Category Archives: Food and Recipes

Blue Ribbon Bread Baker Goes Gluten Free – for now, at least

blue ribbon bread sandy grayson

Sandy Grayson snapped this photo of my prize-winning bread at the local fall fair a few years ago. Go gluten-free? Me? No bloody way.

OK, there’s a blog post title I never thought I’d write! There’s nothing like convincing yourself you have cancer of the lower realm to spur a person to action. Granted, I have an active imagination and have no problem at all conjuring all kinds of worst-case scenario stories for myself, but still – I had my reasons for being worried. Why my symptoms decided to become more pronounced about three years ago after a lifetime of scarfing back bread, bagels, cookies, pancakes, muffins and more is a mystery, but that’s exactly what happened.

Of course, two-and-a-half years ago was also about the time when I met my future fiancé (that was a long-distance relationship for ages), started doing a lot of travelling (including three months in Paris where I have to say, the ever-present baguette would have made making dietary changes excruciating), and didn’t have a good family doctor. The past few years have been nothing if not disruptive and, because symptoms initially would come and go, I put off doing anything about them.

Finally, I arrived properly here in my new hometown, found a great family doctor, and during my first intake meeting with her requested some screening tests. My doctor agreed and then suggested I look at my diet – how many carbs do I eat each day? What about gluten? I held back a snort – after all, I bake bread every other day and my go-to treat foods are all laden with sugar, chocolate, and flour. Yum!

All tests came back just fine – and, predictably, my doctor asked again about my diet and referred me to Dr. Perlmutter’s book, Grain Brain. “Have a read” she said.

grain brain cover

There’s nothing like a doctor who makes you look hard at your habits, do a bit of reading, and come to your own conclusions.

Reluctantly, I decided to see if I could find some good baking recipes that eliminate not only wheat but replacement carbs like rice and potato flour as well (as per Dr. Perlmutter’s – and my doctor’s – recommendations). To say I was skeptical would be an understatement. But I was motivated – not only by my grumbling tummy but also by the thought that I am willing to do pretty much anything to help prevent brain deterioration later in life. I watched my mother succumb to Pick’s Disease (a frontotemporal lobe dementia) at an early age and if there’s any way I can spare my nearest and dearest the misery of watching me head off down that same path… Getting rid of bread products suddenly seemed like not so bad a way to take one for the team.

wheat belly cover

On the negative side, replacement bread recipes like the ones I found in the Wheat Belly Cookbook really can’t be considered true breads. They are some other kind of food, much denser and totally lacking in that light, airy texture I am so in love with in my home-baked breads of yesteryear. To his credit, Dr. Perlmutter doesn’t get your hopes up with claims of bread replacement recipes and, as a result, I found his suggestions less disappointing.

grain brain cookbook coverOn the plus side, though, wow. Within 24-hours I had complete relief from my symptoms. Ten days in, I am frankly shocked at the fact I am still alive without having consumed a crumb of bread (or other wheat-containing product). The baking experiments I’ve done have resulted in scones that resemble hockey pucks, bread that’s more like a dense I’m-not-sure-what, and pizza crusts that were more like… I have no idea. Which makes sense. I am baking with ground up nuts and not flour, so it’s more like I have moved to a different country with totally different staple foods.

Also on the plus side, I haven’t felt hungry at any point. There’s plenty of protein in this diet (eggs, cheese, meat, and more nuts and seeds than I can count) as well as unlimited amounts of veggies and salads. The smoothies are delish and I’ve been lucky enough not to suffer any carb withdrawal or any real cravings (which is nothing short of miraculous, given my high carb intake before this experiment began). If only it had been so easy to give up caffeine (which I did last summer and which, really, deserves a blog post all its own because that was a truly miserable experience).

I’m about ten days into this eating revolution and I am somewhat shocked to say that I think I’ll keep going for a while. I’m curious if there will be other changes (in the ability to focus, for example, and improvement in the quality of my sleep – which has been terrible for the past few years). In a subsequent visit to my doctor, she said she recommends patients try the gluten-free thing for 30 days, then let loose and have a carb-crazy weekend – pizza, beer, waffles with loads of syrup. Then, she says, they should take note of how they feel on Monday morning. I don’t know if I’m brave enough to try that, but so far anyway, I am feeling pretty good about this weird new way of eating.

