Bard's their 2nd most favorite, behind only Sam Adams. Bard's beat out perennially popular barley-based lagers including Yuengling and Brooklyn Lager! Praise for Bard's included comments such as "nice color and good solid taste," "good mouthfeel and finish," "nicely balanced," "great smell," "hoppy," and "bitter undertones."

It turns out that, when you remove knowledge of a beer's gluten-free status, beer drinkers can have some pretty nice things to say about gluten-free brews.

The barley-based beers also faced split decisions among the tasters. For example, only one person placed Budweiser in their top half. Every other taster placed Bud near or at the bottom of their list. Opinion of PBR was also split. One taster used "urine" to describe its taste, while another noted that they were using PBR "as a palate cleanser between tasting the other beers."

As with the gluten-free status question, Sam Adams was the only one to escape persecution. Every single taster rated it his or her favorite.

The frequent split decisions, with individual beers rating both highly and poorly among tasters, just goes to show how much variability in taste there is in the beer-drinking world. What tastes like liquid gold to one person may taste like swill to another.


And so what have we learned? Two major lessons come to the fore: a) good gluten-free beers don't inherently taste "different" than their conventional counterparts, despite a commonly held perception to the contrary, and b) in blind tastings, gluten-free beers can rate quite highly against their barley-based peers.

So, the next time you're drinking a bottle of your favorite gluten-free suds, don't dare think for a second that your beer is inferior or otherwise unworthy. It can—and does—hold its own. Bottoms up!


Original image copyright Lodrakon | Dreamstime.com. Modified by Peter Bronski. Used with permission.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Recipe: Chicken Vesuvio

As promised late last week, we're kicking off this week with a recipe directly inspired by our recent trip to Chicago for the Nourished food blogger conference and the Gluten- and Allergen-Free Expo. For our last lunch—before teaching our Breads class and then zooming off to the airport—we ate at Harry Caray's, an "Italian steakhouse." Little did we know at the time that we were dining at a Chicago institution! (Chicagoans ... please tell us if we're wrong about that!)

Kelli ordered the Chicken Vesuvio, which the Chicago Tribune named the best CV in the city. Chicken Vesuvio is a Chicago-born Italian-American dish. The chicken is usually braised ... browned on the stovetop and before being finished in the oven. It's done with a sauce of white wine and spices, paired with roasted potato wedges, and frequently garnished with green peas.

The Chicken Vesuvio at Harry Caray's (which has a great gluten-free menu, by the way) was out-of-this-world good. Thank goodness the restaurant portion was large, so there was enough for Kelli to share with yours truly. My Caesar salad paled in comparison. When in Chicago ... order the Chicken Vesuvio. Lesson learned.

For our version, we simplified the preparation by foregoing the oven and doing the chicken entirely on the stovetop. Otherwise, we've tried to do justice to this Chicago classic.

Chicken Vesuvio
Makes 4 servings


For the chicken
4 chicken breasts, flattened
1/4 cup Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
Dried oregano
Garlic powder
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter

For the sauce
1 cup GF chicken broth
1 cup white wine (such as Pinot Grigio)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp butter

For the potatoes
2 large Russet potatoes
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Dried oregano
Garlic powder


To make the potatoes
1. Preheat your oven or toaster oven to 400 deg F.
2. Cut each large Russet potato into 6 long wedges and place in a baking tray.
3. Coat the wedges in olive oil and arrange them so they are wedge-side up.
4. Sprinkle lightly with salt, then a dash of lemon juice, then lightly with dried oregano and garlic powder.
5. Roast for 45 min to 1 hour, until golden brown and soft.

To cook the chicken
6. Meanwhile, in a bowl, season the flour with some salt, pepper, dried oregano, and garlic powder (about 1/2 tsp of each). Heat the olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour and cook about 5 minutes per side, to lightly brown the chicken and cook through. Remove the chicken. (If necessary, cook the chicken in batches, depending on the size of your skillet.)

To make the sauce
7. Add the chicken broth, white wine, garlic, and oregano to a skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce the sauce for 10 minutes.
8. Add the butter, turn the heat down to medium, and cook for 2 more minutes.
9. Remove from the heat and add back the chicken.

To finish the dish
10. Plate 1 chicken breast and 3 potato wedges per serving. Garnish with green peas.

For the flour dredge, you can use most any gluten-free flour or all-purpose GF blend.

For a saucier version, double the sauce quantities.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, yeast-free, refined-sugar-free.

