QOTD (and PSA): Adult-diagnosed celiac disease and osteomalacia

This is something I posted recently on my main blog, and it seemed very, very relevant here, so I am crossposting.

Not surprisingly, I haven’t been posting here lately after the premature “I’m back” post, because I underestimated how much extra supplementation was needed over the winter–and have been having fresh problems with things like stress fractures and hypocalcemia symptoms again. And, I just noticed that those include steatorrhea, and no doubt other digestive problems. 😐

Other posts under the vitamin D tag on my main blog.

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From a text I ran across, Metabolic bone disease and clinically related disorders (edited by Louis V. Avioli, Stephen M. Krane), discussing health problems which cause malabsorption:

The potential risk of osteomalacia is greatest in adult celiac disease because the mucosal defect impairs absorption of vitamin D and calcium directly and may also reduce local calcitriol synthesis. Patients with mild subclinical celiac disease may manifest all the symptoms of HVOi[*], which improve with a gluten-free diet. In patients untreated for many years, osteomalacia develops in more than half, but can be forestalled by timely diagnosis. Osteomalacia can occur even without steatorrhea and may be the presenting manifestation…[T]here is no response to ultraviolet irradiation or to moderate doses of vitamin D in the absence of a gluten-free diet.

Emphasis added, and citations omitted (you can click through to the book preview if you want to see that). As the local calcitriol synthesis and lack of response to UV exposure would suggest, just what I have been able to skim so far has been very interesting in terms of complexity; I’d suspected as much, but the usual models presented are way oversimplified.

One interesting bit that seems very relevant: what sounds like another vicious cycle, in which calcium can’t be used properly without enough vitamin D (the bit that gets the most attention)–but, also, depleted calcium levels will keep your body from using the D properly. The roles of a lot of other minerals involved in bone modeling, and how they interact, are poorly understood.

There is also discussion of how multiple factors tend to be involved, if things get to the point of serious bone demineralization and/or hypocalcemia symptoms. Including that people with disabilities that keep them from getting out much tend not to get much UV exposure; I’d add that this can also snowball, as you feel worse and worse from deficiency problems.

An excellent point from Osteoporosis and Osteomalacia in Patients with Celiac Disease:

Although it may be asymptomatic, Celiac Disease is a lifelong disease. If there is lifelong impairment in calcium absorption, bone density will be compromised.

This is too often overlooked by clinicians, when dealing with people diagnosed as adults, often because the symptoms have changed. While I did have digestive problems my whole life that got put off on all kinds of things–because celiac was still considered so rare–it suddenly got a lot worse as an adult, after I moved somewhere that wheat is cheap and gets used in absolutely everything like corn is in the US. Some people don’t even have the obvious if lower-level digestive symptoms. And, as mentioned in the main quote, just because you haven’t been spending half your time with the runs like you’ve been eating Olestra over the longer term, that doesn’t mean you’ve been absorbing nutrients properly.

I honestly think there is too often also the perception, including among medical professionals, that if an adult had really been suffering from celiac disease (and I use “suffering” advisedly here) for a lifetime, they’d be dead or at least severely impaired in readily visible ways. Leading to the idea that even though celiac is, by definition, a lifelong condition, the onset must have been recent–or it must have been a mild enough case not to have done any real damage. Bzzt, it doesn’t work that way.

It doesn’t help that both celiac and vitamin D deficiency are still considered rarer than they are, to the point of their just not thinking to look for it. Osteomalacia among people who are not elderly, even more so.

Another often overlooked point, from Osteomalacia in Adult Celiac Disease:

Mineralization defect and osteomalacic changes are common later on, irrespective of whether patients are in remission or not. Changes may not respond to a gluten-free diet alone but may require supplementation.

Emphasis in the original, this time. That one also includes pretty good descriptions** of some of the signs to watch out for. (Even if it gives bad off-the-cuff advice about how much sun exposure is needed.)

That is what seems to have happened to me, not helped at all by lack of UV exposure at the latitude where I am living. (On a GF diet for better than five years now, and I seem to be able to synthesize and use D from sunlight when it’s available.) But, there is a pretty common idea that a GF diet will fix everything, and quickly. When you’re almost certainly dealing with multiple longterm deficiencies, that ain’t necessarily so–which should be obvious. One good analogy I saw, though I can’t remember where, in the context of just a vitamin D deficiency and low-level supplementation: it’s like trying to treat dehydration with a shot glass full of water. All the while, you’re getting more and more dehydrated.

And that’s even without some professionals not even sending people for nutrient testing and bone scans–and brushing off classic vitamin/mineral deficiency and osteomalacia symptoms. Because a GF diet fixes everything instantly, right? (Yeah, it’s hard not to sound bitter sometimes. But, there’s just no excuse.)

Another factor that may be relevant, and I suspect is one reason why I’ve been needing to take so much vitamin D and Osteocare (with other minerals besides calcium, which has made a difference): the relationship between vitamin D and some continuing IBS symptoms.

The relationship with vitamin D and IBS is cyclic. Autoimmune disorders are associated with vitamin D deficiency, but then can also cause vitamin D deficiency. The malabsorption caused by IBS results in deficiency of vitamins absorbed in the intestines, which includes vitamin D.