And, as a footnote to all the above, I am really, really sorry for all the snotty things I have thought and said about people who have tried some version of the gluten-free, paleo diet, reduced carb way of life.  There may just be something to all this after all…

German-engineered Cookies

Can you spot the German-made cookie?

Can you spot the German-made cookie?

Last night I popped a batch of oatmeal/chocolate chip drop cookies into the oven right as I was racing out the door to do the dusk rounds. I asked the Germans if they might be able to pull the cookies out when they were done. Without hesitation the Germans said they could manage, though they couldn’t guarantee there would be any left by the time I returned.

When I eventually got back to the house an hour or so later, not only had the first batch been removed from the oven and cooled, the rest of the batter had been turned into cookies as well. When I looked at the second batch, though, they looked totally different! No blobby, random-shaped, ‘arty’ cookies were these. Instead, each must have contained an identical amount of dough which had been shaped into the most perfectly round cookies ever to have come out of my oven!

The boys explained that the random blobs created by the scoop and drop method just didn’t look right and they couldn’t imagine how they would shape themselves into cookies. The German-engineered solution resulted in lovely, uniform cookies. Not that any of them lasted very long. Lumpy or lovely, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies disappear pretty fast around here.

First Batch of Big Leaf Maple Syrup!

Our first batch of Big Leaf Maple syrup is very, very tasty…

Maple Syrup!

Maple Syrup!

Some things I did not know about making maple syrup…

1. The sap when it first comes out of the tree is really watery – somehow I thought it was more like thick, sticky sap like the stuff that gets stuck in your hair if you climb pine trees on warm spring days. It’s more like water.

2. Sap doesn’t drip slowly and take forever to collect. If you hit a good vein (or whatever the appropriate term is…), it virtually gushes out of the tree. The little wine bladders we initially used were way too small and we’ve switched to 18 liter water jugs.

3. The flow varies widely from tree to tree, from day to day, and depending on time of day, temperature, and recent temperature fluctuations…

4. It takes about 40 liters of tree sap/water to make about 1 liter of syrup, which is why all that maple syrup making back east used to be done outdoors (that’s a whole lot of steam to fog up your windows). Boiling maple syrup is probably still done outdoors for that reason. We set up a hot plate on the deck for the first phase of boiling and only moved the pans inside as we got close to the end.

5. It takes FOREVER to boil off 39 liters of water.

6. It takes a nanosecond to go from boiling water to scorched syrup! At the end, the temperature rises very quickly as the percentage of sugar increases and it’s really easy to overshoot the mark, burn the syrup, and lose a whole batch! With four of us watching over the bubbling pots and alarms set on digital thermometers, we dodged this particular bullet, but I can see how easy it would be for everything to go terribly wrong.

7. Does it taste like maple syrup? Yep. Except with a stronger flavour – there’s a sort of woodsy undertone that is richer than the store bought pure maple syrup from back east. There is no comparison to regular pancake syrup made with corn syrup – that is very sweet, but has none of the complex flavour of this stuff!

8. Are we happy campers? Oh. Yes. Indeed.

9. Will we have any for sale? Maybe not this year – we started this whole tapping/boiling process a bit late in the season, but next year we’ll get started in November. Because we are on the west coast we can collect from November to early March, which gives us a whole lot of raw material to work with. This has been a great test, though – we’ll keep sugaring for the next couple of weeks and learn what we can and then next year we will start early and see how much we can produce.

What treasure lies at the end of your rainbow? (Weekly photo challenge: Treasure)

Guess what lies right at the bottom of this rainbow? Our big leaf maples! Those same maples that are dribbling sweet sap through tubes into collection vessels… The same sap that is bubbling away on the finishing stage of our first ever batch of Dark Creek Maple Syrup!!!! Treasure, indeed!