Nutrition Info
Per serving: 570 calories, 15g fat, 37g carbs, 60g protein, 770mg sodium, 2g sugars, plus 1,470mg potassium and at least 140% RDA niacin, at least 90% RDA vitamin B-6, at least 60% RDA vitamin C and selenium, at least 50% RDA phosphorous, at least 30% RDA magnesium and manganese, at least 20% RDA iron and thiamin, and at least 10% RDA vitamin B-12, copper, folate, riboflavin, and zinc.



Friday, April 20, 2012

Nourished and GFAF Expo: The Recap

Kelli during Happy Hour at Nourished, a food blogger conference.
Today's post has been a week in the making, and as I sit down to write it, I lament the fact that I don't have better photos to do it justice. Last weekend Kelli and I traveled to Chicago for dual events—Nourished, a food blogger conference, and the annual Gluten- and Allergen-Free Expo.

In the interest of traveling light, I left behind our digital SLR camera (never again) and opted instead to just use our brand-spanking-new iPhone. Blech. What a mistake! Perhaps there is some secret I don't know yet, but as far as I can tell, iPhone cameras are good at taking low-quality, blurry photographs, and not much else.

I can't blame this post's lack of photography solely on the iPhone, however. I'm partly to blame, too. Frankly, I was so wrapped up with being "in the moment" of the weekend's events that I didn't pay much attention to photography. In part by design, I snapped relatively few photos. While other bloggers were dutifully snapping pictures with friends and colleagues, of expo vendors, of their plates of food, I left the phone in my pocket or in my computer bag.

Now I'm battling a tinge of photographer's remorse, wishing I'd snapped even a few more pictures, if for no other reason than to commemorate a truly memorable weekend. I hate to say it, but in some respects, you just had to be there, and if you weren't, you missed out on something special. It's true.

In trying to succinctly sum up the tenor of the weekend, two themes keep popping up in my mind: community and relationships. They are, in no small measure, part of what makes the gluten-free world go 'round. Amy (of Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free) eloquently said as much in her closing remarks to the Nourished half of the weekend.
The Crave ladies, Jamie and Kyra (left and middle), with celiac and Mrs. Alaska International Brandy Wendler.
Attending events like those of last weekend results in a kind of "all the planets are aligning" sort of intersection of the myriad corners of our own gluten-free world. We reconnect with friends and colleagues; meet fellow cookbook authors and bloggers; meet readers of this blog (some of who are wonderful bloggers in their own right, such as Alison of A Girl ... Defloured); chat with folks who've owned and used our cookbooks for years ... and sign copies of our cookbooks for newly gluten-free folks who'll be making our recipes for the very first time in the days and weeks following the event; network with the established as well as up-and-coming gluten-free product companies (I'm thinking of you, Bard's, New Planet, Gluten-Free Living, Living Without, Rudi's, Mary's Gone Crackers, and others!); and so much more. It's an incredible form of one-stop shopping.

At Nourished on Friday morning, I teamed up with Kim (of Gluten-Free Passport) to give a presentation about publishing. She covered ebooks and apps, while I covered traditional book publishing—the pros and cons of finding a publisher versus self-publishing; do you need a literary agent; the elements of building a strong book proposal; the ins and outs of publishing contracts; etc. Meanwhile, Mary Fran (of Frannycakes) gave a concurrent and popular session on building your blog's brand. (She's launching a series of short e-cookbooks starting in May ... check out her blog for more!)

Later in the day, Silvana (of Easy Eats) and Cybele (of The Allergy-Friendly Cook) shared their thoughts on attracting media attention. As always, they were as engaging and entertaining as they were insightful. Other sessions included the topics of food photography, food writing, recipe development, and much more.
Preparing samples for our Breads class at the GFAF Expo. Kelli (right) in the kitchen with Beth Hillson (red), a volunteer, and Denise San Filippo (black hat).
Saturday was the main Expo day, and Kelli and I spent most of the time at the Author's Row, shakin' hands and kissin' babies. (OK, so maybe we were actually smiling at passersby, selling cookbooks, and chatting with lots of friendly folks.) We shared the row with a number of other authors who are likely already familiar to you: Laura (of The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen), Karen (of Blackbird Bakery), and Robert (of The Gluten-Free Chef), among several others.

We spent our share of quality time with Jen (of So Simple Gluten Free), Amie (of The Healthy Apple), Tess (of Healthy Blender Recipes), Cheryl (of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness) and many others who I've invariably neglected to mention but who completely deserve to be in this blog post. Please forgive the omission!