Sounds like a ball that (autoimmune) celiac could easily get rolling, yeah. More vicious cycles.

But, I was shocked enough by the “more than half” prevalence that I had to post the original quote; then it mushroomed. 🙂

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* Explanation from Lessons for nutritional science from vitamin D:

Parfitt (3), building on the expansion of knowledge in bone biology in the past 40 y, has characterized the disorder due to insufficient vitamin D as “hypovitaminosis D osteopathy” (HVO) (3). He divides HVO into 3 stages along a scale of increasing severity. In HVOi there is malabsorption of calcium accompanied by physiologic evidence of an attempt to compensate (eg, elevated parathyroid hormone production and high bone remodeling); the result is bone loss, ie, osteoporosis. In HVOii, bone mass is also low, calcium malabsorption continues, and bone remodeling is either high or drops back into the normal range; now, histologic examination of bone reveals subclinical, early osteomalacia. In HVOiii, clinical rickets or osteomalacia is present and bone remodeling is reduced or absent entirely (partly because of the dependence of bone resorption on 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D [1,25(OH)2D] and partly because bony surfaces covered with unmineralized osteoid serve as barriers to osteoclastic erosion). The prevalence of each degree of HVO is unknown but environmental vitamin D availability seems sufficient to prevent HOViii in most North Americans. Therefore, most vitamin D deficiency does not manifest itself as clinical rickets or osteomalacia.

** I would add: the pain can also be in long bones in your arms– and especially the ribcage and sternum, too. They underemphasize the kind of pain levels it can cause. And it does more than ache once the insufficiency/stress fractures start, so if this might be a problem for you, I hope you can get it managed before it reaches that point!
 

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The Day The LOLcats Died – YouTube

All the Companies Supporting SOPA, the Awful Internet Censorship Law—and How to Contact Them

 

The Day The LOLcats Died – YouTube.

New little kitchen buddies: Kefir

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up cooking with and drinking a lot of (cultured) buttermilk, and people just don’t use that much here. (Greater London;  eating and drinking clabber in general is apparently traditionally more one of those offputting Gaelic habits brought to Southern Appalachia. 😉 ) You can buy little cups of it like cream for cooking in stores here, but that’s it.

300mL container, slightly more than a cup

A few years ago, I got a good vigorous culture going, a jar of which left in the fridge even made it through a 6-month trip back to the US after some coddling and coaxing to revive it once I got home! Unfortunately, it’s not around anymore, because I went off dairy for about a year to see if that would help my allergy symptoms.

No such luck; the “milk allergy” I was diagnosed with as a toddler just seems to be lactose intolerance, probably from the Native side of things. That was the ’70s, when it frequently got called an allergy. Getting rid of most of the lactose through fermentation is a good bonus there, too. Mr. Sweden is still hesitant to eat or drink anything like that now, since he became part of the 2% there who can’t handle lactose after stopping drinking much milk for a while in his early 20s! He got really sick off commercial filmjölk, and doesn’t trust any of it now without cooking it first.

A couple of weeks ago, I tried to get another culture going with exactly the storebought buttermilk in the picture. It must have been a pretty weak culture coming from the store, though, since the first batch was great but then the milk just went nastily sour. 😦 After that, I considered either buying a culture of filmjölk, or just getting  Mr. Sweden to pick up a carton to try as a starter from Totally Swedish. (He refers to it as buttermilk in English–and after drinking it when we were in Stockholm, I can see why.) I may actually still try that, at some point.

A liter carton--getting closer! 😉

Given my luck with storebought stuff as a starter recently, I thought I might as well just look at commercial starters–a small investment for a better chance of success! Looking at different cultures available, I was reminded of kefir, which I hadn’t actually tried but had found intriguing before.

There are a lot of overblown-sounding health claims out there, but what I found particularly appealing was the idea of a very stable culture that works at room temperature, without the need to sterilize jars and scald the milk. (Similar with fil and similar Nordic cultures, actually–good things in a colder climate!) I’ve had trouble keeping warmth-loving yogurt cultures going for any length of time because of the hassle and coddling required, actually.

The offputting bit? The kefir grains themselves. I know it makes very little sense, but I found the look and described texture of them unpleasant enough that I decided not to try it when I first looked into kefir a few years ago.

But, I finally figured it was worth trying, and got some starter grains off eBay about a week ago (for about £2 postage and packing, from an individual finding new homes for extras–my grains have already at least doubled in volume!).

I still haven’t brought myself to touch them with my fingers, but they’re actually not that bad to look at. Kind of like cooked cauliflower.

After straining a batch this morning. That's a US-size teaspoon; I got a tablespoon of grains, and have a lot more already! It turned out looking more yellowish against the very white colander.

So far, it has been really easy to deal with, even with the added step of straining out the grains and putting them back in the brewing jar. That takes a few minutes once a day, and a good hot water rinse is good enough for the colander and funnel.

