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, soy sauce, tempeh, seitan, vinegar or anything containing vinegar like pickles) 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 some snacks and boxed cereals. Yeast extract is used as flavoring in a ton of products, from salad dressing to crackers. (Sometimes, much to my fiery frustration, "natural flavoring" contains yeast, but packages rarely disclose that information.) 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 any bread (gluten-free or otherwise) or most wraps (unless I can scrutinize the package's 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 constant 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.

Apple pie granola (~8 half-cup servings)

This coming Monday night, I'm incredibly excited to be attending my very first food swap! If you're in the Triangle, come on down to Ponysaurus at 7:00 for this event, hosted by Bull City Food Swap. I've been wanting to participate in a community food swap for years now, so naturally, I was thrilled to learn about this local event.

If I care about you in any way, shape, or form, you've probably been given my granola at some point in the last couple years. Granola is one of my favorite things to make, mainly because the recipe is so flexible. I make so many different varieties, from peanut butter and Almond Joy to cranberry-almond and strawberry-walnut. On Monday, I'll be giving away bags of mocha almond granola and apple pie granola. I'm particularly proud of the apple pie variety, so I decided to share the recipe here!

Click here for a printable version.

You will need:

  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup (Tip: It mixes in easier if it's at room temperature.)
  • a splash of vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp apple pie spice (My homemade version contains cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and cardamom.)
  • a pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apples

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or spritz it with non-stick spray and set aside.
  2. Pour the oats and pecans into a large mixing bowl. Pour the maple syrup and vanilla extract  over the oats and nuts; mix with a rubber scraper or wooden spoon. Once the oats and pecans are evenly coated, sprinkle the apple pie spice and salt into the bowl and mix once again.
  3. Spread the granola mixture out on the baking sheet, making sure it's in a nice even layer. Bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring once or twice. You'll know it's done when your kitchen smells toasty-cozy and the oats are golden.
  4. Once the granola has cooled, toss it with the raisins and apples. Store the granola in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Serve with milk, on top of yogurt (pictured above), on top of ice cream, or just as a crunchy snack.

Using maple syrup instead of corn syrup or maple-flavored table syrup makes this recipe more expensive, yes, but I can't emphasize how much of a difference the real stuff makes. I love that this recipe doesn't use any oil and doesn't add sugar besides the syrup and fruit. I hope this granola will make me some new local food friends on Monday night!

The Allison (one sandwich)

I have a couple sets of discussion questions that I use once a week with my high-schoolers as a warm-up exercise. My kids affectionately call Wednesday "cube day," and they get a lot out of sharing their ideas and listening to their classmates' opinions. Sometimes though, they get frustrated with me. I'm the one who always has follow-up questions about the question before I can even answer the question.

For example, this past week, a student pulled the card that asked, "What would you eat for your last meal?" My question was, "But why is it my last meal?" Of course, the card provides no further information, so my student shrugged and said, "I don't know. It just is." Obviously, the reason I'm eating one final meal would heavily sway my choice of victuals. Am I dying? Then it'll probably be a last-hurrah indulgent sort of meal. Am I on death row? And then following that, am I actually guilty? If I'm guilty, I'm probably too mournful to eat much. If I'm innocent, then I'm swallowing whole popcorn kernels to see what happens in the electric chair. Is this my last meal because a meteorite is about to hit Earth? Then I'll probably go with whatever the hell I can find in the pantry or whatever is leftover in the fridge. As much as I like to cook, I'm pretty sure my pre-Apocalyptic frame of mind will not include gourmet cooking. Let's get real here.

So by the time I run through my follow-up questions, my students are usually glassy-eyed as they fight off yawns. For that particular question, I never even arrived at an answer because there were too many variables to allow me to land on a solid decision. I left it at, "I guess it depends," and we moved on to the next card.

This afternoon, however, I realized what my real answer would be: The Allison. The Allison was off-handedly mentioned in a previous post before it was named. Originally inspired by a sandwich from Lititz, Pennsylvania's adorably cozy Tomato Pie Cafe, I've since named my version after my good friend Allison, who once sang its praises (possibly literally -- I don't remember).

So yes, the Allison would be my last meal. It feels more sinful than it is, it's comforting, and it's just unusual enough to be special. As I've said before, I love unexpected flavor combinations, and this sandwich's amalgam of brie, raspberry jam, sprouts, and egg certainly fits the bill. My philosophy of flavor pairings is like my feelings about introducing two friends from different areas of your life at a party: As long as you've got a mutual connection in between, everything will be fine. Here, raspberry jam doesn't seem like it would match well with eggs, but raspberry jam adores brie, and brie jives with eggs, so everybody is happy. And sprouts are the peppery, bold confetti that gets the party going!

Okay, so I probably haven't seen confetti at a party since I was about ten. And maybe I haven't been to many parties at all lately. Fine! I'll be in the corner eating my sandwich.

Click here for a printable version.

You will need:

  • Two slices of multigrain bread (I recommend sunflower bread)
  • Raspberry jam (preferably with seeds)
  • Sliced brie cheese
  • Two eggs
  • Microgreens (I love using a mixture of sprouts)

Steps:

  1. Toast the bread.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the eggs however you prefer. (I love mine scrambled and fluffy.)
  3. When the bread is toasted, spread the jam on one side and lay the brie on the other. Place the eggs on top of the brie, pile the sprouts on top of the eggs, and then put the jammy toast on top. 

This sandwich tastes best if you assemble it when everything is hot and eat it straight away. (Just keep a look out for that meteorite.)