Of course, the weekend was filled with much food. Saturday night, for example, we paired up with Andrea (of Rockin' Gluten-Free), Jamie and Kyra (of Food Network's Cupcake Wars-winning Crave Bake Shop), and Brandy Wendler (of Mrs. Alaska International fame) to head to a local P.F. Chang's for some tasty gluten-free eats.

Also, coming Monday, we'll share our recipe for a gluten-free version of a Chicago classic—Chicken Vesuvio—inspired by Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse & Bar. Stay tuned!
Gluten-free bagels fresh out of the industrial-size convection oven.
Sunday for us was spent largely in the kitchen, preparing samples for our Breads class that afternoon. Beth Hillson (of Gluten-Free Makeovers) tackled the first hour-plus of the class, before handing the reins over to Kelli and me. We demonstrated our Rosemary Focaccia, Baguette, and Long Island Bagels. Huge thanks to Denise, Cece, Jen, and all their generous volunteers who gave their time to help our session happen!

Although we've done it before, it's always an adventure to make your own recipes in someone else's kitchen with unfamiliar trappings. For example, the hotel kitchen's massive convection ovens browned our breads very quickly ... even when we baked them at 50 deg F lower temperatures for only a fraction of the normal time. Crazy!

And then, seemingly all too soon, the weekend came to a close. We said our incremental good byes, as different people migrated to the airport for their respective flights. We boarded our flight, too, and at last pulled into the driveway at our home in the Hudson Valley at 1:00am Monday morning.

Already later that morning, we were thinking, When can we do that again?


Monday, April 9, 2012

Recipe: Irish Soda Bread

Yes, St. Patrick's Day was a few weeks ago, but we wanted to share this delectable recipe today for another reason—this upcoming weekend (April 14-15) Kelli and I will be at the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo in Chicago where we're co-teaching (along with Beth Hillson) the Bread & Beyond class on Sunday.

Making delicious gluten-free breads at home isn't nearly as difficult as some people think. In the class we'll teach bagels, baguettes, and focaccia. Today's recipe for Irish soda bread is a great example, too. It's flakey, moist, very tender, and subtly sweet. It's sort of like a huge scone, except that it's Irish soda bread.

The next time you're looking to make a yeast-free quick bread (where the buttermilk and baking soda/powder react to form carbon dioxide), put this recipe near the top of your list!

Irish Soda Bread
Makes 1 loaf

375g (3 cups) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp GF baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (8 tbsp, aka 1 stick) cold butter
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg

1. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F.
2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
3. Cut the butter into the flour mixture to make pea-size crumbs, then add the golden raisins and toss to combine.
4. Mix together the buttermilk and eggs, then add to the flour-butter mixture. Use your hands to mix together to form a wet dough.
5. Place a little melted butter on your hands (to prevent the dough from sticking), form the dough into a large ball, and place on a greased cookie sheet.
6. In a separate bowl, mix together 1 tbsp melted butter and 1 tbsp room temperature buttermilk. Brush the mixture onto the loaf, then cut an "X" into the top of the bread loaf.
7. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until golden brown.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, yeast-free, vegetarian.

Nutrition Info
Per 1/16 wedge of bread loaf: 166 calories, 7g fat, 25g carbs, 4g protein, 300mg sodium, 4g sugars, 3g dietary fiber, plus at least 40% RDA manganese, at least 20% RDA selenium, and at least 10% RDA phosphorous.



Friday, April 6, 2012

Recipe: Jelly Bean Jubilee Cupcakes

Spring is here and Easter is around the corner. To celebrate the dual occasion, we wanted to share our recipe for this Jelly Bean Jubilee Cupcake. Did you know it's an award-winning cupcake? It's true!

Surf Sweets recently invited us and 15 other gluten- and allergen-free bloggers to participate in a baking competition. The theme was to use their new Spring Mix of organic jelly beans. Lo and behold, we won Second Prize! Here's the story behind the recipe:

A jubilee is a time of celebration or rejoicing. This recipe was a celebration of Surf Sweets’ new jelly beans. Each cupcake is topped with a bright, flavorful jelly bean. We also endeavored to repurpose and incorporate jelly beans into the cupcake in creative ways—chopped jelly beans offer sweet surprises in the cupcake batter; melted jelly beans help to create a sweet, slightly fruity buttercream frosting; and pink jelly bean powder is dusted on the frosting for an extra pop of flavor and visual interest. Lemon juice in the cake batter complements the natural fruit flavors of the jelly beans.