I’ve been scalding the milk even though it’s not totally necessary, to give the culture a better chance until it gets well established. That seems to be happening, so I may just pour in a fresh bottle of milk for the new batch in the morning, as is. We started getting (super-fresh) milk delivered* in returnable glass British pint (20 oz./568 mL) bottles a few months ago, and one of those is just perfect for the size batch the amount of grains now will easily make in a liter jar. That’s also easy enough to drink up; I may scale up some to have more for cooking, before too long.

Since I moved up to a liter pickle jar (soaked with baking soda to get rid of the residual sour dilly smell!) from the initial 500 mL/bit more than a US pint mayonnaise jar, I’ve just been wiping some of the residue off with a paper towel above the milk line, and reusing the same jar. When it gets too curded-up, I’ll switch to a clean jar; as it is, the residue of the last batch should help it culture more quickly.

Before the grains and new milk went back in this morning.

Just put the grains back in, add milk, swirl it around a little, and leave it sitting on the counter for the wee beasties to do their magic. A swirl now and then during the day will help bring new nutrient-rich milk to the grains. It’s kind of interesting seeing the clabber form around the grains, which for me have been floating at the top of the new batch and gradually sinking to the bottom.

For more on making kefir, see the How-To page on Dom’s kefir site. A bit eccentric, but more info on kefir and things to do with it than I have managed to read through yet. 🙂 From Tammy’s Recipes, there is also a very good pictorial with lots of discussion (including troubleshooting) in the comments,Photos and instructions for making homemade kefir.

I’ve been straining the finished kefir clabber into a bottle to keep in the fridge, and just topping it up with new batches. (When it gets too curded-up, again, I’ll pitch it and use a new bottle. Trying to wash it out for recycling would be more trouble than it’s worth, from experience with other cultures.)  So far, I’ve been drinking it moderately sour, but would like to try aging it a little more at room temperature after straining.

Please ignore the counter clutter. My kitchen is a wreck, like the rest of the house right now. Now eating the elephant one bite at a time, as I'm able... 😉

The first couple of small batches after the grains arrived turned out kind of vinegary-smelling and yeasty, and I was glad I’d seen discussion of this at Tammy’s in particular. It often takes the grains’ organisms a little while to get back in balance after shipping or other stress, but they pretty quickly straightened out into something very pleasant-tasting, a lot like cultured buttermilk but with some extra tones I’ve been enjoying. It does have a nice bit of sparkle on the tongue, a lot like some buttermilk cultures will take on after a while.

Some of the bubbles are just about visible here.

I wasn’t even about to try drinking the first couple of batches–not because they would hurt you in any way, but just because that just didn’t smell tasty at all!–but ended up using the obviously very yeasty first batch in a “sourdough” starter I’m planning to post about next. Considering it was less than a cup of milk a go to begin with, pouring it down the sink is not much of a loss!

Now, after only about a week of letting the culture get acclimated, it’s tasting great. And I’m looking forward to seeing how the flavor develops, as the grains continue to get settled in.

A nice cup of just-shaken kefir. Well, a tea-stained one, so easy to get with the liquid chalk that passes for London water. *sigh*

Right now, I’m just pleased to get a good substitute for buttermilk or yogurt in cooking and for drinking. But, the more fantastic health claims aside, I’m hoping that the regular cups of stuff fairly jumping with multiple strains of probiotics will also do me some good.  Like a lot of other people with celiac/gluten intolerance, apparently, I have continued to have some problems with irritable bowel.

Come to find out, a vitamin D deficiency (which often results from celiac, yes) will cause IBS symptoms because it seriously messes with your immune system:

The relationship with vitamin D and IBS is cyclic. Autoimmune disorders are associated with vitamin D deficiency, but then can also cause vitamin D deficiency. The malabsorption caused by IBS results in deficiency of vitamins absorbed in the intestines, which includes vitamin D.

I am actually wondering if this is part of the reason I started reacting so strongly to gluten in the first place, with the increased gut permeability from that. It all looks very interconnected. But, whatever the sequence that got things rolling, with any luck regular homebrewed probiotics alongside correcting the deficiencies will help the lingering IBS symptoms!

But, yummy is enough. 🙂

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* BTW, I still get tickled at still being able to get milk deliveries here; they stopped doing that before I was born, back in Virginia. I had seen/heard the electric milk floats going past in the wee hours–there was a smallish dairy depot just down the street until a few years ago, so we had a lot of them coming and going!–but was glad to find out how to sign up for delivery, when they started advertising for milkandmore.co.uk.  We can get unhomogenized organic milk for £0.79 a glass pint, fresh on the doorstep–not a bad deal at all! I hadn’t used anything but homogenized before, either, but am liking this.

I’m back!

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here, but hopefully this will change. My health really took a nosedive, and it turned out that I seem to have had one degree or another of a vitamin D deficiency for a long time now–really set off by moving to the Land of No Sun–which has been behind most of the chronic pain and other health problems I’d been running into. That and the pain from it have also been causing a lot of brain fog with word-finding difficulties, like I’ve been glutened–but, I guess anything that throws your system sufficiently out of whack will do that! Just knowing what’s going on makes a huge difference in coping with it, though.