Farmer’s Field Trip – Part One

If I ignore the parts of the day that involved hacking through thick ice on the various animal troughs with the back end of my trusty axe, today was a lot of fun. Too much fun, in fact, to try to include everything in one blog post.

russell books banner

After morning rounds (which, with all the water hauling, ice chopping, etc. took exactly twice as long as usual or a full four hours) we headed into town to one of my favourite stores, Russell Books. There, I found copies of two books I’ve been meaning to read for ages:  One-straw Revolution: Introduction to Natural Farming, by Masanobu Fukuoka and
and  Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement edited by Zoe Ida Bradbury, Severine von Tscharner Fleming, and Paula Manalo. This is a companion collection of essays to the documentary the greenhorns (which is on my ‘must watch’ list).

Books in hand, we headed over to The Hudson Public Market as Wednesdays is the day when they host a local farmer’s market and I was, of course, curious to see what was being offered up. I also had another reason for popping into the office – not long ago The Hudson ran a felfie contest and my entry won! This meant I had $20.00 market bucks to spend!

In case you missed it, here’s my Regal Hen and her Farmer entry…

DCC Love My Chicken!

Who says selfies/felfies can’t lead to fame and fortune? Or, a modest fortune, anyway – the people in the office didn’t recognize me, perhaps because I didn’t bring my chicken. Fame, it seems, remains elusive…

First stop was the Damn Fine Cake Company where Dad and I enjoyed some delicious coffee as we perused our new books (and maps – Dad is in the throes of planning a trip to the south of France… Without me, I might add, because I will be here hacking into hog water buckets with an axe. I’m ok with that. Really.) Damn Fine

The cakes were, indeed, mighty fine!

Fruity Cake

Oh… look at all the chocolate [this one’s for you, Melanie in IA).

Chocolate Overload!I had a more modest snack – a VERY tasty chocolate, banana, walnut muffin –

Coffee and a MuffinBetween the lovely coffee, the tasty snack, the good books, the funky decor, and attentive service, I have to say that was a most excellent use of half of my prize money!

Damn Fine Cake Company

Sugar Pot

Good Books!We browsed through various other market vendors – both the permanent businesses and the temporary vendors who are there only during the Wednesday afternoon farmers’ market.


IMG_8075[1] IMG_8086[1] IMG_8077[1]Though we chatted with Zach from Amuse, a restaurant associated with Unsworth Vineyards in Mill Bay (and I was sorely tempted by the duck liver pate), tasted some delicious sprouted peanuts from Salt Spring Island, and sampled an invigorating herbal tea from Infuse Herbals, it was the Baker on the Bike (Il Forno Di Claudio) who won my heart and took the rest of my Market Bucks.

Came home with some of this:


Sfilatino Origin: Piemonte and Lombardia regions

Ingredients: Organic white wheat flour, figs, walnuts, malt extract, sea salt, yeast.

Description: The sweetness of figs married with the savoriness of the dough and bitterness of walnuts makes for a unique flavor. This is a rich in flavor bread with a chewy crust and inner crumb. It is an excellent bread to eat with any blue cheese or any strong flavor cheese; or you can just make a bread and butter sandwich and enjoy it.

and some little cookies and a couple of varieties of these:


Focaccine Origin: Liguria region

Ingredients: Organic white wheat flour, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, yeast.
Description: A small size focaccia bread with nice crumbly texture. Available with different toppings, commonly with rosemary, or onions. The onions version has a nice sweet and juicy taste. Great snack for quick bite, a kid party or as appetizer. They make also a good base for a sandwich.

Oh. So. Good!

Then it was home again, a quick trip out for a bit of hay and some pumpkin scavenging from Michell’s before feeding all the critters, chopping more holes in more ice, putting in all the poultry and then rushing back out to the most excellent Deconstructing Dinner talk by Jon Steinman. The evening, though, deserves its own post, so I’ll save that for another day. If I’m very organized and I don’t chop off a limb or something during the ice wars, I might get a chance to write up my notes tomorrow, but if not, then look for that on the weekend.

Visiting the local market reminded me yet again of how lucky we are to live in a community with such an interest in supporting local food and food producers. It also reminded me how much fun it is to get out and about and off the farm every now and then! Even if I can’t get to France this spring, there is no reason not to explore more of the fun food festinations [that’s not a word, but it should be) right here!