Jelly Bean Jubilee Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes


One 8-ounce bag Surf Sweets Spring Mix Jelly Beans

For the cupcakes:
6 tablespoons salted butter (3/4 stick), room temperature
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon GF pure vanilla extract
1 large egg, room temperature
1 large egg white, room temperature
2 tablespoons lemon juice (fresh squeezed preferable)
3 tablespoons buttermilk, room temperature
1 1/2 cups Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 1/4 teaspoons GF baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup Surf Sweets Spring Mix Jelly Beans, chopped

For the frosting:
1/2 cup + 2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup + 1/2 cup Surf Sweets Spring Mix Jelly Beans, divided
1/4 cup water
2 large egg whites
Pinch salt
3/4 cup salted butter (1 1/2 sticks), removed from the refrigerator when you start the buttercream
1/2 teaspoon GF pure vanilla extract


1. Set aside 12 jelly beans, one to top each cupcake. You should have about 1 cup of jelly beans remaining.

To make the cupcakes:
2. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Line a standard cupcake tin with paper liners.
3. Measure 1/4 cup jelly beans. Slice the jelly beans in half. Set aside.
4. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the vanilla.
5. Add the egg and the egg white, one at a time, mixing to incorporate after each addition.
6. Add the lemon juice and buttermilk, and mix until combined.
7. In a separate bowl, combine the flours, starches, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and mix well with a whisk.
8. Add the dry ingredients all at once to the sugar mixture and mix for about 10 seconds at medium-low speed to incorporate.
9. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the chopped jelly beans, and mix at high speed for about 5 seconds, just until the batter is completely mixed and smooth.
10. Divide the batter evenly among the 12 paper-lined cups on your cupcake tin. Make the top of the batter as smooth as you can.
11. Bake for 25 minutes.
12. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then remove from the tins and let cool completely on a wire rack.
13. While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting.

To make the frosting:
14. Add 1/4 cup jelly beans to a spice grinder and grind until the flavorful, colored candy shell becomes a fine powder and you’re left with the clear, jelly centers. Separately reserve the pink powder and the jelly centers.
15. Add the jelly centers, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup whole jelly beans, and 1/4 cup water to a heavy saucepan.
16. Put a candy thermometer in the mixture and heat to 245 deg F. Hold at 245 deg F for at least 5 minutes.
17. Meanwhile, in a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites and salt at medium-high speed until frothy.
18. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar to the egg whites and whisk until soft peaks form. Turn the mixer off and let the egg whites sit until the sugar mixture comes up to temperature.
19. After the sugar mixture has been at 245 deg F for 5 minutes, you’ll need to remove any undissolved jelly centers. Use a slotted spoon, or strain the sugar mixture through a fine metal mesh. Either way, be very careful—the sugar it hot!
20. With the mixer at medium speed, slowly drizzle the hot sugar mixture into the beaten egg whites.
21. After all the sugar is added, continue whisking the mixture until cool, about 10 minutes.
22. While the sugar-egg mixture is whisking for those 10 minutes, cut the butter into tablespoon-size pieces.
23. When the sugar-egg mixture is cool, leave the mixer running at medium speed and add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, allowing enough time for each tablespoon of butter to incorporate after each addition, until all the butter is added.
24. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.
25. Switch to the paddle attachment and mix for an additional 1 to 2 minutes at medium-high speed until the air bubbles are out of the frosting and the frosting is silky smooth.

To finish the cupcakes:
26. Use a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip to pipe a Dairy Queen-type spiral of buttercream on the cupcakes.
27. Sprinkle each cupcake with the reserved pink jelly bean powder.
28. Top each cupcake with a whole jelly bean.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, vegetarian.

Nutrition Info
Since this recipe uses Surf Sweets products, we didn't go through the trouble of figuring out adding their nutrition info to the other ingredients in the recipe. Sorry!



Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Brownies

Another month, another Gluten-Free Ratio Rally!

Last month the theme was crepes. Did you see our mini stacks of key lime crepes? If not, go check 'em out!

This time around, we're tackling everyone's perennial favorite: brownies!

As usual, Kelli and I wanted to challenge ourselves and make a brownie with a twist. (When I told a coworker that we were working on making "special brownies" he wisely cautioned me to be careful with how I describe our project, lest I give the impression that we were making ... ahem ... brownies fortified with a certain variety of cannabis.)