Right now, I’m on the mend (*knock wood*) from a  couple of pelvic insufficiency fractures from osteomalacia, and just about able to stand up in the kitchen more. Though I’m trying not to push too hard, difficult as that can be. 😉 With any luck, I’ll also soon be up to posting more food-related stuff. The way things have been going, probably a lot of mineral-dense food!

Soon, I am hoping to finish putting a post together on celiac/gluten sensitivity and bone density problems from malabsorption deficiencies–and probably add a new links section to the sidebar–because it’s very relevant, and something that a lot of doctors unfortunately do not think to look out for even in those of us diagnosed as adults. My lazy former GP did not send me for nutrient status testing or a bone scan at all, and this does not seem to be unusual.  When you’ve had malabsorption problems for years, possibly for life, getting off the gluten is just the first step toward letting your body recover–rarely the only thing necessary. That kind of imbalance will take a toll. Given that a scary percentage of adult-diagnosed celiacs complain initially about a certain pattern of chronic pain (usually centered around lower back, hips, legs) from this kind of thing, the lack of knowledge there is shocking and still makes me angry. Both osteomalacia and osteoporosis are common complications, not too surprising when your body has trouble getting enough minerals and the vitamin D to use them.

So, more info on that should be coming soon. (Part of the problem with putting it together before was that I kept getting worked up over the number of people who keep getting dismissed with this stuff, until the problems have become really serious.)  And, hopefully, there should be more food posts coming. It’s a relief, feeling like cooking more again. 🙂

Corn and almond oatcakes

With onion and chive Double Gloucester. And a hideous paper towel.

This experiment was a definite make-again. Usually, I just buy Nairn’s rough oatcakes because they’re convenient and not bad at all, but we were out of them and I got an urge to make some. It didn’t occur to me to take pictures for blogging purposes until I’d started rolling the dough out.

All measurements are really approximate here, since I tend to bake using the “dump things into a bowl–yeah, that looks about right” approach.  Especially when I’m down with a cold and start rattling around the kitchen after midnight, because I need a certain food now, dammit. 🙂

Corn and almond oatcakes

  • 1 c. (250mL) medium oatmeal, or “old-fashioned” (not the thinner quick-cooking) rolled oats whizzed in a food processor or blender until it’s a coarse meal texture like this
  • 1/3 c. (125mL) cornmeal
  • 1/3 c. (125mL) ground almonds — check your local Indian/South Asian food source for affordable ones, if possible
  • 1/4 c. finer gluten-free flour of your choice — I did not use this initially, and had to add some later when the dough started falling apart!
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. sodium bicarbonate
  • 2 Tbsp. cooking fat of your choice — usually for plain or herbed oatcakes I like butter or bacon grease, but thought virgin coconut oil would go well with the almond
  • Boiling water to make a stiff dough
  • Extra flour for rolling out the dough

Making these is a lot like a rolled-out hot water cornbread, though the dough is easier to handle. 🙂 Mix your dry ingredients in a bowl, and add the fat. This time, I used some good-quality, very coconutty virgin coconut oil I’ve been buying off eBay.

Bottle of coconut oil on the counter, next to rolled-out oatcakes

Pour about half a cup (125mL) hot water over the fat, and let it melt. (Unnecessary with liquid oil, obviously. 😉 ) Stir it into the dry mixture, adding more water as needed. This will vary a lot, depending on humidity levels, what house Jupiter is in, etc. You want just enough water to make the dough hold together. Let it rest for a few minutes.

Flour a clean counter, and plop about a third of the dough on there. Cover the rest of the dough with plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out. Flip it over to get both sides lightly covered in flour. Then roll it out to, erm, your preferred cracker thickness. I used a tallish narrow glass, to double as a cutter.

You can cut them into triangular pieces with a knife, or any other shape you like. I went for neat little round ones.

Rolled and cut dough on the counter

This is what the last small batch looked like, complete with leftover dough monstrosity.

Lay them out on a greased baking sheet, and bake at 375F / 190C for about 10 minutes, or until they start to brown.

The first batch, laid out on a tea towel to cool

Maybe not quite as brown as some of the first batch here. Though they still tasted good, rather than scorched.

Rolling out the additional batches, be aware that this dough slurps up water and starts falling apart a lot more than plain oatcakes will. Hopefully, adding the finer flour from the get-go will prevent some of this. If it gets too crumbly, just add some flour and a splash of water until it’s workable again.

This made a huge batch, but they were all gone within a day or so. 🙂

The second batch wasn't looking nearly as pretty, even with very careful handling. Time for flour and water.

One good thing about these is that, with the different dough properties from the added cornmeal and ground almond, they probably won’t need a second trip into the oven on the lowest setting to finish drying them out and crisping them up. Some of the less-browned ones I did put back in, but am not sure it was necessary. People apparently used to put them on special harnen stands to dry or toast in front of the open fire.

A beautifully designed 18th century Irish wrought iron harnen stand I couldn't resist here.

Source.

