Oven frittata (6 servings) plus a personal update

Hi, friendly readers! This is my first post since March. That was MARCH, as in four months ago. For the last nine years, this blog has been a fun way to motivate myself to try new recipes and share the results. But over the past few months, food has become a touchy subject as I learned to deal with new digestive symptoms and a handful of new food intolerances. Cooking and eating became a lot less fun, so blogging seemed pointless for a time.

But before I get into symptoms and newly-discovered intolerances, I want to share a lovely frittata recipe I've made a couple of times lately. And if you found your way to this post because you've got your own food intolerances and are looking for some sympathy and advice, go ahead and continue reading after the recipe.

Think of this frittata as a versatile, protein-packed crustless quiche. It can be made on a lazy Sunday morning and reheated throughout the week for breakfast. It makes a fancy-yet-simple lunch or even dinner entrée. It can be eaten cold, as quiches sometimes are (although my preference is warm). It's an excellent (egg-cellent?) recipe for using up whatever grilled, roasted, steamed, sautéed, or canned veggies you have, and the results can be frozen and reheated on a later date. Really, there isn't much else I can say other than this is a recipe to keep on hand for all sorts of occasions! And LOOK at it! It's a culinary topographical wonder with its craggy protrusions and crispy, oven-scorched patches. Gorgeous!

You will need:

  • 8 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp half and half (You can use water if you'd prefer)
  • About a cup of chopped, cooked leftover veggies or prepared canned or jarred vegetables (I used sun-dried tomatoes, jarred grilled artichokes, and sliced Kalamata olives for the one shown here; I've since made a second one with grilled asparagus, cherry tomatoes, and sautéed mushrooms.)
  • A handful or two of salad greens, chopped roughly (I used a mixture of baby spinach and arugula for both iterations.)
  • A tablespoon or so of your favorite fresh herbs, or half a tablespoon of dried herbs
  • Half a cup of shredded or crumbled cheese (I used feta the first time and a pizza blend the second time.)
  • Salt and pepper

Steps:

  1. First, preheat the oven to 400° F. Spritz some non-stick spray on a deep pie dish or swipe a little cooking oil on the bottom and inside. Set pie dish aside.
  2. Next, crack the eggs into a large bowl and pour in the half and half. Use a whisk or fork to beat the eggs and incorporate the half and half. Fold in the vegetables, salad greens, herbs, cheese, and a dash of salt and pepper. (If you use a salty cheese like feta, you'll want a smaller amount of salt.
  3. Gently pour the egg mixture into the pie dish. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the eggs are set. You can test for done-ness by inserting a thin knife and making sure it comes out clean and by shaking the dish a bit to make sure the eggs aren't still liquid.
  4. Once the eggs are set, remove the dish from the oven and allow it to cool for 5-10 minutes. Cut the frittata into six slices. Serve immediately or once cooled.

You can also wrap individual slices with plastic wrap and stick the slices in a gallon freezer bag to freeze until later. I unwrap and defrost one slice for about 40 seconds in the microwave and then put it in the toaster oven at 350° for about ten minutes. By the time I've brewed and poured my morning coffee, I've got a healthy breakfast ready for me!


If you were here just for the recipe, go ahead and get on with your day!

From a very young age, I've had a variety of digestive troubles -- some painful and disruptive and some just confusing and bothersome -- that I put down to a mixture of genetics and bad luck. I've archived a shockingly extensive backlog of embarrassing tales, turned entertaining by time, involving crowded public places and desperate dashes to find a bathroom. (Everybody's got at least one of those stories, right?) I've missed school and work days and social functions and gone through days-long periods where all I could keep down were plain foods like applesauce and saltine crackers. Finally, in college, I was diagnosed with IBS and over the years, I've treated it with traditional prescriptions and alternative therapies (massage, peppermint pills, Reiki) alike. I kept extensive food diaries that finally helped me identify some triggers, which ranged from the predictable and scientifically-supported (artificial sweeteners, onions) to the bizarre and surprising (Iceberg and Romaine lettuce, tequila but no other liquors). Hot and humid weather made my symptoms worse; if I was already stressed, foods that wouldn't normally bother me suddenly became intolerable. Years of digestive distress made me hyper-aware of my body and my cycles, and I grew to think of my large intestine like a reclusive but crazy neighbor: I never actually saw him in person, but every once in a while, he'd do something impulsive and destructive in the darkness of the early morning to make me late for work (always on a day when my class was being observed or I had a parent meeting, of course).