But how do you reinvent the classic brownie?

When Kelli and I sat down to brainstorm, we came to the table with different ideas that were surprisingly compatible. She thought to make brownies using Mexican chocolate, which is flavored with cinnamon. My idea was to incorporate some mesquite flour into our brownies. Coincidentally, mesquite flour also often has notes of cinnamon in its flavor profile.

We decided to marry the two ideas and make Mexican chocolate mesquite brownies, with an easy caramel sauce to tie it all together.

To see what delicious brownies other Rally-ers baked up this month, be sure to check out Frannycakes, our host this time around.

And what about our ratio? We ended up darn near 1 part flour : 2 parts egg : 2 parts sugar : 2 parts butter : 2 parts chocolate. Pretty neat and tidy. Bada bing, bada boom, as they say.

Without further ado, on to the recipe:

Caramel Mexican Chocolate Mesquite Brownies
Makes one 8x8 pan, 16 two-inch squares


For the brownies:
100g salted butter
100g Mexican chocolate
100g dark brown sugar
100g eggs (2 large)
50g Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
15g mesquite flour
1/4 tsp GF baking powder
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

For the caramel:
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp corn syrup (optional)
2 tbsp water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp GF pure vanilla extract


To make the caramel:
1. In a heavy saucepan, stir together the sugar, water, and corn syrup (if using).
2. Place over high heat and let the sugar mixture cook without stirring until golden brown. (Swirl the pan if needed to mix for even browning, but don't use a spoon.)
3. As soon as the mixture is golden brown, add the cream all at once. (Pull your hand back and be cautious of spattering.)
4. Stir vigorously and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the sugar and cream melt together and create a smooth texture.
5. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla, stir, and let cool.

To make the brownies:
6. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Grease an 8x8-inch baking pan.
7. Melt the butter and chocolate in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring with a whisk to combine.
8. Remove from the heat and stir in all remaining ingredients.
9. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Drizzle with half the caramel sauce.
10. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the brownies are set around the edges.
11. Cool completely. Then cut and serve, drizzling brownies with the remaining caramel sauce.

Caramel sauce can sometimes turn grainy when cooled completely. To prevent this crystallization, use 1 tsp corn syrup. However, if you're averse to using corn syrup, simply omit it. Also, when drizzling the finished brownies with the remaining caramel, you may need to re-warm the caramel slightly to achieve a "drizzle-able" consistency.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, vegetarian.

To make this recipe corn-free, omit the corn syrup, and use an all-purpose gluten-free flour blend that does not include cornstarch.

Nutrition Info
Sorry ... the recipe calculator we use doesn't have info for ingredients such as mesquite flour, so no nutrition info for this recipe.



Monday, April 2, 2012

Destination Unknown

Highlighted in red, the course route for the Finger Lakes Fifties trail 50k.
I absolutely love trail maps. They are on the one hand deterministic and defined, and on the other filled with unknown opportunity and adventure.

Looking over the trail map for a place I've never been, a trail system offers a discrete set of options of where to go and what you'll see. The details contained with the map—contour lines, rivers and streams, summits and valleys—help to set expectations.

At the same time, those expectations can run wild, if you let them. What will you see along the trail? What kind of forest will it be? What wildlife might you see? What's in the blank spots on a map in  between the trails?

The result is a beautiful tension between the known and the unknown, the what's possible and the what will actually be, between what's stored in memory and what the imagination is allowed to concoct.

Such was my experience this past Saturday. Kelli, the girls, and I were in Ithaca, New York visiting family. I took the opportunity to do my long Saturday morning trail run over at Finger Lakes National Forest, between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. FLNF is the site of the Finger Lakes Fifties ultramarathons, in which I'm competing at the end of June. I've never been to FLNF, and I figured it would pay off to preview the race course by running the trails now.

There was just one problem: the weather handed out rain the night before and the morning of my trail run and air temps hovering right around freezing, which would make for interesting trail and running conditions. I knew things would be pretty nasty, but I was determined to do my run regardless. What I discovered was even worse:

Half an inch of slushy snow on the ground. Shoe-sucking mud. 32-degree standing water ankle- to calf-deep. Fog. Light rain and mist with air temps of 35 to 40 degrees F. It wasn't exactly what I would call ideal conditions. Pretty much the exact opposite.