Quick veggie and tofu pasta with miso sauce, for one

Bowl of pasta

There’s a backlog of dishes I’ve been meaning to post here, since the photos finally got transferred off Mr. Sweden’s DSLR. Now, if I can remember what went in them… 😉 I haven’t been online much lately anyway, with my health acting up, but with any luck I’ll be posting more.

Right now, I’m a reluctant omnivore in spite of ethical problems* with pretty much all of the meat that’s readily available here other than wild fish and maybe lamb/mutton, but you can expect more vegetarian dishes to show up here. On the basis that eating fewer meat meals and seeing how my system responds to it is better than an all-or-nothing approach, I’ve been cooking more explicitly veggie stuff lately–especially when I’m on my own, like most lunchtimes and tonight.

This is another of those thrown-together meals for one that turned out better than I was expecting. 🙂 Frozen veggies and pasta were about my speed tonight, being frequent go-to ingredients for a quick meal, soup or otherwise. All fresh would probably be better, but convenience wins out a lot around here! I hadn’t actually intended to post this, but the vegetable colors were pretty enough that I had to grab my camera. And then it was tasty, to boot.

Ingredient note: I used the Mori-Nu firm silken tofu in a Tetra Pak, because that’s what I had. The only local source of fresh tofu I know of is Hoo Hing, which is hard to get to by public transport. (Cycling there? Much easier, before the knotted-up thigh muscles really started ganging up on me.) So, I’ve been using the readily available Mori-Nu stuff in dishes where the refrigerated “cotton” kind would really work better. But, I kind of like the smoother silken mouthfeel, and it just about works as long as you just throw it in at the end to heat up and don’t stir enough to make it disintegrate. An excellent post from Maki at Just Hungry: Looking at tofu.

This would work OK with other vegetables, but again, this is what I had that looked good tonight. 🙂

Ingredients laid out on the counter

Ingredients, on a messy counter. No, you couldn't tell we have an Iceland just up the street, with the number of their brand products showing up. 😉

Quick veggie and tofu pasta with miso sauce

  • 1 Tbsp. peanut oil
  • About a cup (250mL) of frozen veggies, or whatever is left in the package 😉 — in this case, Iceland Mediterranean Vegetables (“A selection of grilled courgette, onion, cherry tomato, grilled aubergine, grilled red and yellow peppers with a basil and garlic olive oil dressing”#–barely noticeable seasoning, but surprisingly good for frozen zucchini and eggplant.) I set the halved cherry tomatoes aside, so they wouldn’t turn to mush.
  • Small zucchini, cut into little cubes
  • Four or five cherry tomatoes, halved, if not in the frozen veg mix — I wasn’t sure how well the flavor would work with the miso, but the answer was very well indeed! They added a lot of brightness.
  • About 1 Tbsp. gluten free soy sauce (Tiger Tiger Thai shoyu-alike made with jasmine rice, which I was glad our local Sainsbury’s started carrying)
  • Crushed red pepper to taste (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar (particularly good with the slight eggplant bitterness)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced, or half a handy frozen cube
  • 1/4 c. (50mL) or so water, depending on how much liquid your veggies release — I sloshed in a little pasta water
  • About 1 Tbsp. miso — I used red
  • A couple of sliced green onions
  • About 4 oz. (125g) tofu, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/4 of a pound or 500g bag of GF pasta of your choice — Sainsbury’s corn and rice fusilli, in this case

Set a pot of lightly salted pasta water to boil. When it’s about time to throw the pasta in, start the veggies cooking.

Heat the oil in a deep skillet, and steam-fry the veggies with the red pepper and soy sauce until they just start getting translucent. Add the garlic and fry a little longer. Throw in the halved cherry tomatoes.

Steam-fried vegetables in the pan

Time to get saucy!

Add the water, if needed, and the miso and sugar to make a little bit of sauce. Then throw in the cubed tofu and green onion, stir gently, and let it simmer a couple more minutes.

Cubed tofu, crushed garlic, and sliced green onion waiting to go in the pan.

The tofu is getting lonely.

All sauced-up and ready to fold in the pasta.

Fold in the cooked pasta, which should be done at about the same time as the veggies and tofu. Enjoy!

This made two fairly big pasta bowls full, which was about right for me tonight. (Practice makes perfect with estimating these things, I guess–though I still tend to cook too much by default. 🙂 ) If you’re not as hungry and/or are eating it with a salad, this quantity would make lunch for two.

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* More on this, for the curious, from my main blog: Reconsidering some choices and “Wild animals”, ethics, and veg*anism. Back.

Basics: Gluten-free Appalachian cornbread

A cast iron skillet of cornbread, with a slice removed to show texture

This is a very common version these days, using dairy products and egg. One of my great-grandfathers was a bit of a purist, and insisted it was inedible crap if it contained anything but cornmeal, water, salt, and some grease. (And more than one relative suggested he bake himself some to his specs, then. *g*) I will eventually do a post on the vegan, lactose-free classic Native hot water cornbread, but not today. 🙂 Both types are great, IMO, if very different products.

Ah, cornbread! Let’s just say that it’s enough of a staple that when I was looking at new cast iron skillets, I chose one just about the right fit for the size pone two of us can eat. Really.