But I learned to live with my symptoms. I could usually laugh off the lateness or sudden disappearances during meetings with a vague-yet-socially-acceptable excuse. ("Belly troubles again! Sorry!") But about a year ago, my symptoms started changing, and none of the treatments I'd used for years were working any longer. Planning meals became more difficult as my reactions became more unpredictable. I found my way to a holistic doctor who taught me, first of all, that there are no "normal" levels of symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. Almost any time the body reacts with one of those symptoms, it's a sign that something is wrong. She also helped me understand that the IBS I was viewing as the cause was only a symptom of a deeper problem. The IBS had been triggered by food poisoning I had experienced as a child, causing the healthy levels of bacteria in my gut to get all out of whack. Without rebalancing those bacteria, she explained, my IBS symptoms would never go away. My real issue was SIBO, small intestinal bacteria overgrowth. In effect, this meant that processes that were supposed to happen exclusively in the small intestine were also occurring in the large intestine, creating byproducts the large intestine wasn't equipped to eliminate, leading to a number of other digestive problems.

Thus began a months-long period of trial and error involving a weird assortment of herbal supplements, malodorous teas, electrical nerve stimulation, and a hell of a lot of bloodwork, all in an attempt to kick the disruptive, drunken guests out of the pool party and sneakily invite only the polite guests back in. And for a while, I was starting to feel better. An errant onion in a stir fry didn't leave me groaning on the floor for hours! I was bloated only two days each week instead of five!

But then, a few months into my crunchy granola-sprinkled journey down the holistic path, I suddenly felt worse -- more lethargic, bloated, discouraged and in more pain than I had felt in at least a decade. A blood test revealed hidden food intolerances that added to my growing mental list of Foods I Cannot Have. On one hand, I was grateful to know what had been bothering me, but at the same time, I was intimidated by starting a new elimination diet. My food intolerance blood test results fit into three columns: green for foods I could easily tolerate, yellow for things that might trigger me, and red for things I should never eat again. My three "reds" were sesame, buckwheat, and yeast. Here is a quick list of the things I've learned in dealing with my new intolerances:

  1. There are three types of yeast struggles: Yeast allergy, yeast overgrowth, and yeast intolerance. Thank goodness I don't have a true allergy. This isn't anything life-threatening that will lead to anaphylactic shock.
  2. I didn't have a chance to talk to my doctor about a diet plan right after learning about my yeast intolerance (long story) so at first, I had to figure out what to avoid on my own. Most of the resources I found online were about eating for a yeast overgrowth, which means avoiding anything that contains yeast OR feeds the yeast already living in the body. That meant nothing fermented (no alcohol, mushrooms, vinegar or anything containing vinegar like pickles, soy sauce, tempeh or seitan, etc.) and nothing with sugar (no dairy, desserts, no added sugars in store-bought products, and hardly any fruit or refined carbs) and no yeast of any type, of course. I followed this diet for a few weeks until I could meet with my doctor, only to learn I had been too strict and could add some things back in. I certainly was grateful!
  3. At first, my doctor advised I completely cut out all the "reds" plus my ten or so "yellows," which included dairy, soy, wheat, rice, oats, and a few easy-to-avoid foods like instant coffee. I made a list of my yellows and reds, plus the triggers I'd discovered from personal experience over the years and suddenly had a long and frustrating list of things to avoid. I choose to be vegetarian, which can be challenging enough in itself, but adding another long list of no-go's made shopping, cooking, going out, and socializing very stressful. Faced with that long list (and again, I was unknowingly operating under the too-strict yeast-free diet in the beginning), I had the first anxiety attack I'd had in several years. At that point, I decided I could focus only on the reds before I took on anything else.
  4. Even after I learned I'd been too strict, I found out yeast is a tough thing to avoid. It's used to make breads, baked goods like croissants, some pancakes and waffles, and many types of crackers and boxed cereals. Nutritional yeast is a go-to ingredient in many vegan recipes. Brewer's yeast, as far as I can tell, is used to make all alcoholic products except tequila (which I can't have anyway), gin, and vodka. However, flavored versions of these products might contain yeast. Unfiltered vinegars contain yeast, and raspberries go bad quickly enough that they should be avoided if you've got a yeast intolerance.
  5. There is a LOT of confusing and conflicting information online in the few resources that address yeast intolerance. For example, some sources say nuts should be avoided, some say only certain types of nuts are safe, and some don't mention nuts at all. A medical professional can help you sift through what's really important.
  6. Yeast-free and vegetarian is a difficult combination, especially when it comes to protein replacements. Almost every soy chicken patty, grain sausage, or veggie burger in the grocery store has yeast extract in it for flavoring. In some restaurants, the only vegetarian option is a sandwich, but I can't have bread (gluten-free or otherwise) or wraps unless I can scrutinize the ingredients.
  7. If you're learning to cope with a new food intolerance, keep a running list of photos of items that are safe for you. In some cases, only one variety of one product might be safe for you. In that case, it's helpful to have a visual collection you can easily refer to.
  8. It's also difficult to shop and cook around multiple food intolerances. A product that's safe for one intolerance might not work for another. For example, I've been eating one brand of crisp breads as a toast/bread substitute because they don't contain yeast. However, one flavor contains buckwheat and another contains sesame!
  9. Reading headlines on grocery checkout magazines made me believe that identifying and eliminating my hidden intolerances would lead to increased energy, glowing skin, and immediate weight loss. Apparently, some people's bodies do react this way. However, I'm apparently one of the people whose energy goes toward healing the internal damage that's been done for years. I've avoided my reds for about three months now and have yet to lose any weight.
  10. Dealing with a food intolerance can be lonely and frustrating. Especially when it's new, it feels overwhelming. For some people, food is just fuel, but cooking and eating are a deep aspect of my identity, and changing the way I viewed food was harder than I anticipated. I realized I took for granted being able to find something to eat at a catered work function or being able to grab a snack out of a vending machine. The only way to cope, especially in the beginning, is to plan the hell out of your day. You have to plan for every meal, snack, and beverage. Keeping a stash of safe snacks in your car, purse, or office is useful. Don't count on restaurant servers being able to identify the presence of something as granular as yeast in a finished dish. After enough time, you'll learn which cuisines are safest for you. (Chinese is tough with yeast intolerance; Indian is safer.) Travelling and visiting family gets trickier with new intolerances, especially if you're the type who hates putting people out and being the center of attention.
  11. If you've been feeling terrible for a long time, don't give up. If you're able, look into alternative therapies and doctors non-Western training. In some cases, a prescription pill is exactly what a person needs. But in other cases, that pill can either mask symptoms without actually solving the problem or cause new side effects. Holistic treatments can be weird (Ask me about my TENS unit sometime!) but my thinking, especially about the traditional herbal therapies, is that if there was NO utility in them, their use would have ended a long time ago. Don't be afraid to ask around and read new books and talk to a variety of professionals, all while keeping your health and a healthy sense of skepticism in the foreground, of course.

All in all, I'm grateful for the new knowledge and I'm mindful of the fact that things could be worse. This isn't a dangerous autoimmune disorder, and it's not a terminal disease. I'm not in chronic, invisible pain, and I'm not missing enough work that my job security is at risk. I'm lucky I have access to a holistic doctor and that I can afford to pay her fees out of pocket since our insurance doesn't cover her services. I'm thankful I live in an area with a ridiculous number of grocery stores so that when one is out of that single flavor of frozen waffles I can handle, I can check another store. I can't even imagine the thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of people worldwide who have food intolerances they'll never know about either because they don't have access to the medical professionals who can identify them or they can't get to the food they'll need. I'm very aware of the privileged position I'm in, and I'm thankful things aren't worse. It's a new phase of my culinary life, but if it makes me feel better in the long run, it's a road I'm willing to continue down, slowly but surely.

Vegan egg roll bowls (4 servings)

Imagine you microwaved an egg roll and it exploded in the process. This dish is a purposeful, less messy version of that predictable occurrence.

If you like egg rolls and want to make them at home but don't want to bother with a deep fryer, this dish is for you. It takes all the best fillings of egg rolls (lightly sauteed cabbage, crispy carrots, and zesty green onions) and turns them inside out into a bowl. It's quick, easy, and filling! Plus, it's way healthier than a deep-fried egg roll!