My plan was to run a single clockwise loop of the course (highlighted in red in the map above). Each lap is 16.5 miles. (And so, for the 50k, I'll be running two laps, totaling 32.9 miles.)

I ended up running just over 19 miles.

As you might imagine, the extra mileage was the result of a wrong turn or two. I was running south along the Burnt Hill Trail when the trail took me out of the forest, through a Forest Service gate, and into a meadow that turned into a cow pasture. Surrounded by thick fog, and in the absence of subsequent trail markers, I couldn't tell which way to go.

I took to following a barbed wire fence line. The fence line made a hard right turn, and so I did, too. Eventually, I came to another Forest Service gate, and another marked trail, so I started running that way. At last I came to a signed trail junction, at which point I was able to reconcile my new position with a basic map I'd brought with me tucked in my lumbar water bottle pack. I planned a re-route to get back on track and finish the intended loop, but by then the extra miles had been added. No problem... just a diversion to Destination Unknown.

Ultra distance trail running, especially in a racing context, is another good example of this tension between the determined and undetermined. When I'm running a trail I've never run before, every stride is a step into the unknown, a step into new territory. Where will the trail go next? What's around the next bend? (On a handful of occasions, the answer to that question has literally been a bear...) Even when I've run a trail before, there are still subtle surprises, chance wildlife encounters, a forgotten vista.

When racing on a difficult course, this lack of knowledge of what lies ahead can be both a blessing and a curse. For example, if don't know that a major climb is coming up, you won't fear it. Then again, since you don't know it's coming up, you also may not judiciously reserve the energy that's about to be needed...

That's one reason why I wanted to pre-run the Finger Lakes Fifties course. I wanted to become familiar with it. I wanted to learn it.

Now I know that after the Burnt Hill Trail there's a section of sustained downhill that offers a chance to open up the stride and make good time. And that the downhill section is immediately followed by the Gorge Trail, which has a few short but steep uphill sections that will offer an opportunity to get some nutrition in.

And what does any of this have to do with the gluten-free lifestyle? In my eyes, plenty. Because for many, standing on the precipice of going gluten-free is like embarking on a journey to Destination Unknown. And maybe you don't have a map to consult for reference. And maybe even if you do, you'll still make a wrong turn here or there and need to navigate your way back on track.

Fear and uncertainty may creep in. Can I still eat my favorite foods? What foods can I no longer eat? What foods can I eat? How am I going to do this?

But uncertainty can also give rise to joyous discovery. Maybe you'll "discover" quinoa for the first time. Or try your hand at baking with gluten-free flours. Or overhaul your diet to eliminate many processed foods.

Eventually the strange and unknown will become familiar. You'll put some miles behind you, find your flow, get into your groove. You'll remember where you've been, and you'll also know where you're going. In short, you'll be empowered. The gluten-free lifestyle will be familiar, not foreign. Embrace it, and enjoy the journey ... for the long haul. It's a great ride.

Giveaway winners!

But enough of me waxing philosophical about the intersection of trail running and the gluten-free lifestyle. It's time to announce some giveaway winners!

First, back on March 22 we reviewed Halfpops. The winner of our Halfpops giveaway is Lori-Ann! Lori-ann, please email us with your mailing address and we'll get your bags of Halfpops mailed to you ASAP.

Second, we've just concluded the first month of fundraising for the National Foundation of Celiac Awareness via the 3rd Annual Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge. Thank you to everyone who donated this past month. We're already almost 10% of the way toward our goal, thanks to you! Special congrats to the giveaway winner: Lisa Simon. Lisa, please email us and we'll get in touch about your choice of book for the giveaway.

Plus, our next giveaway!

We're now launching the second month of fundraising for the Challenge. As with last month, anyone who donates at least $20 to the NFCA through our fundraising page is eligible to win a signed copy of one of our books (and you get to choose which book you want!).

And for April, I'm sweetening the pot. My next race—The North Face Bear Mountain Endurance Challenge 50 miler—is less than five weeks away, the first weekend in May. As such, April is a pretty big month of focused training for me. In honor of this next race coming up on the calendar, this month we're going to give away one book as usual, a second book in honor of the race, and we'll give out a third book if I finish the race in the top 10% overall.

That means that you have at least two chances to win a book this month, and possibly a third chance for a book if I race well. And remember ... these giveaways are all incentives to entice you to help support the great work of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, which benefits the entire gluten-free community. Donate today!

Thanks again for your support.


Image courtesy United States Forest Service, amended by Peter Bronski.