You can use some other kind of heavy pan (and I even resorted to using a pie plate before I got a proper skillet here), but the crust needs a surface that retains heat well to develop properly. Otherwise, your bread will be soggy rather than crusty on the bottom and will probably stick to the pan in the middle.

The recipe

Ingredients set out on the counter

  • 3-4 tbsp. butter or bacon grease
  • 1.5 c. (350 mL) fairly coarse cornmeal / polenta
  • 1/2 c. (120 mL) some other gluten-free flour — I used sorghum (juwar), in this case. You can use all cornmeal, which I do sometimes, but the bread will be crumblier. This is just to hold it together better.
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • 1 tsp. salt — I used a particularly flavorful sea salt for this batch, but any will do>
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c. (250mL) buttermilk or  plain yogurt — I used half and half, very thick Greek yogurt and milk, since that’s what I had 🙂
  • Enough water or milk to make a fairly thick batter

Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C.

Mix your dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the egg and buttermilk. You can either use enough buttermilk to make the batter the right consistency, or make up the difference past a cup (250mL) with water or milk, depending on how tangy and rich you want the bread to be.  Try not to overstir, or it will knock the CO2 out of the batter, and your bread will be heavy. After the batter sits a couple of minutes, it should be about this texture, maybe a bit thinner:

A bowl of batter, being dropped from a spoon

Put the butter or bacon grease into your pan, and heat it until it starts to sizzle in the oven–about 5 minutes.

This butter browned a little much, but it's OK as long as it's not just plain scorched!

Drain about a tablespoon of the fat into the batter, and stir it in well. Then pour/spoon the batter into the hot pan, and smooth out the top some if you need to. It will sizzle and start puffing around the edges–you want this. 🙂

Batter just poured into the hot pan

Plonk the pan back into the oven, and let it bake for about 25 minutes, until it’s nicely browned on top and develops a good crack around it, like so:

Finished bread

A slice of hot cornbread

Let it sit for a few minutes, slice, and dig in!

A split in half wedge of cornbread, with butter melting on it

Just because melting butter makes almost anything look more appealing... 😉

Between the very yellow butter and the sorghum flour, this batch did not turn out as pearly white as it could have made with the white cornmeal. But, it was all wholegrain and delicious too!

Country Pie

A slice of cheesy meat-and-rice pie on a plate

I have no idea why this dish is called “country pie”, but that’s what my mom always called it. And, from a quick search, she wasn’t alone. Since most of the versions I’m running across call for instant rice, I’d guess it’s one of those ubiquitous ’70s casserole recipes.

We got a lot of one-dish meat and rice dishes when I was growing up, since it’s fairly quick and easy–and filling on a tight budget. This is a slight twist, involving a rice mixture cooked in a meat crust.

It’s also a great way of using up leftover rice. The one time I tried jasmine rice in this, it turned into an unpleasant-textured solid lump, so I wouldn’t suggest that. Leftover basmati tends to disintegrate when used like this (including brown basmati). Plain long grain rice or medium/long grain brown rice works pretty well. For this batch, I cooked some converted and wild rice we had lurking in the cupboard; sort of like with a red jambalaya, cooking with a tomato sauce like this is what converted rice is good for. 🙂 It keeps a good texture, and there’s enough seasoning that the rather bland taste doesn’t matter.

For a vegetarian version, I have used various veggie loaf mixtures for the crust; my favorite is a lentil loaf similar to this gluten-free one.  As long as you pre-bake the crust until it starts to brown and let it cool to set up a bit before you add the rice filling, it works really well. You can also make up a double batch of the loaf mixture and refrigerate or freeze half of it for later use, to save time.

Country Pie

Meat crust mixture:

  • 1.5 lb. (700g) ground meat — for this, I used the 400g of lean beef we had, bulked out with half a coffee mug of TVP reconstituted with 3/4 of the same cup full of veggie broth with a slug of GF soy sauce thrown in for extra flavor>
  • 1/2 a medium onion, chopped fine
  • 1/4 – 1/2 a sweet pepper, also chopped fine
  • 1 -2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. seasoned salt
  • 1 tsp. mixed herbs / Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1 tsp. paprika (optional, but nice flavor)
  • 1/3 c. (75-100 mL) rolled oats — if you can’t tolerate oats, use about 1/2 c. (125 mL) GF breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • A little water if the mixture is dry when you try to mix the oats in

Basically, you’re making a fairly plain meatloaf mixture.

Chopped veggies, largely because they struck me as pretty. 🙂

The reconstituted TVP, mixed up in the baking dish.

All the crust ingredients in the baking dish

Ready to mix!

Mix it all together, spread it evenly in the dish, and let it sit 20 minutes or so for the oats to rehydrate while you mix up the rice filling.

Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C.