You will need:

  • 3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp chili-garlic sauce
  • 1 tsp vegetable or canola oil
  • 8 oz seitan, chopped into small bits or ground up in a food processor
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1" piece of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 medium napa cabbage, shredded
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • rice crackers for garnish

Steps:

  1. Pour the soy sauce, vinegar, and chili-garlic sauce into a small jar with a lid; shake to mix and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, rimmed skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is warm, add in the seitan, garlic, and ginger, stirring until the seitan is lightly browned. 
  3. Increase the heat to medium-high and push the seitan mixture to the outside of the pan. Add the cabbage, carrots, and scallions to the middle of the pan, and quickly stir fry the vegetables until they're softened. (It'll only take 2-3 minutes.)
  4. Turn off the heat and pour the soy sauce mixture into the pan. Toss the ingredients gently to combine and serve immediately, garnished with broken rice crackers.

I've only ever made this with seitan, but I'm sure it would also work well with tempeh or pressed tofu. The next time I make this, I want to try adding some sliced mushrooms in with the cabbage. 

Mixed citrus salad with feta and mint (~4 servings)

I know I've said this before, but every damn smittenkitchen recipe I make is fabulous. Deb is some sort of culinary sorceress; each recipe comes out perfectly seasoned and intensely flavorful. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've never been let down by any of her creations. Now if only I could replicate her photography skills...

Here in Durham, the last two days' weather has been the meteorological equivalent of a cold, soggy sponge abandoned in the kitchen sink by an inconsiderate roommate. Days like this beg for happy, invigorating recipes like this one. Its vivid colors and succulent flavors are like optimism on a fork. They'll have you longing for sunnier days, warmer temperatures, and carefree afternoons with friends.

Then, perhaps, you'll remember pollen allergies. And mosquitoes. And sunburns. And stifling Carolina humidity. And sweaty thighs singed by car vinyl. And sinus headaches just ahead of summer thunderstorms.

You decide that maybe, for now, you're content with summery recipes and can wait on the other junk.

You will need:

  • 2 scallions
  • 4 pieces of citrus (I used a ruby red grapefruit, one blood orange, a navel orange, and a tangelo)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp smooth Dijon mustard (Read the label carefully if you're going for gluten-free)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • ~3 Tbsp crumbled feta cheese
  • a handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped or slivered

Steps:

  1. Thinly slice the green parts of the scallions into the bottom of a tall bowl. (I used my herb scissors for this step and for slivering the mint later on. Thanks, Mom!) Place a strainer or colander over the bowl.
  2. Next, you want to cut the peel off each piece of fruit and then slice it horizontally into 1/4"-thick wheels. The goal is to cut the white pith off (Oh, you pith off!) to avoid any bitterness. (Honestly, the best way to explain the cutting method is to provide this video, which illustrates the process beautifully. Pluck out any seeds as you go.)
  3. Place the slices of fruit in the strainer, which is now resting over the scallion bowl. The acidity from the juice will mellow the scallions. Allow them to drain a few minutes while you clean up your cutting board and find a shallow serving dish.
  4. Spread the citrus wheels out on the dish, overlapping the pieces as necessary. Use a fork or slotted spoon to fish the scallion slices out of the bowl; scatter them on top of the fruit, leaving the citrus juice behind in the bowl.
  5. Add the lemon juice, Dijon, and olive oil to the citrus juice in the bowl. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Whisk well.
  6. Drizzle the dressing over the fruit, then sprinkle with crumbled feta and chopped mint. Serve chilled.

This is a true appetizer: one that whets the palate without weighing it down with anything fried, bloomed, or stuffed. (Not that there's anything wrong with fried, bloomed, or stuffed, but there's a time and place for everything, you know.)

Homemade ginger tea and solace tea

Sometimes a person just needs the simple comfort of a warm mug of tea. And so I'll keep it simple: Here are two of my favorite herbal teas (tisanes, really) that are easy to make and lovely to drink. I hope you'll try them for yourself!

