Gluten is a word seen often in the media these days. It is usually attached to free, as in gluten-free. Four years ago, when I made the decision to take it out of my diet, most people asked me what in the heck gluten was, anyway? Is it in meat? In rice? What does it do? Friends were afraid to cook for me. Today, most people have a rudimentary knowledge of what gluten is and where it can be found.
I didn't make the decision lightly. I had been making bread for over 25 years, from cinnamon buns to heavy healthy seedy loaves. And everything in between. I also had a deep love of pasta, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, pizza, healthy boxed cereals, Lesley Stowe's amazing crackers, french fries, fish and chips, micro brewed beer, liquorice, smarties and pretzels. And yes, you guessed it.... these all contain gluten. Usually in the form of wheat flour, but gluten is also found in barley, rye, semolina, farina, matzo meal, graham flour, bulgar, durham, kamut, kasha, spelt and triticale. Though oats do not contain gluten, they are usually grown in proximity to and processed with wheat and are considered contaminated with gluten. Scratch my homemade granola. It is also hidden in a ka-zillion other places where you would never think to look, like those french fries (often coated with flour to keep them hot longer) and smarties.
I had been having stomach problems for several years and was on medication that didn't help much. After the medical profession shrugged their collective shoulders, I went for a food panel test administered by a local naturopath. Bingo. Gluten reaction was off the end of the chart, along with a few other foods I had suspected I shouldn't eat. I threw away my stomach medicine, removed every possible source of gluten from my diet and before long found energy I hadn't had for years. When my oldest daughter was also diagnosed as gluten-intolerant, and then my youngest daughter was diagnosed as celiac, my resolve to never go back to eating gluten was set in stone. In fact gluten issues, from intolerance to the more serious celiac disease usually run in families. When I think back to my father, I am sure he probably was at least gluten intolerant, if not celiac.
The proliferation of gluten-free products showing up on grocery shelves lately does not necessarily mean there are now healthy choices. In fact, many gluten-free recipes and products rely too heavily on white rice flour (the nutritional equivalent of processed white flour, or maybe even worse) and a lot of white sugar and fat to make them taste like something palatable. I discovered there are many ancient grains and flours that are preferable, like quinoa, amaranth, flax, sorghum, millet, buckwheat, chickpea, bean, and teff. With practice, they make tasty and healthy gluten-free dishes.
One of the first websites I stumbled on was 101cookbooks.com. Heidi Swanson is an amazing woman, and though her main focus isn't gluten-free food, she does have a section that contains some of my favourite recipes. In the early days of my new diet I was constantly starved. One of Heidi's recipes that saved me was her wonderful Big Sur Power Bars. I wasted no time converting it to gluten-free, changed a few things to suit my taste buds, and never looked back.
in this, the first of my blogs dealing with GF food, I would like to give you my version of Heidi's power bars. They are incredibly good, easy to personalize and change, and loved by all who try them. I have several versions with various fruit, spices and nuts, which I will cover in a later blog. I won't say they are calorie-free, but they are healthy, and better than grabbing a bag of potato chips when hunger strikes.
Future blogs will also feature recipes for granola, banana bread, peanut-butter cookies, cranberry bread and more.... all gluten-free.
zed handmade gluten-free power bars
Preheat oven to 375°.
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds
1 ½ cups wheat-free rolled oats
¼ cup whole flax seed
1 ½ cups unsweetened crisp brown rice cereal (Nature’s
Path brand is best)
¼ cup cacao nibs
½ cup craisins, raisins, chopped figs, chopped prunes,
chopped apricots, dried chopped cherries, dried
blueberries – your choice!
1 cup brown rice syrup
½ tsp fine-grain sea salt
2 tbsp high-quality cocoa powder
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
On a rimmed baking sheet toast the pecans, oatmeal, and sunflower seeds for about 7 minutes, or until golden. Toss once or twice along the way. You can also omit this step if you would rather eat "raw". Mix the oats, toasted nuts, flax seeds, dried fruit, cacao nibs and the cereal together in a large bowl and set aside.
Grease a baking pan or line with parchment paper. If you like thick power bars opt for an 8x8-inch pan; for thinner bars, use a 10x13-inch pan.
Combine the rice syrup, salt, cocoa, and vanilla in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and stir constantly as it comes to a boil and thickens just a bit, about 4 minutes. If you undercook this mixture, the bars will not “set” and will fall apart. If you overcook, the bars will be quite hard.
Pour the syrup mixture over the oat mixture and stir until it is evenly mixed.
Spread into the prepared pan and cool to room temperature before cutting into whatever size bars you desire.
Makes 16 to 24 bars. Keep refrigerated for maximum freshness, if they last that long......
Diane Zwickel lives and knits in South Surrey, B.C. Canada