Meat mixture spread into a crust in the baking dish

Rice filling

  • 3 c. (750 mL) cooked rice — I cooked a cup (250 mL) of dry for this, with a beef stock cube and some onion (very optional, but nice extra flavor)
  • The other half of the onion, sautéed — That was in the rice here
  • About 1.5- 2 c. (350 – 500 mL) herbed tomato sauce — Spaghetti sauce from a jar is pretty good, but I mixed up my own quick version in a bowl
  • 1/4 tsp. ground pepper
  • Extra mixed herbs/Italian seasoning if required
  • Extra salt, if your rice wasn’t salted
  • About 1.5 – 2 c. (350 – 500 mL) grated cheese — I used a mix of medium Cheddar and Red Leicester

The bowl of tomato sauce and grated cheese on a plate

Mix the sauce into the rice, with the extra seasonings as required. Then stir in the cheese, and try to get it distributed fairly evenly.

Assembly

Bake the meat crust for about 10 minutes, to make sure it gets thoroughly cooked in the middle.

Prebaked meat crust

Fill it with the rice mixture.

Rice filling is now in the meat crust

Cover the dish and let it bake for 25 minutes (35 if your rice was cold starting out). Then, remove the lid, spread an additional 1.5 c. (350mL) of grated cheese on the top, and bake it uncovered for another 10-15 minutes until the cheese starts browning. When it’s done, let it sit and cool for 10-15 minutes, and enjoy with a salad!

Finished casserole

Roast duck with apples and sage

A roast duck on a serving plate, beside a bowl with the apple and sage stuffing

Photo by Ingvar Mattsson.

This is the bird for our slightly reworked Thanksgiving dinner. Between the chaos of cooking a festive dinner and dead batteries in my camera, I didn’t get process shots for any of these dishes.

With two humans eating the dinner this year, I decided not to go for a turkey. They’re not little birds, and the smallest RSPCA Freedom Food labelled one I could find (frozen) was £18. A duck looked like a pretty good alternative, and very seasonal even though we had to get a domesticated one.

Virginia is part of what they’re calling the Atlantic Flyway, with lots of migrating birds:

As autumn arrives, ducks and geese migrate into the refuges and surrounding areas of Virginia. Shoveler ducks, pintails, mallards, widgeons, teal, rudy ducks, canvasbacks, redheads, ring necked ducks, bluebills, and others fly in. Mergansers, buffleheads, goldeneyes and other diving ducks show up in the bay waters as cold weather sets in. Off the coast, rafts of sea ducks and small groups of oldsquaw ducks forage along the shoals over the winter.

This migration is impressive enough on the coast that people there ‘reckoned a “moon of stags,” a “corn moon,” and a first and second “moon of cohonks”—the Algonquian word sounds just like the call of the geese, the sound from which the word derives.’ The time that they started returning en masse was considered the beginning of winter, and of the new year. The migratory waterfowl  leave just as spectacularly at the end of the winter.

English draws the word “honk”  from the geese:

From honck or cohonk, Canadian goose. Also associated with the sound made by the bird. Also associated with winter and year. The Powhatans called the “Potomac” River “the River of the Cohonks” for the noise made by the yearly arrival of the geese there. To honk, honky, and honky tonk all come from cohonk.

The ducks are a little less spectacularly noisy. 🙂 Not surprisingly, the waterfowl used to be a winter staple, and people still hunt them a lot. There aren’t such huge flocks migrating inland in the mountains, without all the marshes as food sources, but there are enough waterways that many still show up yearly and people used to eat an awful lot of ducks and geese.

Since a goose is still too big, a duck seemed very suitable for this time of year and theme. Apples also seemed like a good seasonal addition. Western Virginia grows a lot of apples–the commercial growing really got started for colonial export to England–though most of them now go into things like apple sauce and cider. The fruity flavor did go very well with the duck, as I’d hoped. I used Braeburn because the flavor is reasonably complex, and we already had a bag of them. They stayed firmer when cooked than I was expecting.

Roast duck with apples and sage

I stayed pretty close to a fairly simple recipe I ran across here.

To stuff the duck, I mixed up in a bowl:

  • 3 chopped Braeburn apples (peeled and cored first)
  • A small chopped onion
  • About 8 crumbled leaves of dried sage from our garden
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

I just stuffed it in the cavity to add flavor to the bird and pan drippings. We didn’t eat more than a spoonful of it to try, but you can if you like. It did lend a nice, not too strong note.

Preheat the oven to 400F / 200C. (That sounded hot to me, but multiple sources said to use that temperature for the whole cooking time!) Peel 3 or 4 carrots to use as a roasting rack and add more flavor to the pan drippings, and stick them in a suitable sized pan. (I used a foil one.)

Rinse the duck off, remove the giblets if it has any, and stuff the cavity with the apple mixture. Close the flap up with toothpicks, and put it breast side up in the pan on top of the carrots. Slash the skin all over with a sharp knife, trying not to cut into the meat, and rub sea salt into it so it gets nice and crispy.

You can truss the bird with string if you really want to, but I didn’t do that; it was also in a pan of a size that the wings brushed the edges, so it couldn’t sprawl out as much.