Homemade ginger tea (4 servings): This one is perfect for chilly, gray days since the ginger is so warming and invigorating. It's also a helpful remedy for belly troubles, which is the main reason I started making it. Two to three cups a day really makes a difference! To brew it, I use a one-quart mason jar and this mesh infuser, although you can always just strain out the ginger bits after you've steeped them for the required time if you don't have an infuser. The nice thing about the mesh strainer is that it keeps any bits of peel I missed out of the tea. Feel free to adjust the lime and sweetener to your taste. This will keep in the fridge for several days and can be consumed hot or cold, although I prefer it hot (at least during this time of year).

You will need:

  • A three- to four-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and diced into tiny pieces (Use a teaspoon to peel it!)
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 2 Tbsp honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, or your favorite sweetener
  • Juice of half a lime

Steps

  1. Place the ginger pieces in a mason jar, teapot, or whatever vessel you want to use for brewing. Pour the boiling water over the ginger and allow it to steep for 10-15 minutes.
  2. Remove the strainer or pour the tea through a sieve to remove the ginger pieces. Add sweetener of your choice and lime juice; stir gently.

 

Solace tea (Several dozen servings): This blend is based on the Comforting Tea that's sometimes served at Aveda salons, although it's WAY less expensive per cup. I like to give credit where credit is due, but I've been making this tea so long that I can't even remember where I found the original recipe. Some of the ingredients can be tough to find, admittedly, but your best bet is either an online retailer or the bulk spices section of a grocery store like Whole Foods. The herbs are expensive by the pound, but you won't be buying close to a pound of any one item. This tea is probably my all-time favorite herbal tisane; the licorice root is deliciously smooth, and the fennel, mint, and basil smell so gorgeous and fresh. By the way, if you're not a licorice candy fan, don't worry! This doesn't taste like black licorice at all. It's herbal and naturally sweet and unbelievably silky. It's great for irritated throats and those "blah" days that make you want to stay in bed. It's one of my favorite things ever, and I keep a jar of it in the cabinet year-round.

You will need:  (Please note that all the ingredients are in dried form)

  • 1  1/4 cups licorice root
  • 1 cup peppermint leaves
  • 1/8  cup fennel seeds
  • 1/8 cup basil leaves

Steps:

  1. Mix all ingredients in an airtight storage container.
  2. To make the tea, heat water to about 180°, or close to boiling but not quite there. (It's a forgiving method, so don't feel like you have to be super exact.) Measure out 1/2 Tbsp of the tea mixture and place it in a strainer or paper filter bag.
  3. When the water is hot, pour it over the tea mixture; steep for 5-7 minutes. Sweeten if desired, although it's pretty sweet on its own!

Winter stew with vegetarian sausage, white beans, and kale (5 servings)

So far, 2018 has been mostly frigid, snowy, and blustery. (More like twenty-hibernate-teen, am I right?) Yesterday, thick, heavy snowflakes fell for thirteen hours straight in Durham, leaving a total of six inches in our front yard, although other parts of the Triangle received twice as much. It's definitely the most snow we've seen at once since we moved here in 2010.

The weight of the snow has caused widespread power outages in the area, but despite the damage, it was a beautiful snow. The rain that started the day allowed the snowflakes to cling to every branch and pine needle and leaf of the trees. I love how a thick snow creates definition and dimension that's easy to take for granted on an ordinary day, especially in the grayer parts of winter.

This type of chill and snow-blanketing calls for stew -- rich, hearty, flavorful stew that warms you up from the inside and enlivens the senses. This particular recipe is high in protein and fiber, so it's good for you, too! It cooks slowly in the crockpot, giving you time to read a book, reorganize a closet, write a hand-scripted letter, bake a pan of brownies, or whatever you love to do on a rare snowed-in day.

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 2 vegetarian sausages, cut into bite-sized pieces (I used Field Roast Italian)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 15-oz can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried Italian herbs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups chopped kale or spinach

Steps:

  1. Brown the sausage in a little oil in skillet over medium-heat.
  2. Place the sausage and all remaining ingredients except the kale or spinach in the bowl of a slow cooker.
  3. Cook for 6 hours on low or 3 hours on high.
  4. Add in the kale or spinach; cook on low for another hour or high for another half hour.

Next time, I'd add some chopped celery, too. I'm sure that if you're not into vegetarian sausage, you could add another can of beans or some browned mushrooms instead. This stew was just what we needed yesterday!