The duck wrapper said to roast it at the temperature above for 20 minutes per 500g (1.1 lb.), plus 20 minutes. With the 2 kg (4.4 lb.) duck we had, that worked out close enough to the 2 hours called for in the recipe I was basing the dish on.  Baste it when there’s an hour left, then half an hour. I actually turned the oven down to 350F / 180C after about an hour, because it was browning quickly, and it still took about 2 hours. I double-checked it with a meat thermometer, because I’m paranoid that way. 😉

Going by helpwithcooking.com:

A duck is properly cooked when the temperature of the meat at the thickest part of the thigh or breast has reached 165°F (75°C). This may be checked with a meat thermometer.

The duck should also have a nice crispy brown skin all over.

A pot of gravy

Another photo by Ingvar Mattsson. And another thing just served out of the pot. 🙂

The gravy was also somewhat loosely based on the same Roast Duck with Apples recipe. The inclusion of (British hard) cider sounded intriguing, and it ended up working well.

  • Pan drippings from the duck
  • 1.25 cups (275 mL or 1/2 British pint) Tesco single varietal Redstreak cider, which is apparently made by Thatchers –what we had 🙂
  • About 1 c. (225 mL) mixed duck giblet and previously frozen chicken broth left from making the dressing
  • 1/4 tsp. coarsely ground pepper
  • Salt to taste (I used 1/2 tsp. or so, with the salt in the duck juices)
  • A little dried sage and mixed herbs (this blend was like poultry seasoning) — maybe 1/2 tsp. combined, for a hint of flavor
  • Diced cooked giblets, if you have them
  • Enough corn or potato starch to thicken — 1 tbsp. potato IIRC?–mixed into a little cold water

Put everything but the starch into a small pan and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Taste for seasoning, then thicken with the starch slurry (add it fairly gradually while stirring). If you’re using potato starch, take it off the heat first, and use about half the amount you would of corn starch.

The cornbread and sweet potato dressing post will have to wait for another day.

Bacony tomato-stewed green beans

Tomato-stewed green beans, still in the  pot

Photo by Ingvar Mattsson. I was pretty tired after cooking most of the day, so it got served out of the pot!

This is another of the vegetable dishes I made for our slightly reworked Thanksgiving dinner. Between the chaos of cooking a festive dinner and dead batteries in my camera, I didn’t get process shots for any of these dishes.

From Sidney Saylor Farr’s My Appalachia: A Memoir:

The Cherokee Indians cultivated beans long before the European settlers arrived in the early 1700s. Like maize, beans were nutritious and fairly easy to grow, particularly in the rich valley bottomlands in the mountains. For most Appalachian families, green beans, served from the garden, canned, pickled [originally like sauerkraut – GFSC], or dried, became a staple food.

Yep. While the British have their Brussels sprouts as the “quintessential Christmas dinner veg”, we Hillbillies have green beans as the obligatory any large dinner (and a lot of smaller ones) vegetable. 😉 Growing up, I knew a girl whose mother served boiled green beans with every evening meal, every single night, regardless of the other foods! (The daughter’s description of her cooking: “It’s very nutritious, but…”) That’s pretty extreme, but I do love my green beans.

Tagging this post, I was more than a little surprised that I hadn’t posted anything involving green beans yet.

This is a fairly basic (and classic) tomato-stewed dish, a lot like the previous stewed okra, but I decided to jazz it up a little with bacon and a little fresh chile. This provided a pretty nice contrast to the milder-flavored coconut milk “creamed” succotash It would have been a shame not to have served any tomatoes at a “New World”-themed dinner, now wouldn’t it? 🙂

Bacony tomato-stewed green beans

  • 4 slices streaky bacon
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Half a sweet pepper (orange, in this case), chopped
  • A green chile, halved with most seeds and ribs removed, then sliced — I had mildish Jalapeño
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 lb. (400-500g) frozen green beans
  • 14 oz. (400g) can chopped tomatoes
  • About half a tomato can of water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar, to balance the greenness of the beans
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper — the fresh chile was really mild!
  • 3/4-1 tsp. Herbes de Provence (I wanted the rosemary) or Italian seasoning

Fry the bacon crispy in a skillet, and set aside on paper towels. Fry the onion in the same pan over medium-low heat (our bacon was pretty lean, so I added about a tablespoon of fairly neutral sunflower oil) until it’s translucent and starting to brown; add the garlic the last couple of minutes.

Put the chopped sweet pepper and chile in the bottom of a medium-sized pan. (It will float on the top and take longer to cook if you don’t put it under the beans.) Add the fried onion and garlic, then the beans. Pour the tomatoes over the top, and add the seasonings.

With frozen green beans, it’s probably best to bring the pan to a boil and let them thaw out and release some moisture, so you can tell better how much water to add.  You want them just covered in liquid.

Simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes, checking occasionally to see if there is still enough liquid and poking the vegetables down with a spoon. Frozen green beans will start falling apart and get a weird texture if you cook them much longer than it takes them to get tender. When everything has reached the level of tenderness you want, add the crumbled bacon and let it cook another 5 or 10 minutes. Stir, and enjoy!

You could also use this as a way to jazz up canned green beans, substituting a couple of cans for the frozen. It’s not bad, but I wanted a little fresher green bean taste.

Leftovers are really, really good served over rice or short pasta shapes, even better with a little Parmegiano or Romano on the top. 🙂